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From Computer Lab to iPad – my 30 year journey through learning enhanced by computers

I was, in 1983, introduced to the wonders of the University Computer Lab.

‘Back then’ this wasn’t an elective, but rather signing up to some additional, extra-curricular training.

It did not appeal one bit; I could imagine to some degree where it was going and its necessity in one of my options in my undergraduate degree course (remote sensing from space), but to achieve anything (I am neither computer literate or mechanically minded), it struck me, as was the case, that your required a certain mindset (that of an engineer or mathematician). Because it was in little demand, not networked, bespoke to a project and housed in one place it was akin to joining the stamp club and about as exciting. It was however ‘on request,’ rather than compulsory and could with ease be ignored.

I wonder if a more laissez-faire approach would work?

More of an internal market in an organisation where choices are offered to individuals so that the decission making could be more bottom up than top down? i.e. you have a budget, you pick the kit you’d like, the software you need rather than being prescribed a piece of kit and software and obliged to learn it.

I imagine the moment I can afford to buy a Mac I’ll do so.

The simplest analogy would be is that I feel I’ve been told I have to use a Rotring pen and a ruler, but I’d prefer to use a soft HB6 pencil and a pad of cartridge paper. The end result, the task or peice of communication I have to deliver will be the same, I just get there ‘my way,’ rather than ‘your way’.

My university experience from the 1980s, to that as student and now insider thirty years on at the OU is different, however, invited to meet a group of Associate Lecturers yesterday to have my mind picked regarding web-conferencing, Elluminate and synchronous learning in general, I was struct not by how things have changed, but how what matters hasn’t changed at all – there are educators who are fascinate by and passionate about what they do.

There is a desire to do the best by their students and to get their heads around what tools could be used to improve or enhance this experience. Even speaking with my 85 year old father-in-law, a former prof who still ‘teaches’ I am struck by this vocational zeal, which is shared whether by email and Skype, by snailmail or a tutorial, collaboration on a book, or giving a talk (still) at a summer school.

The lesson I have learnt therefore is never to let the technology get in the way of this experience, that between educator and student, the knowledgeable and the less knowledgeable, playing on this inhate human desire to share our experience and knowledge whatever that might be.

Increasingly, when discussing the merits of kit or software, I return to this theme, that people have not changed and that the natural relationships that form between people in markets, in villages, in communities, is what we crave and repeatedly recreate online in a multitude of ways.

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