Sharing files between iOS and Windows in School

At our school, we have been using the iPad increasing success. Our catalog of regularly used apps is small, with most activity being in the browser for research purposes. However, when children are generating their own content, we have often struggled in sharing files effectively and transferring these to the next platform – usually a Windows laptop. This wasn’t initially a problem and only emerged after each iPad had been connected to more than five Windows computers – reaching the maximum number of devices to which a single iPad can be connected before sharing is denied. Once we started managing the devices with Apple Configurator (using the ‘Supervision’ feature), the USB option was no longer available to us at all.

I was already aware that some schools use Dropbox as a platform for sharing files, but this in itself introduces complications that I wasn’t prepared to accept – configuring user accounts, relying on Internet access, sharing limits and the ever present possibility that a free subscription will no longer be available. Let’s not even think about data protection issues either.

As an alternative, I tried a couple of other app based solutions. Firstly, BitTorrent Sync, a free tool from the BitTorrent team that enables local network sharing via their app across multiple platforms. Next, Flick. Flick allows you to share in a similar manner to BitTorrent Sync, getting its name from the ‘flick’ action you perform on your touch device to share the file. Finally, I also took a look at newer sharing tools like Portal from the PushBullet team, which allows files to be shared by scanning a QR Code with the camera on your device in order to establish a secure connection to the destination device on your local network. None of these really worked for us, either having some restriction that left us wanting more, not being reliable enough or introducing some complication in the sharing process that users may find confusing.

For now, we have opted for a local installation of OwnCloud. Think of OwnCloud as a self-hosted version of Dropbox. If you are a confident website or server manager, installing OwnCloud on a web server isn’t going to be too difficult for you. Here’s a no-frills guide to how we setup our OwnCloud sharing.

Setup your local (or remote) cloud hosting

 – Install OwnCloud (or provision via your web host)
 – Create a folder that will become public
 – Click the Share button and select ‘share link’
 – Set ‘allow editing’ to On
 – Copy the share URL to the clipboard; paste into your documentation for reference

Setup your Web Clip in Apple Configurator

  • Open Apple Configurator
  • select the profile to which you will add the Web Clip
  • Paste the URL you copied from OwnCloud into the Web Clip URL field
  • save the payload

Optionally add sub-folders

  • create sub-folders in your OwnCloud share for each year group
  • use the same link generation process
  • distribute links to class teacher(s) in order for them to quickly gather content via any device

Advantages over other file transport methods

  • share files directly from the iPad without using a cable (via the Camera Roll) and therefore incrementing the maximum device count
  • avoid needing to setup an app with username and password (with or without Configurator)
  • avoid needing to setup an email account on all iPad devices (with or without Configurator)
  • when hosted locally, can be used to share student work without placing data in the public domain (cloud)

The User Process

Without the OwnCloud app

  • create your media and save to the camera roll
  • open OwnCloud using the Web Clip you distributed to your managed iPad’s
  • optionally select the appropriate folder to save the files
  • press the upload button
  • select all files for uploading
  • if warned about conflicts, select to preserve New Files and Already Existing Files

With the OwnCloud app

  • open the app
  • enter your server ip address and URL path
  • enter your username and password
  • optionally select the folder to save the files
  • press the + button
  • allow OwnCloud to access your photos
  • select files from the camera roll
  • press Upload

Outside the OwnCloud app

Not all applications include the ability to send their content to another application – these instructions will only work if they do include the feature. The OwnCloud app will always prompt you to authenticate, even if you wish to upload content to a shared folder.
  • use the ‘share’ or ‘upload’ or ‘open in’ option in your app
  • select OwnCloud from the list
  • the OwnCloud app will open
  • verify that your OwnCloud instance and folder are correct
  • modify the file name if necessary
  • press Upload To to start the upload process

Handling Sharing Conflicts

When uploading multiple files from an iPad, you may be presented with a warning message about the duplicate names your files will create. For example, if you select three images from your iPad Photos, by default each will be named ‘image.jpg’. Uploading these three images sequentially will overwrite the first ‘image.jpg’ with the second ‘image.jpg’ and this will ultimately be overwritten with the final image, also named ‘image.jpg’. To prevent multiple files overwriting each other, make sure that you select to keep both new and existing files by placing a tick in the ‘new files’ and ‘already existing files’ checkboxes. It’s a little confusing at first and we would rather not have to think about the overwrite method, but even our younger children have been able to easily share their files.

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