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Apple and Higher Ed in the Post Jobs Era
August 25, 2011 - 9:16pm

As the post Steve Jobs chapter begins at Apple, perhaps this a good moment to re-engage Apple's long and productive relationship with higher ed.

Apple's mindshare in higher ed has probably never been greater. How many of you reading this column are doing so on an Apple product? In my world, the majority of students I see come through our doors carrying Apple laptops, and more often than not they also have an iPhone or an iPad. iTunes is a part of daily life, and iTunesU is probably the pre-eminent open education destination.

The growing ubiquity of Apple in academia, however, has been accompanied by a disengagement with the higher ed community. I'm not talking about our relationship with our campus reps, which in my experience has always been amazing. Rather, I'm thinking about the seeming lack of opportunities to work with Apple on a strategic level, to engage and co-discover new ways that existing Apple products and services can integrate with higher education. I'm thinking of the lack of opportunities to interact with Apple leadership at conferences or other events.

Perhaps my experience with Apple is not representative. Perhaps folks from higher ed have had opportunities to get to know the leadership in Apple's education business. Have you? Over the past couple of years I've been able to interact with the leadership of the big players in ed tech and publishing, often with these relationships being initiated and nurtured at the annual EDUCAUSE conference.

There are a number of good counterarguments to my complaints about a lack of a relationship with Apple leadership and higher ed. They include:

Counterargument 1: Apple leadership is in fact engaging with higher ed, creating productive partnerships and shared innovations. (And I just don't know about these conversations).

Counterargument 2: Apple leadership is not engaged in conversations and collaborations with higher ed, but then again Apple leadership doesn't collaborate with anyone outside of the company. They are focused on bringing out great hardware and software, and while a culture of transparency and dialogue might work for higher ed, it is not the Apple way. (And Apple's success speaks for itself).

Counterargument 3: Apple is as engaged with higher ed as any other company, and in fact offers products and services (such as iTunesU, PodCast Producer, and Apple student hardware deals), that go far beyond Microsoft, Google, etc. etc.

Counterargument 4: Stop whining, get a life, and realize that Apple is just not that into you.

These are all possibilities, and each may contain some truth, but I'd argue that Apple's lack of engagement with higher ed (if this is indeed true) is a lost opportunity for us both.

Apple has disrupted the music industry, a business that didn't want to be disrupted. But us higher ed folks want to be disrupted, we are looking for new models and new technologies and perspectives that can improve learning and lower costs. We'd be overjoyed If Apple created teaching apps, or even a full online university, that were as elegant as the other Mac products. How great would it be if we learned to give lectures (or conference presentations) with the same panache and smoothness as an Apple product demo!

Some ideas:

  • Perhaps we could work with Apple to bundle Podcast Producer and iTunesU, a project that integrates lecture capture and open learning one initiative.
  • Maybe we have some ideas about iOS, iPhones and iPads and mobile learning can go next, ideas that can inform the hardware or operating system.
  • Or maybe we'd both learn from debating the pros and cons of content moving to the cloud, and whether or not the Google Chromebook model of a cloud based machine (lightweight, always connected), will become a student learning platform of choice.

What would you want to discuss with Apple?

I actually have no idea who the the head Apple education people are. Who at Apple is thinking about higher ed? We'd like to get to know you.



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