Make No Mistake

Apple is Committed to Education

This week Apple unveiled new products and tools just for the education market and announced a new partnership with Chicago Public Schools and Northwestern University. Apple sent a clear message indicating they always have understood and appreciated education. As Steve Jobs once said, “Education is in our DNA at Apple.”

Rendering of Lane Tech

Scanning my email inbox a few weeks ago I noticed an email from Apple, its subject line fleetingly catching my eye: “Join us March 27 in Chicago for a special event.” At first, I just thought it was an invite to an Apple Store education event and planned on reading it later. Tweets started appearing in my Twitter timeline later that day making me realize this event was a much bigger deal than I originally thought. I then finally opened and read the email …so glad I did. It was an invitation to take a “fieldtrip” which turned out to be a brilliant opportunity for Apple to provide interactive experiences for the press and for educators. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the magic of an Apple keynote announcement up close and in my city at Lane Technical College Prep to boot!

Apple rarely makes these kinds of announcements outside of California, or in schools for that matter, and so speculation began as to exactly what would be unveiled. Comparisons were made to a similar event in New York circa 2012 and many tech publications even thought that this event might have some announcements specific to the consumer market as well as the education market. Tech media even predicted that a new Apple Pencil was forthcoming due to the fact that the invitation appeared to have an image drawn with a Pencil.

Instead, the entire event and product announcements were entirely focused on education, although the new iPad will be on the consumer market and also available to schools. Much has been written about these announcements which will make creativity and collaboration seamless in classrooms. Some tech journalists seemed a bit disappointed by what was unveiled; perhaps they are missing the bigger picture.

After the keynote, we all broke out into labs and classrooms to see the new products in action. This is from Everyone Can Create.

While I love the announced new features, products, and apps, what is more important to me is that Apple Education is finally responding to its competitors. Apple typically does things at their own pace and in their own way; this event made it evident that they have been thinking about their value proposition for quite some time. Apple is all about creativity and I think that their announcements this week reflected that approach in education while being cognizant of the classroom management issues that teachers face.

Dressed in Lane Tech’s school colors, there seemed to be as many Apple employees standing by to help out as attendees!

This event also made it clear that Apple is in education for the long haul in a big way, and unless you were at the March 27th event, it would be difficult to surmise this based on press reports. 300 educators plus the press were invited. Hundreds of Apple employees from all over the world were on site to make sure this event went flawlessly. From parking lot attendants to those who offered us umbrellas while we stood outside waiting to check in to those who ran lab and classroom demonstrations, an extensive Apple crew was cheering educators (and the field of education) on. It was an all hands on deck approach to running a truly large scale event.

Angela Ahrendts in the blue coat

Educators typically are not often treated this well or with so much lavish attention, and it was clear that every aspect of this event was designed to inspire us and to let us know that education is important to Apple. Indeed, Apple inspires better than any other company; they inspire its customers through intentional design resulting in incredible user experiences. Angela Ahrendts, senior VP of retail for Apple was quoted in this recent Fast Company piece:

Ahrendts told me that Steve Jobs said that the mission of retail was to enrich lives rather than merely move product. But another, she says, is education: “Connecting people and humanizing technology, maybe our job is to inspire.”

Ahrendts also said: “It’s what kids are already doing on our devices, it’s what kids almost expect us to teach them.”

This also makes me think about the video I recently viewed in this recent Cult of Pedagogy blog. Student Jeff Bliss said, “You got come in here and you gotta make them excited. You want a kid to change and start doing better? You gotta touch his frickin’ heart. You can’t expect a kid to change if all you do is just tell them.” I would add to this that student achievement is not all about rigor; it’s about about engaging kids and motivating them to want to learn. At times, it feels like we’ve lost sight of the importance of this here in the US.

