A story of education before technology

Untitled-1I don’t feel I was at school too long ago. I finished in 1997, after sixth-form. But this week I was reminded that people born in 1997 are now legally adults. As I was leaving school, they were entering the world. Cue some weeping and wrinkle checking in the mirror.

Then, after wondering how I had changed, I began to ponder how education in my lifetime has changed; which is largely the pondering of the impact of technology.

While at school (in the UK) I did have access to a computer suite – a room full of BBC computers where we were able to attempt some word processing and basic programming. (That was mainly me; my teacher did not have much interest in anything past the curriculum requirements of spreadsheets and databases.) Roll on to sixth form, and I took that basic experience and studied for the rather grandly titled Computer Literacy and Information Technology certificate. I remember this being very regimented – what I would call ‘ICT by numbers’. We were handed worksheets to follow, and as long as you did exactly what was written on the instructions you would end up with a certificate to show… well… that you can follow instructions. I think we were being programmed more than we were programming!

Off to university in 1997, and surely this would be the step change. I dreamed of a swish library full of the latest computers. Clearly I had seen too many films. When I arrived, I found two computers, squirreled away in the lonely corner of an unloved room, above which paper timetables were stuck on the wall. Each computer could be booked in strict time slots of 30 minutes, and never more than one slot per person per day. With a college of more than 700 students, it didn’t take long to figure out that relying on these white little units would be pointless. So, for most of my way through university I handwrote my essays.

But what was this I heard – final dissertations had to be submitted ‘online’. At last, in the dawning days of the 21st century, pen and paper was out and machinery was in. So I swooped straight down to the local high street, and returned with a hire purchase agreement for a top of the line 64MB RAM PC costing £700 (though due to my terrible ability to pay my debts this later mounted to £1,698!) Finally I could access email and the World Wide Web. I was to become a digital citizen.

I hope it’s not from a naivety of relative affluence that I presume most new college goers won’t start their studies struggling, like I did, to buy a computer. Odds are, most will have had one for some time. In fact their phones are likely to be far more advanced and more capable than my first computer ever was. But what I can be absolutely certain of is that computers are no longer a nice to have. That there’s absolutely no chance of winging it through education armed with only a pen and paper.

That today’s students take their technology for granted is a very, very good thing indeed for education. Technology made teaching easier (I know, because I became one); the internet opened the world up to learning; and it will continue to do so for generations to come. And, importantly, technology still has the capability to excite. 3D printing, wearable technology, augmented realities – these are the BBC PCs and Pacmans of their day. Just like my ridiculously ancient machine bought for an extortionate amount of money could not have made be prouder (I cherished it so much that it was still firing on all cylinders when I finally sold it in 2005), technology continues to drive students and teachers into unchartered education.

So what about the generations that are coming after – the babies born when today’s babies graduate? They will have been immersed in technology from day one. Will ‘new’ still be exciting to them, or just expected? Will anything ever match the thrill I felt when the multicoloured pen was unveiled?

During London’s BETT show next week, I’m going to be chatting with students from schools across the UK, about what they see coming round the corner, what excites them, and what’s ‘old hat’. (Hopefully not talking to an old lady!) I’ll be sharing what they say via the #learneroutcomes hashtag on Twitter – and I hope you can join in our conversation there. And in between talking with them, you can find me with my feet up, having a nice cup of tea and reading the newspaper. There are some things technology can’t improve on!


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