Think Different, Teach Different, Learn Different: An Apple iTunes U Adventure

Posted on February 1, 2014

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The bare stage, artistically lit, adorned with just three director chairs and framed by a movie-sized projection screen bearing the Apple logo, seemed the perfect setting for one of the computer company’s familiar product launches or insightful tech instruction.

Karlie and me at rehearsal.

Karlie and me at rehearsal.

There was only one major difference at this event: This time the stage was set for me.

Hard as it is still for me to believe, I was front and center for the launch of Apple’s newest educational video series, this one promoting the academic product iTunes U, and illustrating how I use iPads to move my class environment and instruction into a tech-based 21st century.

Months of prep, hours of rehearsal, a trio of outfit changes, a lighter coat of nail polish and half a can of spray to keep my wandering hair out of my left eye, resulted in an hour-long interview and demonstration of iTunes U at the Apple Store in Soho, one of a handful of company store’s in the world that have a performance stage.

The goal: To produce a top-quality video that will bring to life for other educators the opportunities offered by iTunes U and how they, too, might use the platform and the iPad to enhance educational offerings for students,

It is hard to believe it has been just over a year since I first heard of iTunes U and bought my first iPad, with the goal of building one course–that’s right one–in exchange for an Ohio State-paid trip to Apple headquarters in Cupertino.

In eight months, one course became four, followed by an iBooks textbook. A grant application resulted in one-to-one iPads in my news writing class.

Somehow, someway, we also caught the eye of the true Apple geniuses–the ones who make, promote and educate us on the products that have become so instrumental in every aspect of my life.

The email came in October–Apple wanted to offer a new video series to showcase Apple in education, and would I be willing to help them launch.

I had little idea at the time that “help” meant be the sole presenter, and the educational materials they would be showcasing were exclusively my iTunes U courses.

A student to join me was requested, and I was thrilled to welcome aboard the lovely and talented Karlie Frank, who had shown incredible initiative and skill by covering a story in the third week of our Autumn 2013 class that made the front page of The Lantern. That excitement turned to absolute joy when I saw Karlie’s professionalism and preparation on display through hours of phone rehearsals.

Sooner than we could believe, we were headed to New York on Jan. 28 (sub-zero Midwestern temperatures be damned) to meet our benefactors in person and to begin two days of immersion in the word of perfection and preparation that is Apple.

A trip for breakfast to a true New York deli (bagels and lox anyone?) made Karlie and I 15 minutes late for our first meeting, but we tried to make up for it with prep and participation from 11 am to nearly 11 pm the day before our shoot.

My first "OMG!" moment.

My first “OMG!” moment.

(The most surreal moment: Walking into the Apple Soho store and seeing a poster with my face and name on it, displayed for all to see.)

Apple’s goal for us from the start was clear: Be as organic as possible, tell our story the way we lived it, help others see the vision from which we worked.

Our breaks were few but filled with frivolity, friendship and families. We shared stories and photos of our kids, related tales of our histories and shared interests. We gelled together in pursuit of a wonderfully greater whole.

If it sounds like work, I have to correct that impression. It was more like being a surfer perched on a wave taking shape into a perfect curl around you. You love it. You crave it. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And our Apple friends were the forces of nature that would not let us falter or fall until we had ridden that wave smoothly, beautifully to shore.

A dinner break introduced us to Dr. Jason Corosanite and Christine DiPaulo, a pair of Apple Distinguished Educators from Philadelphia, who had started the String Theory Schools (not far from my alma mater of Temple University) using iPads and iTunes U to transform K-12 education in the City of Brotherly Love.

Within 10 minutes, we were deep in conversation about how we are using technology to morph and change and evolve education, meeting our students where they need and want to learn. It was like meeting lost members of the same family, who incredibly talk and think and sound as you do.

By minute 30 we were talking collaboration and making plans for how we could continue to recruit others toward our collective educational goals.

By the end of two hours we were hugging like the best of friends we had become, kindred spirits that see a future made brighter by connection.

I had never before seen an empty Apple store, but that's what it looks like at 10:30 p.m.

I had never before seen an empty Apple store, but that’s what it looks like at 10:30 p.m.

When we got back to the Apple Store, what was a stage had become a studio, with producers and key grips, jib operators and sound technician, who set up microphone and seats, and figured out how best to transition from iPad to laptop without me whacking the boom mike (you know I would).

Almost without blinking (and certainly for me, without sleeping), there we were, sitting on the stage, five cameras capturing every word, movement, tap and swipe.

The audience was compact but mighty, including our friends from String Theory; Karlie’s mom, Michelle, and sister, Kim; my wonderful former student T.K. Brady, now working for a New York magazine; educators from New York colleges, a community college librarian; and dozens of others.

Walking on the stage was a bit like meeting my husband at the end of the aisle on our wedding day–I can barely remember the journey, but I sure remember the destination.

Karlie is ready!

Karlie is ready!

I could say Karlie and I were nervous, but that would truly be a lie. We were as prepared as we could be. We knew our subject inside and out. And we believed in our message and those who helped us be the messengers.

After an hour of talking about our course, showing how it’s navigated and created, explaining how and why we do what we do, and answering insightful (and quirky) questions, the applause came, the cameras stopped filming, and it was over.

The praise was quick and steady from our Apple friends, and when I looked in their eyes and saw relief that we had not screwed up all of their hard work, I finally began to think, “Maybe that went OK.”

I knew it was more than OK on Karlie’s part–she was mature beyond her years, clear, concise, beautiful and inspiring. She represents everything about why I love teaching so much.

I still have moments I wished I’d said more–or less–but perfection is a slippery concept, and I hope words filed with passion are as, or more, impactful than words expressed to perfection.

The next few hours flew by in a blur, before we were off to a cab, off to the airport, off on a plane bound for Columbus, and it was like the clock had struck midnight on our amazing evening at the ball (Coincidence that Apple’s Soho store is on Prince Street? Maybe not).

That night we crawled into our familiar beds.

The next day we headed to class at Ohio State.

It was like it had never happened and life was just the same.

Except it wasn’t.

I was not the same. No one who works alongside passion and professionalism, vision and expertise, genius and gentility should be the same. I feel smarter, my eyes wider, inspiration of what could be done next to take education even further bubbling in my brain.

In the days to come we will no doubt regale our friends and family and coworkers with the story of Nicole and Karlie’s Excellent Adventure.

We will remember, and we will say thanks.

Thanks to Ohio State, for having the vision and commitment to let faculty like me embrace the future of education and make that future now.

Thanks Mike Hofherr, Cory Tressler and the rest of the Office of Distance Education and E-Learning, for opening the doors to that future, and providing the tools that let me see a vision and turn it into revolutionary reality.

And last but never least, thank you Apple friends new and old, for letting us into your world to share with others our vision and the success we have enjoyed in our Ohio State classes.

It is only just the beginning.

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