Chris J Powell

Apple & Education…match made in heaven?

There is little disputing how Apple has changed the face of education with a little device called the iPad.  I can’t talk to a School Board / District anywhere in North America without the concept of iPads and 1 to 1 computer ratios coming up on a consistent basis.  Apples recent announcement that it will be getting together with McGraw-Hill and entering into a partnership to distribute text books on the iPad is a matter of ABOUT DAMN TIME!

I remember not too long ago sitting on my daughter’s Parent Teacher Council and listening to her principal describe the challenge they were having with the replacement of aging text books (in this example Grade 8 Math Textbooks from 1989) that even though it would only be 25 copies, it would come directly out of the schools budget not the board and would run approximately $3500.  This was an issue because in 2007 the average age of the textbooks in the classrooms was 10 years old and replacing the books for 3-4 subjects per class room with 20 classrooms would be a severe drain on the operating budget for the school (if I remember correctly the sum was around $125,000 to update the textbooks) and that would only get them up to the 2005 Provincial Curriculum not to the annually updated offering.

I remember back around the same time Microsoft had put out a competition to look to the Future of the PC and designers from around the world submitted designs and one of the finalists had come up with an EduTab that used cartridges (like Nintendo games) to input text books and class assignments…I was blown away by the thought of this and actually put it before the principal to illustrate that there may be another way sooner rather than later.

With what Apple is proposing is something that can not only up the bar competitively for school boards across North America…the potential gain for EVERY student will be enormous.

Are iPads expensive…yes at $4-700 depending on size and volume/education discounts the hardware is not cheap but from what I am seeing in reports floating around the internet…that K-12 Textbook that with a printed copy costing $100-120 each can be replaced for just $14.99 with iTunes…that means no more 10 year old text books missing pages that are vital to completing homework and interactive workbook style can be embedded in the textbook with your completed homework emailed to your teacher…now that is a win.

The fact is, while in some cases Textbooks are updated with some regularity (but often not to the current curriculum) so I will play devil’s advocate for a moment and look at replacing just my daughter’s current text books with the Apple versions.

She is in Grade 7 and has a Math Text, English Text, French Text, Social Studies Text (these are the ones that I have seen come home at least) so even with just 4 Text books…replacing them every 5 years would cost the school $400 per student…TCO is $20 per year per text book…not too bad.  When we turn that over to the iPad future…$500 for the iPad and $60/year for the text books…TCO is $40 per year per text book.

Now another way to look at this is the 20 lbs that those 4 text books weigh…my iPad with more than 50,000 pages of text currently loaded on to it…weighs only 1.5 pounds…if I add another say 50 books to the library…it still weighs just 1.5 pounds…which means it is VERY portable.

The secret will be to drive the TCO for the new world down as closely to the Textbook and that i think will be the tough sell…but well if we as Parents were asked to support the concept with a $30 Technology Fee at the start of each year…that would drop the TCO over 5 years to $27.50…I think that the added functions of the iPad might be worth $7.50 per year???

The reality is that Textbooks are not updated every 5 years…in all the schools my daughter has attended here in London it is 6 or 7 years at the minimum as the expense is just too great.  Now is the iPad the right device for this equation…in all honesty as much as I love mine…it is too big and not sturdy enough for consistent 1 to 1 classroom use.  Are there competitive 7″ tablets that could do the job…yes.  Could and will Apple come out with an “eduTab” that could really dominate the Education Market…now that is an interesting concept.

I realize that “declining enrollment” is a component that every School Board/District/Division is battling with right now but finding and building a way to provide the future to our children…that is priceless and handing them Textbooks that are 10 years out of date and then investing in photocopies of a current Textbook…is not the way to go.  Move forward, embrace a technology which beyond just the simple Dollars and Cents will have a dramatic impact on the way our children will immerse themselves in eduction.

Well I am off, I have to load up a few courses in iTunesU.


Chris J Powell

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