Reading on Screens Revisited

1935 ebook idea
An electronic book as imagined in 1935

I recently came across an article in Smithsonian magazine that was rather deceptively titled "The iPad of 1935." The illustration above comes from that article and originally appeared in the April 1935 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics magazine. At that time they were thinking that since it is possible to photograph books and also project them on a screen for examination, that perhaps this would be the way we would read. Their illustration is probably closer to watching a PowerPoint presentation than an iPad, but the idea of putting books on a screen is not just an idea of the 21st century.

That article made me do a search on this blog to see what I have written about ebooks. In 2012, I wrote about digital textbooks ("Can Schools Adopt Digital Textbooks By 2017?") I should have revisited that article in 2017 to see what had come to pass. In 2020, I can say that publishers, schools and students have adopted ebooks and digital textbooks, but there are still plenty of books on paper being used by students.

That 1935 contraption uses a roll of miniature film with pages as the "book." It reminds me of the microfilm readers I used as an undergraduate in the library. As the article notes: "microfilm had been patented in 1895 and first practically used in 1925; the New York Times began copying its every edition onto microfilm in 1935."

It took about 70 more years for handheld digital readers that we use to come on the scene and the transition is still taking place.

Though I have an iPad and a Kindle, my home and office are still filled with paper books and magazines. I would say that the bulk of my daily reading is done on a screen but the screen is on my phone and laptop. When I have taught college classes online or on-site, I have offered texts as ebooks when possible as an option. I still find that some students prefer a Gutenberg-style book on paper.

That 2012 post of mine referenced an article about the then Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski issuing a challenge to schools and publishers to get digital textbooks to students by 2017.

In 2012, there was a "Digital Learning Day" where there were discussions on transitioning K-12 schools to digital learning and using technology to transform how teachers teach and students learn inside and outside of the classroom. They issued "The Digital Textbook Playbook" guide which went far beyond textbooks and included information about determining broadband infrastructure for schools and classrooms, leveraging home and community broadband to extend the digital learning environment and understanding necessary device considerations along with some "lessons learned" from school districts that had engaged in successful transitions to digital learning. The 2012 playbook can be downloaded and it's interesting to see what has changed in the 8 years since it was written. Those changes would include a new administration with different objectives from the Obama era.

The playbook defines a "true digital textbook" as "an interactive set of learning content and tools accessed via a laptop, tablet, or other advanced device." Being that this effort was on K-12, the perspectives of key users was students, teachers, and parents.


Hack Clubs

anonymous hacker

I saw an interesting article about teen hackers who have to convince their parents that what they're doing is good rather than evil.

Wikipedia defines a hacker as a skilled computer expert that uses their technical knowledge to overcome a problem. But while "hacker" can refer to any skilled computer programmer, the term has become associated in popular culture with a "security hacker", someone who, with their technical knowledge, uses bugs or exploits to break into computer systems.

These high-school students are forming hack clubs to solve problems through coding in their schools. In this context, we can define hacking as coding, creating sites and apps, as in hackathons.  The hack clubs are generally student-led after school activities.

The term "white hat" refers to an ethical computer hacker. This computer security expert specializes in penetration testing and in other testing methodologies to ensure the security of an organization's information systems. They hack for good. The term "ethical hacking" is a broader term that means more than just penetration testing.

Following the cowboy movie iconography, the "black hat" is a malicious hacker. I have also seen the blended gray hat hacker described as one who hacks with good intentions but without permission.

I suppose the question that parents of a hacker - and educators and the authorities - might have is whether a young person starting as a white hat might become gray and be drawn to the dark side of black hat hacking.



What Happened to Vocational Educational?

A friend who is not involved in education recently asked me, "Whatever happened to vocational educational?" He was thinking about when he was a kid in school back in the 1960s and there came a point before high school where he was presented with a choice. That choice was to go on to high school and prepare for college or go to a vocational school and prepare for a job. That choice is not so evident today in America.

Vocational education in the United States varies from state to state, but vocational schools (AKA trade schools) are both seen as an alternative high school experience and as post-secondary schools. In both cases, they teach the skills necessary to help students acquire jobs in specific industries. Both types of schools still exist.

The breadth of offerings has certainly increased since my friend's options almost 60 years ago, but some industries still are options, such as cooking, business courses, drafting, construction, auto repair, and some healthcare careers.

If we are talking about the postsecondary vocational training, much of that training is now provided by proprietary (privately-owned) career schools.

About 30 percent of all credentials in career training is provided by two-year community colleges.

We should also consider military technical training or government-operated adult education centers as part of this area.

I taught at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and quickly discovered that many people unfamiliar with that university interpreted the name (especially the "institute" part) to mean we were a vocational school. (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, doesn't seem to have this issue.)

