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In the wake of the Apple iBooks announcement back in January, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan quickly called on USA schools to fully deploy digital textbooks by 2017. To any observer of the glacial speed of digital conversion in our schools today, this goal seems aggressive.

What could help speed up the pace of these conversions? Well for one, large technology companies.

Owning diverse school curriculum and procurement customer relationships by the thousands, broad product lines, large-scale resources, partnerships, and professional services support, large technology companies could spark more BYOD and 1:1 conversions with more complete, more innovative, and more easy-to-use products and services. And they could help fix the massive challenges schools have when they look to plan and tackle these digital conversions.

Apple and Cisco are two education technology companies that are giving it a shot. Here’s some recent news to consider:

Apple’s January iBooks textbook announcement takes full advantage of the power of the new generation of IPads and gives students and teachers a whole new world of learning. Students can see a subject come to life with rich interactive graphics and displays, engaging them as never before. Diagrams, charts, images, tables can all be manipulated by the user. Apple has now added highlighting and note-taking functions to increase device input capability. Notes now automatically transform into study cards, enabling a more diverse personalized learning pathway. And Apple has added iBooks Author, free software which will spread publishers scalability. They’ve even created a new textbook section on the iPhone Store for downloads.

School textbook content has been available digitally for 15 years, but the issue has been the device. At $1200-1500 each, laptop economics have been a struggle for schools working to deal with chronic budget shortfalls and cutbacks. Historical device affordability has been around the $200 breakpoint for schools. What we’ve learned is “make the device affordable…and the content will follow.”  Three years ago Houghton-Mifflin refused to convert to digital formats, and now they have signed up as an iBooks software provider, along with Pearson and McGraw-Hill.

The new iPad is already shipping 3X faster than Mac. What’s clear from Apple’s stunning Q2 announcement is that the “post-PC” era is here – tablet adoption has been phenomenal in both business and education. It took Apple 22 years to ship 55M Macs – they shipped 55M iPads in 22 months. In their recent quarter, Apple shipped 60M “post-PC” devices, and have now sold 70M iPads in less than two years. Leveraging their own “Flip” model, they are now porting iPhone and iPad software back to Mac. Some school customers now tell us >30% of all students have 2 or more IP addresses in class. And for schools, device adoption will help drive changes in content.

Tablet price points will soon be at a tipping point – the country of Korea has nearly been fully device-deployed in all schools, thanks to lower cost tablets and school discounts given by Samsung, the world’s #2 tablet provider. With the new iPad introduced on March 7th, Apple announced $100/unit price cuts to the IPad 2. As more textbook titles are added to the Apple catalog — and others like Discovery — the more the iPad could emerge as a natural textbook replacement. With more input and document creation functionality added over time, the device quickly begins to look like a full laptop replacement.

Cisco’s April announcements help schools manage the device explosion….But it’s not just about the content or the device. It’s great that I can get more digital content and lower-cost devices, but “…suddenly I have 25,000 new IP addresses in my district…and my network just crashed!”  In April, following the Apple announcements of January and March, networking leader Cisco made a series of new mobility announcements — all aimed at helping schools scale, manage and deploy new BYOD and 1:1 computing pilots and rollouts.

The mobility announcements focused on four elements: Optimizing the user experience in high-density, high-bandwidth environments, and unifying the student mobile experience through virtualization with Cisco VXI.  New access points, wireless controllers, mobility services, IPv6 support, and 802.11u support now offer a seamless schools network infrastructure. Newly announced unified policy management gives the district a “single pane of glass” from which to manage student, teacher, admin, guest, posture, and device.  A new Identify Services Engine (ISE) adds zero-touch on-boarding and central policy integration, real-time endpoint scans, and security. And as devices pour onto the school network – newly announced Cisco Prime Assurance Manager will give the administration and IT teams the visibility they need for configuration, troubleshooting, and reporting.

District leadership is still key. No technology company alone, no matter how big, can help a district be successful with new learning tools. The district needs to build their learning vision and goals, review it with the Board and community, get teachers and parents involved, and develop a plan and timetable. The first focus is on the student. What are the expected student leaning outcomes of the investment, and how will we measure it? Think about teachers, classroom, and content.

How will technology serve these needs – instead of vice versa. Lots of issues – but there are plenty of successes to look at and model. One of the country’s brightest is Mooresville Schools which is hosting its “Summer Connection 2012” meeting in North Carolina at the end of July. With a three-day symposium, the award-winning district offers a deep, multi-track workshop taking the attendee how they planned and implemented their own “Digital Conversion.” At a measured technology investment cost of $1/ day per student, the district has been able to drive state composite test scores up 30% over four years. All eight schools in the district have seen a complete learning transformation. As have the teachers.

Pearson is also adding new services and software to help schools with these transitions. Scott Drossos, a well-regarded Pearson leader, has been tapped to spearhead a new 1:1 conversion initiative to help schools. The emphasis is on planning support, discovery workshops, and change management. Check it out at http://onetoone.pearsoned.com/ .

Implications for educators? The new generation of student expects resources on demand, collaborative learning, and project-based learning. Stand & lecture will be going the way of the slide rule. Students now learn anytime/anywhere. Much like work is defined today in leading corporations.  And as all teachers and staff know — engagement is the key.

With these new announcements, Apple and Cisco are now delivering rich media, devices, eTextbooks, mobility, video and collaboration tools – making it one step easier to transform the learning we provide within and beyond the classroom. And we are already seeing many leading K-12 districts begin pilots in these new instructional areas.

Living in a mobile world, our students today are ready to learn 24/7.

Are you ready to teach 24/7?

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1 Comments.


  1. Great info. One other consideration that can accelerate digital learning is the combination of Cisco Services and its partner community. As mentioned, in order to optimize educational outcomes as well as the user experience, we need to recognize the network is the platform to get that done. Whether it be a governance model for BYOD,an architectural assessment and subsequent roadmap, or an effective security strategy and execution…Cisco is uniquely positioned to support the education community in these areas. Cisco Services and its partners can accelerate the benefits of digital learning.

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