The Apple Ecosystem: An Educator’s Guide

By Scott Sterling

These days, you have many choices when you are adopting technology for the classroom. However, there are really only three categories from which everything else branches: Apple, Google, and Microsoft Windows. This is the beginning of a series meant to cover the ins and outs, pros and cons of each—starting with Apple.

The lay of the land

Apple’s iPads are almost ubiquitous with classroom technology. When technology is massively adopted in any school or district, they have probably bought a slew of the most popular tablet in the world. To add on, if you are working in a BYOD environment, students are more than likely bringing in either their own iPads or Apple’s iPhone, the most popular phone in the world. It is highly unlikely that anyone working with education technology will not run into Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS.

The pros

Apple may run the most self-contained ecosystem available for technology. Everything works together. What a student works on with their iPhone or iPad in class will be available to them—through the cloud—to any other Apple device they might own or use. That might also be the case with other devices, depending on what app the student is using at the time.

Apple devices are known for their reliability. Because the Apple ecosystem is protected so stringently, the risk of viruses or malware is minimal. This writer, even though fearing the loss of his objectivity, has solely used Apple devices for more than a decade and can count on one hand the number of crashes experienced.

As mentioned, they are also the most popular devices in the world. If you hear about an app from a colleague that you want to try with your class, it will more than likely be available in the App Store. In fact, any tech trick that might apply to the classroom has probably been optimized for iOS before any other ecosystem. That makes your options almost limitless.

Once you get the hang of it, maintenance and administration of iOS devices is a snap. Although the settings involved with administering an iOS device have grown over time, it is fully possible for a teacher to handle most common IT problems without having to call in the tech administrator.

The cons

There is no getting around it: Apple devices are expensive. This isn’t a problem in BYOD (for you), but if you are buying a cart full of iPads, you are spending many thousands of dollars. Considering the pros, especially the reliability, this might be worth it. But it is a significant consideration in any adoption.

Also, because of their ubiquity, most other ecosystems are forced to play nicely with iOS. But that doesn’t mean seamlessly. There can be significant differences, for example, between the native version of Microsoft’s Office apps (Word, PowerPoint, etc.) and their iOS versions. Some significant features may be missing. It’s worth looking into if the ways of work of your classroom rely on certain apps.

Customization of Apple products in general is severely limited. This is due to their protectiveness of the ecosystem as a whole (the same protectiveness that gives you the security and reliability). If you have a really customized installation or have a need for features above and beyond what is available, you might be better off with something else.

The bottom line

If you can get past the expense and give up a little power as an administrator, you can be assured that an Apple ecosystem will handle whatever your students might throw at you. Their devices are easy to use, your students are probably already familiar with the operating system, and you will be well positioned for BYOD, if you haven’t gotten there already.

That being said, if your environment relies on devices from a variety of sources (which most do), you will find that Apple has just recently started playing well with others. That can lead to frustration for tech administrators, teachers, and, most importantly, students. When they wonder why their PowerPoint doesn’t look quite as good on their iPad as it did on their laptop, you will know why.

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