from the Past
The National Archive of Educational Computing at ULTRALAB tracks the UK's educational experience in terms hardware and software development. As well as hardware, 'old' BBC's', Sinclair Spectrums, Research Machines', turtles, the archive contains software covering the last fifteen years.
The Archive also houses a number of interesting online projects from pre internet times.
A project (1985) between Essex and Hertfordshire LEAs, for example, built a link between Telecom Gold (a mail service) and the teletext style Prestel service with a virtual teachers' centre, a school common room and a mass of pages on Prestel by children for children. This was a considerable advance on any previous system developed and highly innovative.
Although successful enough to encourage BT to build and market a national project (Campus) its problems were threefold:
- children's lack of individual identity made inter-student communication too complex
- the speed of contribution was too slow and the complexity of contributing was too great
- too few homes were able to access Prestel so that the audience for children's work was too limited to be motivating.
The most successful activities were those sufficiently seductive to overcome these problems.
It is also worth commenting that the Hertfordshire Ebeneezer project (1987), although aimed at early secondary school students (11-13), had a very textual (and poor) interface, but was successful in building engagement with students because of its high quality facilitation and because the tasks available to engage in were so attractive to the children involved. In addition most of the tasks had an output which celebrated and demonstrated the children's achievements to a wide audience.
a creative writing task mediated by an author playing the role of a traveler reporting from three continents and taking place over time with a number of pupils in different schools published the children's writing in a booklet to give it the wider audience that the technology did not offer. Both the task and the audience were motivating enough to overcome the interface for early secondary age students.
Examining the past has provided strong indices which help determine the possible future direction of technology in education. Although technology moves fast, a collection of educational experiences and ideas have value and application. The experience of the archive informs us that online learning communites are not new and that even with limited technology they could (and were) be made to work. The archive is a useful research tool in allowing the examination of past best practice.