This looks a lot like my first computer, the Apple II+. I played and wrote my first games on this computer (not counting consoles and arcade cabinet-style games). I let my mom use it with her students years ago. They had the couple of games I wrote (mostly Pac-man and Robotron 2084 knock-offs), cool original educational software (e.g. 1st edition copies of Math and Reading Blaster), and well-cared for copies of my most prized games Ultimas 1-5 and a text-based psuedo-Zork game called Eamon that my cousin had written two adventures for in the early 80s. That machine had 32K of RAM when dad bought it and he paid to double it to 64K. He also bought one of the first dedicated color monitors and a nice dot matrix printer. The nuns at my mother’s former Montessori school threw the computer and all the software out one summer and it made me very sad. It was nice to see this one at Powell’s books in Portland.
Looking to the past is important and focusing on the present as well. Constantly looking to the future, especially with technology, often means we look at the shiny and new instead of what it does well and poorly. We often discard something now before we even learn to use it properly. Nearly everything I need to do regularly on my MacBook Air today (i.e. word processing, spreadsheets, gaming), I could do on this ancient machine (which ran perfectly from 1981 to at least 1999). Web and video work didn’t happen until much later and real video work still requires my industrial strength Mac Pro with dedicated Quadro card. While the Apple II+ and Mac Classic were much clunkier, the principles of audio, video, text presentation, basic programming, etc. are still effectively the same. Most of it was done even more easily on the 1986 original Mac my dad bought for work at his law firm. He added a separate 10 MB hard drive that fit under the entire machine. Someone made fun of HyperCard the other day because a teacher had managed to keep their ancient Apple machine so they could use it, but we can learn a lot from what they did with it, not what it looked like.
Last year, several kids at Koan used my 10 year old laptop running Windows XP for the whole year with no problems (except when my son ripped off the “X” key and lost it). If one reads our literature, one might think I was backwards for not giving them the newest of the new with cloud-enabled awesomeness, but it did what they needed just as easily as a new Mac Mini. They searched the web, did online learning work on educational web sites, typed up their science fair papers, and other awesomeness. It might have been a little slow, but it was the right technology for the job. A first grader does not need a $2500 gaming machine to run Headsprout reading or Khan Academy math sites.
We as academics in learning technologies need to look at what a technology does far more closely than whether or not it looks pretty and is considered “cutting edge.” I think I have said this before in other places, but I keep circling back to it. Let’s understand the underlying principles and test the theories we develop on well understood technologies and see through the differences between the pretty new and the less pretty old, so that we can move our field forward.
The virtual soapbox is now dissolving under my feet. Off to the Denton county fair (I mean North Texas State Fair and Rodeo, not to be confused with the State Fair of Texas next month). Later on I’ll be building a new course for Monday.
To anyone that reads this today, have a great rest of your weekend!