Mac Lab Report

Macs a Big Presence at Computer Using Educator's Conference

- 2006.03.13

I am at the California Computer Using Educator's (CUE) conference in Palm Springs, California today (March 9) and tomorrow. I'm taking some time from going to sessions to browse the vendor booths, talk to some teachers, and pass along what I'm observing at the conference.

First, it's encouraging that so many of the vendors are using Macs - or at least offering Mac-compatible software. For example, Quizdom offers a radio frequency-based clicker system that comes with Mac compatible software even though the demo equipment was running on a PC.

I can't say that a majority of vendors were using Macs, but well over a quarter of them were.

Apple was present in force, sponsoring workshops which were so popular - particularly iLife 6 and iPod in education-based workshops - that the lines waiting to get in to the sessions stretched down the hall and around the corner for some well-attended sessions.

Podcasting is hot, and you can tell. Children showed podcasts they had created for download as school projects, for example.

Full disclosure: Your humble correspondent was present because the local Computer Using Educator's chapter (East Bay CUE) nominated him for the annual Outstanding Educator of the Year award for the state of California. The award, a sculpted apple on a wooden base, was given to me in a ceremony at the general session of the conference on Friday morning.

I owe a debt to Sharon Smith, Peggy O'Neill, Maria McClain, and other teachers at Deer Valley High School for supporting my application - not to mention Dan Knight for allowing me this pulpit from which I occasionally emit information. The award recognizes teachers who make significant contributions to education using technology - and I believe my contributions to Low End Mac, astronomyteacher.com, and other projects had a direct bearing on that decision.

My good friend Sharon Smith received one of three gold disk awards for service to the CUE organization and was widely hailed and congratulated for her contributions to education technology in California. She has been a steady supporter of my work on LEM and is guilty of occasionally forwarding articles to other members of our district.

George Lucas was given an award as well, but he couldn't attend in person. He did attend via a taped award acceptance speech, which was nice, and had a proxy attend to collect the award. I had hopes of meeting him, but such is life. Still, getting an award just after George Lucas got an award is an experience I'm not likely to repeat.

Also during the ceremony, Robert X. Cringely, the noted columnist, gave an entertaining speech about his early experiences in computing. He claimed credit for inventing the trash can icon and the ubiquitous 2-step deletion process we all use now (put it in trash, empty the trash) after losing a 90,000 word book by pressing the wrong button while working on a mainframe. "We've all had that moment where we think, 'If I don't lift my finger from the keyboard . . . I can still reach the phone to call for help,'" he said during the presentation.

Yup. Been there. Done that.

I've read Cringely's work online on occasion, and now he is sponsoring a new television venture called NerdTV on pbs.org. These are unedited (because nerds are "skeptical") interviews with interesting figures in the tech world, and I suggest you check it out.

The conference is host to perhaps 3,000 educators who use technology. Hundreds of vendors and dozens of sessions provided plenty to keep educators busy. If you are interested in educational technology (or in selling it), you should consider attending the annual CUE conference in California, the oldest educational computing conference in the country - over 25 years and counting, as I recall.

For my part, as a representative of LEM, I decided to visit a couple of booths to see what was going on with Apple's new hardware announcements. I saw a new Intel iMac and talked to a couple of Apple reps at the booth (located directly at the entrance to the CUE vendor area) about issues of concern to the LEM community.

I had a rather protracted conversation with Kris Kokosko, who was working the booth and answering questions. As a recent PC switcher now working for Apple, Kris gamely tackled my questions regarding the relationship of Apple to its older fans and education customers.

I confirmed with Ms. Kokosko the reports that future versions of Mac OS X will not run Classic in any form. She pointed out that the OS X transition has been going on for over five years, and Apple considers this a gentle transition period, not abrupt at all. She gave me a detailed explanation of the Rosetta translator and how Universal Binary applications are the only ones which will run at full speed.

These details are explained better by others on many other Mac sites, so I will not repeat them here. She agreed with my assessment that the current transition was similar to the one Apple underwent when it changed from the old 68k processors to PowerPC and the transition from OS 9 to OS X; the transition to Intel provides similar challenges and objections, but the viewpoint of the company (she said) is that it is "time to move on to the future."

Officially, Apple plans to be Classic-free (100% Intel-based, in other words) by the end of 2006, although the release schedule has been faster than expected. Already 20" G5 iMacs, 15" G4 PowerBooks, and G4 minis are sold out; only Intel models are available.

If you want to buy a new Mac that supports Classic, your days are numbered, so you'd better make a decision quick. The last Classic-enabled machine might be sold as early as this summer.

As I do whenever I meet an Apple representative, I made a pitch for releasing OS 7,8, and 9 as free downloads. Then the talking point about "moving on to the future" made a reappearance, and so I moved on to the other vendors.

The conference had sessions on everything from Hyperstudio (a HyperCard alternative - which only runs in Classic, unfortunately) to how to use iPods in education. My friend Gary Hensley did the Hyperstudio workshop and reported a good number of participants still interested in using the software. Like HyperCard, Hyperstudio has fans who would love to have an updated OS X version available.

Vendors provided the usual sales pitches, brochures, and catalogs. Every other booth had a digital projector, showing how to use electronic microscopes, document displays, interactive whiteboards, quiz programs, assessment tools, and similar offerings.

Microsoft had some sort of a giant van in the far corner of the vendor area. It was blue, I think.

The conference is similar to a Macworld, but with a broader focus. At a Macworld you get the subtle feeling that everyone present "gets" the idea that the approach used by the Macintosh is a better way to use a computer, and if you could just get a naysayer to try it out for a while, they'd be hooked.

At a CUE conference, it's the same feeling, but the message is that educational technology can do amazing things to motivate and excite students, and if your colleagues would just try it out, they'd see the payoff is worth the effort. There's the same evangelistic mood, tempered with the caution of being accused of believing you have a panacea one time too often.

The CUE organization is associated with the larger National Education Computing Conference (NECC) that will be held in San Diego in July. This conference will have an order of magnitude more attendees and 500 vendors. If you're interested in educational technology, you should check it out.

As for CUE, there are local chapters all over the country, and it's a great way to reduce the isolation many tech oriented teachers feel when their colleagues are, how shall we say it, technologically challenged.

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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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