Damn you, Apple Salesperson!

Damn you, Apple Salesperson!

Summary: I drank a sip of Apple Kool-Aid on Friday. This is the beginning of a series on my experiences with some Apple hardware to see if it really can be transformative in the classroom.


Friday was a bad day. It's a good thing that I only had to work a half day thanks to Good Friday. I won't get into details, but suffice to say that it was one of those days that makes you want to go live on a farm and spend your days talking to corn rather than people. And to top it all off, my district's new Apple sales rep had scheduled a meeting with me for 10:00 Friday in a moment of weakness when he called a few weeks ago. Just what I needed - An Apple sales rep in my office the day before the iPad launched. Ugh.

I rolled in late to the meeting, ushered him into my office that has most recently become a graveyard for a bunch of ancient colored iMacs (of course) and tossed my own aging Macbook covered with Ubuntu stickers on my desk. He was very well-dressed. I was in no mood for an impeccably dressed, Gen-Y, cheerful Mac lover. Besides, knowing that my already barebones budget was probably going to be cut by at least 50% within 2 weeks (major cuts from the state will do that to you), I wasn't sure how I was going to afford replacement parts and a few SMART boards, let alone overpriced consumer toys and fancy ebook readers.

This was basically how I opened our conversation. Along with, "Sure, I know Apple makes nice products, but with no entry-level products, how am I going to inch any closer to 1:1 and maximize the number of computers in my students' hands? How am I going to reach the next level of technology integration in the curriculum with Macs? And by the way, the DRM and regional content control on the iPad doesn't sit well with me either."

I was on a roll, utterly unconcerned that I wasn't being fair to this guy. He was, after all, just doing his job. He just happened to set up a meeting with the wrong guy on the wrong day.

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We'll call him Frank, by the way. I'm not sure if he actually wants his name in print in this blog, which has traditionally not been terribly friendly to Apple. I have to hand it to him, though. He took me completely in stride. My mom, who I once watched sell a glass of water to a drowning man, would have been proud (well, he wasn't actually drowning, but I did grow up going with her on days off from school to the coffee/tea shop she ran; to this day, she is the consummate salesperson and I know good sales when I see it).

Seriously, he was good. So good that he not only piqued my curiosity about the iPad (I've been more than happy to wait for Linux/Android-based tablets to hit the market; we know the iPad's going to be cool, but just not cool enough for me to pull a Perlow and think about buying one), but got me thinking about ways that I could get teachers generating content on their own MacBook Pros and pushing it out to iPod Touches and iPads that the students used in a full 1:1 environment.

Had I just been bamboozled by Apple?!?!? Had a wily salesperson pulled me within the Apple reality distortion field? Where was my sense of fiscal responsibility? What about Ubuntu? Or Windows 7, for that matter? Commodity hardware is our friend, right? Thin clients, anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

OK, so before I have a coronary here, let me explain the 4 hooks he used to at least get me to be a bit more open-minded about Apple in education.

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First, as we all know, the average teacher will struggle to create engaging content consistent with our students' expectations. Many have begun to use Web 2.0 tools and quite a few use email, chat, or websites to interact with students. But creating compelling video and audio content that is easily accessible by students would prove challenging for many teachers (or simply wouldn't occur to them, given the teaching methodologies that have been in place for so many years). However, most of us would agree (whether we actually like it or not) that the iLife suite does, in fact, make it easy to record lessons, distribute them as podcasts, develop videos, and create lesson-related audio files that students can use and review later. Sure, all of these things can be done on Windows or Linux, but getting teachers to do it easily and automatically would certainly be helped by a well-integrated software suite.

Not bad, but then, of course, he selected an article from the New York Times, had it read aloud, told me how to turn the text-to-speech into an MP4 file, and push it out to iTunes to sync with students' iPods. Well that's pretty cool. As he pointed out, it's one benefit of that closed ecosystem I tend to rant about.

