Sometimes it’s difficult to make sense of what is going on in educational technology today, so I decided to take a journey back to get a feel for where we were and how far we’ve come over the last decade and a half. What I found was fascinating.
In 1992, a short 15 years ago, the world of educational technology was in the midst of a great transition; a transition from stand alone computers and labs to building-wide networks and cabling infrastructure. It was also the monumental transition from the “green screen” text-based Internet to the graphic, browser- based Internet.
Here are a few items I found that surprised me:
The number of students per computer in U.S. schools was a whopping 16 to 1.
Microsoft DOS 3.1 was the prevalent operating system and garnered 79% of the world OS market.
The IBM PC was sporting a “state of the art” 386 processor and an 80mb hard drive.
CD-ROM technology was brand new.
Fewer than 5% of the classrooms in the country were connected to the Internet.
The first Mosaic browser was released in 1993, Netscape’s in 1994, and Microsoft Explorer in 1995.
The number of school buildings with any access to the Internet was in the neighborhood of 50% and, to be sure, those connections were primarily libraries or labs.
Connection speeds were generally 14.4 or 28.8 dial ups. Router-based connections were at 56kbs speeds.
Commercially available e-mail through MCI and AOL made its debut in 1993.
Few buildings were cabled for networks. Networks were crude and primarily located in computer labs.
There were virtually no telephones in classrooms.
I also looked back at a sampling of conversations going on in the Ed Tech community in 1992. Here is a sampling of articles from Electronic Learning magazine, one of the most popular ed tech periodicals of the time.
“Two new Videodisc ‘Players’ in Education” (Feb ’92)
“Decisions! Decisions! What Computer Should You Buy?” (Includes articles comparing the Intel 80286-based and the 80386-based microcomputers) (Feb ’92)
“Three new works packages offer education more options in tool software: ClarisWorks from Claris Corp., GreatWorks from Symantec, Works for Windows from Microsoft.” (Mar ’92)
“Software of the Month: Beagle Brothers Inc., Beagleware integrated software.” (Oct ’92)
“Tandy’s new MPC multimedia computer represents a major improvement in the MS-DOS world.” (Jan ’92)
“Backbone Networks: The Heart of a Technology Plan “(Oct ’91) Here is what one young visionary quoted in the article had to say about cabling entire buildings for technology:
“When you get a superintendent to commit to a scheme that puts computers in every classroom, and connects those computers to many resources,” says Peter Reilly, the assistant director of technology for the Regional Information Center of Southern Westchester BOCES, Tarrytown, N.Y. “whether he knows it or not, he’s committing to a whole new approach to instruction.”
After looking back like this, I developed a new perspective on where we are today. We have made an incredible amount of progress in a very short time. In less than 15 years the technology landscape has changed dramatically.
The number of students to computers has dropped to less than 4 to 1.
Microsoft accounts for more than 97% of the OS market and Windows XP and Vista are a far cry from DOS 3.1.
A standard Dell computer sports Duo Core processors and 1 gigabyte of RAM and an 80 gig hard drive on a computer costing $999.
More than 97% of school classrooms are connected to the Internet.
Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and new Web 2.0 browsers like Flock are widely available.
Nearly 100% of school buildings are connected to the Internet.
Connections for most schools are through network routers, at speeds beginning at T1. Many have fiber connections that connect at Ethernet speeds and, in some cases 100 megabit speeds.
Most school buildings have been wired for networks and are beginning to converge their voice services with their data networks.
In addition to the technologies listed above, we have made huge improvements in video conferencing, online learning, web-based software, Web 2.0 tools, streaming video, virtual worlds, voice recognition, handwriting recognition, wireless technology, handhelds, laptops, and mobile phones, to name just a few of the many innovations that have spiraled into our k-12 world.
Every now and then we need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we are at the very beginning of the educational technology revolution. There have been no roadmaps for us. We are blazing trails for the first time. All the best practices we now have are the result of our trials and our errors. It’s good to remember how many things we have done right, and in how short a time we have done them.
By no means should we stop advocating for educational change; most of the progress outlined above has to do with hardware, not pedagogy and classroom practice; and change is urgently needed; but we should also have compassion for the educators who are swept up in the wild, current of technology that has been bombarding their classrooms, their lives, and their world for the last decade.
PS: There were some things that troubled me about my look back; but I’ll save that discussion for another post.