Last August I attended the Mobile Portland User Group and was completely blown away by what I heard. The topic that night was a panel discussion on Mobile in Education (announcement / recap and slides). Since that night I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it (it’s been almost six months now). Be warned, I have a lot of strong opinions on this topic. Hopefully we can all stay friends after you’ve read this.
Rather than me summarizing what I heard, I recommend you watch the discussion for yourself. You don’t have to watch the whole thing, but at a minimum you should listen to what Joseph Morelock had to say. Joe is the Director of Technology and Innovation for the Canby School District (South of Portland). He talks from 19:25 - 31:55 in the video below (12 minutes).
Here’s some additional links Joe provided during his presentation:
- Main iPod touch/iPad wiki page
- Teacher projects
- Data slides and such from which I culled last night's slides
- Our 3rd grade project resources and stories, starting with the project launch tomorrow
- And this year's Innovation Grant awards, with several more uses of iPod touch and iPad in the classroom
Another interesting piece of news, earlier this year the New York City public schools system ordered over 2,000 iPads for use in their schools (article). No matter how you look at it, Mobile is becoming a large part of education and Apple is leading the charge.
Thoughts as a Parent
I have four kids whose ages are 10, 6, 4, and 2 years old. Our family has a plethora of electronic devices, you name it and we’ve got it. Out of all those devices, my kids choose to use the iPads and iPod Touches. Consequently I’ve loaded up these devices with apps specific for my children. I trust my kids 100% with those devices. As a parent I love that these iDevices are locked down. No installing apps without my permission. No clicking a link and installing a virus. My kids don’t use the browser, in fact they don’t even know it exists. Sure, things are simple now and will get more complicated as they get older, but the point is that because of these devices I don’t have to worry about any of those things, period.
Joe’s discussion of how he is putting an iPod Touch in the hands of every 3rd grade kid in the school district really resonated with me. I watch my four year old daughter use an iPod Touch and am completely blown away. I see my two year old pick up the iPad and start to use it and am utterly amazed. These little girls hunger for knowledge, they will be such a good students, I have such high hopes and dreams for them.
Now let’s talk about what is happening in my school district here in Hillsboro, Oregon. We are the 4th largest school district in the state, and with current projected budget cuts we’re going to be somewhere between $19 million to $25 million short for next school year. It costs roughly $500k to run the school district for one day, which means one option could be that the school year is two months shorter next year. Honestly, I’m starting to envision a time where public schooling may no longer be provided. I’m beginning to wonder if it is time to start home-schooling my children. Suddenly I may find myself to be the school teacher with the iDevices looking for apps to complement my children’s learning.
Thoughts as an iOS Developer
Anyone who knows me also knows how much I love to talk about this topic and the possibilities it brings. I am super excited about the opportunity for app development in this space. The demand here is really taking off, in fact that is a key reason why Apple made changes last year to allow educational institutions to purchase iOS apps at volume discounts (App Store Volume Purchase Program).
I believe this opportunity is almost exclusive to the iOS platform. While the Galaxy tablet is a great form factor, it is way too cost-prohibitive (vs iPod Touch). You also can’t ignore the fact that the quality of apps in the Android marketplace is utter crap. Why should teachers waste their time on that platform when there is already a well-established ecosystem and community surrounding Apple? Don’t give me the argument about Android being “open” that you heard from your Verizon rep. Free does not equal quality and this is an instance where quality is of utmost importance.
Thoughts as a .NET Developer
I used to be looking forward to seeing Microsoft’s response in this space. I had been communicating my thoughts to a couple different people at Microsoft since August of last year. I had hoped they would have passed it on up the chain and eventually Ballmer would hear my plea. I was hoping for something along the lines of a ZuneHD that competes with the iPod Touch and can run apps downloaded from the WP7 Marketplace. Perhaps even a WP7-like tablet, the important part being that there is a Marketplace I can submit apps to and where users can download my apps. Yeah, I’m pretty sure my idea is nothing more than a fool’s wish.
I now wonder if Microsoft doesn’t have a strategy for Mobile in Education. After CES I can’t help but think Microsoft’s goal is to focus on Windows and let the hardware vendors fight with Apple over the education space. I mean, isn’t that the tablet strategy that Ballmer unveiled during his keynote? Microsoft will focus on Windows and let the hardware vendors focus on building tablets that run Windows. That’s the idea, right? The problem is, who the hell is building the marketplace? I refuse to trust the hardware vendors with that idea. Come on Steve, the industry is moving to an app-centered world, don’t you get it?
Could Microsoft deliver some new concept that’s not app-centered and blow away Apple and everyone else? Sure, anything is possible. But I refuse to bet or bank on it. Microsoft may rule the enterprise, but once again they are forfeiting the education space.
Don’t get me wrong, I would much rather utilize my partnerships with Microsoft and my strength in Silverlight. However, my plan for now is to continue implementing all my ideas for educational apps exclusively in iOS.