Austin Reflections

I had the enormous privilege of attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Worldwide Institute 2018 in July of this year — a huge thank you for my school letting me go and Apple for the invitation! It was an epic four days (plus a good two days of travel to Austin and back), with plenty of insight into where Apple are going in the world of education and lots of inspiration from 370 other amazing educators from around the world, either through workshops and ‘showcase’ presentations or just in conversation over some good Texan food.

The stated theme for the week was about creativity in education, under the banner of the #EveryoneCanCreate hashtag on Twitter. This, along with #AppleEDUchat and #ADE2018, garnered 60 million impressions during the Institute, which in itself was quite remarkable.

An unstated question throughout the week though (perhaps just for me?) was essentially ‘why still bother with iPad?’ With the onslaught of the Chromebook in schools across the US, with its physical keyboard, cheap devices, full desktop browser and comprehensive Google backend, what have Apple got to offer? From the start, ‘creativity’ was the answer to this question.

This kicked off with an intriguing presentation from ‘Marcom’, the marketing and communication team at Apple. Creativity is not something tacked on with Apple, but a core part of their whole approach, with a stated ambition to be at the heart of culture through being the world’s most creatively inspiring brand. This combination of creativity, simplicity and humanity can be seen in the Cannes Grand Prix award-winning advert for the Home Pod. Perhaps even more remarkable is how they made it, doing nearly all special effects ‘in camera’, with amazing effect.

So, if creativity is so important, how do we encourage its use in the classroom? Announced back in March, Apple are making a set of educational resources entitled ‘Everyone Can Create’. We were given a taster of some of the planned lessons ideas and resources around the creative disciplines of drawing, music, photography and video. These really make up the unique offering of iPad in education: you can’t really do film-making, take photos, create music or draw on a Chromebook! The resources seem to be shaping up nicely, providing a ‘way in’ for educators to use the more creative disciplines across the curriculum.

No Institute is complete without the obligatory Project, which this year was around the creativity theme. We were divided into small ‘homeroom’ groups (the US version of ‘tutor groups’) to help shape ideas, with our first task to define what we think creativity means to us as educatiors. You can see ours here. After sharing ideas, we each individually had to make a pitch about our proposed project: mine is to make a short e-book about how we use iPads and Book Creator in science in order to make lessons more interactive. Again, you can see mine on Twitter. Hopefully the finished product will be published soon!

A real highlight of the week was an update from the iWork team, outlining some of the latest updates to Pages, Numbers and Keynote, particularly how you can now create fixed-layout ePub files and draw directly into documents using Apple Pencil (or just a finger if needed). Do check out the helpful tips on how to draw chickens… We also had the absolute treat of a presentation from the Senior Product Manager of GarageBand, including a round of ‘spot which famous pop song uses Apple Loops‘. GarageBand is a remarkable app and full of potential in the classroom, once you get an idea of how to use it. The recently added Toy Box sound pack includes Live Loops with counting in different languages and NASA space travel samples.

Another powerful differentiator with Apple across all their platforms is their deep commitment to accessibility as seen through the extensive features that come built-in. This video about Sady (ADE Class of 2017) is profoundly moving and gets me every time. The fact you can edit on Final Cut Pro X using head switches is remarkable, both on a personal level but also from an engineering perspective. All these tools can be used by anyone, so do take a look in Settings > General > Accessibility or visit

On top of all this, Apple has also just released their SchoolWork app, which is basically a more agile classroom learning app for iPad. We got to talk in more detail to and hear from the team behind it, which was useful. It requires Apple School Manager to be set up properly for your school, with both teachers and students on Managed Apple IDs. Once this is in place, it allows you to easily set up collaborative iWork documents with students (either with the whole class or with each student individually). You can also direct students to particular parts of apps, if they support ClassKit. It’s still a first draft I would say, but I am looking forward to giving it a try during the next academic year.

Spending most of a week with such distinguished educators has made me realise that creativity in education isn’t easy. Apple’s tools certainly make it easier to do amazing things, but it still takes a huge amount of effort, hard work and perseverance to make a difference in students’ lives through the quality of education we offer them. A particular mention to Anthony Stirpe and Bianca Woodard, fellow ADEs, for leading a great workshop on how they use video with Clips to teach poetry and sound with GarageBand to explore the history of slavery. It was inspiring!

I’ve come home amazingly grateful for the opportunity I get to lead a 1:1 iPad deployment at my school and determined to continue make learning creative and meaningful to students and teachers alike.

Back to the Mac

At year ago, we had 10 teachers at my school agree to go ‘iPad Only’, to do their day-to-day work as a teacher just using a 10.5″ iPad Pro with an Smart Keyboard and an Apple Pencil. So how did it go?

Things people liked:

  • The iPad Pro is a lovely iPad. It’s a little bit more spacious than your average 9.7″ with basically the same footprint as the original iPad The ‘ProMotion’ retina display is also really nice.
  • Having a keyboard makes a real difference in terms of productivity, both for specific typing tasks and general use.
  • For those who made use of it, the Apple Pencil was a really great bonus, making the iPad really fulfil the dream of replacing the SmartBoart.
  • We bought people Office 365 licences, which was a hit! Having full fidelity read and write access to planning documents is just really useful.
  • Having everything in one place has always been the great thing about iPads for teachers, and the iPad Pro amplifies this effect further.


  • Ergonomics. Possibly worse than with a laptop, having to hunch over and look down at a screen, as opposed to looking at eye height at a properly positioned iMac display, isn’t good for posture. Plus the 10.5″ is just a bit too small to be a main machine (9 out of 10 teachers said they would happily swap for a bigger iPad, given the option). And reaching up to touch the screen isn’t as good ergonomically as the traditional mouse plus keyboard.
  • Being second/third class citizens with the shared network drive gets wearing after a while. Our teachers still access a Windows SMB shared drive, which can be accessed natively on a Mac in Finder but requires to Documents app and WebDAV for use on an iPad. With an iPad it’s still very much the case of make-a-local-copy-then-upload-new-version-when-done. A switch to Google Drive in the summer will in some ways alleviate this.
  • You just sometimes need a desktop. Like for writing 30 reports. Or printing off stuff for displays. Or using legacy and outdated educational resources that bizarrely still require Flash. Or accessing Apple School Manager (looking at you Cupertino!).

So, in light of the above, we decided to roll the trial back and put iMacs back into the ten teacher’s classes.

The biggest clincher was the ergonomics: if teachers use their iPad a lot because it’s the best device for them, that’s a different matter than being required to use it all the time.

It was also interesting to reflect on the motivation and reasoning behind the trial; in many ways, it was an attempt to save money when looking ahead at looming Mac refreshes. Saving money isn’t always a bad motivator for a decision: after all, we made huge savings on printing through getting rid of many colour printers and encouraging the use of black and white copiers (and Showbie) instead. But with the attempt to go ‘iPad Only’, money was the primary reason for the switch. To attempt it again, we would need to be able to articulate the reasons why it would be better for teachers, not just for my budgetary spreadsheet!