iTunes Family Sharing in the Classroom

Mobile Device Management (MDM) is one of the more frustrating aspects of technology use in the classroom. If I download an app on one classroom iPad, how do I get it on all of them? I don't want my personal Apple ID on an iPad owned by my school district and used by students. What should I do?

There are many different solutions to this, and some are better than others in different situations. If your school is like mine and has 3-4 iPads per classroom, using Apple's Family Sharing may be a great choice for you.

What is Family Sharing?

Released last year with iOS 8, Family Sharing allows up to 5 Apple IDs (who share a credit card) to share iTunes, App Store, and iBooks purchases. So if I buy an app on my iPhone, my wife can look in my purchases and download the app without having to purchase it herself. This is nice because we had separate iTunes accounts long before we got married, and we have different enough taste in music that we didn't want to share iTunes libraries. Now if we make a purchase that interests the other, we can easily pull it into our own accounts.

Also, you can designate family members as children, and when they attempt to make purchases, an adult receives a request on their phone to approve the purchase. This is a great way to prevent kids from making unwanted purchases.

Finally, if someone ever leaves the family, they take their purchases with them. So when your kids grow up and leave home, they get to keep the apps and music they have accumulated over the years.

Family Sharing in the Classroom

So why is this useful with classroom iPads?

There are a lot of reasons to not use your personal Apple ID on a classroom iPad.

  • Students could accidentally (or intentionally) change a setting in you account.
  • Your ID is being used on a device you do not own, so your district or school could somehow have access to your account or demand control over the Apple ID on their devices (not that I think my district would do this).
  • There is a 10 device limit per Apple ID. You don't want to use up all of the devices on your account with classroom devices.

To fix this, I created a new Apple ID using my school email address and made it part of my family. I use this ID to set up all classroom iPads. Then, when I need to purchase a new app for my students, I buy it with my personal iTunes account, go onto the school iPads, and download the app from my family purchases.

This way I remain in control of my iTunes account, and it is only on my personal devices. I can purchase content for my students without fear that I will lose control of the account.

Downsides

There are a few downsides to using Family Sharing on your classroom devices, but they can be easily remedied by turning on device restrictions (which is recommended anyway).

If a student understands how family sharing works (which in elementary school is not likely), they can get access to any content you have purchased (including music and movies). However, if you restrict access to installing apps and the iTunes/iBooks stores, this will not be a problem.

All in all, this solution works really well for schools and classrooms where 1-10 classroom iPads. Beyond this, a more robust system will be needed.

To set up Family Sharing, Apple has provided step-by-step instructions on their website.