Thursday, 29 March 2012

My Personal History of EdTech

After listening to Gavin Dudeney’s IATEFL talk a few days ago, not from Glasgow sadly but from the Glasgow Live website I started thinking again about my own tech history! I am going to try to record a bit of it as children and young people who live in the current situation will have no idea of the fun and games we went through to get anything sensible from a computer J

When my twin boys were about 5 (1986ish) years old we bought them ZX Spectrum, it had to be loaded by cassette and I would spend hours trying to load games for them only for it to fail 9 times out of ten at the very last hurdle.  I am sure the boys thought I did it deliberately! It was always my fault and they were stuck playing Space invaders or ping pong on the old Atari until I succeeded! About a year later we bought a new ZX Spectrum with a floppy disk drive - we paid a huge amount of money for each game (on one disk so it was actually a very tiny program in reality). I was puzzled for a long time about why it was called a floppy disk, when in fact it was anything but - it was encased in rigid plastic!

At the boy’s school they had a computer - I saw it and was instantly smitten! I went to the local comprehensive school when they ran a  six-hour computer course and was introduced to Write, and PaintSpa, I was able to type and correct my work and create amazing images instantly. It is hard to imagine the joy in being able to edit work for the first time without having to re-write the whole thing.

I bought a second hand green screen Apple 2E with 5.25 inch floppy drives where one had to load an operating system then the program required - and thought it was magic! I spent hours playing 1 game, learning, writing - that was pretty much all I had the software for.

I went back to teaching in 1988 after having the family I eventually I became the ICT Co-coordinator, my interest in technology had been noted and I was endlessly trying to persuade the old RM 380Z  and RM 480Z to do whatever was required. Gradually over the next few years we got several Nimbus machines with Windows 3.1 and dot matrix printers that used piles of fan folded printing paper and made such a clatter whilst printing it was almost impossible to work in the same room. I was a teacher not technician but it was I who had to change printer ribbons, paper, sort out problems etc!

Then in about 1993 we got a Nimbus Turnkey with 256 KB Ram, a colour screen and a small hard drive - no clue now how big it was but it had programs on it, one could click on an icon and the software would load - it was so easy! I used to take this computer home every weekend to do all of my planning, and, as when I trained I did a teaching certificate and all the new young teachers had degrees, I had signed up to do a degree course with a local University. So, I had three young children, a full time job and was doing a degree - the computer was amazing to type up my essays but these days of course it would have helped me do all of my research as well L

Around about the same year, in the winter, I was invited to a University in Oxford to see the World Wide Web. I went, I saw, I returned to school the next day and said  told everyone it would be great but there was so little there for children we should leave it for about 6 months or a year before trying to get it. Of course whilst I was there I had entered some sort of competition, I don’t remember it or what I did, but the next day I got a phone call and I had won - a year’s ISP service and a modem along with the latest whizzy, all singing and dancing multi-media computer! Everyone was delighted - the Parents’ committee said they would pay for telephone line into my room - THE HEAD WAS THRILLED - I had seen it and knew I had to do something special make it work though there was nothing there for the children….
The phone line was duly installed and the machine arrived, I installed the modem, fought for about 3 days to get an e-mail out and to find anything for the children to see - interesting times!

I discovered digital cameras. They were way out of my price range but I knew that I could not move forward in web page creation without one! I heard of a company updating theirs and they offered to sell me one of their old ones for £350. I bought it and took so many sets of about 20 photographs - it would take 20 before having to be downloaded to the computer! In those days they did not have external storage, just a small internal space. Soon after I saw a Sony Mavica - over £500 but I could put floppy disks in it and my class could take as many photos as they liked. I had an endless supply of floppy disks in my pocket or handbag it was wonderful! Note - it was I that bought the first cameras and the first scanners J not the school!

We started making web pages, I downloaded a free html manual and learned how to write for the web. I had made some lovely pages of the children’s work and pictures, I worked and worked to make them look good, then uploaded them - and - no pictures. It took ages to work out that the photos named with a capital letter at the start e.g. Fish.jpg, was not acceptable - all letter had to be lower case! There were so many tiny things like that which caused pages not to work but were hard to find I spent many hours troubleshooting - but - got very good at it! Amazingly that skill, though hard learned, served me very well for the rest of my career, I could look through pages of code and spot mistakes when other people were getting desperate because something was wrong.

Very soon though my class were making good use of the internet. We entered projects from all around the world, won some competitions including the children’s own web page production and I took children to London to receive awards, we had the Cat in the Hat project arrive from the US and we shared beanie diaries with a school in Herefordshire somewhere. Many children in the school had pen pals all over the world - I gave up every lunchtime and before and after school to allow pupils to write e-mails. We made web pages about all sort of subjects. Children who did not read or write well made animated lines to go on the web pages, we charted the growth of our school pond tadpoles - we did all sorts!

Still it was really only me in the school that used it! I spent hours trying to encourage other teachers and inspire them - but it was a step too far for the most part. Then in one week two things happened - there was an earthquake in Turkey and one of our teachers had a son who was there teaching. The earthquake was at night and she came in in the morning pale, stressed and understandably very worried. At morning break  I checked the e-mail to find a message saying “Carol please tell mum I am okay, phone lines all down but Janet Network seems to be working.” He managed to get a message out to us at school to say he was okay! He had found an open means of communication so the family were able to keep in touch over a very troubled few weeks.