In this day and age when teachers are working harder than ever for less pay and benefits (and American teachers are working harder and longer than counterparts in other countries), teachers NEED and WANT inspiration and the ed tech community should be respond accordingly. We do not need more tools and platforms for test prep, behavior management, and the rest of the ed tech ilk. Apple is treating educators like the professionals we are; given the right tools and support, we can do amazing things alongside our students. More companies need to take this cue and think about this inspiration factor rather than taking a reactive approach to innovation. There are companies out there led by people who lack a deep understanding of education (see the Audrey Test) and who focus on what they *think* teachers need without really engaging with their customer base. My advice to the ed tech industry is be more like Apple; think about how you can connect with and inspire teachers to do great things in their classrooms.

One issue does needs to be addressed here. I imagine that many schools are disappointed that Apple’s new iPad and various accessories for education is not priced more competitively with Chromebooks and other devices. If price is the only driver in what device your school adopts, then that is a problem. Chromebooks have been an affordable option for many schools, and these devices are better than having limited or no tech in districts from my perspective. G Suite for Education has certainly increased productivity and efficiency in schools. However, I would much prefer for schools to focus on the learning and what tools best suit their goals. If your school’s mission revolves around creating innovative student-centered, production-oriented experiences, then iPads are the way to go with perhaps a mix of other devices available for check out or on carts. If your school is not quite ready to re-think instruction and what classrooms can look like, then maybe other devices will be suitable. The bottom line for me personally is that I believe that investing in Apple’s devices and ecosystem for learning (iTunes, iTunesU and all the new things announced) is a game changer.

The elephant in the room when it comes to school devices, by the way, is how to help districts that are financially struggling provide devices for every student. For example, just about every suburban school around where I live in the Chicago suburbs has a 1:1 program; most Chicago Public Schools do not. I think the ed tech industry needs to think about how we can collectively tackle this equity issue. Another unrelated concern I have, too, related to Tuesday’s Apple event is how we address and advocate for computer science in schools. Not enough people who are talking about coding have a deep understanding of it and its benefits. I’ve heard too many people in recent months talk about coding as if it’s THE magical skill for 21st century life without a lot of additional information to back this up. Anyway, enough of this digression; I’ll leave these topics here and perhaps will address them down the road in future blog posts.

I’ve been consulting with companies and schools for about 10 years now in addition to working in global and teacher education; in the name of transparency, my work as a non-traditional educator would not have been possible had I not become an Apple Distinguished Educator. This award has allowed me to be a part of a progressive community that has stretched my thinking and inspired so many areas of my work. While teacher advocacy programs and the like have come under fire in recent years, my experiences with the ADE program have been authentic, rooted in innovation and focused on what’s best for kids. For instance, after a trip to Europe with Apple in 2006, I was motivated to create a community for educators around the world and this led an annual online conference for global educators among other projects.My horizons have been expanded because of Apple no doubt.

It’s important to note that I was also involved with Google’s education efforts early on; I attended a 2006 focus group in Chicago before anything was launched for education within that company, helped run a few Google Teacher Academies and wrote curriculum for Google. It was thrilling to witness first hand Google’s evolution in education and to advocate for its tools in addition to Apple’s. Google nowadays seems to have a plethora of programs and personnel devoted to the cause and that’s great for education, too.

A friend recently lamented to me that he thought Apple would never again make education a priority within the company. However, understanding the history, thought leadership, and motives behind such companies and their work in education is essential. Apple has been invested in education for the past forty years and education is part of Steve Job’s legacy (here’s another post that details Apple’s history with computers in schools). And, who can forget Apple’s ACOT study which has been highly influential and relevant over the years?

From my perspective, Apple has never wavered in its vision for education (and yes, I understand it’s a company that wants to make a profit, too). Perhaps they took longer than one would hope when responding to its recent competition, but they have come out swinging and are leading the way for how we rethink education in the 21st century. Is it too soon to say I can’t wait to see what’s next? Make no mistake…. Apple is here to stay.

Narrated by Steve Jobs