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OnCUE Archive - 2001, October

CUE's Future: Informed by the Past

by Sandy Wagner

What
can the early history of CUE and computer education tell us about
our present and future? I'll try to give you a sense of those
days, and then comment on what we might learn from our history.

Start of an Organization

It
was the fall of 1977 and I was alone, hopeful, nervous, exhilarated.
Mountain View High School in Mountain View, Calif., approved my
proposal to invest in an instructional computing program. I began
teaching programming in the BASIC language with five of what we
called "microcomputers" and a printer. Total cost? about
$14,000. 

I
soon realized the desperate need to find other teachers in the same
situation. There were a few at a meeting of the famous Homebrew
Computer Club at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Auditorium, and
after a talk I gave at the Second West Coast Computer Faire in San
Jose, about 15 of us agreed to meet again. In my classroom in April
1978 we had the first meeting of what became CUE. At last there were
others to talk with and share ideas! By the fall we had a name,
officers, and a plan for our first conference, at Alhambra High
School in Martinez in the spring of 1979.

Teacher-led Grassroots Efforts

Teachers
have certain expectations for curricular support: professional
organizations with local affiliates, conferences and journals;
published textbooks; quality staff development; older teachers who
know the ropes; district or county office expertise; university
research, courses, and professional degrees; and state curriculum
guidelines. When we looked around in 1978, we found almost none of
these resources in place.

Our
intrepid and growing band infiltrated each of those areas. Teachers,
librarians, administrators, and others somehow found time to build a
state organization and regional affiliates; teach university
courses; write newsletters; organize conferences; create educational
software and establish a method of sharing that software; apply for
grants; and support each other. I thought of George Orwell, author
of Animal Farm and 1984, who said of socialism in the 1930s, The
trouble with [it] is that it takes too many nights per week.

Not
only did the present CUE organization emerge in those first few
years, but also the direction of computer education in California
was established by a group of teachers.

Fast Forward to Today

Mature
and healthy computer education institutions are now in place, but
what is similar to 1978? When talking to educators I often asked two
questions: What would you like to do with computers? What's
holding you back? My notes would be very familiar to anyone in
computer education today:

  • Money:
    We don't have the resources to realize our dreams.

  • Software:
    Where's the quality and affordable software to support our
    curriculum?

  • Staff
    development is needed to help teachers get comfortable with
    computers.

  • Administrators
    need to better understand technology and its promise.

  • Time:
    So much to learn and so little time!

  • Digital
    Divide: We need to provide computer education to all our
    students.

  • Space:
    How can I give each of my students access to computers within my own classroom? What's the alternative?

Doesn't
that sound familiar? Even with the immense progress in each of these
areas, there's room to grow. So my first lesson from the past is
that our job is not done. Keep focusing on helping teachers and
schools make the most of their limited space, time and resources;
help them identify quality products; and show them models of
productive implementation and classroom organization. And we should
especially focus on the staff development that will be necessary for
all the new teachers we can expect in the next five years, as my
generation retires.
 

Seeing the Future

There's
another similarity, and a lesson, in how computer educators look at
the future. In the fastest changing area in education's history,
how have educators coped with change? Even in the late 1970s we
could look back a few years and realize how advanced our technology
was color display! Apples with lowercase letters! Most of us
found it difficult to imagine what was coming. E-mail and data
retrieval with 300-baud text-based, dial-up services were exciting
enough we didn't wish for the universal access and
cross-platform compatibility of today's Internet. A color photo on
a personal computer screen in 1986 did not make us imagine digital
cameras and iMovies. Seeing a VisiCalc spreadsheet didn't produce
a dream of an integrated productivity package. In fact, around that
time I got a letter from a teacher in Cincinnati written with
VisiCalc ? he had only that program, and he bent it to his needs. 

No
matter what we had, it seemed quite an advance over what came
before, and we made it work for kids. We focused on getting the most
out of our resources, not on what was coming. Then and now, if you
provide technology resources, interesting assignments, and a
supportive learning environment, students and teachers will always
astound you with what they will create. 

For
example, around 1980 a student invented this assignment for himself:
program the graphics of the TRS-80 to display a real time clock,
complete with moving hour, minute, and second hands. It was a crazy
use of a computer, and the assignment wouldn't have occurred to
me, but think about what he had to figure out in order to accomplish
that task. Ten years later I was at IBM and saw exciting
teacher-made lessons and presentations using DOS-based Mathematics
Exploration Toolkit that its designers never dreamed of. Similar
stories are told today about teachers and students using their
multimedia and Internet resources. The lesson: Don't daydream
about the future; work with what you have.

We're
a long way from the favored 1979 educational computer standalone
$2500 Apple II with 48K RAM, color monitor and dual floppy drives.
But since then every local or state CUE meeting has featured the
miracles created by teachers and students with the equipment and
support they had at the time. Let's keep providing the resources,
guidance, and contacts that allow us all to focus our continuing
goal: improve teaching and learning through technology.

William
J. (Sandy) Wagner was one of the originators of
CUE, and its first president and newsletter editor. He taught
mathematics at Mountain View High School at the time of CUE?s
inception. Today he is with the Institute of Computer Technology,
which specializes in online courses and training, at 589 W. Fremont
Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94087 <www.ict.org>.