Apple's iPhone for School Administrators - Low Expectations?

Apple has added a document to their web site, published in early December of 2009, entitled iPod Touch/iPhone for Administrators. These sort of documents, put out by developers of technology, are interesting in that they shed some light on the way in which these companies perceive the educational domain, and more specifically how they think their product “fits” within that field. Apple typically does a nice job presenting information in a persuasive way, and they do a so here. However, my intent is to deduce what the information included in this piece tells us about Apple’s perception of the educational realm.

The text’s most glaring omission is the failure to acknowledge the potential inherent to the use of Web 2.0 and mobile technologies. Apple has included a section dedicated to Web 2.0, and includes brief overviews of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These technologies are introduced by the following passage.

Today, more and more educators and students are using social networks to build relationships, meet new contacts, and market themselves. By embracing even just a few of these popular Web 2.0 tools using your iPod touch or iPhone, you can see how these technologies are changing the landscape of life in the 21st Century, grow as a professional, and learn about the world as they way our children are and will experience it later in life.

Two important points need to be made. First, Apple presents these technologies as tool that administrators can use to advance their career. Secondly, the last phrase (obviously a typo, and thus hard to decipher) straddles the fence if you will, indicating that “our children” are and will experience this world that administrators are to learn about through the use of this device. Are students to experience this world inside of school? Moreover, there is nothing here about pedagogy or curriculum. Rather, a focus on the potential to improving one’s position, and to increase one’s understanding of today’s students.

Is this a failure of Apple to understand the potential of their own device? Or, is it indicative of their unwillingness to jump into the debate about technology’s role in the classroom? Professional development is presented in a way that reinforces, in a fundamental way, the status quo, as, podcasts, RSS, and iTunes U are discussed in some detail. These are certainly worthy inclusions. However, the common thread, present in all four, is that each presents or is a conduit for information. Apple is missing the point of Web 2.0 — to participate in the construction of our own (shared) understanding through collaborative exercises.

I will only mention one or two additional observations from reviewing this document. Basic productivity applications, Mail, Safari, iCal, and Address book are reviewed first. I might be reading into this a bit too much, but that tells me that Apple’s first prerogative is to allay any fears that one might have about the potential to do these sorts of things on the device, specifically the fears of those most comfortable using Microsoft Office products. The last applications reviewed reinforce this idea, addressing the ability to edit Microsoft Office files, check spelling, and share/exchange files. How is the reader to reconcile the focus on these sorts of tasks and the inclusion of the following phrase to early in the text?

On the pages that follow, you will see how the iPod touch or iPhone can be used by administrators in a variety of ways well beyond a simple PIM device or media player, become a fantastic tool to practice digital leadership!

What is “digital leadership”? This document implies that Apple imagines superintendents/principals/supervisors performing managerial tasks on a smaller, electronic device. Email, calendaring, web browsing, editing documents, and sharing/exchanging files are the principle focuses of this paper. What happened to “high expectations”? Digital leadership encompasses a wide range of tasks, most importantly modeling the ways in which technology can be used to increase students motivation via their participation in this great experiment that is unfolding online everyday. Apple, and other producers of technology, should be considering the iPod/iPhone’s potential to encourage students to think more and in more complex ways, rather than focusing on the automation/facilitation of administrative tasks.

Lastly, the section on data collection does a fair job of illustrating the iPod Touch/iPhone’s potential, although I wonder why things such as eInstruction’s student response system or FMTouch aren’t included. There are other alternatives to the walk-through software listed, and the application iObserve hasn’t been updated since October of 2008, i.e., I believe that it’s no longer being developed.

There is a disconnect between the way that Apple presents the iPod/iPhone to the educational community as a whole (see Mobile Learning with the iPod touch and Lessons on the goPhone for examples of more progressive presentations), and the way that they envision its use by administrators. Although I’ve been pretty tough on the particular resource, the existence of these other works suggests that it is not Apple’s naivety in terms of how they envision Web 2.0 technologies fitting into today’s classroom, but rather thier uninspiring image of administrators role in this process.

Cross posted here

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Tags: iPodTouch, mobileTechnology


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