Syncing Multiple iPods

Multiple iPods in iTunesWhen you're dealing with multiple iPods in a classroom there are some things you should know. First, it's certainly possible to connect multiple iPods to one computer. When connected, iPods not only sync, but they charge their batteries as well. You can see in the screenshot to the right that I have connected all six of my iPods (including my iPhone). The iPods are listed alphabetically and with tiny icon representations under the Devices panel in iTunes. I can click the name of an iPod to view and edit its contents and sync settings.

Here are some other things to know about syncing multiple iPods:

  • iPods can be be the same model or a mixture of models. You see six different iPods connected in the image to the right.
  • Technically, 127 USB devices can be connected to a computer at one time. Realistically, you'd never connect that many devices to one machine.
  • Syncing many iPods at once can slow down your computer and the syncing process.
  • Most computers have four or fewer USB ports. If connecting more iPods, use self-powered USB 2.0 hubs. Self-powered hubs have to be plugged into a power outlet.
  • iPods connected to a self-powered USB hub continue to charge even when the computer is powered off.
  • You can sync items purchased from the iTunes Store (music, videos, audiobooks, and games) to all iPods connected to that computer. You can authorize and copy that purchased content onto up to five computers.
  • You can authorize more than one computer to work with purchased items from more than one iTunes account. Simply log out of one account by clicking on the account name in the iTunes Store window and clicking the Sign Out button. Log into the other account, and then they will both be authorized. (Notice that you are not deauthorizing the computer, just logging out). This can be valuable if you have a combination of content purchase through a school account and your personal account.
  • Most schools aren't using content purchased from the iTunes Store, so you probably don't have to worry about the five computer limit. Since podcasts are free, they are not considered purchased content.
  • You may want a consistent naming structure to keep each iPod clearly identified in iTunes. It might be easiest to name iPods by numbers. For example: "01 Vincent" "02 Vincent" etc.
  • You can only make changes to an iPod's settings when it is connected. When disconnected, the iPod's name and icon disappear from the Devices panel.
  • Sync settings (playlists, podcasts, calendars, contacts, photos) must be set up for each iPod individually. Think carefully about these preferences the first time you set them so that you don't have to make changes later. For example, choose Sync All Songs and Playlists if the iPod have enough storage space. Otherwise, each time you make a new playlist, you'll have to update each iPod's settings.
  • When using more than one computer for syncing, designate which iPods are synced to which computers. If an iPod has been synced with Computer A and then is connected to Computer B, the iPod will ask if you'd like to replace all items from Computer A with those from Computer B. That's probably not a big deal, but it will take time to copy those files. Also, you'll need to input the sync settings again. It's just easier to have each iPod sync to one computer. Using color-coded stickers is a simple way to indicate that iPods with green stickers sync to the computer with the green sticker.
  • If a student brings an iPod from home to school and syncs to a school computer, you'll run into some issues. The data from home will have to be erased and replaced with data from the school computer. When the student syncs at home, the data from school will be replaced. Sorry, there is no way to merge the content from school and home together.
  • An exception to the above: Files placed in an iPod's Hard Disk Mode are not replaced when syncing. This includes Notes.
  • iTunes syncs the time code where you stop audiobooks, videos, and podcasts from one iPod and copies that information to all iPods. This means that students who watch videos and listen to podcasts may have their audio or video begin in the middle of an episode (nothing the iPod's Previous button can't fix immediately by rewinding to the beginning).
Like using Palm handhelds and Pocket PCs, there are all sorts of technical and management issues when using class sets of iPods. If you have worked with multiple iPods in a classroom and have insights, please share them with us in a comment.