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Education sliding into technology
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Just after I entered college a firestorm of disagreement broke out across the campus.

It turned out the same disagreement was happening in universities all across the United States.

A small battery powered electronic calculator known as the HP-35 had gone on sale in college bookstores across the nation.

Built by Hewlett-Packard, this little device could perform almost any mathematical calculation done by the traditional slide rule.

Slide rules were foot long engraved "rulers" which allowed a trained student to calculate trig, logs and other mathematical functions without the need of long hand calculations or tables.

Slide rule use was taught to college bound high school students, so that when we arrived we knew how to use these century old devices.

Now the HP-35 and the soon to follow Texas Instruments SR-50 had disrupted the educational apple cart.

While very expensive, these little electronic wonders were easy to learn, more accurate than and just as versatile as the slide rules.

As we would later learn with any computers, the prices started dropping within months of their initial introduction.

The first HP-35 cost $395 in 1972.

By 1975 it cost $75.

The firestorm was over allowing their use in class.

On the one hand, using slide rules was a known skill.

Most colleges still required all scientific majors to attend an additional semester class on learning to use the rules.

The digital calculator came with an instruction book and most of us could master the devices within a night.

However, most math, science and engineering professors taught classes based on homework and finals using slide rules.

The older professors seemed very reluctant to change.

Students were coming in wanting to use the new technology, while the educational system was flatly rejecting its use.

The battle swirled.

Students were often not allowed to even bring calculators into class.

They were told they could not use them on homework even though there was no way to monitor out of class usage.

A few progressive teachers allowed the devices into their classes, but this meant some sections used slide rules and others calculators.

The college accreditation boards got into the act and by 1975 there was turmoil across the land.

I attended some classes that allowed me to use my shiny new technology.

In other classes I hauled in my bamboo framed trusty Pickett slide rule.

My SR-50 had an eight digit display with 11 digit floating point precision.

My Pickett, even at its best, could not match such.

I was confused why we were forced to use such archaic methods when the marvels that resulted from our success in landing on the moon were finally making it into main stream America?

Technology, even then, should have been the educational focus.

The real answer came on my first day on the job after graduation.

I arrived at the oil company research center armed with both my calculator and my slide rule.

One was never used. There was not a slide rule in the building. Everyone had electronic pocket calculators, not just there, but down at the corporate headquarters.

By 1976 slide rules were considered totally obsolete.

The only real slide rule in use today is the circular E6B used by pilots for dead reckoning navigation, and most of them do that only as a backup to GPS systems.

Today the battle in education is whether to allow smart phones, tablets and portable devices into the classroom?

The battle and the arguments are no different now than decades ago.

Educators that cannot see the need for students to learn and use the latest technology are just as blind as those old professors in 1972.

Enter any business establishment today, scientific or otherwise, and you will see the answer sitting there in front of you.

Smart phones and tablets are everywhere.

Are you teaching the next generation using their technology, or are you falling back on the old ways because you are terrified of the future?

Education should slide beyond the old and fully embrace the latest technologies.

The firms where your students will soon seek employment have already made that move.


Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.

 

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