Then he pulled the Special Education trump card. Like the text-to-speech-to-MP4-to-iPod trick, he showed me the accessibility features built into Snow Leopard (and, to some extent, to OS 10.5). The zooming, the gesture support, the vision-impaired audio support for gestures, the speed variations capable in text-to-speech...you get the idea. The accessibility features built in are pretty darned good and are quite intuitive. They're the sort of things, along with the increased ability to address multimodal learning through the iLife tools, that start making Apples seem worth getting creative for in terms of our budget.

While many of these tools are actually available in a Linux environment, even the FOSS advocate in me has to admit that they simply aren't integrated, consistent, or intuitive in the same way that Apple's are. What struck me is that I've been a Mac user for quite a while, yet I've always used it just like any other PC. I've gotten my job done, I spend most of my time in the cloud, and I just don't feel like I got my money's worth out of the MacBook I bought a couple years ago. My wife just won't let me give it to my kid and buy a new computer for myself on which I can Ubuntu to my heart's content. Something about repairing the brakes on the car...

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Same goes for the Macs we deployed in 3 of our schools. They get used all the time, but the kids don't tend to do much with them that they couldn't do on a cheap PC. Our music teachers use GarageBand a lot, but they're hardly transformative classroom tools. I'm starting to get the feeling that this is a result of ignorance of their real power. It's also a result of the "computer time" mentality that I've struggled against for years instead of the "lesson-time-that-of-course-integrates-our-computers" mentality that good 1:1 programs have fostered.

There's that 1:1 term again. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that true integration really requires not just a low student-computer ratio, but a 1:1 ratio. But that will be hard enough to achieve without introducing more expensive hardware, won't it? Maybe, although the Apple rep and I talked about school-subsidized/sponsored teacher and student lease programs where students and teachers bear the majority of the hardware costs (subsidized for those who can't afford them), made affordable by leases at academic prices.

Hook #3? He's giving me a MacBook Pro and iPod Touch for 6 weeks through their "Executive Loaner" program. I'm going to produce a ton of content, put the computer through its paces, distribute content to as many kids and teachers with iPods as possible, and see if a better understanding of (and total immersion in) the tools that come with Apple hardware can make a real difference. What use cases can I envision for teachers and students? Can I enable 1:1 with an inexpensive iPod Touch? Can I make a real case for serious investments (or potentially controversial student/teacher buy programs) or is my skepticism about bloated hardware costs really justified?

Hook #4? As the rep was leaving, he pulled out his iPhone and said, "I'm really visual - do you mind if I take your picture so that I can place you with your name?" Of course, being visually and reading-oriented myself and totally incapable of remember a name (but never forgetting a face), I thought how useful something as simple as a visual cue that students could associate with a concept would be in the classroom. The Touch and iPad don't have cameras built in, but drawing is relatively easy. The important point is that this rep had been steeped in 21st century culture for long enough that he didn't even think twice about snapping a picture and making it part of my contact information.

All that talk of Digital Natives and how they think about things in a fundamentally different way than us Digital Immigrants? It's all true. Can a Mac ecosystem address that better than other, more open, less expensive ecosystems? I'll hopefully have a better answer once I've spent some time tapping the full potential of the MBP and Touch. My mind is certainly a bit more open than it was, but I'm hardly convinced; the call of Ubuntu, cheap hardware on TigerDirect, and the open cloud are strong. You'll be seeing lots of posts about this over the next 7 weeks (it will take a week to get the hardware to me). Who knows, maybe I'll get them to send me an XServe, too.

In the meantime, a couple big questions on which I'm waiting for answers from Apple:

  1. How do you manage an entire set/cart/school of iPod touches (or iPads for that matter)? Can a single computer sync playlists/books/videos with unlimited iPods? I thought there were restrictions on this.
  2. Any way yet of dealing with DRM on books? E.g., if I wanted a whole class of iPads to have a particular ebook, is there a way to purchase and deploy that book legally? And redeploy it to another class next semester?

Feel free to talk back with your experiences in Ed with Apple's ecosystem products. Lots more to come here.

