Being a 21st Century Teacher

What does it mean to be a 21st Century Teacher… well, that’s a short and a long answer all wrapped up together. A bit like trying to find the printer cable in the box of cables that somewhere are attached to some interesting devices. The short answer is lots of change becoming lots of exciting new horizons!

When I started teaching Design and Technology, we had access to the latest equipment. Dialup internet was soon replaced by twin ISDN lines serving one room of PCs running the latest OS – Windows ’95. USB hadn’t really made a breakthrough so it was chunky printer cables poking out of the parallel port. Serial interfacing required Jedi skills in getting the protocol and baud rate correctly set and I had to wander around the school to find if the deputy head was willing to lend me THE (only) data projector. Making printed circuit boards with the GCSE Electronics students was pretty straightforward – we had 0.1 inch graph paper, transparencies, thin tapes for tracks and rub-down transfers for IC pads. Corrections were made with a scalpel and hasty additions were made with a permanent marker. Like I said, all the latest equipment!

A few years later we were running scared of Technology – the end of the world was nigh and we’d be cold on that first morning of January 2000 when our heating would fail due to the Millennium bug. I’d got my sleeping bag and gas lamp ready just in case…

Here and now, having survived into the 21st Century, we’ve made giant leaps forward in so many ways. While in industry I remember many times being asked by clients about my experience with microcontrollers. Now, they’re a mainstay of the GCSE project work and programmable so easily. At about the same time, I remember the arrival of a variety of simulation packages and then came straightforward PCB design packages. We spent out the money and rapidly were able to print out artworks and use them straightaway (I failed to mention how easily the old self-adhesive tapes would unstick from the artworks when put away for the next lesson).

Shortly after came the arrival of CAD/CAM for us – we bought a CAM router and within a short time were able to produce all sorts of ideas in wood and plastic sheeting. A real boost for accuracy and detail in the work. A 3d software initiative arrived and we soon were creating objects on screen and rendering them, producing designs like the big boys. The last few years (perhaps longer – the time moves so quickly) have seen the introduction of high quality software with low cost or free licences. Plenty to play with, such as Fritzing and SketchUp.

So, here we stand on the cusp of a new frontier. Maybe others are further ahead but there’s so much potential. I feel we’re at the convergence of many different technologies coming together – 2d and 3d software, CAM machines, 3d printing, small, low cost processing with microcontrollers and the Raspberry Pi, a resurgence in coding. From a personal point of view, these have really triggered an interest in getting back to those things that made me want to get into teaching. The ability to create something that hasn’t existed before; to modify someone else’s ideas; to experiment and regain a sense of the “what if I do this?”.

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