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Looking Back From the 1980s At Computers In Education 269

Posted by timothy
from the gee-whiz dept.
xzvf writes "As someone who went to high school in the '80s, this newsletter from 1980 (PDF) is a blast from the past. An interview with Microsoft talks up its BASIC language product and predicts voice control of computers in five years. Advertisements for Compute magazine, which was about to go monthly, and an article about a computer 'network' in Minnesota that connects some fax machine-looking terminal to a central computer over telephone lines. Lots of Atari, TI and RadioShack news too. It's a reminder from 30 years ago that we are still not using technology effectively in education."
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Looking Back From the 1980s At Computers In Education

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  • Effectively? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WiiVault (1039946) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:39PM (#31192340)
    Does anybody actually believe that we have progressed significantly in our use of tech to educate? I sure don't.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:43PM (#31192398)

    We've tried just about everything over the years. We haven't found anything really amazing. Computers are not the royal road to learning.

    Computers are good at learning management: Blackboard, Angel, Moodle, Desire2Learn etc.

    Computers are good at drill type activities.

    Computers are not much better than any other type of distance education. Most people prefer conventional classroom/lab education to computerized delivery. We've spent beaucoup bucks on experiments and most of those have not delivered on their promise.

  • Re:Effectively? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:43PM (#31192400) Journal

    to educate, you say?

    We've not really come very far in business with technology if you consider the paperless office as case in point. Watch any small group of people with smart phones, say something that needs to be written down and watch what happens... gadgets yes, advancement... not so much

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:46PM (#31192440) Homepage

    i have a friend who, when his kids asked him "can we av a computer daaad", went up into the loft, got out the TRS80 and a stack of byte magazines. the kids looked at him in this funny way, but they managed to get the machine working, chewed their way through the programs, and actually had fun with it.

    he then promised them that their next computer (and this was only three years ago) would be a Pentium II.

    my first application i ever saw was a 5 line PET Commodore 3032 BASIC program: for i = 1 to 40 print tab(i), i next i 50 goto 10. it scrolled numbers across the screen; i understood it instantly, and have never looked back. i was eight years old, and i was writing my own games within a year, moving @ and * symbols around the screen and firing "." symbols - three kids smashing down keys and jamming the other kids because the keyboard matrix on the Commodore PET wasn't smart enough to detect all the keys we were holding down, simultaneously, trying to blast each other to bits with fullstops.

    with only an 8mhz CPU, 32k of memory, a 40x25 screen and BASIC to play with, there were no "expectations" of fanciness, fonts or even graphics to get in the way. the learning curve was quick and dirty, and there were no frills to overwhelm you.

    but, most importantly, there wasn't a ton of software ready-made to "spoon-feed" you.

    computer education is no longer education. at a British Computing Institute talk i attended, someone there made this brilliant analogy. he said that to parents, he asks them a simple question:

    "computing is no longer taught in schools (parents look quizzical), they are simply 'trained' (parents look like they vaguely get it). if this was sex instead of computing that was taught in schools, would you prefer that your kids have sex _education_ or sex _training_? (parents finally get it)".

    putting kids in front of microsoft products does them absolutely no service at all. it's why the OLPC project was created, to emphasise the goal of _educating_ kids about computers, rather than _training_ them to merely _use_ computers.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:47PM (#31192454)

    It's a reminder from 30 years ago that we are still not using technology effectively in education.

    Yes we are. White boards are slightly more effective than chalk boards; they're a technological improvement.

  • what reminder ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eth1csGrad1ent (1175557) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:47PM (#31192460)

    we're not using technology effectively in transport either, or business or effectively using transport to move us around efficiently. or effectively using alternative energy sources even though methods have been around for decades now. or effectively handling energy consumption, waste management, environmental management, protecting children from predators, dealing with alcohol and drug abuse...

    My point ? No matter what you look at from 30 years ago - we haven't made the progress that we always believed we should have by now...

  • by maillemaker (924053) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:58PM (#31192572)

    I can find accurate information much, much, much faster than I could in 1980.

    So in terms of acquiring information, which is a precursor to acquiring knowledge, we are light-years ahead of where we were in 1980.

    Now in terms of using technology to CONVEY information, I agree, we have lagged.

    For example, in my view the presentation of Calculus has not changed much since its inception some 400 years ago. One of the biggest problems with the presentation is that we fail to bridge the gap between understanding of the abstract mathematical formulas and the concrete visualization of what they describe.

