Apple’s Steve Jobs Was a Pioneer in Education Technology

By Ian Quillen — October 06, 2011 3 min read
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Steve Jobs, whose creativity and creations such as the Macintosh computers, iPhones, and iPads have influenced more than three decades of students and teachers, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 56.

The consumer electronics and computer hardware and software company that Jobs co-founded in 1976, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, has long held devotees within the world of education. It remained relevant in schools as the early Apple I and II’s developed into subsequent lines of desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devices that changed both knowledge sharing and knowledge consumption for students and adults alike.

In the less than two years since Jobs stood on stage in his characteristic black mock turtleneck and blue jeans and introduced the iPad, Apple’s tablet computer has exploded on the educational scene. In the third quarter of fiscal year 2011, the iPad surpassed all of Apple’s educational Mac desktop and laptop computer sales combined. Its popularity with classroom teachers, educators have said, is due to a combination of its portability, long battery life, and intuitiveness of use, especially for young students and students with disabilities such as autism.

The iPhone, meanwhile, has helped give rise to an education app culture that has convinced a growing number of educators to advocate allowing students to bring their own mobile computing devices to class as educational tools.

Apple Computer, now Apple Inc., started aggressively marketing its Apple II line of personal computers to K-12 schools in the 1980s. School librarians, who were then frequently the keepers of the technology, embraced its relatively easy use. The first machines used cassettes to run programs, then floppy disks for downloading and saving student files. Macintosh computers followed with more flexible graphic interfaces that became darlings of design classes and student newspapers.

Jobs left Apple in 1985 amid disagreements with other leaders in the company. He launched the successful Pixar Animation Studios, among other endeavors, before returning in 1997 as CEO to the then-struggling technology company that he had founded. Widely lauded as much for his business savvy as his design skill, Jobs turned Apple around.

While Jobs was not as visible a donor to educational causes as some other technology moguls, his company has consistently offered educational services and discounts to schools and educators.

In 2007, Apple unveiled iTunes U, a channel on its media player computer program devoted to housing educational resources from colleges and universities, as well as other educational institutions. Both California and Texas established iTunes U channels for K-12 content during 2010.

More recently, Apple has continued to manufacture products with education in mind, including its MacBook laptops, which it has continued to produce for educational purchases despite phasing out in other markets.

“Steve Jobs was a true visionary who was one of the first to understand technology’s power to improve teaching and education,” said Jim Steyer, the CEO and founder of Common Sense Media. “From ‘The Kids Can’t Wait,’ to iTunesU, Mr. Jobs always recognized that there were alternative ways for kids to learn using technology.”

Among Jobs’ employees at Apple was Karen Cator, who is now director of the office of education technology at the U.S. Department of Education. She served the director of Apple’s leadership and advocacy efforts in education from 1997 until she was hired by the Education Department in 2009.

Image: Apple Inc.'s website, normally filled with the latest product announcements, pays tribute to co-founder Steve Jobs after his death was announced on Oct. 5.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.