Apple products are already central to our lives in many ways. We use them for working, socializing, monitoring our heart rate, paying for things, and watching TV.
But did you know that they are also involved in teaching school teachers?
The post-COVID-19 shift to online learning isn’t just for students. Now, teachers are also doing a lot of professional development online, often through global technology companies or “EdTechs”.
Read more: Edtech treats students like products. Here’s how we can protect children’s digital rights
Apple Teacher is a familiar example. It is a free professional learning program developed by Apple for teachers. Offered in 36 countries, including Australia, Apple Teacher claims to “support and celebrate teachers using Apple products for teaching and learning”.
In my new research, I argue that Apple Teacher helps position Apple as a global education expert. This decision goes largely under the radar.
What is Apple Teacher?
Apple has been selling technology to schools since the early 1980s, particularly in the United States. It has also offered programs for teachers using Apple technology since the mid-1990s. But the tech giant now offers professional training for teachers through Apple Teacher, launched in 2016.
Starting in 2022, over 100 lessons and tutorials are available for free on the Apple Teacher Learning Center. The site promotes ‘self-paced travel’ and a ‘great way for schools to provide free professional learning’. There are “skill-building tutorials, lesson ideas, and inspiration to deepen student learning.”
It could be something as simple as taking a selfie on an excursion. Or it could be how to use coding or augmented reality in a lesson. There are also specific materials for COVID-19 distance learning, with tips and lesson ideas to save time.
Teachers can take interactive quizzes on using Apple software to earn “badges.” If they collect six badges, they are recognized as “Apple Teachers”.
Another key feature is the Apple Teacher Wallet. Here, teachers create and share lesson plans that intentionally use Apple products in the classroom. These include Keynote (which creates presentations) and GarageBand (which creates music or podcasts). Completing all nine lesson plans rewards teachers with more badges and gives them additional recognition.
Festivals, Badges, Followers
Beyond rewarding individual teachers, Apple Teacher also offers learning on a larger scale. Apple is in the midst of its third annual “Festival of Learning.” Between July 11 and July 21, this global virtual conference is hosting 90 sessions on topics like “Building Your First App” and Theater Design, all using Apple products.
As of July 2022, the Apple Education Twitter account (@AppleEDU) has over a million followers. While not limited to Apple Teacher attendees, it clearly demonstrates its massive reach and appeal.
Apple Teacher is usually completed by individual teachers on their own initiative. However, schools with more than 75% of their staff as Apple teachers can also apply to be recognized as an Apple Distinguished School. Although the number of Apple Teachers is not made public, there are currently 47 Apple Distinguished Schools in Australia out of 689 worldwide.
A rebranding for Apple
While it is perhaps unsurprising that Apple promotes the use of its products in schools, COVID-19 has clearly introduced a new sense of urgency and market opportunity in terms of education and of professional development.
In comments made in 2021, one of Apple’s vice presidents, Susan Prescott, said the company wanted to help “build the confidence of educators by reimagining their lessons and [recognise] for the excellent work they do every day”.
In my research, I argue that Apple Teacher positions Apple as a global education expert. Apple has a lot to gain financially from this development. In 2021, the global EdTech industry was valued at US$85 billion (AUD$125.4 billion). By 2028, this amount is expected to explode to US$230 billion (AUD$339.4 billion).
By providing teacher training and credentials, as well as instructional guides, Apple directly challenges more conventional sources of academic expertise built over decades of experience and research. This includes important knowledge that teachers already possess, as well as universities, professional bodies and departments of education.
It’s unclear what knowledge or expertise Apple is using to inform Apple Teacher. The company generally does not cite any research in its publicly available materials. But as the world’s largest information technology company, Apple can use its brand recognition to promote its own version of academic knowledge and educational qualifications.
Apple’s reputation for technology products will also likely help attract potential users to Apple Teacher, regardless of the learning provided. Since Apple Teacher is primarily focused on encouraging teachers to adopt Apple products for classroom use, there are also clear financial motivations.
Before COVID-19, teachers were already under extraordinary pressure. In this context, it’s understandable that Apple Teacher — free, recognizable, and available internationally — might be appealing to overworked and underappreciated teachers looking for support.
But, as teachers themselves know, not all learning opportunities are equal.
We already have decades of research that can support quality teacher learning and classroom practice. We must not accept a global EdTech as a preferred source of solutions, especially when those solutions involve promoting their own products.
Education policymakers and school leaders need to ensure that programs like Apple Teacher aren’t the only opportunity for professional development. They can do this by allocating more time for teacher professional development or by funding greater access to quality research behind paywalls.
Fostering close and ongoing ties between teachers, professional organizations, and academic researchers will also enable expert-to-expert conversations without the risk of product placement and promotion.
We cannot continue to expect so much from teachers if we do not support the vital work they do. Ceding this space to profit-driven EdTechs will only compound the problem.