    I firmly believe that computer graphics could help fill this gap but my professors still slog through crude chalk-board sketches trying to convey the concepts of area, volume, curvature, surfaces, rates of change, etc.

    Every time I'm presented with a formula I'm doing mental tricks plugging in values for X & Y trying to visualize it. Computers could help here.

  • Re:Effectively? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by phormalitize (1748504) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:02PM (#31192628) Journal
    If anything, technology has made classroom education suffer, in my opinion.
  • Ahh voice control (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dadelbunts (1727498) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:04PM (#31192648)
    Voice control reminds me of the promise of flying cars. We will have both in about 5-10 years. And Duke Nukem Forever.
  • Re:Effectively? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:07PM (#31192662) Journal
    My nieces and nephews of school age definitely make use of tech for schoolwork a lot. And IMO very effectively.

    My oldest nephew recently had a unit on biomes. It was a six-seek unit based on self-study using multi-media presentations and materials on computers at the school. Quick students mastered the basic stuff in the first two weeks -- then they were able to dig deeper and study more in-depth over the last month. Slower students may have taken almost the full time to complete the basic materials, but the nice thing is that they didn't hold back the quick students. The unit culminated in presentations the students gave utilizing the media they worked with in class, and outside media that was approved by the teacher. Presentations were live, but the kids used projectors in their presentations... it was awesome.

    When I saw my nephew's presentation in December, I recalled when I studied the same stuff in grade school, and there was no comparison. His experience was richer and deeper than mine -- he learned more, and he enjoyed it more. And the whole unit was dependent on use of technology.

    Yes, it's anecdotal, and I'm aware that many (most?) schools don't provide that kind of experience. But it's amazing to me how far we've come where we're doing it right.
  • Re:1968 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord Grey (463613) * on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:15PM (#31192762)

    ... give a bunch of hungry kids manuals and access and stand back.

    That is, some of the time, how you teach most effectively.

  • Vignettes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Merc248 (1026032) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:24PM (#31192876) Homepage

    1. In my previous position, I worked at a high school which had a lot of fancy technology in place for teachers to use. One of the pieces of technology is a "smart board" that is basically a huge tablet with an image projected onto it from a normal projector. Unfortunately, when the "smart board" stops working, it becomes a huge useless slab that sits in the middle third of a regular whiteboard. It's always nice to be able to take a PowerPoint, convert it over to another easily editable presentation format, and write on it during a lecture, but I've found that the teachers are now at the mercy of the IT department for even classroom teaching.

    There's also a document camera that teachers can use to show their work while sitting at their desk. What happened to simply writing everything in big bold letters on the whiteboard?

    2. In my high school, the extent to which the majority of kids learn "computing" is in "Microcomputing Applications"; this is a class that teaches a hodge podge of various skills, like writing a letter in Word, filling in a spreadsheet in Excel, etc. As someone said above, this is not education, but simply training: people learned how to write letters in English class.

    3. The best computing education I received was when I wanted to play computer games on locked down computers in a CCNA class. I didn't learn a damn thing about Cisco stuff (I was unmotivated to learn from CBT's in high school), but I did learn how easy it was to get rid of an admin password on Windows with physical access to the computer, and I also learned a bit about networking when setting up Quake 2 servers for other people to play on in class. Best part about it: I was not caught even once.

    4. Of course, I learned a lot by deciding to install Linux 10 years ago on a spare box. Nowadays, I'm basically told that I'm living in an ivory tower and that "everyone uses Microsoft products."

    Why are computers seen as mystical beasts with no rhyme or reason with the actual world? (1) showed me that computers are not even necessarily used as tools for effective teaching but as something "for technology's sake", (2) showed me that there is no drive to break this cycle in the educational system, (3) showed me that the assumptions taken when setting up the system were quite flawed and might be predicated on the presumption that kids wouldn't necessarily have the drive or knowledge to break the password, and (4) showed me that these years of "education" has culminated in an anti-Linux (and I might even go as far as saying "anti-intellectual") stance against computing.

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:36PM (#31193054)

    Dude when you're done loading that game can I borrow the cassette tape?

  • Re:Effectively? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HungryHobo (1314109) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @08:40PM (#31193758)

    I can only agree. when i was in high school we moved to a shiny new school building with a shiny new computer network and lots of computer labs.

    It could have been fantastic.
    They could have taught students how to program.
    They could have used them as a real teaching aid.

