Apple's new vision of education

Can it do for learning what it did for music and mobile devices?

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For schools and educators interested in creating courses, there's a relatively straightforward application process (which needs to be completed from a school-wide perspective) and a series of web-based creation and management tools.

Can Apple re-invent education?

Apple's new education tools are revolutionary, both in concept and in execution. The question, however, is whether Apple can reinvent how we learn (and teach) just as it changed the music and home entertainment industries or how we think about and use smartphones and other mobile devices.

I can only speak from a U.S. education perspective, but my years of working with public, private and special needs schools -- as well as community colleges and universities -- leaves me a bit skeptical that Apple can pull off an education revolution.

Public school districts in the U.S. will face big challenges trying to turn Apple's vision into reality. Even though some may succeed, there are many that can't -- lagely for financial reasons. School districts across the country are cutting programs, laying off teachers and staff, consolidating classes and even closing schools in an effort to make do with less money. The economy is making it difficult for schools to meet their financial needs through property taxes and with many cities and states facing major budget shortfalls, there may not be enough money for many districts to even contemplate investing in iPads and digital textbooks.

One of the challenges for districts is the need to provide equal access for all students. That means shouldering the burden of investing in iPads and digital textbook copies. There's an argument to be made that in time, they'll save money on replacing textbooks, but many middle and high school subjects are evergreen - algebra and geometry don't change much. Neither do foreign languages. That means those books can be reused year after year and even shared between students.

Then there's the challenge -- even where money is available -- of rolling out new teaching methods and technologies. The revolt among teachers and the teachers' union in Idaho against state-wide technology requirements in the classroom shows the resistance that remains to modernizing teaching in public schools. This issue alone may prove insurmountable in some communities.

There's also the issue of choosing textbooks. That includes not just selecting the texts a district or given teacher wants. There are regulatory issues that involve administration decisions and state-wide requirements when it comes to instructional materials and syllabi.

Implementation, of course, goes beyond just buying the iPads. Schools will also need the IT resources to deploy, manage, and support them. In poorer or rural schools, even on-campus Wi-Fi may not be an option, to say nothing about purchasing a mobile device management solution. IT departments will also need to work hand-in-hand with teachers to get them up to speed and comfortable with using iPads in the classroom.

Even in the most prepared districts, getting all the pieces -- human and technical-- in place and thoroughly tested will take time. Few districts are likely to get everything in place for the next school year. Many would be lucky to even get a pilot project with a handful of teachers and students in place by then.

Overall, Apple may be able to lead the way here, but it's going to be a long process.

Private schools - iPad and digital heaven

Private schools will most definitely have an easier time implementing iPads and digital textbooks. Private schools are funded by tuition and other fund-raising options like private grants, alumni membership fees and donations. Private schools also have the option of setting and requiring that supplies and materials be purchased by the families of students. That option can offset the cost of digital textbooks, and even iPads, if the cost isn't bundled into student tuition.

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