Monday, December 27, 2010

How Some Things Change in Education

Many, many years ago, sometime around the late 1940s I was a high school student in Richland, Washington.  As a student of that time I was required to take certain classes and some electives.  Since I was a music student I had taken or was taking most the music classes that were available at that time.  So as an alternative elective, I chose "typing 01".  I was the only boy in an all girls class.  And yes, I did get teased and ribbed about taking a "girls' course."  But my intuition said this was the right thing to do--besides I had all these girls around me, what could be better?

Boys were suppose to take shop and girls were suppose to take secretarial studies (including typing 01 and 02 and machine calculations 01).  It was the way things were right after World War II.   But I learned how to touch type, fix margins, proof read, and eventually got to be a fairly good typist--around fifty five words a minute (I did get faster in the Army but that is another blog perhaps).   We used Underwood typewriters and a variety of calculating machines, mostly with levers you had to pull but we did have a few electronic calculators to work on.

When I went off to college I took the family's old typewriter with me and was able to type all of my homework assignments and papers for my classes.  I was even approached by some fraternity brothers who were willing to pay me to type their papers.  In those day at college you could write with pen a paper and turn it in.  Very few profs mandated a typed paper in those days.

And I remember my first education course one fall.  I enjoyed my ed courses that I remember.  One of the assignments in the course was that during the Thanksgiving break, each of us were to go to a local school and assess the building.  How many classrooms, was there a teacher's room, gym, music rooms?  Pretty much a standard assignment.  

There was a new middle school in Richland and I prevailed upon a good friend who had a camera to accompany me to view the school.  I know the principal was quite proud of the school, one of the first to be built after the war and he took us all around the building.  I do remember that many of the classrooms had aquariums in the walls between the classroom and the hall so that you could peer thought the tank and get a strange view of the classroom.  But it had it's reverse and the students could see distorted faces peering at them from the hall side of the tank.  Some teachers had already put a sheet of paper covering up the aquarium.

Well, we took 36 pictures, had them developed.  Then looking at the photographs, I typed my report leaving space to glue the pictures in place.  A cover page and a folder and I was pleased with my report.  Biggest problem was that the pictures tended to curl and so the report wasn't quite a smooth as I wanted.  But I turned it in anyway.  I was surprised when the professor made positive comments about my report IN class.  That I wasn't expecting.  The idea that I had taken the time to include pictures appeared to make his day.

I learned from that assignment--not about a school building but rather my presentation could influence my final grade on the report.  Okay now!  From then on my trusty Underwood did yeoman work.  I started to use a better grade of paper and I tried hard not to have too much "correction fluids" on a page.  IF you don't know what correction fluids are, don't ask-- you're too young.

Later on while working on my Master's degree at the University of Washington I did a small research project by taking a variety of student assignments in education from a variety of different students, measuring the paper's characteristics, then handing all of them to a professor and asking him to LOOK but not read the paper--then place them in high to low in a pile.  My thinking was that the prof would not want to give an assigned grade to a paper he/she hadn't read but did have a feel for the value of the paper. This was about 1962, before microcomputers. 

Here is what I found out.  The lowest paper in the stack was the easy erase paper (not fluids) which was a waxy type paper which was hard to write on.  Profs did not like this paper.  Poor and dirty typed papers were next to the bottom.  Thin typing paper was lower then thicker paper.  The profs seem to like 24 lb. paper.  Wide margins topped narrow margins.  It seemed that they wanted some space to write comments.  Double space was required.  Single spaced papers didn't stand a chance.  Headings and paragraphs were evaluated much higher then papers with no headings and no paragraphs.  Makes sense.  And for my research, papers in folders were rated higher then papers just stapled with no folder.  My generalization was/is that the presentation had a hand in the grade being earned.  

Some years later after becoming a professor at the Woodring College of Education, my wife and I bought a Osborne 1 home microcomputer.  I remember bringing it home and setting it up on the coffee table in the living room and plugging it in.  Then with my wife instructing me, we made the required copies of the software including "WordStar," a word processing program which included a spell checker.  We tried the new program out and I started to cry.  I knew that this program was going to change the way we produced anything typed.  In fact at that moment the typewriter was essentially obsolete.  

You see, I am a dyslexic.  I'm a poor speller but worse, I don't always see my misspellings.  With a word processor it would flag a misspelled word and I could look it up quickly and make corrections.  No more having to re-type an entire page.  AND.... we could change the size of the font, the space between lines, make headings bigger and bold and italicized which one could not do with a typewriter.  It was the beginning of a new way of presenting papers in a learning environment.  

The reason for all this drivel about the early days is that I received this Christmas the latest copy of iWorks for my Macintosh computer.  Actually, I received the family pack so that all five of our computers can now have the latest in iWorks.  Word processing, number computations and presentations are now possible in a variety of forms and styles.  In the word processing program there are a number of formats designed just for the student--and there are several just for the teacher.  They are beautiful and easy to use.

Strange though I believe that writing papers to turn in to your teacher is on the way out.  Finished.  Kaput.  Done with.  Students will research or do an assignment and then turn it into the teacher by way of Blackboard or other school server software.  

But as i reviewed the word processing software last night I saw my old paper in my mind with the photographs of the Sacajawea Middle School in Richland, Washington.  It would have been better in iWorks.  

Thanks to all those professors who looked over my pile of student papers and re-stacked them in order of value.  You helped me learn a lot.  And thanks to you for all your teaching and helping of students.  Have you thanked a teacher today?

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