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Jobs resigns as Apple CEO; educators ponder his ed-tech legacy

Steve Jobs unveiled Apple's iPad last year. (Karl Mondon/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)

Though Steve Jobs wasn’t at Apple’s helm during the twelve years the company established itself as the leader in educational technology in the 1980s and 90s, it was his vision that brought computing into the education mainstream, ed-tech leaders say.

“For those of us who began our careers in education in the mid-70s, Steve Jobs, along with Steve Wozniak, brought to life the first glimpses of what would become educational technology,” said Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for academic and technology services at the Plano, Texas, Independent School District. “From the first Apple IIs that came with 4K of memory and stored programs on cassette tapes, the promise of what could be illuminated the glimmer of our teachers’ imagination.”

In the hours following the news that Jobs had resigned as CEO of Apple Inc., educators and ed-tech leaders reflected on his legacy in educational technology—and analysts debated what the move will mean for Apple’s future.

Jobs, the mind behind the iPhone, iPad, and other devices that turned Apple into one of the world’s most powerful companies, resigned as CEO on Aug. 24, saying he no longer can handle the job but will continue to play a role in leading the company.

The move appears to be the result of an unspecified medical condition for which he took an indefinite leave from his post in January. Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, has been named CEO to replace him.

In a letter addressed to Apple’s board and the “Apple community,” Jobs said he “always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Jobs’ health has long been a concern for Apple investors who see him as an industry oracle who seems to know what consumers want long before they do. After his announcement, Apple stock quickly fell 5.4 percent in after-hours trading.

Jeff Gamet, managing editor of The Mac Observer, an online news site focused on Apple, said Jobs’ departure has more sentimental than practical significance, and that he has been telegraphing the change for several years.

“All Apple really has done is made official what they’ve been doing administratively for a while now, which is Tim runs the show and Steve gets to do his part to make sure the products come out to meet the Apple standard,” he said.

“I expect that even though there are a lot of people [who] right now are sad or scared because Steve is stepping back from the CEO role, … ultimately [Apple will] be OK,” Gamet said.

But Trip Chowdhry, an analyst with Global Equities Research, said Jobs’ maniacal attention to detail is what set Apple apart. He said Apple’s product pipeline might be secure for another few years, but predicted that the company eventually will struggle to come up with market-changing ideas.

“Apple is Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs is Apple, and Steve Jobs is innovation,” Chowdhry said. “You can teach people how to be operationally efficient, you can hire consultants to tell you how to do that, but God creates innovation. … Apple without Steve Jobs is nothing.”

Earlier this month, Apple became the most valuable company in America, briefly surpassing Exxon Mobil. At the market close on Aug. 24, its market value was $349 billion, just behind Exxon Mobil’s $358 billion.

Jobs’ hits seemed to grow bigger as the years went on: After the colorful iMac computer and the now-ubiquitous iPod, the iPhone redefined the category of smart phones and the iPad all but created the market for tablet computers.

His own aura seemed part of the attraction. On stage at trade shows and company events in his uniform of jeans, sneakers, and black mock-turtlenecks, he’d entrance audiences with new devices, colors, and software features—building up to a grand finale he’d predictably preface by saying, “One more thing.”

Jobs, 56, shepherded Apple from a two-man startup to Silicon Valley darling when the Apple II, the first computer for regular people to really catch on, sent IBM Corp. and others scrambling to get their own PCs to market.

After Apple suffered a slump in the mid-1980s, he was forced out of the company. He was CEO at Next, another computer company, and Pixar, the computer-animation company that produced “Toy Story” on his watch, during the 12 years before he returned.

In 1985, the year Jobs left, Apple launched its groundbreaking Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project as a way to study how technology influences teaching and learning. The ACOT program lasted through 1995, when it was replaced by the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow-Today (ACOT2) program.

From this initiative, Apple identified six key principles for successful schools in the digital age: (1) understanding of 21st-century skills and outcomes; (2) relevant and applied curriculum; (3) informative assessment; (4) a culture of innovation and creativity; (5) social and emotional connections with students; and (6) ubiquitous access to technology.

Though Apple established itself as a leader in educational technology during this period, thanks largely to the Macintosh platform that Jobs created and the ease of use of its graphical interface, the company was foundering before Jobs returned—having lost $900 million in 1996 as Microsoft Windows-based PCs came to dominate the computer market. Apple’s fortunes began to turn around with its first new product under his direction, the iMac, which launched in 1998 and sold about 2 million units in its first 12 months.

In the late 90s, Apple launched the Apple Learning Interchange (ALI), an online learning community where more than 30,000 educators shared lesson plans and collaborated. ALI folded in September 2010, but Apple issued a statement saying: “We invite you to visit iTunes U [the education section of Apple’s revolutionary iTunes store] to continue learning and collaborating with other educators.”

Around the time ALI began, Apple was losing its grip as the top seller of computers to education, supplanted by PC maker Dell Inc. Still, Apple’s popularity grew in the U.S. throughout the 2000s, as its ever-sleeker line of iPods introduced many lifelong Windows users to their first Apple gadget. Apple created another sensation in 2007 with the iPhone, the stark-looking but powerful smart phone that quickly dominated the industry.

The iPad was introduced less than a year and a half ago, but already it has sold nearly 29 million units—and it has inspired myriad rivals in a tablet computer market that scarcely existed before Apple stepped in.

Some ed-tech enthusiasts have accused Jobs of turning his back on education in favor of the much more lucrative consumer market. But Apple’s mobile devices are used by millions of students and have helped spark a mobile learning revolution.

“Steve Jobs brought a singular focus to Apple and willed new products to life with interfaces so elegant everyone ached for them,” Hirsch said. “Once again, educators figured out how the innovations at Apple brought new possibilities for learners, and because of the new focus on consumer products led by Jobs, learners began to have access to digital learning devices outside of school that would eventually find their way back into school.”

In the hours after Job announced his resignation, several ed-tech enthusiasts took to Twitter to discuss his legacy in educational technology.

“Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, resigns. Amazing innovator, supporter of education, and BIG dreamer,” tweeted teacher Shelly Gammon of Kentucky.

“We all hope Steve Jobs is doing OK. His contributions to Apple and education are immeasurable!” read another tweet, from educator and ed-tech specialist Bill Shesky.

As Jobs was praised for his vision, concerns about his health persisted. The January leave was Jobs’ third medical leave over several years. He previously had survived pancreatic cancer and received a liver transplant.

Shannon Cross, an analyst at Cross Research, said Cook is a good choice to replace Jobs.

“He has taken over for Jobs twice in two medical leaves, and the company has functioned extremely well,” she said, adding that Cook has been Jobs’ “right hand guy” for many years.

Cross also said Jobs put in place a “culture of innovation” that will help Apple remain a creative force in the industry.

“Steve Jobs is an extremely strong leader and clearly has made Apple a leading consumer electronics company and one of the most innovative companies in the world,” she said. “However, he didn’t do it alone.”

Said Hirsch: “From imagination to implementation, Steve Jobs has made learning more personal, intuitive, and collaborative, by demanding no compromises in the design of his products. We should do no less for our students and their learning.”

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