Early connections come back

At university, I had the privilege of programming on some computers that were networked. It was kind of neat and seemed futuristic. There was something special about being able to save your work “somewhere” and then bring it back when you’re located at a terminal somewhere else. It did seem a bit like magic.

When I started teaching, it really was a step backward when the efforts of the students writing programs were actually run on a computer off-site. It took a couple of field trips to do some programming in the same location as the computer to take a bit of the mystique out of the picture.

I was reminded of this after reading this article this morning.

Bill Gates Explains ‘Wild’ Idea of Internet to Laughing Audience in Viral Video From 1995

This was actually quite later than the first online computer experience that my students and I had.

Personally, I got into the local Bulletin Board Services (BBS). From my work area, I could use this modem device to dial into services. I guess by today’s standards, we had our own little internet. It was just hosted by local hobbyists. I remember Windsor Footnote, Windsor Download, System EX-10 Canada, and a large number of BBS systems that students ran on their Commodore 64 computers. Visiting each of them actually required a separate phone call but they were just a click away in my address book.

Around that time, I upgraded a computer at home and decided to put up a system myself on the older machine. I had already purchased a second telephone line just for computer work to avoid the situation when my wife would pick up the phone to make a traditional call and it would interrupt what I was doing. I had the modem; I bought an external storage drive and I was good to go. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that secondary school teachers don’t purchase resources for their students to use.

Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

I wanted to be a bit different. Essentially, all the local BBS systems would let you create an account, log in to access message boards, and download a file or two. Some of the bigger ones actually relayed message boards to others around the world.

I wanted to build something I could use with my students. I did an impromptu survey and realized that so many of them had computers of their own at the time along with a modem. So, on my own BBS, I set up a number of different class areas and encouraged discussion, private messages with partners on a project, and even the ability to upload their completed projects. It saved them handing in a diskette with their work stored and me carrying it home to mark. The process actually went very well. We had set up our own little network and it worked well. I was so proud of them making it happen. And, of course, they all had great ideas about how to make it better.

If you go back to this era, you’ll know that there was a lot of understanding technology that went into just getting set up and configuring things. You even had to program your terminal program with the ATDP or ATDT to even dial and get connected before the hassles of login/password, navigation, using the right tools, zipping and unzipping files, etc. This networking was actually quite a bit of work and I was so amazed that my students were able to navigate and understand it all to get the job done. After all, they were at home going it alone. It had to be so precise; a common phrase we used was “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”.

Over the weekend, one of the little dudes that hangs out here periodically sat down with the remote to the television set and navigated himself to the YouTube app and then the content he wanted to watch. I watched him go successfully with a bit of pride, amazement, and jealousy as he navigated the alphabet presented on the screen as A-Z instead of my QWERTY layout. Now, he was just watching someone play a game online but he and his classmates are going to bring that skill into their Primary classrooms next week.

Things are so different today and Gates’ vision is no longer earth-shattering and worthy of laughter. It’s how we do business. I’m sitting here connected to a WordPress server somewhere writing this post, listening to online radio in the background, one eye sharing time with the window and my weather widget to see if it’s raining yet, and scanning for new notifications. It’s a far cry from those early days when we created our own little presence. Sometimes for me, it’s sitting down and writing a post like this to truly appreciate all that is happening.

Ironically, something will be the same. He’ll log in to an online workspace and save his work there or download assignments or engage in an online activity. What’s different is somehow the same. At least, he won’t have to use a modem to dial into each of these services separately! I give credit to my own students so many years ago who configured and totally understood the concept as we crossed the bridge while building it. It truly was an experiment and they made it work.

When was the internet invented? What to know about the creators of it and more.


OTR Links 08/30/2022

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.