Distance Education

Some 30 years ago when Maria was taking courses in Computers for Schools there was already a lively debate going on about the future of PCs in the classroom. Not to mention the future of technology on teaching and teachers.

As far as I could see at that time there were numerous logistical and personnel barriers to this Brave New World everyone was speculating about.

First of all was the cost. A single computer back then cost thousands of dollars. Many families couldn’t afford them. They were desktop models so the kids would have to share at home or in school. No school board could put 20 desktop computers in every classroom.

Then there was the question of standardization. Most PCs were Windows-based back then but a lot of schools used Macs. What’s a family to do? Get more machines?

Then there was the problem of technology. Networks were wired and difficult to set up and use. Even if a school had a computer lab with internal connections that is as far as it went. There was no Internet so homework would have to be sent home on a floppy disk back then. Ever heard of computer viruses? Scary.

Maria was learning about a Mac feature called Hypercard. I thought this was a dumb idea. Hypercard allowed you to connect your document to another one on your computer by means of a hyperlink. I thought for this to be of any practical use one would need incredibly powerful processors, unheard of graphical capability, and massive amounts of storage – preferably network storage. None of that was possible in 1990. Just a gimmick, I thought.

Last of all was the state of the people involved. Our generation struggled with computer tech; the younger one was adapting as they got access. But it seemed a lot of expensive training would be needed.

Fast forward to 2020. The oldest teachers have retired. The current teaching group is well versed in technology – at least as far as Pinterest and Facebook are concerned. We have the World Wide Web – which is Hypercard on steroids. We have desktops, laptops, smartphones, Chromebooks, Google, Skype etc. etc. The world has changed. Had classroom instruction with computers changed all that much?

Up until March 2020, I would have had to say no. But COVID-19 changed everything. Not only were students and teachers forced to use computer-aided instruction, they had to do it while practicing social distancing.

The kids were ready for it. The current generation have not only adapted to IT, they are immersed in it.

My grandkids are out here this week. No sooner had they got here than Veronica was setting up a Google Meet with her dad back in Ottawa. Teddy has a morning enrichment session with his classmates that went on after the official end of school. All of the kids have Google accounts set up through their school board, with their own Google Drive setups. Teddy keeps track of his Pokemon collection on a Google spreadsheet. Kids copy and paste into their browser like demons.

I have to admit that after 50 years of IT experience, my competence with online tools is roughly equivalent to that of my nine-year-old granddaughter. And I like to think I am pretty with it still. Go figure.

I may be wrong but I think this recent burst of distance learning is going to revolutionize the classroom – for better or worse. The stuff we only dreamed about in 1990 is here now, and the kids are spearheading its adoption. I only hope the current generation of teachers can keep up with them.

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