Lightspeed Systems employees love Apple products. So much so that it’s getting harder to even find PCs in the building—much less in an employee’s hand. And this in spite of the fact that Lightspeed Systems was a 100% Windows shop only a mere five or six years ago.
We are an informal product partner who is working hard with our customers to develop the best iOS mobile filter available, apps for My Big Campus, and now a unique, education-centric mobile device management (MDM) solution. All of this work is specifically geared to better support the rapidly expanding number of iPad 1:1 initiatives.
So we (like many of you) followed Apple’s recent etextbook announcement closely.
Clearly, some good work has been done to facilitate the elimination of multiple heavy, static books and replace them with a digital “textbook”—which can also be so much more. But (this is a big one) many educators immediately declared this move as a step backward—or at least sideways—as just a fancy textbook tool. It may be a good way for Apple to sell iPads, but it’s not moving us forward to truly authentic, engaging, interactive, inquiry-based learning. (I threw as many of those adjectives in as I could. There are many more, but in some form or another this promise of improving learning by moving away from lecture, rote, fact-based regurgitation, etc. is at the heart of the “blended learning movement.”)
Perhaps David Thornburg’s recent blog post provocatively titled, “Why Does Apple Want To Kill Education” makes the argument most powerfully.
Is Mr. Thornburg right? Is the end nigh?
I do not think so.
But I do think that the concept of etextbooks is simply a form of bridge technology. Digital textbooks—all accessible on one device and with the ability to include links to other resources, etc.—ARE an improvement over big, heavy, “dumb” textbooks. It is a necessary step to develop these tools, both from a technological perspective and from a political one. As Will Richardson points out, today we have a whole regulatory scheme built around standardized test scores, college admission practices, etc. And while many of us believe this is a poor measure of school success, it is currently the official measure. Thus, Will’s quest is to find “bold schools” that are effective by today’s regulatory measures and also are innovating in powerful, and potentially more effective ways for the long term. You can read Will’s most recent post on his quest here: What Qualities Do Bold Schools Share?
In sum, effective blended learning has to be about more than just digital textbooks. We need to develop methodologies and tools to break that content down into small bites. This can make it much easier for students to manipulate, share, discuss, and digest information to develop the critical thinking, learning, content creating skills they need for the modern world. Many, many companies—and educational institutions—are experimenting with these ideas.
The “pocket of innovation” has always existed and does exist today. But moving public institutions forward, within the seemingly constant clash of cultures and ideas that reflect our current political climate will be a challenge. As Mr. Thornburg says about his blog and his work:
“I never cease to be amazed by two things: the rapid advancement of technology, and the lethargic movement of systemic change. We live in a world where the disconnect between the two is growing.”
Please join the conversation. We can certainly learn a lot from one another, so if you have effective models to share—please do. We both want to learn from other’s success—but also creat exemplars to help move our institutions forward.