I woke up in the van this morning and opened the curtain to see:
Clear skies and a great day in view. With some reluctance we packed up and headed towards Cromwell via Twizel once again.
Just before Omarama we turned off to view the Clay Cliffs. Not sure why they have that name as the cliffs are gravels and conglomerates. The cliffs demonstrate a type of ‘badland’ where overlying harder strata can shield the softer rock underneath causing it to develop tall, steepsided pinnacles..
From the site we also had great views of the Ahuriri Valley.
And so to Cromwell. We were looking for a cafe we had stopped in on our first trip in 2000. However, the town has grown so much we either couldn’t find it or it doesn’t exist (or we were in another town altogether). It was anyway a completely different type of place now – very much the Disneyland approach to preserving history. I would hate to be there when full scale tourism resumes.
So on we went (backtracking somewhat) to Wanaka and power sites again so that we can charge all our devices. We will stay here two nights so we can explore the town a bit.
This post is edited from a piece submitted
for a course on the internet, probably Coursera.
My educational background was maths and
science-based and at school I developed a fascination with Physical Geography
and later Geology. When I graduated in
1974 computers were, generally speaking, room-sized units or at least
wardrobe-sized units although some mini-computers were certainly beginning to
appear by then.
Early brushes with computing
In my mid 20’s I worked as a geophysicist
on marine seismic surveys using some of the earliest “portable” computers then
available, the DEC PDP-8 , this was used for real-time navigational
calculations based on early implementations of the satnav system (which was
pretty crude at the time with accuracies from 50 to 1500 metres depending on
getting the right satellites in view for tri-angulating positions).
Over the next few years, such is the pace
of change, these refrigerator sized 12-bit machines with teletypes for
input/output were steadily replaced by desktop sized units with more power and
actual screens and keyboards. The HP
98xx series, for example, featured a nice red 256 character one-line
display. Later they graduated to green
screens, in-built printers and digital tape storage.
In 1976 I quit this work and went back to
college at University College London. At
that time they had a requirement that all post-grad students had to do an
introductory 2-week course on programming in FORTRAN IV. Having taught myself a bit of BASIC on those
HP machines I was up for the challenge and wrote my first program on punched
cards. It printed a graph of a profile
of the magnetic field over an undersea structure we surveyed in the English
Channel and took a week or so to debug.
My next serious encounter with computers
was in 1982 when I moved with my family to Portugal to take up geophysical
consulting there and the company had bought a DEC VAX II machine to which I
could connect via a terminal. At this
time I also purchased my first home computer, a BBC Micro 8-bit machine, which
cost over GBP 1000 and even more expensive twin 800Kb floppy disk drives –
state of the art.
Subsequently I worked at an engineering
laboratory and developed software on Zilog and VAX VMS machines – including
connecting to a VAX VMS using Windows 2.5.
Mostly we didn’t bother, it was really clunky back in 1988 and played a
pretty lousy game of Othello.
Computers and Education
In 1989 I joined the local school to help
them introduce computing across the board, they were already running Pascal
programming. We had access to a lab of
Amstrad 8256  word processors running CP/M as the operating system. The code had to be written in the Word
Processor, saved to tape, then the Pascal Compiler loaded to compile the
program to a CP/M executable. This
tedious chore made our students very good at desk-checking code.
Later we graduated to Amstrad 1512’s 
with twin floppy disk drives and running MS-DOS and GEM an early graphical user
interface. I vividly remember looking at
a 20 Mb (yes, not a typo) hard-drive with my colleague and wondering how on
earth we would ever use all that space.
Of course, all our documents then were in WordPerfect with the only
diagrams made up of the character line shapes.
I still have the 125-page manual we wrote (in WordPerfect) for our
teacher training workshops.
It was with these machines that we first
connected to the outside world using the CIS (Compuserve Information
Service). This was the company that
brought you the RLE  and GIF image standards, for better or for worse.
Compuserve was a “walled garden” with email service and access to many different support forums for its own services and services offered by other companies. If memory serves, we could also access Gopher (text-based tool) that permitted searching internet connected servers and examine their public contents. This was how much of my early educational research was carried out.
A Gopher screen looks something like this 
To give a flavour of these times, it was
already being recognised that the internet was a big treasure trove (albeit
“But now that
the Net has become a rich repository of information, people are looking at ways
to make it far easier to find all that data. Gophers and Wide-Area Information
Servers (WAISs) are two programs that could ultimately make the Internet as
easy to navigate as commercial networks like CompuServe or Prodigy.” 
This was an exciting and frustrating time
for educators. As I wrote myself,
looking back 
“I knew technology could change the classroom but I
still didn’t know how to achieve it in a conventional school where technology
was just another subject and maybe one or two teachers were savvy enough to
incorporate some of it into their teaching.”
By the time I
left Portugal for Singapore in 1998, the web had become commonplace – a few
companies had even started to put their URL’s into their advertisements. While Tim Berner’s Lee started the web back
in 1989 , it was a little while before it began to take off.
I started my
first website at around this time (http://www.ib-computing.com)
and it was a crude but effective resource which only grew as other teachers and
students began to visit it. It became
the #1 site on Google (or possibly Alta Vista) for the International
Baccalaureate Computer Science course and eventually led to a text book. I still sometimes get requests for the site from
teachers which I retain in zipped form.
It had some interactivity based around early offerings of Macromedia,
later swallowed by Adobe.
By 2006 I was
already teaching other teachers using Moodle – a Learning Management System
then just beginning to take off. In that
year I also took up a post in Beijing, China where some modest success was
achieved with some teachers making extensive use of Moodle to supplement and
enhance their teaching.
barriers then, and probably now, were the complete failure of Senior Management
to see the possibilities of educational computing.
Today we see the possibilities of education
in a tech-saturated environment, where all learners have 24/7 access both to
resources and to teachers (not only their own but via MOOC’s to some of the
best teachers on the planet).
Finally, we can change teaching to become
truly learner-centred and largely autonomous but, especially for young people, teachers
as mentors to guide them through the perils it also brings. Especially relevant is the ability (lacking
in many adults it seems) to evaluate sources of internet information for
credibility, authority and reliability.
I’ve grown up first with computing
machines, with the internet, finally with mobile and social computing. To see what technology has achieved over 50
years of my professional life is truly staggering.
As an eternal optimist, the future looks
bright to me.