Topic: Apple

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Deja view

    I have so many opinions similar to yours: the high price of not-really-used-for-high-levels-of-learning tools, difficulty for teachers to produce high quality content, willing to wait for Android, and being recently enticed by the ease, integration, and (sadly) ubiquity of Apple products (and salespeople).

    For the cart approaches, check out Escondido, CA district iRead program. They use the carts with iPods for reading and have extended it to several classrooms for all types of learning.

    Regarding books, I think district people should start putting the pressure that once we've bought the content, we've bought it and it should be available for us to lend to students.

    On devices, I hope we can find a way to accept all sorts of devices because some students will already have their own favored device. Why couldn't we just make learning content available on that?

    Finally, many many schools will never be able to afford these elite tools, so how do we make them available for a wider variety of students. We have to keep pushing open source, easy to get and to use tools or the digital divide will continue to grow and exacerbate our other divides - access to information, learning resources, good teaching, etc.
  • RE: Damn you, Apple Salesperson!

    For the questions :

    1a) Any copy of iTunes can support unlimited numbers of
    iPods, iPhones or iPads. Your problem will be logistical, in
    lining up all of the devices to sync from a single computer.

    1b) Look into OS X Server and MCX - basically you have
    something similar to Windows' Group Policy for managing
    remote user accounts, home directories, net-booting,
    auto-installation, ... NB - you don't need an xServe for
    this, try it out with the Mini preloaded with OS X Server.

    1c) OS X supports NFS beautifully - set up NFS auto-
    mounts to directories under /Network and you have a
    perfect solution for shared content without any "connect to
    server" instructions or scripts.

    2a) If you create your own ePub content, you can simply
    drop it into iTunes and sync it where you want.

    2b) For DRM'd content, as long as you're using a single
    iTunes Store account you can share the files with up to 5
    physical computers and unlimited tethered devices
  • ignorant

    "...I?m starting to get the feeling that this is a result of
    ignorance of their real power..."

    and you are wondering no one takes your ignorant rants
    seriously? you are the technology director and yet you had no
    idea what the very platform you all the time objected is
    capable of.

    i don't understand how someone can pay you for ignorantly not
    supplying all those teachers and students with the best tools
    available for years.

    hurry up, start to deploy the best technology (instead of the
    cheapest) before some of your superiors get a clue, ask the
    same question and fire you for your incompetence so far.
    • Wait...

      "hurry up, start to deploy the best technology (instead of the cheapest)"

      Um...doesn't the point that school districts have limited budgets, and the point he said that they are having cuts from the state, make the point that cheapest may be more important than the supposed "best"
      • what did he write?

        "But creating compelling video and audio content that is easily accessible
        by students would prove challenging for many teachers"

        so he is blaming the teachers for not being able to use all the horrible
        complex software he provided (but look, it's cheap!) and so they get
        nothing done, but at least it was "open".
        • That's the thing

          Blogging a fuller response to this, but it's worth noting that at this
          point, I haven't provided them with horrible, complex software. We're
          mixed Mac and Windows, some Linux kiosks, and Mac/Win/Linux on
          the backend. Not blaming teachers, but noting that our teachers are so
          focused on meeting mandated achievement goals that they revert to
          traditional methods rather than taking the time to explore new
          methods. That, of course, is my job, but I spend far too much time
          keeping the boat from sinking to focus on leading innovative,
          technology-driven instruction.

          It's a dilemma, but it's something that I have to address if we want to
          really move forward. Can an Apple ecosystem make this happen with
          less pain than Windows or Linux? Maybe, but maybe there are other
          tools like interactive whiteboards or Web 2.0 technologies that can
          make it happen just as well. And thus, my experiment over the next
          few weeks.

          • sure, ...

            ... knowing that you can easily make podcasts in garageband and
            distribute them via itunes is very hard to know about (unless you are so
            ideological entrenched in the geek, cheap skate linux open universe).
            think and look outside your little box, man. that is your job.

            reading your rants occasionally, i would have fired you a long time ago.
            ignorant, clueless and incompetent.
          • RE:

            You're got to excuse him, Dawson. Don't take someone who cannot use punctuation properly seriously. Probably just a poor old sap ranting away on his Mac.

