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Getting Inspired at MACUL

The annual conference for the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) happens each spring, alternating between Cobo Center in downtown Detroit and DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. This year’s event was in Grand Rapids and hosted over 4,000 teachers and academic computer users. Merit Network was a major sponsor for the event, contributing Internet access and networking consulting services.

“Merit has attended MACUL almost since its beginnings but has been a major sponsor since 2007,” said Jim Moran, services manager at Merit Network. “We look forward to the conference each spring.”

Merit’s Services Team hosted a booth in the exhibition hall and featured several services of interest to the K-12 community, including MeritMail, Merit WebConnect, Merit VirtualDataCenters, and Merit VirtualDesktops. The booth was very busy, and the Services Team visited with many attendees during the two-day event.

“MACUL was excellent this year,” said Mary Shindell, services associate at Merit Network. “We were able to visit with people from all over the state. It was great to see so many from the K-12 community there, especially all of those who traveled from the Upper Peninsula.”

Leslie Fisher, director of Fisher Technologies, was the keynote speaker on March 8, and her engaging presentation captured the imagination of teachers in attendance.

“Teachers found Leslie Fisher very interesting and informative,” according to Moran. “She even tweeted during her presentation. At one point, she was like ‘This is a great idea, I need to share this with everyone’, and she posted it on Twitter.”

A significant portion of the presentations at MACUL either featured or included mobile technology. iPads, iPods, and iPhones were among the devices most heavily featured, with the iPad being the most talked about device for the classroom.

“It was the most enthusiastic conference in years, largely because of the increase in mobile devices,” Moran said. “The current generation of teachers—the first Internet-native teachers—have brought a whole new energy and a greater adoption of technology in learning.”

Providing Connectivity

Since 2007, Merit has provided the Internet connectivity for the MACUL Conference. Merit’s backbone network nodes in Detroit and Grand Rapids have been used to connect users to Merit’s network and to the Internet.

At the last two conferences, Merit has partnered with AT&T on the circuit that connects the conference hall to Merit’s backbone network. Merit has managed the networking project—working with the MACUL tech group, determining the service requirements based on the projected attendance, and coordinating with the wireless local area network (LAN) provider at the conference center.

“Merit Network is a valued partner with MACUL in providing the network infrastructure for our conference,” said Ric Wiltse, MACUL executive director. “We appreciate all the great work by Merit and collaborating companies to meet our attendees needs for Internet service.”

For this year’s conference, Merit and AT&T provisioned a 155 megabit (Mb) connection for the conference. eGearUSA, Ruckus and Maximize Technologies partnered on providing the onsite wireless network. Many attendees brought their own wireless devices, such as laptops and smartphones, and during a portion of the event, there were as many as 2,500 simultaneous users connected to the wireless network.

“Mobile computing—phones, tablets, etc.—were not just featured at the conference. They drove the bandwidth utilization at the conference,” Moran stated.

More About MACUL

While the MACUL Conference happens once a year, the MACUL group supports many other events for educators during the year. Future events include the Mobile Learning Conference in Kalamazoo on April 27, presented in association with the REMC Association of Michigan, and the Upper Peninsula Educational Technology & Business Conference in Munising on May 4.

Formed in 1975, MACUL is a 7,000 member 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to bringing educators from all levels together to ignite learning through meaningful collaboration and innovation. MACUL works with organizations, such as the Michigan Virtual University and the Michigan Department of Education, to provide educational opportunities that inspire teachers to incorporate technology in new ways in the classroom.