Ghosts of Tech Past

Today, I visited the amazing City Museum in St. Louis. It is a playground for the body and imagination that fills and overflows an old factory building. Every space and surface is filled with design features such as this printing plate on a wall of extremely varied printing plates. This one struck me for several reasons. The image of geared rings that was printed from this plate hearkens to a technology that is gone. The plate itself is a memento of a printing process also in the past, and yet it has found a new life here in this visually rich environment.

When I lived in St. Louis, I had the pleasure of taking some bookbinding classes, and the teacher had a printing press in his workspace. In other times of my life, I have run into various types of presses and seen them in action or even used them. There is something to the act of creating media one sheet at a time as the end result of a process of creating the text and images. I have only once set type, and that hands-on experience led to such a greater understanding of kerning, leading, and other type related ideas than any other graphic design class or tutorial I have taken.

And yet, these experiences are less and less common, and our children are less likely to have access to them. I cannot imagine life without the memory of a typewriter in my fingers or of the impatient wait for a rotary phone to return from dialing 9 or 0. I provide excursions for my students to try these things out once or twice, but they will never have the repetitions to make these motions part of their body memories. I wonder what will theirs be? Will the finger swipes that we see in tablets and now operating systems be a fading memory when they are teaching their children? What will be replacing those?

It all started here

I am visiting my childhood home. While my parents dote on my kids, I have some time to visit the haunts of yesteryear. While the physical landscape is radically altered with new buildings and major urban renewal, there are some places that seem to hardly have changed. The public library at the top of the street is one of those places, and it was one of the major contributors to who I am today.

Back then, mastering the card catalog and the microfiche machine were important academic skills. They created habits of mind around information organization and retrieval that later supported the same concepts in the digital world. It is amazing to visit the library and see the same tables and benches in the kids’ section that I sat on decades ago. On these benches, new generations of children are learning to love text, to identify information they need, and to utilize many different media to accomplish their goals. In the place where the massive card catalog stood, there are desks with computers, and this is one of the changes that doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t even seem out of place.

Now, the old hardware store with its bins of grass seed and smell of oil being torn down and replaced by a Verizon store–that is sacrilege.

My Analog Roots/Anchors

The archaeological record of my teaching career

I spent quite a few hours today casting off my analog anchors. This involved sorting through two bookshelves of teaching materials spanning a 17 career (so far). I have over time thinned out the papers and resources to what I think at the time is a core set. Now, with my position as an educational technologist, I no longer need quite as many content resources from language arts, math, science, and social studies. There are some units that I worked really hard to create and continue to place on my shelf with the idea that I might go back to the classroom at some time or that I might share my hard work with another teacher. My health unit for fifth and sixth grade, my optics unit, and the Self-Paced, Hands-On Math Lab are all in this category. There are also pedagogy and affective education resources that form the core of my teaching practice. They are on the shelf. I plan to bring the resources that I no longer need to my current school and offer them to anyone who wants to take up room on their shelves.

My whole career, minus binders of curriculum resources from each year, now fits on one bookshelf.

Binders containing curriculum materials from various years

If I was starting teaching now, and indeed this is my current practice, I would not have the binders, I would not have the handouts, I would not have the paper. It would all be digital. I began to do this years ago as I created reading comprehension work that prepared students for standardized test questions but drew from content related to the units I was teaching. Over time, I have made use of the scan to email feature on copiers. It saves the whole filing and organizational issues that used to take up many file cabinets.

It is funny to think that all of the documents I have created over my teaching career easily fit on a USB drive. If you add in the yearbooks, videos, and photos, I probably take up a good sized hard drive.