            Anyway I think your article makes a fair point. We usually neglect Apple in education because of the price point. Questions on whether a higher priced computer can fetch better overall value are hard to answer, because of the intangible nature of the latter. Hope your experiment goes well!
          • I hope so, too

            Equipment to be delivered early next week - we'll see if living, eating, and
            breathing Mac will be everything the Mac lovers say it is :)

            It's funny - I've had a Mac as my primary laptop for a couple years now.
            It's served me well, but so have other laptops. As I've turned more and
            more to the cloud, I've largely stopped taking it to work. At this point, I
            can do most of my job sitting in front of any web browser. The real
            question becomes, though, can I produce and share content that lets me
            (and the teachers I support) do my job better if I focus more on the
            platform. We'll find out.
      • Seriously???

        So buy the cheapest device out their no matter the cost and possibly loose your entire investment b/c it doesnt do what it was intended to do and another class graduates with low scores.... that's if they graduate at all.

        The definition of insanity = continue to do the same thing over and over and expect better result. I guess buying cheap will make our children smarter than all the foreign countries that are kicking our butts right now and taking our childrens spots in the top colleges in America!!
    • Yeah!!!!

      How DARE he not prostrate himself on the floor and begin speaking in tongues, extolling the greatness of all things Apple!!!
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • no praising necessary, ...

        just an open mind instead of ignorance, cluelessness and incompetence
        all in the name of cheap and open.
        • I found that both a Cadillac and a Chevrolet

          will take you from point A to point B.

          If the goal is to arrive at point B, does a Cadillac get you there any differently, seeing that both vehicles come equally equipped?

          So why should the school spend the extra money if it does not do what they need any better?
          • read the article?

            "So why should the school spend the extra money if it does not do what
            they need any better?"

            but it does do what the school needs much better. that's what he is
            writing about and about to discover in full in the coming weeks. and
            should have known that for years, if he would be competent.
          • Apple Fan Boys, please sit down.

            Why do I feel like the majority of the Apple Fans who are commenting have never had to run a technology program for anything with the scale and scope of a school district??

            I think the biggest problem with the apple-fans comments seems to be they are assuming that all schools can afford to do 1:1 ipod, and macbook learning initiatives.

            Guess what, I dont know of a single school who is doing an initiative like that, with apple hardware today. They can't afford it today, without a massive subsidy from Apple. And apple won't put up the money for more than one school. I work with Toshiba, and they have some very successful 1:1 initiatives with private schools,but even those schools are struggling to keep the programs alive because parents dont want to spend the money. Yes the argument can be made that the Apple technology provides more value.. but ask a parent today whether they want to front the money for $1300 in apple tech before their high-schooler starts school next year, and they'll likely say no. You have to prove $1300 in better quality education (than what they can already get)for every child, in order to win that argument.
          • if it is not possible ...

            ...then why are more and more schools and university doing exactly just
            that. employing an all apple solution. a lot of studies have shown that tco
            is much less than of windows and linux systems.

            it is not a matter of cost but a matter of technology advisers like mr.
            dawson. they are eighter linux geeks and have no understanding of the
            computer needs of regular people or are deeply entrenched in their
            microsoft certificated windows world.

            the point that he admits that he not even knew about some of the basic
            benefits of the iLife solutions for teachers and students is embarrasing
            (he is the technology director!).

            i wouldn't want advise from someone so clueless.
        • No wait!

          This one wins the gold medal!
          Sleeper Service
    • Take it Easy!

      You are not in his job and you have know idea what the economic
      restrictions are on his district. If it were that easy to make tech
      decisions, the students would be running the program... right? Or
      Teachers would know how to save an attachment.
    • Irony.

      "and you are wondering no one takes your ignorant rants seriously?"

      Gold medal right there.
      Sleeper Service
    • What?

      Did you ever work in a school with almost no budget? I did it for 16 years, and Tech Directors would get the best if they could afford it ... but they have to get the best they can afford.