Mac Lab Report

Macs, PCs, Support, and Strategy

- 2002.06.27

It seems like I start over every year. When I restarted teaching in 1998, I had in my possession one Power Mac 5200, several SE/30s, a IIci, and an old Atari 520 ST.

Believe it or not, I used them. They weren't networked, but I put a few small apps on them and did some labs, some word processing, and so on.

In 1999, I got a few more 5200s and some more 68k machines.

In 2000, I started over with mostly first-gen Power Macs like the 6100, the 7200, and a 9500 tower.

Last year I got some iMacs, access to iBook carts, some AIOs, and a couple of Blue and White G3 towers.

As each generation came to me, mostly through replacements in offices and other labs (with Dells, for the most part), I handed off the previous generation to another teacher, checked out computers to students for doing homework, and relegated machines to the parts bin.

Word on the street is that the library is replacing a bunch of G3 Blue and White towers with Dells - and guess who gets the overflow?

I don't know whether to celebrate or cry. We are going through some networking upgrades here, and some computers are being purchased through various grant funds. What is happening is that the people who have no strong opinions on the matter of OS are being pushed into PCland by IT, and we are gradually, quietly fading the Macs off campus. They still have a strong presence as teacher desktop machines, and a couple of labs still use them, but two years of fighting a poorly designed PC-centric network has soured many of our teachers' relationships with their Macs.

This points to a strategic problem for Apple to which they seem to be slowly awakening. Unfortunately, the end users of the computers - primarily teachers - get little say in the structure of the network or the purchase orders. And many teachers are coming from other professions where PC use is more common. The excuse is always the same: Having two platforms is more expensive, finding technicians is difficult, blah blah blah, money.

There are three things Apple can do to help with this situation in educational institutions.

First, they need to contract with major schools of information technology to provide free training for the instructors there. Free is the only way they'll get a foot in the door of some of these places.

Second, they need to reach out to the existing IT staffs of schools districts and offer some free training on integrating networks. At least to one person on staff per district, if the district has some threshold number of new computer purchases over the next couple of fiscal years, let's say.

Third, they need to upgrade homepage to make it feature competitive with free PC sites like Homestead. Homestead's strategy was simple: Bait with free Web hosting and switch to a paid model when the funding ran out. Now I have teachers who are interested in making the switch but have invested so much time and effort in the Homestead model they'd rather pay the registration fee than buy a copy of Dreamweaver or futz around with some free composer like Netscape.

Let's face it, this middle Web design ground is empty in the Apple domain. You've got your BBEdit for your HTML teachers, your Dreamweaver which takes three weeks of repetitive classes to learn, your Homepage through iDisk, which a drugged hamster could master in fifteen seconds - and you got not much else in between. [Editor's note: Why can't someone resurrect Claris Home Page?]

It doesn't help any that our district blocks access to iDisk from school. Our online Web graphics for AppleWorks don't work, either.

I remember visiting the library and helping out with misconfigured Blue and White computers once or twice. I did this with the deliberate strategy of prompting the IT staff to hurry in to help fix the machines - I've found the best way to get stuff done is to start to do it myself. It makes people nervous, I guess.

I asked if they needed any other help, and they said "can you help with the PCs? They haven't been online in weeks."

I declined and wished them luck. I just wonder what leap of logic made them want to replace the whole room with PCs.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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