Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tales of Future Past 1 - Teaching Online pre-Internet

Jim Groom's wonderful series of blog posts about the early and pre-history of edtech have motivated me to exhume a bit of my edtech prehistoric existence. My first bit of arcana is an article I wrote in 1992 entitled Class Discussion by Computer: A Case Study.

A MicroVAX, similar to the one we used.
The article, published in the ACM SIGCSE Bulletin (CSE = Computer Science Education), describes an experiment that I did in a "Computers and Society" class in 1990, using a discussion tool called VAX Notes. Yes, it ran on a DEC VAX - my campus, Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) got its connection to NSFNET a year later in 1991. Here's a few choice quotes:
...the practical effect (of the computer) on the format of the typical college course has been nil....most...faculty continue to use the lecture model for most courses...
...I thought that it would be both useful and relevant to the course topic if the students were to participate in an ongoing discussion via the computer.
Computer conferencing can be a valuable adjunct to a course....it can reduce the isolation of class members outside the class meeting time. I would encourage instructors in any discussion-based course to experiment with computer conferencing.
A few other notable items -

  • I thought it was necessary to explain to the reader what electronic mail (referred to as "e-mail") was, and the difference between email and "conferencing software"
  • I didn't reference any other experiments like it. I am certain that that was other work happening along the same lines but I didn't find any. (There was no way to Google it!)
  • The entire exercise was built around the metaphor of a f2f class discussion - even if the software had made it possible I don't think it would have occurred to me to open it up outside the class.
  • The most fun part about reading it today is reading the quotes from the students!
Enjoy! There's at least one other item I've found that I'll blog about, and one more I'm still looking for.

One more thought - everyone should read Jim's blog bavatuesdays. If I had continued down the road of focusing on teaching with technology instead of going in 10 different directions over the next 20 years I might be halfway to where Jim is now with his students. #bigfan #4life

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