Refelctions on seminar on use of mobile devices in education at Apple HQ

There’s been a couple of days gap between writing this on the train back, and getting to post it now. With that reflection time I think I boil most of what was said to this:

To improve / transform education you have to have technology, content and pegagody working together. None of them are an objective, they are the tools to an objective which (and this is my bit, not his) is too often unclear, uncommunicated or not even thought about at all.

For those who’d like the full works, read on!!!


I spent this afternoon at Apple HQ in London, listening to Gordon Shukwit, Apple’s Director of IT and Learning Technology talking about the use of mobile devices in Education.

The talk was wide ranging and went off on lots of (very useful) tangents. There were a real mix of people there – from schools, unis, LEAs, other computer companies, and there was probably something for everyone.

I’ve just typed up my scribbled notes, and tried to arrange them into some kind of coherent form. I’ve arranged the notes into the following sections

  • Misc
  • Mobile Learning
  • Mobile Learning in HE
  • Mobile Content
  • Theoretical Models
  • Case Studies
  • Monitoring Behaviour
  • Takeaway


  • Several references to people learning in different ways. Inference was that mobile devices can help push that down to individual learners.
  • As the talk unfolded gave some insights into his job. 3 weeks traveling around the world, 8 weeks back home ‘thinking’. Brief from Apple VP education (who has a fascinating back story himself) was to “figure this thing out”.
  • Used an optical illusion from Nigel Barlow’s book ‘Rethink‘ to make the point that once you’ve seen something, it’s very hard to ‘unsee’ it.
  • Suggested that the term 21st Century learning implied something for the future, where as we need to be applying this today. Suggested the idea of a ‘Contemporary’ learning environment as an alternative. Made the point that an eight year old would never have experienced the 20th century!
  • Touched on the lack of Flash on iphones and ipod touch. Explained that it was due to Flashes inability to resize on the fly and rather than risk not working properly simply not supported. He made a good case that from an education point of view you don’t want people accessing a resource and then finding it doesn’t work, although frankly selling a device that has a ‘fully functioning web browser’ will kind of lead people down that garden path anyway. The ‘oh no’ moment won’t be when it doesn’t resize, it’ll just be when it doesn’t load.
  • New version of iTunes allows schools to switch off access to iTune Store, but keep access to iTunesU.
  • You have to ask ‘what is our long term goal’ if you want to avoid ‘it doesn’t work’ as participants misunderstand the point of the project / strategy
  • Repeated reference to the need to examine, and adapt to unintended consequences of projects, both positive and negative. Eg – Pupils access the internet. UC – no one answer any more: this is hard for pupils to deal with. Also if you’re downloading content all the time how do you manage it (this later linked to an apple plug!)

Mobile Learning

Defined ‘mobile’ as opposed to ‘portable’ as something that fits in your pocket. The latter is basically a scaled down computer. The former is something new. Made the point that in schools, computers have been designed for ‘us’. Mobile devices fundamentally designed for ‘me’. This does raise issues if they are being shared, but web access and VLEs has made this much less of an issue. It does make them great for accessing material and if using iPhone / iPodTouch, the distribution bit can be very seamless as well!

Mobile Learning in HE

  • Many providers now also providing Educators notes as well as video / audio files via iTunesU
  • Talked about unis developing mobile content
  • Where colleges were podcasting their lectures it changed students note making habit. They were making a note of times, rather than content.
  • MIT developing mobile site that adapts to any device, including older text only devices
  • Mobile AP changing way conferences work – all delegates given mobile device for info. Also allowed them to allocate rooming for speakers based on numbers indicating they would be attending, in real time.
  • Students ‘vote’ on whether they will attend a f2f lecture or just pick up podcast later. Teacher can adjust according to expected numbers

Mobile Content

  • Sales of mobile version of Netters (?) anatomy c.100x more than trad computer version. Cheaper, but also instant (indicated Apple thought this was v.important). Market for parents helping their kids
  • Recommended some other apps
    • Cram
    • Airsharing
    • Aquaforest ( modelling physical properties)
    • Classics (freely available texts)

Theoretical Models

Spent quite a lot of time looking at the differences between the model of computing as used in business and that used in learning. Made the point that schools actually have both models operating within their walls.

