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

by | Oct 30, 2014 | RE@L StudentCorner

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.

If you have some input or questions simply click on the globe below and send them to us. All pertinent posts are published unless otherwise stated by the poster.




Randy Nelson & Dale LaFrenz


/// 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 RE@L Inc continues to serve K12 as a LearningProduct "launching pad" for schools, online learning and the rapidly growing STEM market. /// Randy Nelson recently joined RE@L as a BlogMeister and Director of Education for RE@L's new STEM-based LearningProducts. Randy has long been an advocate for more positive, effective changes in K-12 teaching and learning, from his teaching days to his former career as a Superintendent who positively reformed the school district of LaCrosse Wisconsin.w