What Apple should do with all its money.

Quarterly earnings report after quarterly earnings report Apple is making so many billions of dollars in profit it has no idea what to do with it.  They basically have the reverse problem of every government on this planet these days, what to do with all these damn billions of dollars laying around.  Once you swim Scrooge Mcduck style through it, what do you do with mile high wads of cash?  Well besides hiring some employees so their products actually work well (I’m looking at you Apple Motion the most bug prone piece of software apple has ever released and the apple Podcast app), I have a suggestion that will not only help their future bottom line even further, but might help the world at the same time.

There is a crisis in the the United States, and it is only getting worse over time, and it might be the most important crisis the united states needs to address.  Unfortunately the US government isn’t agile enough to breakthrough political gridlock and actually do what’s necessary.  Maybe Apple can help, and maybe they should take it on as a moral imperative to go above and beyond to do what they can.

I propose apple should:

•Start an extensive R & D lab to design the classroom of the future.

•Make free teacher training sites across the country to implement the best practices learned from the R & D

•Make a fund to help provide the poorest schools with technology and training.

Right now education is going through changes at an exponential rate, and teachers are all struggling to deal with demands from parents, districts and government mandated testing, that they need all the help they can get.

The ‘digital classroom’ is no longer a buzz word or a dream for the future, but a difficult reality teachers are having to try to adapt to.  The Teacher’s role is changing from a talking head at the front of the class, to a facilitator of a learning environment filled with ipads and internet based assignments.  The concept of an ideal digital classroom is great in theory, but still very difficult in reality.  Apple’s lower cost ipad (and now ipad mini) makes it seem tantalizingly possible to administrators, as the cost of a classroom full of ipads is now close to the cost of old text books over a couple years.  More and more schools are buying ipads instead of traditional computers as it’s a cheaper alternative.

But in actuality, managing a classroom full of students on individual computers and even ipads is like trying to herd cats.  Apple’s ipads are super easy for students to use (and abuse), but they are still super difficult for teachers and their tech staff to manage.  Nearly every aspect of managing a fleet of ipads in a large classroom setting is very difficult.  Even though Apple has made strides to help educators with their iBooks eTextbooks initiative, it’s really baby steps, and there are huge leaps and bounds to go before Apple actually designs a learning materials system that is truly useful for teachers.  Books with moving pictures is barely a revolution at all.  How about books that help teachers know what their students have learned?

What areas should be focused on to make an actually useful system for teachers to control their unwieldy iClassrooms?

  1. Apple had a great system where a teacher could simultaneously see every screen of their students as it was being used, could turn off all the screens when they wanted the students attention, and could share what was on one student’s screen on the big projector screen on class to show off their work.  All wirelessly, and relatively easily.  Unfortunately this system was hard to set up and only works with computers, not ipads.  This program was called “Apple Remote Desktop”  and Apple still sells it, but hasn’t updated this software for more than five years.  If apple actually wants to help teachers they need to develop this system for the ipad ecosystem as well, and make it easy to use on a Teacher’s ipad and computer.
  2.  Apple needs to make it very easy to push out apps and learning materials to a fleet of ipads through the cloud.  The process of synching and individually making sure all the ipads in a classroom have the right materials is a still way too difficult and time consuming.  There should be a way to remotely see what apps & materials is on all of the ipads, see what their battery charge is, as well as easily collect assignment materials from all of the ipads back to the teacher’s computer.
  3. Apple needs to have a super simple login system for ipads.  This should use the built-in iSight camera and perhaps the microphone.  Before you can unlock the ipad the camera should watch you say your password, and through visual and vocal recognition it should login the student.  The process shouldn’t take more than a couple seconds.  Once the student is logged in, the iPad should collect information that is useful for the teacher.  What materials did the student actually read.  If there was any quiz material how did the student score.  Did the student make good use of their time or not.  While teachers don’t have the time to do huge amounts of complex data mining, if this information is provided simply and clearly it could be a great help, especially if the ipad can do some of the grading for the teacher.
  4. Apple ibooks and ibook textbooks still have a ways to go to meet their potential to help students and teachers.  ibooks should have built in tools to help teach reading, phonics, and vocabulary.  The student should be able to make lists of words they need help learning while reading, and then there should be the ability to be quizzed on these difficult words later on.  The built in ibooks quizes are a nice idea, but there’s no way for a teacher to know how well the students did on the quizzes.  iBooks should be part of a larger system of auto-grading homework, and assignment collection.
  5. Through this whole process Apple needs to get out of cupertino’s meticulous design labs and into actual classrooms, and not just classes around Stanford, but poor schools in Oakland.  A digital classroom needs to be workable in the poorest districts to be considered a true success for this country.   Through the whole process a variety of teachers need to be included to understand and meet their real needs.  Apple should also talk to a variety of researchers to see how they can help implement the newest research-based best practices.  Students need scaffolding, high level activities from Bloom’s taxonomy, and most importantly project-based learning.   Apple’s learning lab should get the best minds working with real teachers teaching in a variety of classrooms to find ways to help design the optimal digital classroom.
  6. And the final and most important step is to do teacher training, conferences, and to create and maintain peer networks for teachers so they can support each other.  Just throwing ipads into a classroom without the training and support needed to use them successfully is a sure way to create intense burdens if not all out failure.  I’ve seen many technologies sit unused in school storage rooms, big wastes of money and time, because the teachers were never supported or taught how to use them.  The future of our kids deserve doing what it takes to have the digital classroom succeed.

Yes Apple’s success in getting iPads into classrooms has been astounding, but this has more to do with economics and lack of other options, then because Apple’s system is truly ideal for learning environments.  Just because apple is dominate in education again, doesn’t mean they should rest on their laurels.  Now is the time to use all the surplus cash to make a great product for a teacher, to make a great product for an education system in need.  Apple has barely scratched the surface of the problem, and in fact without making useful tools and training for teachers, might be making the problem worse.  So please Apple, throw some of your billions at the problem, they’re not helping anyone in the bank (you’ll get your billions back later with a generation of new customers anyway).  The amount of goodwill you get for this is also unmeasurable and might make all the fanatics stop griping about everything you do (well maybe for a little while, griping about apple is 25% of the web’s activity these days – this post included.)

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