Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

A Steve Jobs Education: How The Entrepreneur's Technology Changed Schools


A screenshot of the now-iconic front page design of that went live right after news of founder Steve Jobs' passing.

Of all the different ways one could sum up the enormity of the void Steve Jobs’ passing has left, let’s add one more to the mix:

Add up all of the Ellettsvilles, Center Groves, and Johnson Counties across Indiana — heck, across the U.S. — where school districts introduced Apple iPads into mainstream public school classrooms.

Part of Jobs’ legacy is certainly connected to his company’s contributions to education technology. When Apple first marketed its computers to K-12 schools in the ’80s, the company created a “beachhead” for their products which, for good or for ill, remains to this day.

Only now, the beachhead is flooded not with Apple II desktop computers, but with sleek tablet devices. Apple told Yahoo! News it knows of at least 600 schools nationwide where at least one classroom-full of students is using iPads, with administrators piloting a swap-out of textbooks in favor of the tablets.

“For Apple, K-12 growth is the future,” the investment site Seeking Alpha wrote in July. Just as the iPod changed the music industry and the iPhone changed the mobile-phone industry, the iPad could change the textbook industry. In the iPad, Seeking Alpha went on, Apple sees game-changing potential for is education business:

PBS Mediashift

A classroom at the University of Missouri. Look closely — notice the logo on the laptops.

Think about the immense potential as we learned during the third quarter conference call [in which, by the way, the company announced $28.6 billion in revenues] that Apple sold more iPads than Macs to the K-12 market surprising analysts and Apple. If Apple can create brand awareness at a young age, there is a higher probability it will retain that customer as she grows and matures. It is possible that a child born in the next year may grow up never using a desktop computer; her first learning device may be an iPad, and she’ll grow from there. (Mediashift image via…)

But James Harris, an IT guy who works in a School of Education and blogs at Auxiliary Memory, says his Mac experience has been different. Bottom line? “Macs cost too much”:

Every time I meet Apple reps I feel like I’m talking to two clean cut Mormons that have come to my door to sell their religion.  Apple people believe in their Macintosh and feel all kids should have one.  Apple Computers got a beachhead in the school systems with the Apple II machines and it was natural that teachers wanted Macintoshes when they came out.  The trouble is students leaving K-12 schools end up in colleges and businesses where Windows reign supreme…

If 95% of society uses one kind of computer, why have kids study on the one that gets 5% of the market?

An important caveat, lest we over-inflate Steve Jobs influence on education: Access to technology in the classroom is not the same thing as making proper use of technology.

Yesterday, while interviewing Troy Cockrum, a particularly tech-savvy seventh grade teacher at an Indianapolis private school, we discussed how many schools are buying iPads, but not every school knows what to do with them once they’re in students’ hands. Cockrum says technology is only useful when it has a specific educational purpose.

So, as we mark Jobs’ passing, let’s ask about using technology with purpose in the classroom: Did you use Apple products in class when you were in school? Windows? Linux? …DOS? Or are you in school now, using technology like iPads or MacBooks? Do (did) you find these products serve(d) a “specific educational purpose” for you? And are Jobs’ sleek Apple machines worth their potentially higher upfront cost?

Update: Our StateImpact partners in Florida posted a story this morning that seems to say it all — “The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs is an education story as well as a business story.”

(Author’s full disclosure: I gave permission for my face to appear in a promotional video produced by Apple while I was a student at the University of Missouri. Kudos to you if you can even find it in the video — and ironically, the crew caught me at a time when I was particularly frustrated at the Mac I was using, which I guess I hid well for the cameras. I didn’t endorse any products during my brief appearance in the video. Some of my professors did.)



  • MrsP

    Apple’s announcement that it’s leader Steve Jobs, had died will cause ripples in many circles including education. He was an educated and talented individual who admitted he was a college drop out. He followed his own interests and curiosity and took education classes in subjects such as caligraphy. He built his knowledge and skills and invented products that have changed the world and will certainly change the future of education. He highlighted that education is not defined by qualifications but by skills and ideas. He also showed that the path of success does not always run smoothly; being fired from your job does not mean you are not good at it or that you won’t succeed in your chosen career. For parents and teachers who do not know about Steve Jobs, he was also the man behind Pixar who made the loved ids film Toy Story.

    Steve Jobs is a good person for kids to learn about especially in times when those who may struggle to achieve academically, those who cannot afford to go to school or to college and those who don’t enjoy school may feel like they will never succeed. These ideas are emphasised in education and they are myths. It is more important for kids to be encouraged to do what they are good at and what they love. That way they will become happy and valuable citizens. Creativity is a terrible thing to waste.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment, I’ve added your blog to my Google Reader! Have to ask: Do you use Apple products?

      • MrsP

        Yes. My husband and I use the macbook for writing and graphic design, ipad for research, games, email etc and iphone every day.

  • Shyshygirl

    he is good

  • Marvfl

    If 95% of society uses one kind of computer, why have kids study on the one that gets 5% of the market?

    I am shocked—– Harris an IT guy would say this….. Tells me he doesn’t understand the use of the machine as a tool…not as an end in itself. Do you think the mechanic looks at the tool brand as he grabs the wrench? Just a tool….

    Far away and….. long ago ..1970′s we used any type of device to get the point across..could be a movie or a transparency or a filmstrip….. or yes… a book or mimeograph….whatever. And there was an understanding that the medium is the message…so we used what worked best in that delivery system. Today.. there is so much possibility of using technology to do a better job at connectivity and delivery…, I can’t ever think that a lecture would be enough and can’t EVER think the machine that does the job delivering would ever be a topic.

    Marvin Kowalewski, Ph.D
    Counseling Solutions….Children

  • Code Rapture

    I wanted to let you know about a new petition I created on We the People, a
    new feature on, and ask for your support. Will you add your
    name to mine? If this petition gets 25,000 signatures by November 28, 2011,
    the White House will review it and respond!

    We the People allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama
    Administration to take action on a range of issues. If a petition gets
    enough support, the Obama Administration will issue an official response.

    You can view and sign the petition here:

    Here’s some more information about this petition:

    Take away the roadblocks that interfere with good teaching.

    The recent passing of Steve Jobs reminded me of his thoughts on why our
    education system doesn’t work. Instead of acting as a glorified tape
    player, the teacher should spend all of their time engaging one-on-one with
    students and contributing to interactivity in the class room. For example, a
    math teacher should help students falling behind and a history teacher should
    stage interactive game shows. The teachers role as a lecturer began before
    there was a way to use recordings and interactive iPad applications to serve
    this role. We should encourage educational materials companies to fulfill
    the role of lecturer and change the teachers role to improve our students
    without needless distractions. We also need to remove the poorly performing
    teachers and those that teach to the test.

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