APPLE, Steve Jobs and Minnesota helped each other, students

Joe Nathan
ECM Contributing Writer

It’s not well known, but Minnesota played a central role in Apple Computer’s ascendancy. This week, a bit about that, as well as comments from education leaders about the impact of Apple and its late co-founder, Steve Jobs, on education.

Mark Ziebarth, principal of Isanti Intermediate School and School for All Seasons told me, “Apple has always had an impact on education. 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. Steve Jobs will be missed.”

Mitch Clausen, principal of Cambridge-Isanti High School wrote, “I have lived through all of the changes since Steve Jobs started his career until now. The apple plus, IIE, GS, macintosh, Ipods to I-pads and beyond. We went from one computer in our high school (1975) to hundreds of computers in each school today. Steve’s technology (I-Pods, I-Phones, I-Pads) are a part of our student’s daily routine. We use them personally and professionally. Students look up information and get instant answers to their research using the I-pads and I-phones. The only down side that I see is the cost of the ever-changing technology. The schools do not get extra money to purchase much needed technology. We need to keep up with the technology but the money is not there.”

Jobs and Apple have been very successful.  In the beginning, Minnesotans helped make that possible.

In the mid 1970s, Minnesota’s 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 gave its findings to the Legislature. Legislators asked, “What should happen next and that computers needed something called “software.” 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 benefitted from creativity of MECC’s software designers, and the foresight of Minnesota legislators.

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

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