When I posted my article, "Damn you, Apple Salesperson!" this weekend, I received a wide range of responses. The diehard Apple fans didn't know whether to praise me for finally seeing the light or bash me for not seeing it further. The Linux fans couldn't bear the thought of vendor lock-in or expensive hardware/software combinations. The Windows folks gave their expected groans. And yet many respondents were just as curious as I am if Apple can really overcome the sticker shock of new Apples and deliver a unique and compelling value proposition for educators. I'm generalizing, of course, but it's safe to say that I'm in for a mixed bag of talkbacks over the next couple of months as I work with some shiny new Apple hardware.
That brings me to my first point of follow up, by the way. I love gadgets and tech and that new computer smell far more than the average bear. However, this experiment and my willingness to give Apple a go after turning up my nose at the company's premium prices for so long is not about gadget lust. Yes, the equipment that Apple is sending me will indeed be shiny and far prettier than my current white MacBook that is just about anything but white after 2 years of a lot of writing. But this is about value and an in-depth examination of hardware and software that I haven't even managed to undertake on my own Mac. I don't even get to test out an iPad -- review units on those bad boys only went to writers who have treated Apple a lot better over the last few years than I have.
There's that V-word again: Value. The 15" MacBook Pro and 8GB iPod Touch that Apple is sending me come to $2287, including a 3-year AppleCare Protection Plan. That's a very big number for a well-heeled consumer, let alone a public educational institution. It certainly means that we'd need to get creative about financing and would want to look at the iPods (only $200) as our 1:1 devices of choice. It also means that we'd want to have some professional-class content creation hardware like the MacBook Pro or the new iMacs, but look at relatively inexpensive MacBooks, Mac Minis, and even iPads for the majority of users (if we were intent on staying within the Apple ecosystem which remains to be seen). Too many MBPs add up fast.
Then there's the specs on the MBP itself. Yes, the keyboard is backlit and very pretty, the whole thing is thin and light, and the touchpad supports all sorts of gestures. It's hardly the quad-core machine with a serious graphics card that I can get for less money from other Tier 1 vendors. The model they're sending me only has a 256MB graphics card (although it does have a hybrid integrated/discreet solution). Is the addition of Snow Leopard and a content creation/consumption ecosystem enough to justify the cost for these especially shiny objects? Maybe, but I think it's safe to say that I remain skeptical, no matter how convincing my salesperson was or how shiny the new hardware will be. As I responded to one reader who worried that I'd be making a rash, expensive decision for my district,
Open-minded? Yes...Healthy dose of skepticism? Still intact.
This experiment (for me, at least), is much more about the sorts of content I can learn to create for kids using this hardware/software combo and how easily I can generalize these skills for teachers, especially where we already have an investment in Mac hardware that isn't being used to its potential. The end result may just be an upgrade from OS 10.5 to Snow Leopard on our existing machines. Then again, maybe I'll become an Apple devotee
Then again, maybe I'll walk away and figure out how to do the same thing with commodity hardware and FOSS, with the real takeaway being new PD approaches for my teachers.
One last bit of information by way of a baseline and a response to one reader who felt that the "horrible, complex" open-source software I'd imposed on teachers was the real reason they weren't creating content and really embracing 21st Century practices:
...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.
My point here is that we have lots of Macs, HPs, and Dells. We have XP, Vista, Ubuntu, and OS X (10.3, 10.4, and 10.5). No one is being forced to use Audacity to create podcasts (although it actually works quite well). Rather, very few people are actually trying and our professional development efforts have been largely focused on pedagogy, standards, and curriculum, rather than technology integration (you have to set your priorities somewhere).
Our teachers are just working their butts off to do the best they can for their students. If I hand them the right tools and the right training (and I'm not saying that Apple represents those "right tools"), can I help them engage students more effectively and still meet their educational goals? I would hope so, but it's really a matter of finding the right tools for the job and then providing the support needed to make even the pretty iMacs we have be much more than word processors and Internet kiosks.