How To Back Up Your Kid's School iPad

“The dog deleted my homework” doesn’t cut it in the modern classroom, so students need to backup their work on their school-approved iPads. We look at the free and affordable backup options that every parent needs to know about.

School iPad image from Shutterstock

Lots of schools insist that students bring an iPad to class, but teachers don’t always explain the best way to backup school work. It’s important to have a digital insurance policy should a tech disaster strike the night before an assignment is due.

One way to backup an iPad is to plug it into a computer running Apple’s iTunes music software, which makes a complete backup of the tablet and stores it all away in hidden folders. This is handy if you’ve bought a new iPad and you’re looking to copy across everything from your old iPad, but it’s not very user-friendly if you need to dip into the backup to recover a single lost file.

Another way to backup an iPad is to use Apple’s iCloud online storage service. The benefit of this is that backups run automatically, uploading to the cloud. You can access and edit individual Keynote, Pages and Numbers files via a web browser on your computer – which could be a godsend if your iPad is lost, stolen or meets with some other disaster.

Apple automatically enables iCloud backups on new iPads, but unfortunately it’s not as set-and-forget as you might hope.

By default you only get 5GB of free iCloud storage, which you can chew through pretty quickly when it’s uploading photos and movies. When kids get their first iPad they shoot a lot of video, especially once they discover iMovie and start making their own short movies.

What’s really stupid is that when the iPad calculates that its next backup will exceed 5GB, your backups stop dead. At this point the iPad doesn’t try to backup as much as possible, it doesn’t prioritise iWork productivity files or even backup newer versions of files which are already in the cloud. You’d expect better from the likes of Apple.

You’ll know you’ve reached this point because the iPad occasionally gives you a warning that the iPad hasn’t backed up for a while. At this point Apple is hoping that you’ll pay for more iCloud storage but there are alternatives.

Trim your iCloud backups

The easiest way to keep your iCloud backup under 5GB is to tell the iPad to stop backing up the photos and videos in the Camera Roll. To do this, go to Settings, iCloud and disable Photos backup. If this isn’t enough to get you under the 5GB limit then tap on Storage and Manage Storage. Under backups you’ll see the name of the iPad, tap here and then tap Show All Apps to see a complete list of apps which are backing up to iCloud and how much storage they’re using.

This list can take quite a while to calculate the storage needs for each app. If it seems stuck, start working down the list and disabling backups for apps that you’re certain aren’t important.

Video download apps designed to store offline copies of YouTube clips are major offenders, along with some games, so talk to your child to determine which backups are essential. If you’ve got room you might want to keep the online backups of sandbox games like Minecraft PE and Terraria to avoid tears should their intricate worlds be lost in a tech disaster.

Keynote, Pages and Numbers files are probably the most precious in terms of school work, but it’s worth discussing it with your child and their teacher to determine which files you can least afford to lose.

Backup elsewhere

If you’d like to backup your child’s photos and videos there are alternatives to paying for more iCloud storage. You can back up iPad photos and videos to a range of third-party cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Flickr and Amazon Cloud Drive – these can work out a lot more cost-effective than iCloud but you’ll need to test the apps for a while to be sure they meet your needs.

Another option is to backup the iPad’s Camera Roll to your computer or Network Attached Storage drive using an iPad app like PhotoSync or FileExplorer. From here it can be easier to backup those files to the cloud for safe-keeping.

Managing a student’s iPad presents a steep learning curve for some parents, but it’s essential that you backup their most important files. How do you ensure that the students in your home are protected against a tech disaster?

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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