Apple Exec on Rewiring Education

Closeup side view of messed wires connecting computers and printers in office

As a physics student at UC Riverside in the 60s, John Couch became fascinated by a new invention—computers. He transferred to Berkeley and became one of the first 50 students to graduate with a computer science degree.

Couch was an early hire at Apple inn 1978. He became VP Product and led the launch of the Lisa computer. He left in 1984 and took over a struggling K-12 school for a while. After a stint in biotech, Couch returned to Apple as Vice President of Education in 2002 (shortly after they had acquired PowerSchools).

After 16 years, Couch stepped out of Apple to start a conversation with his new book, Rewiring Education: How Technology Can Unlock Every Student’s Potential.

Rather than patching or dumping the current system, Couch says, “Let’s rewire it.” By that Couch means an updated operating system—a new purpose based on designing not memorizing, on cultivating gifts not regurgitating facts, on community over hierarchy, intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation, and real versus simulated experiences.

Challenge-Based Learning. Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) was a ten year initiative launched in 1985 to study how technology might change teaching and learning. Building on the success of that early program, ACOT2 aimed at making high school learning more engaging and relevant. It provided computers to students at school and at home.

From ACOT2; came the concept of challenge based learning—extended projects connected to community issues. CBL is an inquiry-based learning framework encouraging “relevant, creative, collaborative, and challenging work,” according to Couch.

“Rewiring education is all about a series of challenging and relevant experiments that play off pre-existing experiences where an engaging and sometimes unpredictable, learning process ultimately leads to a clear understanding of the results.”

The concept of challenge-based learning was advanced by one of John’s star employees, Karen Cator, now Executive Director at Digital Promise where the concept lives on (and with Buck, HQPBL, NYAS, and many of the deeper learning networks)

Coding and Tech. Couch would like to see the foundational elements of coding taught in the early grades. Like challenge based learning, Couch sees coding as discovery-based and encouraging thinking outside box. He values data visualization and converting inputs to outputs.

On teaching, Couch see many unnecessary barriers. He hopes that tech will help solve that problem and help deliver powerful learning experience.

He’s a fan of the SAMR model and would like to see more classrooms move from substitution and augmentation to modification and redefinition of learning.

Couch is bullish on applications of AI including adaptive learning, digital assistants, virtual reality. He thinks the jury is out on Blockchain. Learn more about his views at RewiringEducation.

In his next book, Couch will highlight rewired schools. He’s particularly interested in micro-schools.

Key Takeaways From the Podcast.

[:20] About some upcoming changes to the Getting Smart podcast in the next couple of weeks.
[1:05] About this week’s guest, John Couch.
[1:41] How John originally got interested in computers.
[4:07] What was the impetus behind John’s most recent book, Rewiring Education?
[6:03] John explains the title of his book, Rewiring Education.
[7:04] Why design is an important concept.
[9:58] About the chart in chapter 5 that illustrates the difference between education and learning, and where to find John’s other charts and slides for Rewiring Education.
[11:34] John describes what challenge-based learning is, gives some examples, and explains why it’s so important.
[16:50] About the great team of people John has worked with.
[17:47] John’s take on coding.
[19:55] What’s the new role of the teacher John described in his book.
[21:57] John talks about how teaching is helping students recognize their natural talents and moving from being a conveyor of information to a facilitator of information.
[23:50] John’s current take on technology and how it can best be used in schools today.
[26:18] John answers Tom’s lightning round questions about new technology!
[32:57] Where to find John and his work online.

Mentioned in This Episode.

Rewiring Education: How Technology Can Unlock Every Student’s Potential, by John Couch and Jason Towne
Compiler Construction: Theory and Practice, by John Couch and William A. Barrett

For more, see:

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

Subscribe to Our Podcast

This podcast highlights developing trends in K-12 education, postsecondary and lifelong learning. Each week, Getting Smart team members interview students, leading authors, experts and practitioners in research, tech, entrepreneurship and leadership to bring listeners innovative and actionable strategies in education leadership.

Find us on:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.