The Real World

I’ve been reading more and more criticism about Apple’s announcement on January 19. The critics are the pundits – those well respected names in the educational reform/tech world. The criticisms  vary, but focus on a few similar themes:

  • Apple didn’t revolutionize education
  • The tools are too proprietary
  • The copyright issue with iBooks Author is a killer
  • There are no social tools in the new products – no back and forth conversations, no shared authorship, etc.

I agree with all of it. They are, of course, correct in their assessment. Apple didn’t revolutionize education, the tools work only on iPads, the copyright rules are ridiculous, and there are no social tools.

But does that make the announcement a failure? Not in my mind.

The education tech/reform thought leaders don’t live in my world. While I wish what they wanted would happen, my world is years behind. Not only are the schools I see not ready to move away from textbooks, they aren’t ready to move to digital textbooks. They aren’t ready for the cloud. They don’t see the need or advantage of using technology. They see only the problems with digital: too expensive, too complicated, they’d have to teach differently, the kids would cheat, etc. These schools aren’t ready to move away from the teacher as the expert. They aren’t ready to allow other forms of assessment (to be fair, their hands are tied by NCLB.) They don’t see the need to teach students about digital literacy. They are afraid the students know more than they do.

(I will be flamed for criticizing teachers. I am not doing that. I am criticizing a system that doesn’t not empower teachers to look for new tools. A system that rewards test scores, not creativity. )

This is the world I see:

  • Kids aren’t allowed to use the $1.99 or free graphing calculator on their iPhone because they might text answers to friends. Instead, they have carry around an extra device – for $125.
  • NO CELLPHONES allowed in class. The teacher will take them for the day, or they are given to the office for a parent to pick up.
  • Teachers don’t see any use for technology tools for students, or they see technology as only a distraction.
  • The primary use of any technology in the classroom with students is for word processing and internet research.
  • Biggest advantage of giving iPads to students would be to free up the tech staff from managing servers – not because of the learning.
  • Students aren’t given accounts on Google apps because no one can think of a good use.
  • Honors  high school courses are taught without any use of technology. It’s all reading texts and taking multiple choice and essay tests.
  • The goal of the honors courses is to prep kids for the Advanced Placement tests and college – not to think critically about the content, access primary sources, collaborate with others, create projects, etc.
  • Can’t do a BYOD program because a few kids don’t have devices (instead of figuring out a way to get them devices.)
  • Teachers telling me they’ve taught this way for years and it’s worked. Why change?
  • Current events classes are taught by reading local papers in print with an “occasional” trip to the computer lab to read other papers.
  • Teachers not knowing how to connect a laptop to a wireless network.
  • Teachers only have Internet Explorer on their school owned laptops – no alternate browsers. (THIS ISN’T 2002! Give them more tools!!!!)

You see? This is the world I see every day as a parent. I spend my days reading the writings of thought leaders, talking to teachers all over the country (via social media, reading their blogs, etc.) about the innovative things they are doing with iPads, social media, BYOD, etc. Then, I go into my kids’ schools and to teacher trainings and see something totally different. It’s frustrating for me, and I know it’s frustrating for teachers and schools to have one more thing thrown at them.

That’s why I think the Apple announcement is a big deal.

  • Apple  – a mainstream, common name – promoting some of these technologies, that to the mainstream education world are new, different, game changing, is a very big deal.
  • Big name publishers FINALLY come out with a textbook that is starting – just barely- to take advantage of the digital medium is a big deal. It is a big deal to these districts that just can’t figure out how or why to move to a digital instructional model.
  • Making iTunes U freely available to K-12 schools is a big deal. This is a tool that many people know. It’s not some scary sounding software like Moodle that people who aren’t comfortable with technology find intimidating.
  •  The iBooks Authoring tool is a big deal. Yes, it’s only for iPad. Yes, it’s only available for Lion. No, it doesn’t have any social/collaborative authoring capabilities. YET. But, it is a great tool for teachers to tiptoe into. It’s familiar. It’s Apple. And students? The possibilities for students to create “books” as assignments and projects is huge.

I have the utmost respect  and admiration for the thought leaders in the education reform /ed tech area. I read their blogs daily.  I have learned so much from them. I am convinced that they are laying the path for where education has to go.

But, I would like to invite them to come to my world. I also have a ton of respect and admiration for the teachers I encounter daily. Their plates are already full, and we’re asking them to totally change how they do their job. Come talk to the teachers I talk to. Have them help the teachers I train learn how to find a wireless network. Teach them that there are different browsers  – the Internet Explorer isn’t  the internet. Model the new tools to the teachers and to the students. Show them positive uses of technology tools. Help them feel comfortable with a new look at education.

The real world is far behind. I’m hoping Apple’s announcement is a small step towards validating the new educational reality.

Yup, the Apple Announcement IS a Big Deal

I watched Apple’s announcement with great interest. The expectation was that this announcement would “revolutionize” education.

That’s a pretty tough expectation. Unrealistic. And Apple didn’t revolutionize education.

I’ve read plenty of criticism of the announcement.

Audrey Watters was totally unimpressed.  She wanted the revolution. She quoted Phil Schiller, “ It’s the same great content we’ve always had in textbooks, Phil Schiller said onstage today, just in a new digital format.” For Audrey, that’s the problem. She doesn’t want textbooks.  She has a compelling argument. She feels that primary source material is easily available now and teachers can compile it themselves.

In theory, I totally agree. In my first teaching job (7-8th grade social studies), there were no textbooks. I was allowed to create my own class, totally from scratch – including topic, sources, assignments, outcomes. It would’ve been a great opportunity – except I was 24 years old and had never taught before. I’d LOVE to have that opportunity now. I was in no way prepared for it then. We did end up with a pretty good class, somehow.

Most schools don’t run that way – wish they did. It would take more than a revolution in education to get states out of the business of selecting texts. It would take way more money to pay teachers fair pay for developing curriculum.

Beyond that, Audrey Watters and others complain that Apple’s products are proprietary – they work only on iPads. That the EULA is restrictive. That the “interactive” features are really only frosting, they are just the same type of teaching, just with bells and whistles. There is not social feature in any of the tools introduced.

All these things are true.

But I still think the announcement is a big deal. Why? Because it pushes mainstream digital publishers to recognize that digital texts are reality. It brings these ideas into everybody’s attention. Apple is much more of a household name than Inkling. It’ll take Apple to get school administrators, teachers, parents and students to take this seriously – even if they don’t have iPads.

Most schools aren’t anywhere near ready to abandon textbooks. Jumping to a digital textbook is enough of a revolution. For the schools that are lucky enough to already have iPads, this really is a great deal. It’s a great first step until the software and books mature.

The iBooks Author tool will be another step towards moving away from textbooks – it’ll let teachers (and students!) see that they can collect, curate and deliver content.

Things will evolve. It’s only a matter of time until Apple gets the pressure to have iBooks Author publish to other formats – or someone else will figure it out. The copyright issue will have to change. iTunes U will have to add some social features.

While this may not be a revolution, it’s a great first step!