Ringing the changes

This is part 7 in my series on the history and impact of distance education. Yesterday in Part 6, we examined the impact computers have made on pedagogy. Another innovation as ubiquitous and influential as the computer was invented by a Briton prior to the Second World War. This invention also has a great deal of importance to the practice of distance education, as we understand it today.

We have a Scot to thank for one of the most taken for granted technologies in the modern world. Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1875, along with his assistant Thomas A. Watson, Bell constructed instruments that transmitted speech. In 1876 Bell invented the forerunner of the modern telephone, a device which today forms the basis of many communications technologies from the cellular phone to the Internet.

Bell received his official patent to the telephone on March 7, 1876. Three days later he and Watson, located in different rooms, tested the new type of transmission device described in his patent. As they were setting up the experiment, Watson suddenly heard Bell's voice through the earpiece saying, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you." Bell had had an accident with a battery, and had spilled acid over his clothes. He had inadvertently use the telephone to speak to Watson, but when he realised what he had achieved, the accident was soon forgotten!

The first telephone company, the Bell Telephone Company, was established in 1877 to exploit the potential of Bell's new invention. During his productive career, Alexander Graham Bell invented several other devices, although none were as useful as the telephone. He died on August 2, 1922, in Nova Scotia, Canada. Technology supported distance education owes a lot to this Scot inventor, who changed the concept of what it meant to communicate with others over great distances. Today we take for granted the fact that we can punch a number into a keypad, and somewhere in the world, a corresponding telephone will ring, connecting us to a person who we can hear in 'real time'. The social presence of the telephone (the perception that you are connected to the other person) is very high, and many prefer it to so-called richer media such as videoconferencing. We often forget that telecommunication methods are the backbone upon which the Internet and other global communication methods have been based. Tomorrow we will take a look at another technology. Can you guess what it is yet?

Tomorrow: Part 8: Man of vision

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teachernz said…
Next... television?
Steve Wheeler said…
Hooray. First prize to Michael downunder. Yes, tomorrow we all watch television! :-)
David Hopkins said…
What I am finding is that, as we have all grown up with the telephone, we are comfortable with this media to 'converse'. Video conferencing is relatively new and, therefore, an unknown medium for communication. Most people shy away from cameras and video cameras, and that is when they are at home or on holiday. The same is true for when they are at work; they get very self conscience when they know the camera is pointed at them.

If the invention of the telephone lead us to the Internet and video conferencing, where could the Internet possibly be leading us?

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