Friday, May 8, 2015

Apple's Folly (in Education)

The news from LAUSD (see here) who is suing Apple and Pearson has made the news and is probably hurting the chances of a large district buying iPads in the near future. Apple is an iconic company and I believe that it has exceptional products that work very well in k-12  and higher ed environments. You can see my reasoning in this short YouTube.


The fail in LAUSD has to do with two major problems. The first is not directly up to Apple, but instead to the partner Pearson education who offered up a not fully developed product to a large district. The second was the lack of preparation of teachers to meaningfully use iPads in the classrooms. These are common problems that are seen in a lot of tech integration including districts I work with. Adding to LAUSD and other district woes are restrictions on student and teacher uses through management software that prevents students and teachers downloading or accessing certain features. Notice that most of these problems are not directly linked to the Apple product but rather to the way it was rolled out.

It's easy to give advice, but given the PR that Apple gets from failed implementation (definitely at the scale of LAUSD), I have radical suggestions about how Apple may prevent implementation nightmares. I suggest that Apple can use its position to insist on having certain pieces part of any sales contract and be brave enough to walk away from contracts that do not include them. I believe that such an approach actually fits with the way Apple image has been projected- no compromises, we know what is good for you and will insist on it!

Remember this ad?

I believe that the same approach is needed here. Walk away if implementation is doomed (yes I know easy for me to say).

Here are the three elements that I think Apple should insist on when selling in Education:

1. Insist on a reasonable professional development for teachers that goes beyond a single event. Part of the contract needs to be a reasonable plan for supporting teachers for at least one year. This can be part of Apple services (they do it extremely well in some places) or internal to a district or school, but insisting on a funded well designed PD is a must for successful integration (and good press, and renewed contracts). We all know what it should look like (if you don't watch out for our next publication).

2. Insist on minimal or NO management software. The management software has repeatedly failed, updated and still falls short of the quick agile response that people expect from personal mobile devices. I will argue that it will never work because our expectation from mobile devices is inherently different from other devices. Students and teachers are perfectly capable of managing devices like iPads. Insist on the personal freedom to make decisions and learning to be a good digital citizens without external control (rewatch the video). I cannot express how many frustrated teachers I meet during PD that describe in exasperated tones how long it takes to use a new app that we just talked about and will take 3-4 weeks to get to them (if not more). For example an description from a teacher I worked with:

"As easy as it may sound when someone says “oh, that’s easy, there’s an app for that”, when working with public school property, it was definitely not easy to just download the apps I wanted.  After several frustrating, failed attempts at trying to download from the app store, I found out that despite having an apple ID to purchase, download, etc., from the app store, that does not carry over to School owned devices.  There was a protocol for getting an app put on a device that was owned by the district.  Unbeknownst to me there were several steps I needed to follow in order to get a single app downloaded to just one device, and there were three.  I could not simply ‘get an app’ downloaded within minutes like a personal device.  Nor could I just delete one that I didn’t like.  One of the biggest barriers so far was not being able to put the apps on the devices when I needed them. "
If you want teachers to use devices and give the product a good name (and repurchases) insisting on full access (even if just to free apps) would be priceless. The note to districts is always the same. If we trust teachers with the lives of 20 priceless six-year olds I think we can trust them with devices. 

3. Make a push for OER (Open Educational Resources). The device gets much cheaper when it is coupled with an excellent free curriculum. OER is on the rise and may very well be a major part of the new No Child Left Behind Act. The move to OER can also pay for the aforementioned professional development. This last bit is not a must in my mind but a strong suggestion that will help use of the great aspects of the device such as iBooks, iTunesU etc.

I love Apple products and think they have great promise in the classroom. That would be my roadmap.
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