American Band College

What is Ultimate Pursuit and how did it get started?

In 1979, while I was teaching at Southern Oregon University, the first home computers came on the market. They were the Apple II Computer and the TRS-80 from Radio Shack. Fortunately, I chose the Apple II with its 48K of memory and cassette tape drive. Because there were no programming manuals and very few software products on the market, I started to learn Basic and machine language to create my own programs to use with the University band.

By 1983, I had created several commercial products (including Uniform Master and a computer game called Zargs that I wrote with ideas from my 3 sons). So, with some decent computer programming background, I constructed a database system for questions about band directing. This database was intended to help my new university-level classes called "Band Director Prep." Soon we had a way to select a batch of questions based on previous-usage criteria for mid-term and final exams. Everything was all paper-based.

That same year, I got the idea of having each student in the class equipped with a hand-held controller that would allow them to submit A, B, C, D or Yes/No answers via buttons. I hired several different creative electronics people over the next 5 years, but wireless wasn't yet a possibility.

To test out the idea with students, I wrote the computer program so that each quadrant of the single keyboard attached to the Apple II could be assigned to a different student. The student using the upper left quadrant (for example), used the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 plus Q & W for Yes/No to submit answers. The person on the bottom left quadrant used A,S,D,F (for numbers) plus Z & X for Yes/No.

My program would then display a question on screen and each student could answer and have the results placed in individual test-score storage. (By now we had both 5 1/4" floppy discs and 3 1/2" hard-shell discs for storage. That year I also bought my first 10 MB hard drive for $2000. Everyone thought I was crazy to purchase a hard drive with more storage than we ever could possibly use!)

Though it was crowded around the keyboard, the concept worked, so we used two computers for the eight students enrolled in the Band Director course sequence. At the same time, I created a quad-screen version that presented four questions simultaneously with each student's name at the top of the question area. Once that person answered the question, that area of the quadrant was replaced with a question for the next of the eight students. Those who were waiting could answer other students' questions for extra credit. It was an interesting but cumbersome system waiting for the right technology to come along.

Over the next five years, BDP (Band Director Prep) became a full-featured training program for undergraduate students who planned to be band directors. In 1988, Tim Lautzenheiser and I met at the 10th annual Western International Band Clinic and decided to create an associated workshop for band directors and the formalization of my complete 4-year undergrad program. The name was all we needed to get going. Via snail mail we both sent a note to each other (same day!). I suggested National Band College and Tim sent American Band College. We evidently knew that we wanted a TV network acronym (NBC or ABC). There was no question which was the better choice. So in 1989 the American Band College undergraduate, four-year program was melded with the concept of a summer workshop for directors run by the ABC undergrad students and bringing in a 36-member faculty of the world's top teachers. (But that is a completely different story!)

During this period, I continued to look for and meet with educational companies hoping that together we might develop my computer program to incorporate hand-held devices. Each time I was turned down. The technology simply wasn't there, especially considering that I wanted non-wired hand-held controllers. I think we now call that wireless technology or WiFi.

Between 1989 and 1994, the undergrad ABC program flourished. Every Friday we combined the four classes (each studying in 10 different areas of band directing), added 15 to 20 middle school students and played secondary instruments with upper division students conducting. We also created a special playoff based on questions from my database system. With the creative help of two students who were then in the program (T Lund and Trina Bohnam), we formalized a Macintosh-based game called "The ABC Challenge" and made huge game boards that sat on the chalk board ledge at the front of the room. It was loosely based around the TV game show Jeopardy and my previous Apple II program called "Total Classroom." It pitted each of the four ABC classes against each other for a grand prize at the end of each term. Students from higher levels were not allowed to "jump in" with answers unless a student from the class representing its ten study areas gave a wrong answer. "Points" were amassed by receiving Monopoly money. At the end, there was a single student winner based on dollars earned and a class champion for the class with the most money. The entire music faculty of Southern Oregon University often served as referees to determine which student jumped up first when a question came up. The level of competition and mutual learning was amazing!

Finally in 2005, while talking with my oldest son, Randy, I explained my ideas about the database system and my desire to have it also incorporate a complete feedback system. The idea was to have students take a practice test, a mid-term or final exam, or play a game in which the entire class was involved. When the session was finished, I wanted to have information sent by email that explained why the student missed a question and what needed to be done to rectify the error. (For example, a transposition question might ask what is the concert pitch if a trumpet is playing 4th line D. If the student transposes to E, the program would "know" that the student transposed backwards. If the example showed choices of 3rd space C, middle C, top space E, and first line E, selecting middle C would include feedback on choosing the right note but in the wrong octave.)

Once Randy and I had discussed this at length, he understood the power of the concept and said he'd like to work on it. With wireless technology finally a reality, many other ideas and opportunities began to present themselves for this product we named almost immediately, Ultimate Pursuit. During ABC Summer 2006, over 125 of the 200 candidates in the ABC master's program brought laptop computers to the first-ever wireless "game show" version of Ultimate Pursuit with Tim Lautzenheiser as the hilarious game show host. During the course of the "exam," each person "playing" received points plus a composite time score. Periodically Tim would show the Leader Board and announce who was in first place, who the closest challengers were, etc. At the end, Tim invited the top four players to the dais where they had a playoff complete with cheering sections. With the exception of an oversight on our part to have exam results sent by email BEFORE the final playoff round (which delayed the action for some 12 minutes while the computer churned away on sending the 125 emails) the launch of UP that day was an amazing success.

By the summer of 2007, the American Band College required all candidates to have wireless-enabled laptops. The incoming class of 50 first-year candidates took the entrance exam using UP. What was intended as a 3-hour exam turned into 5 hours when there was a complete slow down of computer servers in the San Diego area (where our server was located) that brought everything down to a crawl. The class was good-spirited about it and was provided with refreshment breaks to ease the pain. Over the next two weeks while ABC was going on, the graduating class of 2007 purchased a complete in-house system (avoiding the internet) they dubbed "Server a la Cart" because of its attachment to a cart system. By July 5, UP was administered for the final exam of 181 people with only minor submit errors during the three-hour period.

Following the exams, everyone received emails complete with answers and feedback. The 1983 Apple II system had finally, some 24 years later, gone full circle to provide a powerful learning tool called Ultimate Pursuit.                           M. Max McKee, Ashland, Oregon, April 2008

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