CIC and Apple Education Co-Host Presidents Forum

When CIC presidents, CAOs, and other senior officers first met with Apple Inc. executives in Cupertino, California in 2011, most campuses were still struggling to make Wi-Fi available in classrooms, much less across campus. Apple was still developing its vision of how iPads, released just a year earlier, could influence teaching and learning. When a second delegation of campus leaders from 53 CIC member institutions gathered in San Jose, California, and on the Apple campus in April 2018, conversations with Apple Education leaders focused on leading with a “mobility mindset,” fostering a “culture of digital innovation,” preparing students for today’s “mobile workforce,” and integrating coding into the liberal arts curriculum.

Certainly a lot has changed in independent higher education. During the 2018 forum, presidents described their campus initiatives to make iPads available to their students and faculty and to enable aspects of students’ education that rely on a tablet. And Apple significantly enlarged its consultation capacity to help campuses develop customized solutions to align better with institutional mission, educational goals, student and faculty characteristics, and financial resources. For campuses and Apple, the driver for change has been the same—customers, who Paul D’Ascoli, market segment executive for higher education at Apple, said “have pulled Apple into areas we didn’t know we were in.” Likewise, a number of CIC presidents illustrated that students’ expectations to receive and engage information wherever they are and to learn collaboratively and with real-world implications, has led campuses to consider going mobile.

After discussing the impact of technologies, Jon Landis, national development executive at Apple, commented, “change is happening at a magnitude higher” than after the invention of the printing press. The internet, in combination with mobile devices and unimaginable amounts of free content, allows one “to learn whatever and whenever one wants.” These technological changes, however, lead to new challenges on campus.

three photos: 1. seated participants facing stage; 2. Joel Podolny standing on stage with projection screen behind him; 3. Apple staff member demonstrates an iPad to a participant
(From left to right) Participants in the CIC/Apple Presidents Forum traveled to the Apple campus in Cupertino, California, to engage with Apple executives and campus leaders. Louis Thayne, president of Lebanon Valley College (PA), listens intently to presenters. Joel Podolny, dean of Apple University, referenced co-founder Steve Jobs’ guiding principle of innovation needing to be at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. An Apple Education staff member orients Christine De Vinne, OSU, president of Ursuline College (OH), to various Apple iPad features.

The forum agenda provided ample time for discussion of iPad-based projects at CIC campuses at different stages of development and with varying origination stories. Kevin Ross, president of Lynn University (FL), one of the earliest campuses to be designated an Apple Distinguished School, caught the digital learning innovation bug in 2011. But it took the massive infrastructure investment of hosting a presidential debate to position Lynn to pursue a project with Apple. Ross said that keys to Lynn’s initiative included clearly expressed expectations and meaningful incentives for faculty to revamp their courses. To sustain momentum, Ross emphasized, “Presidents need to encourage and be part of a culture that constantly looks around the corner and asks ‘What’s next?’”

Plans at Hiram College (OH) started more from a position of need than opportunity, president Lori Varlotta shared honestly. An iPad initiative fit well with Hiram’s “new liberal arts” rebranding effort that included a stronger focus on cross-disciplinary and integrated study in and outside of the classroom to invigorate student enrollment and retention. It was, however, a generous financial gift that made the iPad initiative possible. Keys to success, in Varlotta’s perspective, are to achieve broad faculty buy-in and to provide opportunities for students’ input. She also suggested a “transformer team,” with a mix of faculty members and administrators, to drive the initiative. Most of all, she advised, “iPads for everybody can be great; but they are no silver bullet for a struggling institution, unless the initiative is embedded in a broader innovation strategy.”

For a hands-on experience, participants visited parts of the Apple campus that are usually closed to outsiders. During the field trip, Joel Podolny, vice president and dean of Apple University, discussed the long history of Apple’s innovation culture centered at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. He reminded participants that Steve Jobs once famously stated: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

Brent Frey, director of Apple’s U.S. education development, picked up these themes for a powerful concluding conversation on preparing students for today’s mobile workforce. He said that because of technology disruption some of the most successful and biggest companies (such as Airbnb, Alibaba, and Facebook) no longer produce tangible products. The educational experience students receive should provide them with the skills to thrive in growth sectors such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, machine learning, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and data security and privacy.

Furthermore, he noted, today’s students want content to be accessible, constant connection, collaborative engagement from virtually anywhere, and “every learner wants to be a creator.” This means, “faculty members need to be mentors to creators and developers,” not testers of accumulated knowledge. Frey emphasized that colleges should modernize the learning environments and opportunities for students and better market the liberal arts-based skills that graduates from CIC institutions possess, since “waiting for change in public perception will not work.”

CIC will continue to create opportunities for campus leaders to engage the broader topics of the Presidents Forum and to share their experiences in distinct campus projects. CIC’s 2018 Institute for Chief Academic Officers and 2019 Presidents Institute will both include sessions on creating effective digital learning environments.