Mac Lab Report

Advice for Apple Education: Let's Get to It

- 2002.11.21

Now here's some advice for Apple. This sort of consolidates a bunch of advice I've been sharing over the past few months. Recent news report about Apple's slipping education segment make this advice timely again. There are some new points here, too, plus some of my trademark smart-alecky remarks. Think of it as "advocacy with an attitude."

Here's what Apple should be talking about in executive briefings regarding education:

If you want the education market, work with your strengths. Bring back the distinguished educators and make them visible.

Make a few well-placed grants of hardware for publicity's sake.

As an alternative to price discounts, think about "buy 10 and get one free" kind of promotions. There's always someone who would benefit from an extra machine here and there. Gives the buyer some clout back home.

Release OS 8 to keep those legacy computers up and running. That doesn't hurt sales, it helps because it increases the lock the OS has on a district's culture. Duh. Double-Duh! Triple-Dog-Dare-Ya-Duh! The new machines won't run 8 anyway. This would be great publicity with Dell knocking at the Gates and Gateway spitting in your eye. You know you want to. C'mon, you can do it. You can. Really really.

Offer a trade-in rebate for schools that want to adopt OS X. Maybe a free copy of Jaguar for every pre-Power Mac they trade in for a new model. See, I didn't even call it Jagular this time. How sincere is that?

Offer free training for district IT staff if a contract is above a certain size, such as 20-50 machines. Don't pay transport, but don't charge anything for the seminar, either. Do it twice a quarter or so. Okay, maybe charge $10.20 just for the publicity.

Try to get Macs into teacher's homes. That will help them want to have the same thing at work. Deeper personal teacher discounts might mean more sales.

iTools for teachers should be free. How about a truly cheap school license? Give us a reason to stay beyond some consumer-oriented gizmo that won't work through a district firewall anyway. Think, think, think. Personal PowerSchool license. Copy of Grade Machine. LAN-based iDisk server. Some sort of new class management tool outside the box such as a Tardy Tracker or an automated home-caller - or a package that includes a floppy drive with a full copy of MacLink conversion software to use as a conversion station just to accommodate Wintel users. Throw us a bone, Apple.

Develop a midrange Web development package and get it out there. Something more sophisticated than the not-so-free HomePage - and less difficult to master than what Macromedia and Adobe offer. You know you want to. [Editor's chant: Home Page. Home Page. Home Page. Please consider porting good old Claris Home Page to Mac OS X. I've even got a name for ya: iPage. And another one: iWeb.]

Give teachers control of their computers again: Bring back HyperCard. Make it work with X. How many frickin' times do I have to tell you?

You buy more than 10 Macs, you get OS X Server free. Boom. The software's developed; it's just a CD, right? That's what you said about Bill. Put up or shut up.

Stop dropping money into the ALI. No one uses it. Why? We don't teach those kids. Our kids are real. We don't do Web conferences with submarines or count fleas on seals in Alaska by high-speed Internet - because we don't have high-speed Internet. We want something that's engaging, all right, but also something that works. For over 10 kids at a time. See, these folks don't even know what ALI stands for. Ought to tell you something.

Offer a package that speaks to low-income schools: Package a set of 30 Palms or Handsprings with keyboards with one low-end iMac. Everyone hotsyncs with the teacher and bam, there's a market segment sewn up. Think eMate with teeth. Hey, put a Handspring in an eMate. It's a little bigger, but the software's already developed . . . all you have to do is collect the student work. Hmm.

Emphasize your strengths. What if teacher iMacs came with FileMaker Pro? What if FileMaker had a gradebook program right in it? A classroom ID database with a digital camera and seating chart manager? An autodialer that could support telephony? "John Q. Public wasn't in class today. If you have a question call 555-teach." Something you could plop on a teacher's desk with 15 different shareware gradebooks to pick from?

Ooh. Ooh. That give's me another idea.

