Apple Education Leadership Summit 2016

My very first Apple Summit! I was invited for this venue as part of an iPad-project I’m currently developing for the institute I work at. It’s our first year of equipping students with iPads and actively integrating them in the classroom. Our local Apple Premium Reseller and Education Solution Expert is helping our school in this endeavour and asked me to participate in this global community of educators.


Once enrolled, I counted the days to this extraordinary summit. To prepare for the event, Apple sent me an email containing a link to an iTunesU course. This thing was packed with information about their vision on education, the changes we need to implement, different pedagogies that advocate a technology enhanced way of learning and so on. It made for a very enriching preparation that effectively set the stage for what was to come.

And then the day came to set out on this adventure…

I travelled to London with a small group of teachers from different parts of the country and the resellers’ education managers. First of, was a visit to the Richard Challoner School, who have been working with iPads for quite some time now. They described their process of implementing the devices and invited us to have a look at a couple of classes in session. It was very interesting to see how this school made use of the iPad and how the students benefitted from that.

We got the rest of the afternoon off for some leasure time. During a stroll through London, I tried to organize my thoughts about some of the things I had seen. As a teacher, I constantly try to translate new ideas to my own classroom. Some of them work out, others don’t. But that’s part the journey: figuring out what will work for you!

While visiting the Apple Store at Covent Garden I was overwhelmed by a very positive vibe that filled the place. Somehow, just being there kindled a sense of eager anticipation. How was I to know that the philosophy at the very heart of this company, would be unveiled to me the next day… well, at least just a tiny bit…

apple store covent garden

D-day. We walked over to King’s Place and registered at the event. Equiped with a badge and a customized iPad, I entered the main exhibition area where teachers and students were demonstrating different skills using iPads. After some fiddling around with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil — I was thoroughly impressed — I proceeded to a couple of students who were demonstrating capturing video with a green screen. I had read about this more than once, but always kind of dismissed the potential of this activity. Not this time! Seeing the kids in action, without any help of the teacher, was impressive. I hope to try this out in my classroom in the foreseeable future.

Big Ideas

Mark Nichols talked about ‘Big Ideas’. He asked us to think about what drives us. What big ideas would we like to see become reality? Personally, I would love to see a revolution in education into a 21st century environment for open learning — I think that qualifies as a ‘big idea’…

He continued with the possible challenges when trying out your big idea. He stressed the importance of a common language. Thinking about what words to use to describe the change you want to implement proved very important. Words can have different meanings for different people, so making sure you are ‘on the same page’ creates the foundation for a good collaboration.

Finally, Mark showed us how to take action. How do you actually implement your big idea? He told us to worry about the ‘why’. The what, where and when will take care of themselves, but make sure you know why you want to do something. Investigate, network design and don’t be afraid to fail!

Break-out Sessions

During our first break-out session I got to know the river Thames from a historical, geographical and economical point of view. Using GarageBand, Maps, the Camera app, Explain Everything and Keynote a somewhat ‘traditional’ subject was enriched by the iPad, in such a way that students were both stimulated to learn and challenged to think for their own. Very impressive!

The second one thought me a couple of things about the iPad’s built-in possibilities for visually impaired students, students with dyslexia, highly gifted students and students that speak a different language but are otherwise at their age-level. In the settings menu a lot of visual and speach related options provide the necessary accessebility. It was evidence of how empowering the iPad can be.

One more thing…

To cap it all off, Joel Podolny, vice president and dean of Apple University, explained to us what makes Apple Apple…

Starting with the WWDC2013 introduction video, we were taken, word by word, through the process of how Apple works.

if everyone is busy making everything, how can anyone perfect anything? we start to confuse convenience with joy, abundance with choice. designing something requires focus. the first thing we ask is what do we want people to feel? delight, surprise, love, connection. then we begin to craft around our intention. it takes time…there are a thousand no’s for every yes. we simplify, we perfect, we start over until every thing we touch enhances each life it touches. only then do we sign our work.

What do you want people to feel? Apple pays a lot of attention to emotion. For example, Joel told us that when you open the box of a new iPhone, due to the sucktion it creates, the process takes about 5 seconds for it to open. Why? Because it builds up your anticipation for what’s inside the box. It’s like opening a Christmas present. And this is just one of the examples that demonstrate the level of attention to emotion and detail that goes in to creating the best user experience, from opening the box to using the product.

Empowerment is another thing Apple invests in. This is best shown in the 2013 Christmas Add ‘Misunderstood’.

In this beautiful add, it is made clear that Apple looks for empowerment through creativity, not through productivity. Enabling people to do things that ‘just work’, without the hassle of figuring out how to do them is key. Technology…

…for the rest of us

Lastly, he talked about simplicity, which is a very thing hard to do. Yet, simplicity creates intuitiveness. The reason behind the one-button mouse is a great example to illustrate this. Chosing the easier one-button approach instead of the more powerful multi-button device.

Joel added one more feature about Apple’s philosophy: beauty. For me, this is probably one of the most important aspects of Apple’s way of doing things. Not settling for the average box, but going the extra mile to put time and effort in the things you sometimes can’t even see.

joel podolny

So, what does this amazing story bring to education? As Steve Jobs placed Apple at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, the philosophy that they place at the heart of their company is, I think, transferable. In education, we can learn from this. We can take away these core ethics and embrace them in the way we teach.

  • What do you want teachers and students to feel?
  • What about the educational experience supports (or detracts) from those feelings?
  • As leaders, what can you do to shape the educational experience so that it evokes the desired feelings?

I left the summit invigorated, wanting to double my efforts to enable the change I talked about earlier. I felt rekindled, enriched. And the biggest reason for this was this incredible positive atmosphere that was present at the summit. You could feel the opportunities opening up. Everyone was so engaged. This is something that I crave for constantly. I need an environment where a person just by being there, is sparked into having great ideas. A place where you are challenged to create, change, make your mark…


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