Talked about the balance needed between Technology, Pedagogy and Content. Referred to the work by Matthew Koehler and Punya Mishra

Referred to a model for the stages of technology adaption developed by Ruben Puentedura.

(His graphics were WAY better ;0) ). Reminded us the fact that when word processors first had spell check facilities added, many teachers called to this as cheating!

Talked about the ‘unfolding model’ explored in ‘Evaluation in distance & e-learning”. Seemed to think that this was the book that ‘got it’

David Thornburg’s work on ‘Caves and Campfires in Cyberspace(pdf) – We need to know what kind of space we are operating if it’s going to be successful. Refered to school in Melbourne modelled on this work. No classrooms, ‘caves’ for students to work in and ‘campfires’ for meeting / talking. School was for students who had failed 8th grade, but as part of the course they spent half a day working as lab assistant’s assistants in local uni. By 12th grade had best test results in the state! BUT this is not a magic bullet. Lots of reasons it’s worked, wouldn’t work for all.

Case studies

  • Impact of the Maine 1:1 project. Wasn’t focussed on the tech, tech was simply a tool to improve education (not test scores)
  • School in Kentucky who funded their computer labs by doing a deal with local university for them to use computing power beyond end of school day. As well as being able to afford better kit, led to links with local university who were using computer power on studies of cancer. Scientists from the uni visited school as part of links, and numbers taking science caused went up (indented consequences again!)
  • Study looking at impact of various strategies on Sigma knowledge (???) found that only time with educational tutors had significant gains. It’s vital that we see this as a tool for increasing student access to teachers, rather than seeing it as an alternative
  • Trial of mobile devices as voting devices. On average took between 45 and 90 seconds to access site, plus another couple of minutes to get all the votes in. Led to awkward silence and presenters rushing. Solution was to play a piece of music and give them until the end to get their votes in.
  • Talked about the findings from Westside school who presented with Apple at BETT. Allowed students to take device home, although offered insurance package. Had little impact when used in class, but did seem to lead to noticeable GPA increase when used out of school to extend learning opportunities. He offered to email more information on this, and I’ll probably come back to it in a future post.

Monitoring Behavior

  • No amount of tech can ever control behaviour. Auditing works!
  • School in Nabraska with 2k+ student laptops
    • Staff randomly monitor student desktops
    • Random laptop checks. Not in trouble until they can’t explain why something is there. This was vital – don’t assume someone is doing something wrong- they need to be given a chance to explain.
    • If they have been found to be in breach of guidelines sent back to class with a typerwriter! One old desktop in each classroom and they have to use that!


The use of mobile devices in education is not a magic bullet, in fact it have negative consquences if not considered alongside pegagogy and content.
That said it can have definate advantages in delivering content to students, allowing them control over which content they use, and providing tools to extend the learning enviroment beyond the classroom, particaurly when linked with a VLE / MLE or a specific mobile website
Any pilot with mobile devices needs to have clear long term aims and needs to act alongside content and pedagogy, rather than independent of them
There are glimpses here of other arguments about the role of schools’ in the future, particularly with reference to the caves / campfire models

I’m left wondering if we make an investment in mobile devices next year, if some ipod touches shouldn’t be part of that.

4 thoughts on “Refelctions on seminar on use of mobile devices in education at Apple HQ

  1. Dave,
    Thanks for sharing your notes on the meeting. I’m especially interested in the move you noticed within iTunes – blocking the store but allowing access to iTunesU. I was looking into getting school content on to iTunesU but Apple said it was for Higher Education only. Are Apple opening up iTunesU for secondary school content creators now?

    1. He didn’t specifically mention this as a change, but I’m sure that he showed off a collection of stuff labeled K12, which would suggest they’re allowing schools in.
      Might be worth contacting them again though.

    1. Hummm… There is some K12 content, but it’s very limited and very US centric.

      Might be worth continuing to prod, but it may be a while before it crosses over to the UK :0s

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