APPLE, Steve Jobs and Minnesota helped each other and students

Oct 22, 2011 by

Steve Jobs, at one of his popular press conferences, introduces another iPhone model.

Joe Nathan  –It’s not well known, but Minnesota played a central role in Apple Computer’s ascendancy.  Here’s how, plus comments from education leaders about the impact of Apple and its late co-founder, Steve Jobs, on education.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester.

Superintendent Jerry Hansen of Milaca believes, “I see the impact beyond computers and devices.  The message he delivered was ‘never quit creating’”

Cam Hedlund of Lakes International Charter wrote, “Steve Jobs and Apple changed computers and computing from something you had to learn in order for it to be useful to using computers to learn.  I remember thinking in the early ’80s do I really want to learn computer programming, because it seemed necessary to me at the time to make computers useful.  Then, Apple came out with the Apple IIE, followed by the Macintosh and suddenly computers were a useful classroom tool that helped children learn.  Education has benefited tremendously from Steve Jobs’ vision and creativity.  Thank you Steve!”

John Wollensheim, Rosemount High School principal explained, “When I graduated from high school in 1979, there was one computer for student use in our school.  When I came to Independent School District 196, the schools had several Apple IIe computers.

“These computers made our lives as teachers much easier.  They could be used for record keeping and instruction.  When I made the move to Eagan High School in 1990, there were Mac Classics, that had a new device called a mouse.  We actually learned about the Internet using Turbo Gopher.  Technology could be used not only for management but instruction.  Information from around the world was at our fingertips.  Today, Macs continue to fill our schools.

“The information age has arrived.  Macs have become the essential tool for delivering state of the art instruction.  Steve Jobs and Apple computers are responsible for delivering this new era.”

Jay Haugen, Farmington’s superintendent believes, “… it is hard to overstate the impact Steve Jobs and Apple have had on education. From the start, Apple computers have been the devices that most fired the imagination and creativity of our students and staff. With the advent of the iPod and iPad, the prospect of anywhere, anytime learning is fast becoming within the reach of everyone. I heard a senior citizen say the other day that the iPad places the world in her hands and she can touch it.”

Rep Sondra Erickson wrote, “An Apple Macintosh SE and an Apple laser printer (cost of $4000) were my first Steve Jobs’ purchases in the late 1980s, so you can see that the ingenious invention by Mr. Jobs always played a powerful role in my profession and in my personal development. I purchased both personally so I could use them in my classroom at Princeton High School to teach word-processing and desktop publishing to our English and journalism students. The students immediately forged ahead of me to use the SE to produce our school newspaper (Fourth Estate) and later our school yearbook (Tiger).

“After I was elected to the Legislature in 1998, I wrote my first commentary about the impact of Steve Jobs on K-12 technology and what he helped us understand about technology bringing accuracy and efficiency into the classroom or writing and thus, the need to use technology in our communication at the legislature.”

Representative Pat Garofalo, chair of the Minnesota House Education Finance Committee explained, “Steve Jobs radically changed the music, telephone, and content delivery industries.  He did this through creativity, consumer choice, and using technology to enhance a products capabilities.  Just imagine what Steve Jobs could have done – if he lived long enough – to create that level of transformation in our public education system.”

George Weber, Pierz superintendent, wrote, “Apple under Mr. Jobs’ leadership, had the…vision that the technology should be designed from the user’s perspective.  The concepts of “point and click” or “touch and move” would not have come into existence if the designers were too close to the programming side of technology.  Steve Jobs first asks ‘Will people want to use this?  Can we design it so it is fun?  Is it the best toy I ever owned?’

“Once he is satisfied that the answer is ‘yes,’ then they add the applications and the potential for education and business.  Many companies claim their products are ‘user friendly’ but they do not truly design from the customer backward, they instead design from the business perspective out.  By the time they meet their business needs, it is often not as user friendly as it could have been.”

Mark Ziebarth, principal at Isanti Intermediate School and School for All Seasons, explained, “Steve Jobs and his company have always made products that were easy to use and designed for many uses in education.  The innovative spirit that exemplifies Apple matches well with the innovations that Minnesota education has pursued and continues to pursue.  Embracing new methods and thinking differently about many things are examples of what makes Apple a company of interest to education.  The power of their products has allowed reforms in education to move at an even faster rate.”

Here’s how Minnesota helped make Apple’s success possible.  In the mid 1970s, the Minnesota Legislature decided to explore the possibilities of small computers.  Legislators created an organization called Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium (MECC).  One of the organization’s early responsibilities was to study new “personal” computers being built by companies like Atari, Radio Schack, and Commodore.

Two men from California sent a computer they developed to Minnesota, to see how it compared with others.  MECC (on whose board I served as a volunteer) tested the computers with students for a year.  It concluded that the little California computer would stand up best to heavy student use.  That computer was called…Apple.

MECC reported its findings to the Legislature.  Legislators asked, “What should happen next?”  MECC explained that computers needed something called “software.”  So legislators gave MECC money to create software.

MECC began to create educational software for APPLE.  This ranged from “Number Munchers,” which helped youngsters learn math facts, to “Oregon Trail,” one of the first computer “simulation” games.  MECC also developed a plan allowing a state, school district or other entity to pay a set fee and make unlimited use of its software.  This was a great deal for schools.  MECC’s success attracted some of the nation’s most creative educational software designers.

APPLE was able to advertise, accurately that its computer had been tested by a neutral source (MECC) and found to work best for students and schools.  APPLE also could say that there was educational software for its computers.  This was years before people figured out how to write software that worked on different computers.

Steve Jobs was brilliant.  He, Apple and Minnesota schools also benefited from creativity of MECC’s software designers, and the foresight of Minnesota legislators.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester.  Reactions welcome: jnathan@macalester.edu

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