What Does Apple-Ohio State Deal Mean for Higher Ed?

Josh Kim says the new arrangement is a "big deal" for Apple's educational strategy. He answers four questions about the announcement's impact.  

October 11, 2017

Last week Inside Higher Ed reporter Lindsay McKenzie wrote about the Apple-Ohio State partnership announcement in an article called “A Higher Ed Strategy From Apple?” In reporting that piece, McKenzie reached out to me with four questions. For the article she chose some quotes from our exchange, and I think she did a great job of choosing good quotes and writing the story in a balanced and informative way.

I thought that I’d use this space to share the questions McKenzie asked, and the full answers that I provided.

Q: How unique is this deal? Have you ever heard of Apple working this closely with a university before?

A: This partnership between Ohio State and Apple is big news. Apple has a long history of partnering with higher education. As far back as 1985, Apple created the Apple University Consortium (AUC), in which 24 elite higher education institutions agreed to purchase Apple computers in exchange for large discounts.

When Steve Jobs first left Apple to found NeXT, his intention was to sell the NeXT computer to the higher education market. Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, and in 1998 the company introduced the iMac, an affordable all-in-one computer that proved hugely popular on campuses. And in 2004 Apple’s commitment to higher education was evident again in a partnership with Duke University to provide every first-year student (later expanded to other classes) with an iPod.

Today, almost every college and university has some relationship with Apple -- mostly because our students come to campus with Apple laptops, iPhones and iPads. Go to any educational technology conference and it is a sea of MacBook laptops.

What is different about the Ohio State partnership is that it appears to be both institution-wide and strategic. Many schools, including my own, Dartmouth College, now have one-to-one Apple programs. At Dartmouth every medical student in the Geisel School of Medicine receives an iPad, and the device has been used extensively for developing digitized curriculum and innovating classroom instruction.

Across the country there are examples of schools with great one-to-one iPad programs, such as Maryville University and Lynn University, as well as many others.

The Ohio State Digital Flagship University seems to be a big step in Apple’s higher education strategy. From what I can tell from reading about the partnership, there is an ambition to integrate Apple platforms throughout the entire institution. Besides students using Apple devices for their course work, it sounds as if there is a real commitment to provide broad educational opportunities in coding and software development through this partnership with Apple. The pairing of a one-to-one program with investments such as Ohio State's iOS Design Laboratory is something new, and I think it has potential to both catalyze learning innovation at Ohio State, as well as pushing Apple to develop applications and programs that will be of greater interest to the larger higher education community.

Q: What do you think the impact of this deal will be for Ohio State?

A: I’d say that this Apple partnership is a very good thing for Ohio State and its students. The leadership of Ohio State is demonstrating that the school is committed to learning innovation. The great thing about one-to-one programs is that they provide a standard platform in which a school can experiment with new instructional techniques. Having every student working with same technology eliminates inequalities in the ability to use technology in learning.

A one-to-one program, in my experience, also greatly simplifies the costs and energy that schools devote to technology support. This program will let Ohio State focus on evolving learning, not supporting a range of different hardware devices and software.

Q: Do you think this deal could signify a shift in strategy for Apple?

A: I’m hopeful that this Ohio State partnership is a signal that Apple views higher education as a strategic priority. This would certainly be a return to the roots of Apple, as education is very much in the DNA of the company. We will see how Apple builds on this announcement with other investments in higher education.

At my school we have been working with Apple to discover where the company can collaborate with us around learning innovation. And I know that my colleagues at peer institutions are having similar discussions. This Ohio State partnership is certainly bigger in scope and scale then other partnerships that I’ve heard about but is in line with how Apple’s approach to higher education has evolved over the past couple of years.

Q: Do you think other institutions will be interested in a similar arrangement with Apple?

A: Apple is the largest technology company in the world (in value), and our students (and many faculty and staff) are dedicated Apple enthusiasts. An Apple that is truly committed to innovation in higher education has the potential to really move the needle. This is also true of Google, which has largely focused on K-12 with its educational offerings (beyond their cloud-based productivity tools), and of Microsoft. All of these companies would be smart to put educational innovation, and partnerships with higher education, at the center of their plans.

This does not mean that college and universities leaders will not continue to be skeptical of the return on investment of large-scale technology adoption projects and ed-tech company partnerships. What this does mean is that we will be excited to learn more about the Ohio State-Apple partnership, and of trying to understand where similar partnerships may align with our own strategic goals.


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