Memories Made of Web

Last week’s edition of The Economist (14th March) had a full-page feature (p83) on the world-wide web on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s paper on “Information Management: a Proposal”. It is interesting to reflect on what learning technologies were available to us when we all started our careers and how far we have come since.

In 1990, when I first started teaching, blackboard (lower case ‘b’, please), chalk and talk in the classroom had been largely replaced, but whiteboards were by no means universal in the venues that the distance-learning university I was teaching with used. Acetates with overhead projectors and the ubiquitous flipchart were the norm for a few more years yet.

Online, my first encounter with electronic technologies for teaching and learning was a dial-in, mainframe-based asynchronous messaging system (definitely not conferencing, as we know it today). After a couple of years of rather ponderous ‘conversations’ online with fellow tutors and students and relatively simple online activities backed up with telephone conversations, a Windows interface arrived which began to change everything in terms of ease of use, flexibility and responsiveness.

And then, in 1995, a move to the FirstClass system opened up so much more in terms of online facilities – weaving, threading and summarising made simple; setting up small group areas quickly and easily; synchronous text chat; tracking users from their ‘footprint’ online etc etc.

I wonder what other people’s first memories are of teaching and learning online some 20 years after the Web made so much more possible?

Roger Dence, 18th March 2009

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