The little green wagon chugged along the yellow stained monochrome green monitor with wood panel accents, making its way down the trail to Oregon. If your party of four managed to survive the trip you may have been able to leave your mark in one of the ten spots, assuming your score at least displaced #10. There was only one name that monopolized the screen displaying a thin spread of only 100 points from first to last. In the back of the 5th/6th grade classroom I was the undisputed king of the Apple ][‘s Oregon Trail.
This is my first real memory of utilizing a computer in the classroom for education purposes. Oregon Trail, under the guise of a videogame, taught important mathematical concepts and financial responsibility. Your character’s social status played an integral role in determing how much money for supplies was at your disposal. The banker, with a think wallet, could make it easily across the untamed wilderness with little point gain. The farmer, with an extremely tight budget, could not afford extra wheels, axles, or food. It was a matter of luck, stringent supply management, and wise feduciary decision making that allowed a farmer to successfully make the arduous trek. Not to mention a crack shot at the deer running by. If the farmer made it to Oregon the point return was huge. It got to the point where if I wanted to leave my name on the scoreboard everything had to go right. As soon as I lost an axle, didn’t have enough food, or someone died the Apple ][ was restarted.
Computers in classrooms today can render that wagon in three dimensions, utilizing tremendous numbers of CPU cycles to draw millions of triangles, pulling colors from a palette that only Crayola knows the names to. The idea is the same, but the aesthetic quality of presentation has changed.
My fascination with the technology wagon has been in sync with technology trends in the past 15 years. When I was in grade school the Apple ][ was at the end of its life as Microsoft 95 unleashed a world of multimedia possibilites. Apple had fallen on hard times in the 1990’s and its foothold in the classroom gave way. As a part-time salesman I laughed at Mac users who came into Software Etc. looking for a piece of software. I too touted the wonders of Windows throughout high school and into college until one catastrophic, years-worth-of-work-destroying, Windows Blue Screen of Death. Mac was making a comeback with OS X and the G4 processor. Apple’s prodigal son returned with a 17 inch flat panel 1 gigaherz multimedia monster. Four crash free ?ber productive years later the iMac is only now beginning to show its age. The eight year old G3 350 megahertz companion I bought for $25 is chugging along just as well serving full episodes of television shows via iTunes. The Mac is making a huge comeback here at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. This time I was ahead of the trend.
Writing in German is easier and more cost effective on a Mac than Windows. Support for the language is built right into the operating system at the very beginning. No special German version and no additional support drivers. Applications that would cost me hundreds of dollars if I were to purchase them for Windows have free counterparts for the Mac. OpenOffice, NeoOffice, Pro Voc, voice recognition, and a series of translators help me catch those critical errors in my communication skills. It is my hope that I will be able to incorporate this programs into my curriculum. The cost should definitely agree with any school district’s budget. I’ve been able to create reports, presentations, and multimedia projects that ensnare the imagination rather than “tag and release” like my Windows using companions.
Today’s tech is no longer embodied by the overweight, dungeon dwelling, lives with mother, sustained by Cheetos, pale-skinned virgin. Today’s tech is ubiquitous to the current high school generation regardless of social stratus. To them there has always been an internet and cell phones. Understanding the implications of these technologies and utilizing them in the classroom is a mandatory skill for today’s education professional. Our goal is getting kids on that wagon.
Now if only the sequels to Oregon Trail were just as fun as the original.
Editor’s note: This post fulfills a requirement for Instructional Technology 325 under the Technology Blog assignment. This is the first of four entries. If it is good enough to hand in it is good enough for public consumption.