    What happened was that the company contracted to run the computer system had it locked down so tight you couldn't do anything worthwhile.
    Most of the teachers were terrified of the computers.
    One teacher tried to teach the ECDL while 2 lessons ahead of the students.
    There was no way to use the computers to program.
    They utterly wasted all the money they spent on the computers.

    The problem wasn't the computers.
    the problem was the administration and the teachers.

  • by ZosX (517789) <zosxavius AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 18, 2010 @10:32PM (#31194824) Homepage

    Fuck that's amazing. One day we'll just be old geezers who sit around and whine about how we used to have privacy. I think we slipped down the slope a bit too far....

  • by Kenshin (43036) <kenshin@@@lunarworks...ca> on Thursday February 18, 2010 @10:50PM (#31194966) Homepage

    On one hand, our most popular mobile devices (namely the iPhone and soon the iPad) are extremely locked up and restricted, with the vendor telling you EXACTLY which applications you're allowed to run.

    I don't remember being able to run whatever I wanted to on my NES. Nintendo dictated that. (Yes, I'm comparing the iPad and iPhone to a game console, not a general purpose computer.)

  • by dmorin (25609) <dmorin@@@gmail...com> on Thursday February 18, 2010 @11:37PM (#31195352) Homepage Journal
    I was in college from 1987-1991, and my "major qualifying project" (Worcester Polytech) was a workshop where I brought together local high school teachers from math, computer science and social studies for the day. I pitched the idea of a whole new type of computer classroom, state of the art, where everything was networked not just with their local counterparts but with similar schools all around the world. I talked to them about massive scale datasets, public information records, voting data, etc etc etc etc... the ability to run your own queries, to question what you're being handed in the newspaper every day. In other words, a whole bunch of stuff we take for granted these days - but a good number of years before the Web took off.

    The computer science and math teachers heard "new computers" and said, "Great, we'll take it."

    Then I dropped the surprise on them, and said that this new lab was for the social studies teachers. That this was about exploring all areas of study with computers - art, literature, politics, you name it. "Nonono," said the CS people, "You've been misinformed. *We* get the computers."

    That did not surprise me. What surprised me is when the social studies teachers said "Yeah, they get the computers. We don't want them." All they saw was a burden, changes to the curriculum, technology they did not understand, and a new dependency on their coworkers to keep the machines up and running. They were perfectly happy to let the CS teachers teach programming and that would be that. No need for computers in any of the social studies (and, by extension, humanities) classrooms.

    Funny how far we *have* come, honestly. If only we could take what's out there on the net at our fingertips, and integrate it more directly into students' education.

    [ At the time, in my neighborhood, the "state of the art" schools had a Mac hooked up to a laser disc player, and the students would put together multimedia reports on John F Kennedy to present to the class. The more typical schools had text terminals of maybe the 286 variety, and would be taught keyboarding and other office skills. ]

  • by nanospook (521118) on Friday February 19, 2010 @01:45AM (#31195998)
    Maybe educational technology on computers has not advanced significantly because the interfaces we use, mouse, keyboard, monitor, are the same interfaces we used back when the first PC's came out? They have improved in resolution and speed, but there's only so many techniques you can use to present new ideas and concepts with those tools..
  • by Sleepy (4551) on Friday February 19, 2010 @02:25AM (#31196158) Homepage

    With the rise of Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, Microsoft ceased furthering the development of "free" (gratis) programming languages which came BUNDLED with the computer. Microsoft could have BUNDLED Visual Basic, and therefore empower their users the way that Commodore and Atari and even Apple (via Hypercard) tried to do... but instead Microsoft gambled it all on creating a *dependant* consumer class of users. That's why there was never a community of Windows users loyally subscribing to computer education magazines, and typing in program listings (the best way to learn programming). As soon as Windows became #1, all of these educational methods died.

    Today most computer users do not know anything about computers. They just know rote clicks which is knowledge with a short shelf life... only until the next version of said Windows product (go into any used bookstore and check out the pricing on say a 3 year old used book for UNIX/Linux and one for Windows... the Windows book is usually under $1 because Vb6 knowledge was made worthless... while a book on Python 2.5 or PHP 5.0 still has loads of value). It's no surprise that some of the best programmers started out on these old 8 and 16 bit systems, and they're better not because these platforms were superior to today's.. no they're better because they were exposed to problem solving an an earlier age. That does not happen today.

