Many people I know don’t see the value of professional conferences. Some can’t stand the thought of being around so many people all day long. Some don’t think they have anything to learn. While it’s true that the Internet has dramatically shrunk our planet and that "getting together" can happen in all kinds of ways that don’t involve actually "being there"; there is no substitute for face-to-face discussion, presentation, celebration, and commiseration with one’s peers. I derive a great deal of value from conferences and am better at my job for having attended them.
This week I attended the 11th Labman Conference, held this year at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA. This was my third time attending this conference. There were sessions and presentations on many topics. I did not choose to attend them all, but will offer my reviews and opinions of what I did experience.
The opening keynote was given by Professor Keith Hartranft of Northampton Community College. He bounced around a bit, but was engaging and interesting. His overall message was that as I.T. Support at our campuses, we should keep the needs of the teaching Faculty in mind when designing our systems. I tend to agree to a point. We all–Faculty and non-teaching professionals alike–tend to forget that the real reason we are ALL here is to serve the STUDENTS. It is with THEIR needs we be primarily concerned. Everything else is secondary.
The first session I attended was by Joseph Williams of Temple University titled "Are Computer Labs Still Necessary?" I was looking forward to someone stating that what with almost every student having their own computer that we now didn’t need to have so many computer labs on our campuses. I was disappointed. In studies of their own campus, Temple has determined that with student computer ownership approaching 100% demand for campus computing resources is higher than ever. Reasons? Students can’t be bothered to carry their computers around with them; when they do, they won’t necessarily have/own the software necessary to do their coursework; and even if they do, they would rather work on the comparatively large screens provided in the campus facilities.
I next attended the first of a two-part vendor presentation given by John DeTroye of Apple Computer. The presentation was on Systems and Client Management and Best Practices using Apple’s OS X Server. It was a pleasure to hear John present. He is obviously a decision-making, high-level engineer at Apple who knows EXACTLY what he is talking about. I knew much of what he was presenting, but picked up a few ideas to research. John seemed fond of letting us know that he knew lots of cool stuff he wasn’t allowed to tell us, prompting me to ask, "so that’s NOT an iPhone *5* you have on your hip?" This got a few laughs from the room, but Jon deftly countered with, "No, this is just something I picked up in a bar in Cupertino." 🙂
Wright State University presented a spin on the Dual Boot Mac scenario by detailing how they took their tech-bloated instructional podia to lean, clean, and usable by using dual-boot Mac Minis and some of the hurdles they had to overcome to make the tech work in their environment as well as keep their user base happy with the arrangement. While something I’ve already done myself, the session was very well-received by the attendees.
Lunch was provided in the student center dining court on both days of the conference. They had a lot of variety and we all had $10 vouchers, which was more than enough.
The highlight of the conference was Tuesday evening’s social function: a AAA Baseball game at Allentown’s Coca-Cola Park between the home team Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and the visiting Toledo Mudhens. Sponsored, I am told, by Computer Lab Solutions (makers of LabStats), we had a section of the park’s picnic pavilion available to us with GREAT seating down the third base line and all-you-can-eat ballpark food. Josh Norman of Computer Lab Solutions even threw out one of the opening pitches. It was a screaming fastball dead-center in the strike zone and after catching it, I saw the catcher remove his glove and flex his left hand as he winced in pain. I know from sitting with him for most of the game that Josh has a family in Idaho, so it was probably bad news he gave to the managers and scouts who were doubtless trying to recruit him after witnessing that throw! But at least the kids at the game will live happy lives now that they all have Josh’s autograph.
To those of you conference attendees who chose NOT to attend the game, I first must thank at least ONE of you. Your decision freed up a ticket for my wife, who came with me on this trip, and allowed her to come to the game with me! The rest of you will never know what you missed. A picture-perfect evening in an impeccably-groomed, well-maintained ball park with great company and good food. Oh, and look over there…a baseball game? Even if baseball’s not your thing, this was a great social and networking venue.
Day 2 was more sessions. I attended the following:
Managing Windows 7. This was presented by Purdue and was a listing and explanation of the Group Policies used during their Windows 7 rollout. I look forward to the posting of this powerpoint more than any other.
The Casper Suite JAMF Software. Presented by Lauren Nicholas of Moravia College, this suite is a combination Mac deployment and management suite. Initial impressions are that it doesn’t do much more than Apple’s own Remote Desktop, Workgroup Manager, and Automator can do, but there must be something to it because a lot of people are using it. I will be investigating it at some point.
The last session I attended was put on by Northhampton Community College. Some students had taken some old x86 computers and kit-bashed them into a SOLID and powerful (and power SUCKING!) computing cluster! This was absolutely incredible and something I’ve dreamed of doing for many years. It was great to see someone actually do it.
The "goodbye"/closing session was fun and mercifully quick. The organizers had more prizes than attendees! Everyone left with something.
I close with some comments on the Vendors. Computer Lab Solutions and Faronics were their usual, personable selves; well-represented and friendly. I was also very glad to make John DeTroye’s (Apple) acquaintance. He’s someone I hope to meet again. But Apple really "phoned in" their presence at this conference. If they didn’t have logos on their shirts and if their name tags didn’t say "Apple" on them, we might never have known who they were! No banner, no sign, no iPads/iPods for people to play with. They just sort of…sat there! Given their status in the industry, I expect them to SET the standard, not sit there and get shown up by everyone else in the room.
I applaud Randy Brodhead and everyone else responsible for pulling together this year’s conference. On an arbitrary and just-made-up 1-10 overall scale, I give this conference a 9.5.