Time will tell

As a part of my participation in the online social networking workshop Digifolios and Personal Learning Spaces, I have been tasked to do some online story telling, so I have chosen to tell my story here. Here's the task:

Tell us about about your first approach towards learning technologies or that first experience that comes to mind. In other words, tell us your story on how it all started. It doesn't matter whether you are beginners or experienced users of web 2.0 tools, once we start working online, we automatically start developing an online identity. Here are some questions you may use to guide you on your story:

1. How did it all start?
2. What were you thinking?
3. What did you want to achieve?
4. Did you succeed?
5. Where did it take you?
6. How has your perspective changed throughout the years, months, or days?

I can trace my love affair with technology way back to 1970, when I was still at school and living on a military base in Holland. For a school trip, my class went to Eindhoven, to visit the Philips science and technology museum (now a conference centre) called the 'Evoluon'. More commonly referred to as the 'Philips Flying Saucer' because of its outlandish design, it traced the history of technology from the dawn of man. One exhibition particularly intrigued me. There were two rooms, each connected to the other via a microphone, camera and television. We had great fun running from room to room, seeing and hearing each other remotely on the screens. Little did I know at the time that I was seeing one of the first videoconferencing suites. Star Trek had just started showing on Dutch television and they did a similar thing between spaceships. This was the future! I thought, and believed that one day every house would have one.

I first became involved professionally with learning technologies when they were still called Educational Technology. I joined the Audio Visual department of the College of St Mark and St John (Marjons - a teacher training college in Plymouth) in January 1976, as an AV technician. I had no qualifications but had an interest in photography and graphic design and there were elements of these in the job. My main tasks were to ensure that all the classrooms were equipped and functioning so the sessions would run smoothly. In each classroom there was an overhead projector, and a chalkboard. There were also slide projectors (Kodak Carousels) and Tandberg reel-to-reel tape recorders, which reguarly jammed and had to be released by judicious application of a screwdriver. We also had some of the first Philips 1500 video cassette recording (VCR) machines. They were bulky things and we had to lug them (and the even bigger Televisions) around to the classroom they were booked into. I certainly developed larger biceps and upper body strength during this time! If I had to do it now, I would probably have a double rupture and a nice collection of hernias to show for my trouble. At Marjons we also had a small Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) studio with a lighting rig and boom mics, and the videos were 'black and white' and very ghostly. We all took turns as cameramen, sound engineers and vision mixers and it was fun.

We also had a 'mobile' video camera and separate VCR - it was very heavy, and the recording limit was about 30 minutes. We also had to wear a very heavy battery belt to power the camera and VCR.

In 1977, I helped to build one of the first personal computers for a research project. It had a large, bulky base unit, with about 64 k of memory and a small 'green screen' monochrome monitor. These were early, pioneering days, and I didn't know at the time that learning technology would become my entire working career.

Looking back at the 'state of the art' technologies of the time, they pale into insignificance in comparison to the handheld, wireless, mobile technologies and interactive media we now use and are so familiar with. Even ten years ago, it would have been difficult to envisage the richly graphical wikis, blogs, podcasts, and social networking services we now take for granted. Sharing videos over the internet? YouTube would have been considered futuristic. The mobile and handheld technologies and the multi-touch pinch-gesturing devices, and the touch surfaces that are emerging were the stuff of science fiction.

My school visit started it all off, but even now, in 2009, we are still a distance away from everyone being ubiquitously linked via video as I once envisioned. But it will come. We will reach a time when everything we say and do will be recorded - a scary thought if we are not controlling it ourselves. Where do I want to go with learning technology now? I'm really not sure, but I know this... technology is now embedded into most professional teaching and learning situations and is not going away. It will become more ubiquitous and pervasive as we connect better, wirelessly. It will also become less visible as it becomes more integrated into every day living. I have come a long way since my schoolboy days, but I remain just as excited as ever about learning technology. And I think I always will be.


Nellie Deutsch said…
Thank you for sharing, Steve. I must confess, I was captivated by your words. I felt very connected as I read about your experiences. I share your enthusiasm for technology and learning. Is there a way technology can enhance words?
Cristina Costa said…
Hi Steve,
Great story.
Isn't that the truth? Who would think we would have come so far. Mobile devices as far as I can tell were imaginary realities in science fiction movies and series. Things only aliens could really have.
But look at us today. I can't live without a mobile phone. I might not use it that often, but it is always with me all the same.
Even who would imagine i would stop having lumps in my fingers-tips to start developing wrist problems. And the fact is I can't remember the last time wrote an essay on paper...
And the fact is that we move on with the development of things. We adopt some, drop others along the way.. and the curiosity for innovation...and the interest to be part of it keep us going.
Who would we would come so far...and also that we would expect even more to happen (as part of our future).
I will come up with my story too sometime soon! ;-)
sharon said…
Steve, I can relate to what you have written. In my case, the first introduction to technology came also in the 1970's when I worked for a company that manufactured the first full page display word processor in the world. It had a memory of 15 pages and was bargain priced at $22,500 per unit!

At that time I had no idea of what a hand held device consisted of and probably could not imagine that this is is children are using as a learning tool today.

The Canadian in Boston
Thimbuktu said…
Hi Steve,

Great story. Thanks for sharing.

I am fascinated by time, space and motion.

Please check up my blog on this topic at:


Appreciate your comments.

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