The biggest difference between vocational schools and traditional colleges is the amount of time students need to complete their education. Most vocational schools offer programs that students can complete in about one or two years. Students attending traditional colleges often take four to five years to complete their education. Traditional colleges also require students to complete a liberal arts education. Students must enroll in a broad range of courses that are not necessarily related to their area of study. Vocational schools require students to enroll only in classes that pertain to their particular trades.

Manhattan trade school for girls

Manhattan trade school for girls, 1916

In the U.S., vocational education really moved forward in the early 1900s with an effort to introduce German-style industrial education. Educators were looking at the apprenticeship and continuation school models in Germany and were determining how they could be applied in an American context.

The industrial education system evolved more rapidly after World War I into what we call vocational education. On the timeline, the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917 was meant to reduce reliance on foreign trade schools, improve domestic wage-earning capacity, reduce unemployment, and protect national security.

The George-Barden Act after WWII expanded federal support of vocational education to support vocations beyond the 4 most common subject areas (agriculture, trade, home economics, and industrial subjects).

The National Defense Education Act of 1958 was focused on improving education in science, mathematics, foreign languages and other areas with a particular focus on topics related to national defense.

In the next decade, the Vocational Education Act (1963) was designed to give support for work-study programs and research. The Vocational Education Amendments (1968) was a modification that created the National Advisory Council on Vocational Education.

In 1984, the Vocational Education Act was renamed the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act and amended six years later created the Tech-Prep Program to coordinate educational activities into a coherent sequence of courses.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, vocation ed and "trade schools" acquired a stigma of being below the quality of college and just slightly better than high school. In fact, many vocational programs were in high schools and had become standalone vocational high schools during that time period. 

This stigma even carried over to the 2-year colleges who were not aided by the use of the term "Junior College" that was once used before community and county colleges became the preferred terms.

Still, the "Stigma of Choosing Trade School Over College" persists, as that title from an article in The Atlantic notes. 
"When college is held up as the one true path to success, parents—especially highly educated ones—might worry when their children opt for vocational school instead." 

Vocational education in other countries

EdTech 1994

Apple IIeIn 1994, I was teaching at a suburban middle school. The first computer I had in my classroom was an Apple IIe (sometimes stylized as ][e) with its 128k floppy disk versions of word processing, database and spreadsheet (bundled as AppleWorks). It worked well and I am still amazed at what it could do without a hard drive and with those floppy disks. I used it to create lesson plans and handouts with my dot-matrix Apple printer, and students in my homeroom loved to play the many MECC games that we received as a subscription, like Oregon Trail and Odell Lake on it.

The Apple ][e wasn't the first computer students had access to in school. Our first computer class and lab was built using the Radio Shack Tandy TRS-80 computers. I didn't have on in my classroom, but I learned to write programs using BASIC and made a vocabulary flashcard game using the vocabulary lists I was having students study in my English classes. It was a very basic BASIC game but students loved it because it was personalized to their school life.

But videogame consoles were also entering their suburban homes and my TRS-80 and Apple floppy disk games soon became crude or quaint to students who had better systems at home. 

The next computers in school and the one in my classroom were IBM or IBM-clones and in the 1994-95 school year. They were running Windows NT 3.5, an operating system developed by Microsoft that was released on September 21, 1994. It was a not-user-friendly operating system and students didn't like it or really use it with me.

Windows 95It wouldn't be until the summer of 1995 and the next academic year that Windows 95 would be released. That much more friendly and consumer-oriented operating system made a significant change in computer use. The biggest change was its graphical user interface (GUI) and its simplified "plug-and-play" features. There were also major changes made to the core components of the operating system, such a 32-bit preemptive multitasking architecture.

The Today Show’s Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel didn't have a clue about the Internet in January 1994. It is amusing to hear them ponder what the heck that @ symbol means Gumbel isn't even sure how you pronounce it and Katie suggests “about.”  No one wants to have to say “dot” when they read “.com”.

They have many questions: Do you write to it like mail but it travels like a phone call? Is it just colleges that have it? Gumbel bemoans that anyone can send him email - somehow forgetting that anyone could send him snail mail too.

It would only be ten years later that Google would make its IPO and it was only another few years before this Internet would go from obscurity to mainstream.

Macintosh 1984You might think that after using the Apple IIe in school we would have "upgraded" to Apple's Macintosh computer which was introduced in 1984 with a memorable Orwellian-themed commercial (see below). The original Macintosh is usually credited as being the first mass-market personal computer that featured a graphical user interface and a built-in screen and using a mouse. More obscure was the Sinclair QL which actually beat the Mac to market by a month but didn't capture a market. Apple sold the Macintosh alongside the Apple II family of computers for almost ten years before they were discontinued in 1993.

Of course, there was other "technology" in classrooms at that time. For example, VHS videotapes were wiping out the 16mm films and projectors and recording video was big. I was teaching a freshman "film and video" course in those days. But it was the personal computer and then the Internet that really changed educational technology in the mid-1990s.