Here's a good one. This one is really, really good. If you do this, you'll get a truckload of press (I mean a trainload! Seriously! More press than you can shake a stick at!), and all it'll cost you is a little clock time. Are you ready?

All the states are making standards as text documents, not searchable databases. Put a database (FileMaker) copy of each state's content standards on the hard drive for every education customer. Include a little solution for linking standards to lesson plans and handouts. Imagine writing a real lesson plan - not some candy-ass lesson plan that you show to the visitors and put on a shelf - that automatically searches itself for keywords that match the standards for your approval. One that collects all your lesson plans and reports to you on the fly which standards you've never addressed.

Teachers do this by hand now, man, and it is a pain. This is what a computer is for! We would love you for it. No one else is doing it. There are some vendors that have proprietary solutions, but they're narrow, Web-only, or limited in that your lesson plans fit on a form and can't include things like clip art. Or they're horrendously expensive. Some are only for assessment items - take a look at <http://www.clearlearning.com/siteMap.html>. Others are only for lesson plans. No one has put the whole package together yet. Or they're only for large groups, not individuals.

You could make AppleWorks the Ultimate Teacher Tool by linking its document archive to this thing. Oh, man, this one is sweet. This is state board of education candy, man.

Districts will eat this one alive. A computer that supports the standards right out of the box. Mike Dell will wet his pants. I kid you not. You have to do this and bundle FileMaker with it. Gates doesn't even bundle Access with everything. (And who understands Access, anyway?) FileMaker rocks.

Come on, what are you waiting for?

Oh geeze, I think I just had a billion dollar idea, and I gave it away on the frickin' Internet. I am an idiot.

Okay, going back to the iTools item earlier: You know what? We still have to have gradebooks, even though you're trying to get us to make movies about our immigrant grandparents starting out in a monolithic culture with nothing but dried up potatoes as collateral. See, teachers know about gradebooks, but none of us went to film school. Yes, yes, I know about PowerSchool . . . but individual teachers don't get to buy PowerSchool. When was the last time you had a strategy meeting where someone even used the phrase "gradebook program" without sneering and huffing about PowerSchool? We don't even get to smell PowerSchool. Besides which, our Internet goes down a couple times a month, so you ain't going to be selling no PowerSchool here, see? What about the rest of us? See this: 8====8 This is a bone! Throw it to us!

Everybody's calling "eMac, eMac, saaaave us!" Guess what? You don't come out with an education computer that's more eMacexpensive than your low-end consumer model! Helloooooo, MacFly? Hellooooo? eMac is not in the equation. If you have a dribble of money, you'll get a CRT iMac or a PC. If you have a lot of money, you'll get a flat panel iMac, like I'm going to do.

Exactly who is the eMac for? Teachers either get a lot of money that has to be spent by next Tuesday, or they get a tiny amount of money that has to be spent by next Tuesday. There ain't no in-between. Digital High School (a CA tech grant program) is kaput, baby. Back to square zero. Do not pass Go, do not collect $1,000.

Here's a thought: Drop the CRT iMac. All CRT iMacs are eMacs now. That does several things for you. It distinguishes iMac = flat panel from eMac = CRT. It makes news because you've dropped the famous CRT iMac form factor. How daring. It gives you an excuse for dropping the eMac price. It simplifies sales channels. It focuses your somewhat scattered product matrix. I like it.

Bundle StarQuiz with every eMac or iMac purchased by a school. And for heaven's sake, don't pull another Watson and steal the idea. (There's starting to be some press about that, huh. It's the news item that just keeps on giving....) Just pay for it, or at least put the trial version on there.

You think about that Standards Compliant Computer Out of the Box thing - now. That one's a doozy. Think annual updates. Think relational database links to PowerSchool. Somebody wipe up my drool.

Too bad I'm not in charge of Apple. I'd surely run the company right into the ground with all the stuff I'd give away. But you know what? You don't have to do all of these things. One will do. Bones last a long time for dogs . . . and for teachers.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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