The MCP software displaying upcoming sessions at the 2013 MacAdmins Conference.

The MCP software displaying upcoming sessions at the 2013 MacAdmins Conference.

For this year’s MacAdmins Conference, held back in May, Classroom and Lab Computing (CLC) staff who were planning the event all thought it would be great if there was some sort of software that offered dynamically updated conference information like next session, room information, etc., all displayed on monitors. The software could also then switch from session information to a timer once a presentation started so presenters could see how much time they have left. And on top of all this, the software would play music between sessions to liven things up a little.

Instead of just imagining such software, the MacAdmins Conference team decided to go ahead and develop it, and debuted the software called MCP (Master Control Program) at this year’s MacAdmins event. What’s remarkable about the development of this software is how quickly it happened. Justin Elliott, manager of Macintosh and Linux Systems with CLC, said the process really got started in one meeting two months before the conference.

“So we finalized the plan for the software, and the team said, ‘hey, Justin is this something you can write?’ And I said, ‘uh, we’re eight weeks away from the conference starting,’” Elliott said. “I hadn’t written anything at all at that point. So we whiteboarded it, had a meeting and said, let’s see what we can do, I’ll take a stab at it. So from start to finish, I developed it in the eight weeks before the conference started.”

Each session room at the MacAdmins conference had a projector for attendees, and a monitor just for the presenters. Before and after the sessions both screens showed the time and title of the next session, and music played in the background for attendees who arrived early to the session. A minute before each session was to start, the music stops and a voiceover tells attendees to turn off electronic devices.

Once the session started, the projector showed the session presentation slides, and the presenter’s monitor showed a timer that let the presenter know how much time he or she had remaining in the session. The screen starts out green, then goes to orange, then to red. While they got a lot of positive feedback from attendees regarding MCP, MacAdmins speakers especially gave high marks to the timer feature. “The speakers said they actually liked it because they didn’t have to keep track of it themselves,” Elliott said. “They could focus on the presentation and glance up very quickly to see where they stood on time.”

Elliott said the information on the screen for attendees was always up-to-date because it was connected to the conference scheduling and social media application Sched.org, which is used at several Penn State events including the Penn State Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology and the Penn State Web Conference. MCP even caught the eye of the CEO of Sched.org. “”The CEO of Sched.org actually contacted me and said ‘wow, this is really cool,’” Elliott said. “He told me he’s glad the software worked out so well for us and asked us some questions and we sent him some pictures. They’re actively looking, I guess, for more applications that work with their software.”

While MCP debuted to a lot of success, Elliott said they are going to continue to improve it for next year. He also said that other Penn State event planners are showing interest in the software, including people from Penn State Erie. “Since I wrote it for Penn State and it’s done by Penn State people, I think it would be something I would like to share with other Penn State folks if they want to use it,” he said. “It would have to be customized and developed a little bit, but it could work for others at Penn State who use Sched.org for their conferences.”

On a fun note, Elliott explained how the software got its name. “I’m a fan of the 80s movie ‘Tron”, and MCP stands for Master Control Program, which is from that movie” he said. “I have to give credit to Dave Test (from the CLC) for coming up that one. It’s pretty funny because he knows I’m a Tron fan.”

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