    I missed the days when PC's came with multiple programming languages for free... then I found Linux, and I realized it wasn't true that these things went away... only that Microsoft wasn't interested in hooking young kids on programming the way Atari, BBC, Apple and Commodore wanted to do (and did so well, for the time they were relevent)

  • Re:Effectively? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nagnamer (1046654) on Friday February 19, 2010 @07:20AM (#31197596) Homepage

    Where computers don't help much is at the elementary level.

    I wouldn't bet on that. My little daughter learns to recognize individual icons and folders on the screen at 6 months of age. I guess she'd be clicking around the screen with confidence by now had I had resources to allocate a machine for her use. Alas, I work on the same machine, so I couldn't let her just do anything to it.

    Point is, if you want a computer-centric and/or Internet-centric education, many things that are valid in what we know as schools simply change. Kids forget to use pencils, etc. They may learn to read, but they may have problems writing, because typing, for people to whom typing is not an occupation, is essentially the same as reading. So, she doesn't need to write in order to learn letters. She just needs to recognize them. I think, if you really go deeper into this, we'd find a lot more would change.

  • Re:Effectively? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dmhayden (752539) on Friday February 19, 2010 @07:26AM (#31197644)

    Does anybody actually believe that we have progressed significantly in our use of tech to educate? I sure don't.

    Really? Try getting rid of the tech then. Unplug the computers in the library and research using a card catalog. All written assignments must be typed on a typewriter. Tests, quizes and handouts will be typed or hand-written by the teacher and copied on a mimeograph machine. In science, all measurements will be made by hand and all lab reports will include hand-made calculations and hand drawn charts. To avoid having the kids calculate for 6 hours to generate a chart, they will be restricted to 4 measurements of their data.

    If a child forgets an assignment, they'll have to call a friend, who will read it to them over the phone while they copy furiously (and incorrectly).

    Video demonstrations or presentations in the classroom will go away. After all, it means finding it (in the library, on the card catalog, and hoping that we have such a tape), copying it on a VHS tape, wheeling the TV and VCR into the classroom (they're too bulky and expensive to put one in each room) and hoping that everything works.

    Technology has had a HUGE effect on education, just as it has on everything else

  • Re:Effectively? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NSIM (953498) on Friday February 19, 2010 @10:44AM (#31199112)
    PowerPoint isn't the problem, it's lack of understanding of how to use it well. PowerPoint is used as a crutch for poor teachers, in the hands of people who know how to use it, it's a very useful tool.
  • Re:Effectively? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday February 19, 2010 @10:59AM (#31199290) Homepage Journal

    But you see I am not sure that is helping. I am very fond of the idea of playing with stuff. Crayons, paste, paper, scissors, blocks, and Popsicle sticks.
    Way too many people can not fix the simplest things around the house or build anything.
    I think that a child that learns to use the physical world at an early age will be better able to use all the tools available.

    I see to many kids and teens that think they know how to use technology but in reality they only know how to be technology users not creators.

  • by Slugster (635830) on Friday February 19, 2010 @12:14PM (#31200234)
    ...until textbooks are all available in electronic form.

    Now (at least in the US) most are not, due to textbook publisher's concerns over pirating. They offer supplementary material, and sometimes even material or quizzes that they host and manage on their own servers (but that is password-locked, and only valid for one course's length, so EVERY student MUST buy a new textbook & CD, just to get a valid online password). But the whole contents of the textbook are never available, and it's no mistake.

    Why are kids still hefting around bookbags, when all this shit will fit on a single 16gb SD card?

    I'm not usually a fan of government interference, but this is one place I think really could benefit from it: make a federal laws that says textbook publishers either put out 100% electronic versions, or their books cannot be used at any school that is accredited by the Dept of Education at all.
    ~
  • Re:Effectively? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yuri benjamin (222127) <yuridg@gmail.com> on Friday February 19, 2010 @03:16PM (#31202442) Journal

    The closest we've come in that regard is teaching kids how to use MS Word...

    Teaching MS Word is not education. Teaching generic word processing skills that can be transfered to any wordprocessor is.
    When I was at school the "industry standard" was Wordstar. If I had learned Wordstar as opposed to general word processing, my Wordstar foo would've been useless by the time I left school and Wordperfect had become the "standard".

We will have solar energy as soon as the utility companies solve one technical problem -- how to run a sunbeam through a meter.

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