Saturday, August 22, 2009

Teachers and Technology

Technology has been around for quite along time. In the broader sense, hand printed books and next the block printed books to Gutenberg's press (c. 1430s) was a bit of technology that helped the masses read. At first only rich individuals could afford books. And could afford teachers to teach them to read. I like the story that the Italicized font was developed in order to produce smaller sized books so that those on long carriage rides could hold a smaller size book on the rather bumpy roads of yore. I never checked this story out to see if it was true--but it makes a good story anyway.

So we have books in the classroom--sometimes not enough and sometimes out of date. But we use the parts we can. I once had a conversation with a Russian colleague (Professor of Education) who mentioned their problem when producing a Social Studies book was to decide which history they should include. Their government puts a hold on some of their history--it doesn't get all told. Interesting. Ah, the fascinating philosophical question: which knowledge is of most worth?

So we have books as a technology. I once was reading a book about the life of Nathaniel Bowditch, the first American navigator (as well as mathematician) to my fifth grade class. Somewhere in Bowditch's childhood, he was indentured to a chandlery which meant he couldn't go to school, so at night he borrowed an encyclopedia and hand copied it. My kids were duly impressed going over to the eighteen volume World Book set we had in the classroom. I never told them that the encyclopedia was much smaller in the 1750s and in one volume.

I suppose you could say that the blackboard was a technology. And certainly going from turkey quills to metal quills was an advancement in technology. In some of the old schools today you can still see desks with a hole in either the right or left top side of the desk. It use to hold ink bottles of which the teacher was required to fill from time to time.

The first typewriter called the Type Writer Machine was produced by the Remington Arms and Ammunition family about 1875. An interesting fact was that young ladies of the day were taught to use this machines, i.e., to learn typing, and they themselves were called "typewriters." Around 1880 there were advertisements for "typewriters" to come work for different companies in Boston. And if I remember correctly it took a number of weeks to learn how to use these machines but half the curriculum was on how to dress and how to act in a company office. But the typewriters (the machines this time) didn't make it into the schools until the early 1900s. I find it interesting that learning to type became predominately a woman's skill until after World War II. Perhaps the Army needing company clerks who could type forms and requisitions finally broke down that barrier. In some high schools before WWII, learning to type was limited to girls only.

But the end of World War II also brought a change in the schools. Overhead projectors, 35mm slide projectors, Opaque projectors and the 16mm film projector made their appearances in some cases for the first time in the public schools. When I returned from the Korean War, I started teaching in a brand new elementary school and it had one overhead projector, two filmstrip projectors, one opaque projector and one 16mm projector--for the whole school which had sixteen teaching stations. When a teacher wanted to use one of the projectors, she/he would sign up for it and it would be wheeled to the proper classroom for its use and then returned to the storage area......which just happen to be my classroom, designated by the principal. I had to wheel the equipment whenever a colleague wanted it--hardly any one wanted to use the projectors so it wasn't a hard job for me.

An interesting aside. On the school campus was the old four classroom school that had been in use since the 1930s. Some say it was build during the great depression....I really don't know but it was old, hence the need for a new and larger school. As the community grew the need for more classroom space became apparent and the old school house was once again put to use for two fourth grades. When those two classrooms wanted to see an educational film (I was told by my principal to never call them "movies") I had to lug that damn 16mm Bell and Howell Movie Projector across the playfield to that old schoolhouse. The first time I did it I set the projector up, threaded the film and then left. That afternoon a fourth grade student came to my room and said that the projector wasn't working. So I ran down to the old building and sure enough, it would not turn on. That afternoon, I took the projector into a commercial store in Seattle and left it there to be fixed. A few days later they called me and said there was nothing wrong with the projector. So I went and picked it up and took it back to my school--finally getting it back to the two fourth grades across the campus. This time I tried it out and it still wouldn't work. I repeated my activity of above--they said it was fine and I again retrieved it. Only to find it wouldn't work once more. This time the store said, hold on, we're sending a person out to your school. The first thing he did was to check the voltage--there wasn't enough to run the projector. This old school only had four wall outlets and they didn't have enough wattage to run the projector which needed a thousand watts. A few years later over the objections of some parents, the old school was razed. I was happy with the decision.

Another technology that became available to the schools was an invention by the Germans--the tape recorder. After the war we suddenly had reel to reel tape recorders to replace the very difficult to use wire recorders. Speech teachers were delighted with the new tape machines.

However......and this is a big "however". No where can I find in college catalogs any courses that are about "audiovisual", the term used then for technology from the 1930s until the 1950s. It just wasn't taught to teachers. There is, however, a fair amount of graduate research on how to use "media" for the Department of War and the Department of Defense but not for the public schools. But the colleges of Education didn't seem to think that using technology would be important in the education of school teachers. Although I have never checked I suspect that even state standards from the Office of Public Instruction on the requirements for certifying teachers in this state would not require training in the use of media.

It took the Russians flying "Sputnik" over our heads to get congress and the public to suddenly want the schools to do more in mathematics and science....and with technology. Our eyes were opened and the schools quickly found themselves with overheads for each classroom, carousel slide projects, and movie projectors.

And colleges started requiring an "A-V course" (audiovisual) for all teachers on how to thread the Bell and Howell Filmosound projector, how to clean it, and how to change the bulb. My oh my. I wonder what the final test looked like for that course? It's all history now.

If you had a teacher who used technology, best you thank them if you can. They were a rare breed. They deserve a pat on the back.

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