The same week one of the other teacher’s daughter was applying for a midwifery course and she had to do a presentation at her interview. She had decided to talk about Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (Mad cow disease in humans) but had not been able to find anything in the libraries and the family did not know what to try next. I did several big searches and in about 20 minutes had unearthed and printed off so much data, including the original letter to the Lancet identifying the disease.  Suddenly the whole school was in favour of using the internet - they began to see its potential.

My own tech story though had started to move out of school. I had been asked to lecture at a local university so I was out of school one day a week doing that for a while, I was also doing conferences and the class was filmed doing all of their lovely ICT work as part of the NOF training project. All my spare time was spent fixing up old office computers donated by various local offices, installing sound cards and speakers, loading CD Roms on them so that the “good” educational computers in school were not wasted by only playing CD Roms. We had banks of old PCs, mostly only running one or two programs and a couple of CD Roms - that was enough to fill them up!

In 1998 I bought my first laptop. I took it to school and we could do so much more - we could take it to the pond with sensors and measure the water temperature - we could do all sorts out of doors for the first time. We soon discovered - much to out amazement - that you could not see the screen out in the daylight so one child would carry the computer as if his or her life depended on it, and other would hold their school jumper over the top to cast a shadow over the screen so that they could do whatever they were doing J

I guess school-wise that took us up to about July 1998 when The NGfL project started putting the internet and computers into all schools. There was an opening for me then to aid the county with ICT training for teachers and soon I moved out of school into the Advisory Service. The last thing I did as I left school was post the order for the new, purpose built, ICT suite network. I was never to use it with children!!

At home, I had bought my first brand new multimedia computer in 1995. It has a whole 1GB hard drive and I assured my husband no-one could ever use all that!  (With a doubled amount of RAM, software bundle and printer that was about £1600 - they were so much dearer then!) My words have haunted me ever since - the following Christmas my husband bought me a 5 GB hard drive and I thought it was heaven.  Just a few weeks ago when I bought my latest computer - 12 core and 12GB Ram, 2TB hard drive with a 1.5 TB external hard drive sat on my desk as the back-up, that first one seems just so far away it is laughable!
 With three young teens in the house the change from modem and dial up, into always on internet was a massive change. It enabled my children to use the internet for homework and all sorts when I was not there - when I was there it was always MY computer!

Somewhere during that few years my kids acquired cell phones. I did not want one - didn’t like them and could see no reason for having one. As I was driving across country lanes in the dark through the winter my husband thought I should have one for emergencies… Wow - how many phones since then? Now, of course, my iPhone goes everywhere with me!

One of my best friends at the time had packer her daughter off to Uni with a new Win 95 machine and after a couple of years this young lady had all of her dissertation notes and what she had already written on the computer - no back up of course - that was not really done in those days! My friend, thinking she was keeping her daughter up to date, took a Windows 1998 update disk up on one of their visits and installed it. This was in Manchester and I was in Oxfordshire. I got a frantic phone call saying it had failed and all of the work was lost, disaster had struck and what could they do? My friend was expecting me to solve the problem despite 200 mile difference between us. I sat and thought - I told them we could try something,  it was a last ditch attempt and if it failed it would be a professional recovery job it would completely trash the machine. They were desperate to try anything.  It took me a few minutes to work out but I gave them the DOS instructions (then I knew DOS, now I have forgotten it!) I had to tell them every character and space,  it was to uninstall the win 98 upgrade but having never seen it I trusted to luck it was named in the same convention that other MS software at the time was named. Once that was complete I gave them the DOS code to load Win 95 and it worked!! Windows 95 loaded and the work was there. I could not begin to do the same sort of thing now.

Another time I got a phone call from friends, they just said the computer was not working. They had tried and tried to reboot it and nothing happened.  I switched it on and watched - far from nothing happening, I could see a whole lot happening!  I could see red lights flashing for the hard drive, but no display.  I switched it off, and on - and realised that the computer was booting up as usual, if I pressed enter in the right places it loaded. Obviously I checked all of the plugs and knew it was only the monitor causing the problem.  I did a boot up in safe mode, something totally new to them, changed the display settings to get them as close to right as I could, then booted up in normal mode to fine tune it. They thought I had performed magic!

My Christmas present about 2000 was iPaq - a wireless PDA - out of its time really, I could only link to the internet at home and at work, and then only get mail and synchronise calendars - though that was a first!! Whoops forgot the Psion - whatever did that do? ;-) But mobile devices - the Psion, iPaq, laptops, netbooks, currently iPad and iPhone have meant that I have been linked to the web pretty much full time for the last 12 years, kids these days have no notion of not being connected. I listened to a man talking about his son clicking on the Club Penguin link on his desktop when the family was on holiday - and totally distraught because it did not work.

At Easter 2000 I attended the first Apple Institute a teacher training session in Cheltenham. It was all about video work - something new to me! One of my colleagues was in some far flung exotic place and he knew I was on this training course. He phoned my home - I was not there of course, and told my husband about the price of small digital camcorders wherever he was.  He knew it was less than half of the price they were here and I had been looking at them. My husband said - well if she wants one you had better bring it - so at the end of the Apple course and the Easter holiday I had a “small” digital camcorder. It still works actually but has been well and truly overtaken by the much, much smaller modern Flipcam which I still have and use if I am not using my phone!

I guess most of what has happened in technology since then is already well documented. Web 2.0 is a completely different story as are all of the gizmos and gadgets that go with computing. It is various anecdotes from the early days I keep remembering - I may well add more later.