Can Apple Change Public Education?

Engadget reports that Apple is busy creating a model for textbook purchases that is just like its music model.

That may be a good plan, but they are aiming this at high schools.  Having done my time in the trenches of the high school educational system, including a couple of times being involved in textbook purchases, let me just say that Apple doesn’t have a chance.  There are number of reasons, but let me enumerate.

Reason the 1st:  Public schools are not big into change.  Most schools still require a 3-ring binder per subject, notebook paper, pencils, and erasers.  I was lucky enough to be in one school that did have a budget for effective technology.  Effective tech is one that improves learning, with minimal distraction*.  We had SMART boards and what I called clickers (Centio remotes, I think the brand was).  These were very effective, nearly transparent technologies that allowed me to improve education.  However, this is very rare because…

Reason the 2nd: Money.  Despite the athletics budget at your local high school, public schools are not flush with money.  One of the schools I taught at did not have enough money for every student to have a textbook… much less an iPad and a book license for every student.  This is the real killer here, but the distraction thing is pretty important too.

Reason the 3rd: Control (see distraction).  Either every student has to be able to afford an iPad, or the school has to provide them (give, loan, lease, whatever).  iPads are great tools, I have a Kindle Fire which is pretty similar, but if the students have the iPads (and they have to be able to take them home for assignments, research, etc), then the school cannot control the content on the device, cannot control the apps on the device, and cannot secure a network that these devices may connect to.  This would be an IT guys nightmare.  If there is a school network, then it would have to be very secure.  Not just from attacks, viruses, and malicious apps (believe me there are a few kids at every school who are Anonymous level of good hackers), but even to prevent instant messaging and app use within the school.  Believe me, you can’t effectively teach when you tell kids to open their book and 90% of the open Angry Birds.

Reason the 4th: Books are not that important.  Honestly, if you find a teacher who is teaching from the book everyday, then get your kid out of that class.  The teacher should be tailoring the education to the class.  I wrote a unique powerpoint for every class I taught for 2 years.  During the presentation, I would often pause and use the centio remotes to check for understanding**.  The book is not the most important part of education.  Perhaps, an interactive book with multimedia would be a benefit, but that would be even more expensive.

Reason the 5th: Books in public schools are expected to last for 8-10 years.  They will see at least that many kids, maybe more (summer school).  The school buys a book and it will last for almost a decade.  I can’t see Apple allowing a single license to be used for 10 years.  There will be new books every few months probably.  No school can afford that kind of investment… unless a license is less than $10-$15.

There are five reasons why I think Apple is making a mistake here.  College texts are very different from high school texts… and I think that Apple doesn’t understand the market.

* Distraction here being the operative word.

** These were really cool.  They were a small remote control looking device that was wirelessly connected to my PC.  Students would check out a remote when they came in the class.  The students would login with a unique ID.  The remotes would allow numeric, true/false, and A-F answers.  My PC would log who answered what and display a graph of how many students gave what answer, right there, seconds after I asked the question.  I knew whether I could go on, or I needed to go over something again.

It was without a doubt, the single most useful teaching tool I’ve ever seen.

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4 Responses to Can Apple Change Public Education?

  1. Cubist says:

    It may be worth noting that Apple has a track record for doing things which were regarded as senseless, but nevertheless turned out okay-or-better. To be sure, Apple also has a track record for doing things which were regarded as senseless and turned out not to work well. Hell if I know which category this particular Apple-thing will end up falling into, but given the historical record, perhaps it might be better to wait and see how this particular Apple-thing plays out in the RealWorld before one dismisses it as impractical?

  2. OgreMkV says:

    Thank you my friend.

    I am well and truly in the weeds with projects. Right now, I am writing the equivalent of two blog posts a week, but they are being sold to a company, so I can’t use them here. I have another writing project that I’m working on (also hopefully paid).

    Work is nuts right now and I have found a new addiction in the game of Go.

    Something had to give and it was my blog. I intend to come back to it, but it may have served it’s purpose to get me writing… and I can’t turn down the money right now.

    Feel free to comment. You may find this forum to your liking “;act=SF;f=14” if you would like to talk further, I’m usually on over there as well.


  3. Eugen says:

    Hi Ogre

    It’s good to hear everything is well. I understand, you have to prioritize. Work and family first. Same here, not too much time for other stuff. I’ll check the link and pop in here sometimes.

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