Ohio State of the Silicon Valley: The Future of Education comes to Life at Apple Inc.

Posted on December 15, 2012


Screen Shot 2012-12-15 at 8.32.35 PMEntrenched for the second straight day in a glass-enclosed, wood-accented conference room in the heart of the Apple campus in Cupertino, Calif., there came a sudden realization: The future of education was unfolding right in front of me.

homeimage-supremecourtI sat amid 20 intelligent and inspiring colleagues, most of whom I had only met two days earlier and now considered friends and comrades. We had been selected for the experience of a lifetime–a trip to Apple’s headquarters ( located on the appropriately named Infinite Loop) where the tech company’s brightest educational minds sought to train us to make courses for the online educational platform known as iTunes U.

Haven’t heard of it? Don’t worry, you will.

iTunes U is a tablet-based (OK, yes it has to be an iPad) repository of free, self-paced classes on a list of topics seem to grow by the second. The can be as simple as providing an organized storage site of content for students or reaching beyond time and space to help lifelong learners immerse in new topics and broad ideas.

And for those of us at Ohio State, it will likely be part of our future classroom experiences.

Those of us gathered had applied for our spots based on a commitment to such learning opportunities and our ideas for classes that could be adapted or created for the platform.

We represented such diverse environments as the medical school and social work, English and music, as well as political science; evolution, ecology and organismal studies; and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. And, of course, communication.

My course idea was media law and ethics, the convergence of two key frames for journalistic pursuit and understanding. Building the course from scratch to teach for the first time gave me the opportunity to build the materials in a format that would be customizable to iTunes U.

The course will also feature live re-enactments of the U.S. Supreme Court as it decides real and mock cases, which I hoped would provide strong video content.

I must have sold it well, because an Oct. 19 email revealed I had made the cut. I’m pretty sure when I read it I screamed aloud for joy.

Our hosts for the voyage were the men of Digital First, Ohio State’s new initiative that promises to use technology to reinvent the educational experience.

The effort is led, as we were, by Mike Hofherr, who has recently–and no doubt deservedly–been promoted to associate vice president of eLearning and Distance Education. His support staff of Steve Lieb, Cory Tressler and Matt Stoltzfus (our iTunes rock god by virtue of his much admired chemistry course), were our hand-holders, mentors, travel agents and cruise directors.

We came from all over campus, with different roles and responsibilities in our “real life.” We eyed each other curiously in the Columbus airport before our 6:20 am flight, trying to figure out who was who and teaching what. But by the time we got to California and sat down for lunch at a little Vietnamese joint sniffed out by my new academic soul mate, Mark Rubinstein, all lines of college, rank or responsibility were wiped out.

We simply became Ohio State of the Silicon Valley.

That role was reinforced even more when we arrived that afternoon at Apple headquarters, where were told repeatedly that the vision of Mike and our administrators had positioned Ohio State at the forefront of the tablet teaching technology. Indeed, the future was being written now, and the Buckeyes were holding one of the mightiest pens.

Then we set to work.

We learned about outlines and media, and content curation from iBooks, apps, websites and original media. We organized and edited, collected and connected. The hours seemed to evaporate in the pure intellectual heat generated in the conference room in Apple’s Executive Learning Center.

I have never been, nor imagined I would be, in a room of so many brilliant people bringing so many creative concepts to life. Framed by true Apple geniuses–the people who invent and perfect the technology we use every day–each conversation overheard or interacted with was on a bullet-like train of thought, one that caused my brain to swirl with learning opportunity.

I’d love to share all we were told or shown, but Apple is quite proprietary about that which leads the technological world. Mike signed a non-disclosure agreement for all of us. There were no photos allowed inside the offices; it took all of our self-control not to tweet, Instagram or Facebook.

But such seclusion made us join together even tighter, this extraordinary experience appreciable only by the Buckeye brethren with whom we crafted courses for the next generation of learners.

We marked our final dinner with a winding trek flanked by giant redwoods to the longtime area favorite Alice’s Restaurant, where we laughed and ate and toasted our experience, and thought of even better ways to sculpt our classes. An unwillingness to let the night end led us to spend more hours at the hotel bar than maybe we should have, but through every hour we kept coming back to new technological philosophies and opportunities.

By the next morning, our last few hours at Apple, we were winding down physically but still ramping up emotionally for all that we had done, and all that we would do.

When, with Corey’s help, I hit the “publish” button and “Media Law and Ethics on iTunes U” went live, I felt like I had given birth–and in a way I had and, at the same time, been born. I had created an entity of which I was ever so proud and had immersed myself in a technology and educational belief system that changed me, and changed the teaching direction my future will take.

By afternoon, we were ensconced back on a Southwest plane. My other new soul mate and fellow iTunes U publisher, the incredible Cindy Selfe, sat behind me (“I’ve got your back, sister,” she told me before we took off). Surgeon Dave Renton, who brought us as close to laparoscopic surgery as most of us wish to be, looked as gleeful as a 6-year-old when the flight attendant provided him vanilla sandwich cookies before he plugged his earphones into “The Avengers” on–what else–his iPad.

Behind us, Corey and Matt huddled together discussing technology most of could barely pronounce, let alone understand.

We were headed back to our individual colleges and departments, students and courses, but we will remain connected in our shared experience and the promise that a new educational wave is coming.

In true California fashion, we are ready to ride it.

Check out Media Law and Ethics on iTunes U!

Other iTunes U links:

Ohio State iTunes U
Media Law & Ethics Course
Cindy Selfe’s Documenting Community Literacies Course

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