Though a college dropout himself, Steve Jobs did much to revolutionize educational technology, and even education itself.  The influence of Apple Computer on America’s schools began in earnest when the company donated Apple II to 10,000 schools in California in 1983. School librarians, who were often technology gatekeepers in schools in those days, appreciated their ease of use.

Today iPhones and iPads are ushering in dynamic, collaborative educational techniques, and even replacing books and saving money in classrooms. Indeed, the iPad may be Jobs’ biggest legacy of all. In the third quarter of 2011, educational sales of iPads were greater than all of Apple’s educational Mac desktop and laptop sales combined. Teachers and tutors love its portability and long battery life. And it’s intuitively easy for even young children and kids with learning disabilities to use.

Apple also offers iTunes U, an innovative, iPhone accessible distribution channel for educational content “from lectures to language lessons, films to labs, audiobooks to tours…” More than 800 universities – as well as institutions like the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and numerous PBS stations — have active ITunes U sites, and many organizations distribute their content publically on the iTunes store. Besides offering countless podcasts, iTunes U supports both the PDF and ePub file formats. The latter can be read on iPads, iPhones and the iPod Touch, as well as any compatible e-reader.

According to an interview with Daniel Morrow, executive director of the ComputerWorld Smithsonian Awards Program, Jobs pointed out that teachers and tutors are key to fueling curiosity and make learning possible. Jobs said, “You need a person. Especially with computers the way they are now. Computers are very reactive but they’re not proactive; they are not agents, if you will. They are very reactive. What children need is something more proactive. They need a guide. They don’t need an assistant.”

Undoubtedly Jobs was an inspiration to countless students from grade school through grad school. He was also an ardent supporter of the innovative use of technology in schools. I resonated with the observations of the StateImpact Florida blog, which pointed out that “the corporate cultural differences between computing giants Microsoft and Apple have also served as a proxy in the debate about changing the US higher education system.”

The blog astutely points out that Microsoft founder and massive education donor Bill Gates wants US higher education institutions to focus more on subjects that correlate directly to jobs. Whereas Steve Jobs said at the unveiling of the iPad 2 in March, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.”

I also greatly appreciated the frank insights offered in the Edudemic blog on how Jobs “legacy of fearlessness and innovation” can serve as guidance for educational reform. Among many good points made in this blog post, the author (recent college grad Jesse L) reminds us that NeXT Computer, while a financial dud, was the inspiration for the first web server and laid the foundation for the web browser. The writer’s point is that we often focus too hard on outcomes, and thus miss the bigger picture that frames innovation.

Long live the educational legacy of Steve Jobs.

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