Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Evolution or Revolution?

Yesterday after school we had the staff roll out of the new Mac books for our high school staff. With this activity, we moved one step closer to the student roll out of the 1-1 project for students in grades 9-12 in January. As the faculty was opening up their computers and going through the steps of setting up their computers with network access, email, and other personal preferences I was impressed with how 'high tech' we had become. Mr. Lewis and Mr. Murray have provided key leadership in the process and demonstrated with ease some of the features of the new technology, including the servers that have been purchased to manage the devices (with the click of a mouse), the monitoring capabilities, and the abilities they had to install software remotely. All the while, Mr. Dieken was lobbying me for the next piece of software or hardware that would improve the ability of the teachers to flip instruction and ultimately have positive effects on the students' learning experience. I was impressed.

This really got me to thinking about how far we have come in education. I thought about how much has changed in just these last three years, and then I got to thinking about how much has changed since my career began. Then that morphed into what I can remember from my own school experience. Where we are now compared to where we were when I was a student is pretty mind boggling!

So, I had to begin by relying on memories that were some 30 plus years ago. It is a little fuzzy but I think the year was around 1981, which would have put me in about 4th grade. Our school had just made an investment in our very first computer. It was an early Apple model and was located in the school library. I really can't remember what it was used for, but do remember that as students we were able to use it on a limited basis. For what I can't even remember. Around the same time, the public library also got a computer. We could reserve time on the computer in half hour increments, and I can remember playing very rudimentary and archaic versions of 'video games'. Most of them consisted of responding to a line of text with a another line of text. Graphics didn't really exist yet, and if they did they were rudimentary. Our current students would find those early computers quite humorous, and in fact probably wouldn't even consider them computers at all. Basically, the computers we had access to in 1981 were more novelty than anything.

By the time I got to high school in 1986, you would think that computers had proliferated the environment. That was certainly not the case. In fact, I learned how to keyboard in high school on an electric typewriter. It kind of looked like this (same color and everything):

Yeah, that was quite the experience. A whole room of students learning to load the paper into the machine and type like crazy; click, click, click, click, DING! click, click, click, click, click DING!

If I remember correctly, our high school got it's first computer lab sometime before I graduated. Since this was well before the time where schools employed technology coordinators or computer teachers, much of what was occurring was experimental, 'flying by the seat of our pants' type of instruction. There may have been some rudimentary computer programming classes, but they weren't something that interested me all that much so can't really remember a lot about it. 

The early 1990s the world really began to change for me when I went to college. At my college, typewriters were finally replaced with computer labs. This is still before the time of Internet so we didn't know that we were on the precipice of a huge change. I remember how excited I was to be able to type and not have to worry about changing paper and the margins getting messed up. Oh, and no more changing the ribbons in the typewriters! Huge advances in technology for the college student of my day. Never mind that the printing quality was horrible and it took a very long time to print out a paper, but hey we were really moving forward! Around my junior year a buddy was able to buy a computer so my days of using the computer lab were in the rear view mirror. I remember staying up late during finals week to type up a final paper, save it to a floppy disc and then run it over to the computer lab for printing. By the time I graduated from college in 1995, computers were becoming more and more mainstream. The Internet was still pretty new, and email was used primarily people with a higher pay grade than me. 

I entered the world of work in 1995 and was one of the lucky ones to have a teaching job lined up by the time I graduated. In that first job, we had a computer on a cart that was shared with all the teachers in my hallway. There were a total of 6 of us in that wing with one computer. To me it wasn't that big of a deal because I didn't have a lot of use for a computer at that point. The school had a computer lab that had recently been installed but the school wasn't wired for the Internet. I do remember that the school board was having discussions about that, but it wouldn't come before I left for greener pastures.

That was in 1998. In my new position I had my very own computer, and every teacher in the school had their very own email account! This is when communication between parents and teachers really started to take off. I can remember getting a few emails a day and thinking this was a pretty efficient way of communicating with people. The Internet was starting to hit its stride too, I can remember some of the very early iterations of websites--which was well before the time of web video, flash, and E-Commerce was pretty new.

My first assignment in school administration was in 2004, and I was assigned my first laptop computer. Wireless technology was just becoming popular (and more predictable), so that was a huge step forward. We didn't have a wireless network in the school, so I was tethered to a network cable for a couple of years before getting a small wireless router set up in the outer office. I can remember how convenient it was to be able to work in my office and then pack up to go home and be able to continue my work seamlessly. The board also thought it was important to have a cellphone, so I had one of those too. Again, I thought that was pretty cool, but it was before Smart phones became popular. I could text, but it was very cumbersome. At the time it sure didn't seem to be that cumbersome. Toward the end of my tenure wireless technology really started to stabilize so one of my final projects before leaving was to have the wireless network installed. 

You pretty much know the story from that point forward. Printing is becoming less frequent. In a couple of minutes I will click 'publish' and this will go out to you on the Internet. Some of you will get this as an email, others may see it on my blog, and others will get it from our school website. There is even a population that will read it in the newspaper. In 1990, that probably would have been quite a feet to circulate this publication through so many venues. Now, in 2013 once I publish it goes out simultaneously to all the aforementioned media, and is available worldwide.

I still have a computer on my desk and a laptop to lug back and forth between office and home, but I wonder how much longer that will be the case. These days I am able to answer email and respond to questions with my Smart phone. I can search the Internet, call up a document from my computer, or respond to a Tweet from a student all from the same device.

The 1-1 project launch for students is just a few months away. I have likened the decision to implement this initiative into our district as the most important decision we will make for this generation of students. Others have compared to being as revolutionary to schools as the chalkboard once was. As quickly as things are moving these days, I wonder if in ten years we will look back on this time with a slight smile and shake of the head and think, "I can't believe how far we have come since the 1-1 project was such a big deal."

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