From Mainframe Computers 50 Years Ago To Today's iPads: What Have We Learned?

real hi res jpgThere’s an old saying: “My, how fast things change when you’re having fun!” Much of what we still remember about our schooling happened when we were not only learning, but we were enjoying it too. That’s one reason that Educational Computing has lasted over 50 years.

Many now call it Ed Tech, but regardless, it’s still a tool helps teachers teach and learners learn more effectively. In taking a look at those 50+ years what have we learned that can still help us today? The next series of four blogs will take a look and see. For example, how did Oregon Trail point us to creating more learning games. How did making computers smaller put more power into the hands of our learners.

DonRawitschHistory can be a great teacher if we will learn from it. Courtesy of frequent RE@L blogger Don Rawitsch, here are seven “Then and Now” looks  at EdTech that establish our edtech legacy.

We will follow soon with a series of blogs that span this 50 year era of computer-based learning. Just like Oregon Trail, it’s been a long, often hard journey and a trek from which a lot was learned, especially about helping more kids learn more.

So, here’s a snapshot, panoramic look at Don’s list of  “Then and Now”:

  • THEN: We taught kids programming to help them understand math relationships, problem solving, and how you could write a set of program instructions to get a machine to help you solve problems.
  • NOW: We are reintroducing coding programs on iPads to help students learn new analytical skills and provide ways to show that they know and understand.
  • THEN: We created games like the Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego that made kids think deeper about a problem and at the same time motivated them to learn.
  • NOW: We are creating new games of our own design that not only teach coding but a new way of thinking and doing.
  • Teletype days1THEN: We accessed mainframe computers; then dedicated mini-computers (the size of an office desk), the affordable desktop computers, so that computing could be more accessible to all.
  • NOW: We have computers the size of a pad of paper so that each student can have his own and at the same time collaborate with other students on various project based learning challenges.
  • THEN: We proposed that students become computer-literate, so that they understood how to use a computer, understood the capabilities of computers, and their societal impact.
  • NOW: We have mandated that all students become computer savvy so that they can thrive in the new workplace and the virtual community.
  • THEN: We empowered teachers by creating applications that let them teach more creatively, gave them access to more useful information, and allowed them to work with other teachers using emails.
  • NOW: We empower teachers with new technologies that encourage them to create their own Professional Development Plans to improve their teaching and use of more effective tools.
  • THEN: Technology training and support for teachers were provided at conferences, workshops, professional organizations, new magazines, and the school’s new positions of Tech Helping Teachers and newly established Computing Coordinator positions.
  • NOW: We provide technology training and support through websites and online forums. We use Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, Google Hangouts and more virtual spaces to share findings and get help.

We’ve learned a lot in those two generations from our pioneer teachers and students about enhancing learning, and created even more. What’s even better for those who learn from the past is that there’s more help to come. Stay tuned! More blogs on the lessons learned from the past half century are forthcoming.

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, was his visionary response to educational reform needed in K-12 schools. Saturn was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom served as an experienced high school mathematics teacher, a school administrator at Saturn School and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. Tom is also a member of the RE@L Team ----- Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L, Inc and one of the founders of MECC, Inc - the Minnesota company that brought “Oregon Trail” and more than a hundred products to millions of K12 students across the world. His work in building new paths for MECC’s “consumer” market” was instrumental in the start of an Industry in K12 EdTECH: including school-markets, students, teachers and parents. RE@L Inc continues to serve K12 as a LearningProduct "launching pad" for schools, online learning and the rapidly growing STEM market as a whole.