My first big disappointment for NECC 2008 is that Apple will not be present on the vendor floor of the conference as an exhibitor. I heard rumors about this last week but could not believe them: How could Apple Computer, my favorite computer hardware and software company, simply bow out of the most important educational technology conference in the United States? Answer? The CEO has apparently decided trade show appearances are not needed now that Apple has so many retail stores around the country. Cory Bohon reported on June 4th that Apple is not attending this year’s Apple Expo in France, and is not attending the NAB conference either. I can’t speak for other conferences, but I KNOW many, many educators attending educational conferences like NECC, TCEA, and FETC absolutely LOVE to learn at the Apple booth. Typically, Apple representatives and ADEs present a variety of short sessions on the vendor floor at the Apple booth to share techniques and tips for using applications like iMovie, iPhoto, and Garageband. Last year at NECC 2007 in Atlanta, Marco Torres showed me how to use Motion software to create light saber effects with Final Cut Pro. (A podcast of our conversation is available.) These opportunities to learn about Apple hardware and software are VERY important for educators using, supporting, and promoting these tools in our schools across the nation and world.
To clarify, Apple representatives are officially teaching and offering workshops at NECC 2008. There is NOT an official Apple booth on the NECC 2008 vendor floor, however.
Apple retail stores ARE great. I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit them in Phoenix, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Oklahoma City to date. But Apple stores are NOT a replacement for the value and benefit of educators being able to learn from and with each other at an Apple vendor booth at educational conferences like NECC.
I think there is just one person who can reverse this unfortunate decision– certainly not for this year’s NECC, but hopefully before next year’s as well as in advance of other educational technology trade shows around the country and world. Here’s my top ten reasons why Apple SHOULD participate as a vendor at NECC 2009 in Washington D.C.:
- Teachers and education mean a great deal to Apple. Apple is THE #1 computer manufacturer who has invested in and supported education and educators to date. A tangible way Apple supports educators and education (as well as promotes sales of its products, of course) is by exhibiting in educational trade shows. NOT exhibiting sends exactly the WRONG message to both teachers and other educational leaders regarding Apple’s commitment to education.
- Many educators attending NECC don’t have an Apple Store back home. There are LOTS of teachers, technology directors, administrators, librarians and others attending NECC who are not close to an Apple Store in their hometown. Heck, there is not a single Apple Store in the ENTIRE state of Kansas! Educational conferences like NECC provide an outstanding opportunity for educators to see Apple’s latest hardware and software solutions showcased and explained. These are opportunities many educators simply don’t have at other times.
- Apple Retail Stores and store staff members are not education focused. I love the staff who work at our Oklahoma City Apple Store. My son and I think “Apple Genius” is one of the coolest titles anyone in the U.S workforce currently has. These staff members are not as knowledgeable and focused on the needs of the K-12 and higher education marketplace, however, as the Apple reps and ADEs who typically staff the booths at educational conferences.
- We live in an attention economy. Information is plentiful, but attention is in short supply. Conferences like NECC provide great opportunities for Apple to get on the attention radar screen of many different educators, who are all stakeholders and influencers in the educational process. Not participating in NECC as an exhibiting vendor is like sending your own child a birthday card for their birthday, but not showing up for the party. That sends a bad message! We show we care with our time and attention. Not showing up and not providing the opportunity to give attention as well as attract attention from educators gives a very negative message to a broad, important constituency.
- Competitors are innovative and hungry. One of the computer hardware products I am most interested in is Intel’s Classmate PC. The OLPC / XO Laptop is challenging computer manufacturers to produce hardware suited more specifically to the demands of the K-12 learning environment and priced much more affordably than laptops have been in the past. Why should schools considering 1:1 laptop initiatives go with Apple MacBooks instead of the Classmate PC? I certainly have some good answers to that question, and will have even more insight into that question following NECC, but unfortunately there won’t be anyone from Apple on the vendor floor to ask about this.
- Relationships are vitally important in the educational acquisition process. This is one of the first lessons I think everyone learns in sales and marketing 101. Focus on the customer, and your relationship with customers. If you ignore events and opportunities to interact with and build relationships with customers, you’re ignoring your customers. That is never a good idea for a company interested in making money.
- Loyal user communities expect good support. Apple has a very loyal user base. It’s fair to say many of us who are “Apple Evangelists” can be “fiercely loyal” at times. User communities support the companies who make the products they use and love in many ways. Before our panel discussion on Sunday afternoon, Jo McLeay went to the Apple Store in San Antonio and bought her first Mac laptop. She told me many of the things I’ve written and shared in blog posts and podcasts have influenced her to finally become a switcher and buy a Mac. This was a long process, but certainly not an isolated event. We are all influencers, and user communities for Apple are VERY important. We are loyal to Apple, but we expect loyalty from Apple as well.
- Technical questions often need face to face answers. I’ve received answers to a wide variety of specific and often technical questions about Apple software and hardware at educational technology tradeshows in the past. I am certainly capable of utilizing online support options from Apple, as well as the Apple Store staff in the city where I live, but several times I’ve had questions for Apple representatives that I needed to ask face-to-face. The educational conference vendor floor provided that opportunity in the past. I (and many others I am sure) will miss those opportunities at this year’s NECC.
- Apple sets the industry standard for excellent presentations and demos. Modeling is so important. Apple sets (IMHO) the standard in the industry for product demonstrations and tutorials. It is a shame to NOT see the market leader at the NATIONAL educational computing conference.
- One to One Computing evengelism is more important than ever. Lots of people are talking about one to one computing, but many continue to focus on TOOLS rather than LEARNING. In the Apple 1:1 projects with which I’ve been personally involved to date, leaders have focused on the learning process and the ways technology tools can be used transformatively to improve teaching and learning. One of the best parts of working with Apple in the TxTIP project was the comprehensive approach which Apple took to the 1:1 learning revolution. For Apple, 1:1 learning is SO MUCH MORE than simply delivering computer hardware and software to a school district’s loading dock. I’ve seen firsthand the ways Apple employees partner with educators to develop and share effective and sustained professional development, and help leaders consider issues of network infrastructure, curriculum, home technology use, and many other issues. We NEED the leadership of educational experts with Apple specifically on the topic of 1:1 computing, and we need those voices out on the vendor floor of educational conferences like NECC.
I am REALLY going to miss the Apple booth at this year’s NECC. Let’s hope the leader of this incredibly innovative and empowering company will change his mind and support educational tradeshows in the future by sponsoring a booth as an exhibitor.
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