As the students and faculty of Missouri S&T prepare to break for the Thanksgiving holiday, it seems like a good time to look back at how some key pieces of computer technology have changed the educational experience at American universities like our own Missouri S&T.
The biggest, most recent, and most obvious game-changer that’s small enough to fit in our pockets has clearly been mobile technology. We’ve come a long way in a very short time.
Five years ago, 2G mobile internet was still limited to about 1 Mbps. Mobile apps as we know them were in their infancy, and carriers charged by the text message. Today, we’re unhappy if we’re not in a “four bar” 4G LTE coverage area with an unlimited data cap. We don’t think about it much, but our smartphones today have an order of magnitude more horsepower than our desktop computers did 10 years ago.
Ten years ago, an instructor who gave out a CD full of video lectures along with the course syllabus was still considered to be pretty hi-tech. Today, we demand that our videos be mobile-friendly, high definition, HTML5 compliant, and instantly streamed over the internet. As a matter of fact, most new laptops on the market don’t even have a CD or DVD drive!
Fifteen years ago, a personal cell phone that could get email was considered to be a pretty groundbreaking idea. MP3 was revolutionizing the music industry and MiniDisc was a viable format, Zip drives still roamed the earth, and people were upset that Apple was no longer equipping their computers with a 3.5 floppy drive!
Twenty years ago, using dial-up internet to access a static webpage was considered to be pretty high-tech. There was no such thing as WikiPedia. We used search engines with names like Webcrawler and HotBot. America Online had millions of users. Bulletin Board Systems were still active. Today, a connection speed of less than 25Mbps download speed isn’t even considered “Broadband” internet.
Twenty-five years ago, a blazingly-fast new 386 computer cost almost $5000 in today’s money. Mainstream college students were abandoning typewriters en masse in favor of word processing software like WordPerfect to type up their papers. Overhead projectors and transparency sheets were in use in every classroom. Today you can get a tablet computer for less than $100, and overhead projectors are nowhere to be found.
Thirty years ago, ditto sheets were still in wide use. Broadcasting a distance course via a satellite uplink was considered very cutting edge. Mainframe computers lived in the basements of universities like ours. Computers like the Apple Macintosh with the new-fangled Graphical User Interface were just starting to catch on, and a little company named MicroSoft had recently put out a program called Windows 1.0 that actually ran on top of DOS. Don’t remember DOS? Ask your parents about it!
Forty years ago, programming still involved using punchcards.The very first commercially successful personal computers were being released. The 3 main personal computers in 1977 were the Apple II, the PET 2001, and the TRS-80. These computers were only able to use up to 640KB of RAM, but still were capable of word processing and spreadsheets. Contemporary computer hobbyist magazines included pages of code that users could manually type in to try out the latest programs.
Fifty years ago, the Internet as we know it was but an idea on paper in a DARPA office. Yet in 1969, the first communication over the APRANET was sent and the Internet was born.
In conclusion, we have a lot of technologies to be thankful for, and it’s easy to lose sight of how easy and accessible computer technology has become for the average person. So the next time your computer takes a moment to load a web page in one of the 12 open tabs you have going, take a deep breath, give thanks that you have nice things, and use your handheld supercomputer that’s wirelessly connected to the sum total of human knowledge to place an old-fashioned phone call to a family member you haven’t heard from in a while.
Happy Thanksgiving from EdTech!