#40years of educational technology: Networks

In comparative terms, the transition from stand-alone to networked technologies was fairly rapid. The shift happened in the mid 1990s and it certainly took many by surprise. We had all become comfortable with the affordances of personal computers, especially content provisionality where editing content was easy and you could save your work to return to later. Before networked computers, we transferred media and content to other systems using disks, and we printed out our work for physical mailing to recipients. In the 80s, the graphics capability of our personal computers was limited, but we had a choice between the IBM style PCs and the Apple computers. The latter had more user friendly interfaces and were easier to use, but we had no access to them where I worked, because generally, they were more expensive.

During my time working at the nurse training college, we had a centralised system called a mini-computer, which was locked away in a secure room, and from which several connections to dumb terminals was maintained. The terminals were essentially screens and keyboards that were dependent on the central mini computer for all their processing power. The shared databases and other software all resided on the hard disks of the mini.

Suddenly, around the early 1990s, we began to hear about something called the World Wide Web. We were not sure what it looked like, or how we would use it. The Web promised to connect everyone, everywhere. Some were sceptical and argued that we were doing fine with the stand alone computers. Others asked how much it would cost. They couldn't see a purpose for connecting computers together, beyond the ability to input data into a central store in a system such as the mini computer. When you are too close to a problem, it is often difficult to stand back and see the wider applications. For many it was impossible to see it being used for anything more than admin, and as an application for education, it was out of the question.

And yet, in a short space of time, our computers were all networked, and we began to use something called Pegasus - an e-mail system, and Netscape Navigator, a tool that allowed us to browse the Internet. Both were simplistic tools compared to the technology we can now access, but their introduction changed forever the way we worked, taught and learned. It would take several years though, before we stopped asking colleagues to come over to our computer screens to 'look at this!' Networked systems would herald the start of a new era of learning, and there would be many new initiatives and projects, some of which I was privileged to be directly involved in....

Photo by Grant Hutchinson on Flickr

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I#40years of educational technology: Networks by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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