Can Apple Revolutionize Education? January 24, 2012Posted by Peter Varhol in Education, Publishing, Technology and Culture.
Last week Apple held a media event pronouncing its intent to revolutionize public education with its iPad and an agreement with textbook publishers to make textbooks available for the iPad. It noted that this partnership would eventually lead to multimedia textbooks that are continuously updated, easy and even engaging to follow, and changing how we structure learning.
If only it were so easy to revolutionize education. Education was supposed to be revolutionized in the late 1980s with the availability of PCs (and Macs) in the classroom. Some schools went so far as to have close to a one-to-one ratio of computers to students, so that each student would have ample opportunity to benefit from substantial time on the computer.
The results were mixed, due to a combination of a lack of teacher understanding of how to make use of computers, the inability to change curricula to take advantage of the strengths of computers, and inconsistent use between and within schools. In practice, very little changed.
A few years later, the Web became public and popular, and schools spent embarrassingly large sums of money to network and connect to the Web. More changed, but the curricula pretty much stayed the same. Little changed in the way of learning outcomes.
It’s entirely possible that iPads, or tablets in general, can become more or less living textbooks. These textbooks may even be kept more or less up to date, incorporating recent events and trends.
But that’s not going to revolutionize education. In my mind, the major impediment is that curricula and practices are largely and rigidly standardized. You can’t substantially change primary education until you change the process.
And then there’s ZDNet’s look at Apple’s EULA, where Apple appears to claim a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. Apple wants to monetize its so-called revolution in ways that stretch the bounds of credulity.
I don’t blame Apple for this pretty transparent attempt at increasing profits with very little effort. If I were Apple, I would probably try to leverage my technology and market position in similar ways.
But the iPad isn’t going to change education. As big and successful as Apple is, public education has far too much legacy inertia behind it. Apple simply can’t pretend that a decent hardware product and a dubious content licensing model is going to move the needle here.