#40years of Educational Technology: First days

I've just celebrated 40 years working in educational technology. I remember arriving on a chilly, grey morning in January 1976 outside a large teacher training college on the edge of Plymouth. As I gazed up at the concrete and glass of the buildings, I wondered exactly what I was getting myself into. I had trained as a photographer and graphic designer over the previous two years and I knew that this would be part of the job. But for most of my new job I was going to be working with something called educational technology.

40 years later, I can look back and marvel and how many changes I have witnessed. Change, it's been said, is now exponential. But I can honestly say that during 40 years working in educational technology, there has always been change, and I have often had to run to keep up with it. Perhaps that's why I'm always tired, but never bored. But let me paint a picture for you of my life back in 1976. The first Star Wars movie was still a year away, and showing at the local cinema was David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. We listened to Abba, 10cc and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, which would spend several weeks at number one in the UK charts. Labour's James Callaghan was Prime Minister, and Gerald Ford was in the White House. Maggie Thatcher was still 3 years away from her first term of office in Downing Street, and on television the kids watched Tiswas and Swap Shop. Educational technology was in its infancy, and was linear and analogue, bulky, heavy to move around and predominantly teacher controlled.

Classroom technology
Most of the classroom technology in 1976 was didactic, teacher led. Generally, teachers were the holders of knowledge and students were the recipients. The technology was used to reinforce this philosophy. My technical team would supply projectors for slides (Kodak Carousels), 16mm film (see the image above) and filmstrip, occasionally accompanied by an audio cassette player, where you changed the slides each time a tone sounded on the sound track. We had a special hand device which could insert the slide changes into the sound track while we were recording it, and later these were developed so we could synchronise and change slides on the Kodak Carousel projector automatically. Overhead projectors also dominated the classroom, and staff often asked our team to create colourful transparencies they could project onto screens. It became an art to create OHP (OverHead Projector) transparencies with multiple acetate layers to illustrate science principles, or animation images to show flow diagrams and machines. Dry wipe whiteboards weren't in evidence. We still used chalkboards in the classrooms. There was also a strange projection device called an epidiascope - where you could place solid objects on the glass plate and it would project an image of them onto the screen.

In the midst of all these early educational technologies, I was responsible for training the student teachers how to use tools effectively in the classroom. I had a workshop space with most of the above technologies laid out in their separate areas. I developed a set of self-directed study resources that students could come in and read, and then practice hands on. I would be on hand if they got into difficulty and thus began my first foray into teaching.

Tomorrow: The moving image

Photo by Carbon Arc on Flickr

Creative Commons License
#40years of educational technology: First days 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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