Swift Playgrounds, iOS Updates a Boon for Devs and Educators

Swift Playgrounds, Apple’s iPad app for learning the Swift programming language, is growing up. New features are making it (and iOS in general) enticing for developers and educators alike.

In the iOS 11.3 beta 2 release, code has been discovered that allows teachers to evaluate or test students. Dubbed ClassKit, the framework seems to be aimed at teachers who want to test students via the iPad. A “kiosk mode” keeps students in the testing environment so they can’t go look up answers via Safari or in another app.

ClassKit is hidden, and there’s no existing documentation about it. It’s unclear if the framework was left in the build by accident, or if Apple just isn’t ready to discuss it widely yet (we’d guess WWDC 2018 will provide much more context). Either way, it’s another sign Apple is very serious about iPads in classrooms, where Swift Playgrounds is already making its mark in many schools nationwide.

Outside of the classroom, Swift Playgrounds is making subscriptions a thing. With Swift Playgrounds version 2.0, developers and companies can create ongoing projects and lesson plans, which learners can subscribe to.

Currently, there are only eight subscription programs listed:

  • Sphero (robots)
  • Lego EV3 Mindstorms (robots)
  • UBTech Jimu Robots (robots)
  • Parrot Drones (drones, but basically robots)
  • TJBot by IBM (robots)
  • Mekamon (robots)
  • Wonder Workshop (robots)
  • Skoog (music)

As you can tell from all the “robots” on that list, the existing mindshare is around controlling physical objects via Swift Playgrounds. These are just the Playground environments highlighted on Apple’s website. In the Swift Playgrounds app, it’s possible to enter a URL for a subscription, which opens Playgrounds up to anyone.

Apple isn’t (yet) providing a monetization strategy for Swift Playgrounds, but it’s possible via the ‘add a URL’ method. It offloads just about everything from Apple’s hosting platform; developers will still have to write Playground ‘books’ under Apple’s strict guidelines, but it’s possible this will spur a cottage industry for educators.

All told, Swift Playgrounds and iOS are blossoming into a robust education platform, both in and out of a classroom environment. The addition of subscriptions makes it easier for educators and developers alike to create bespoke lesson plans, while the testing environment found in ClassKit provides a way to proctor exams from anywhere. Maybe that “What’s a computer?” commercial was onto something.

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