Modern Conveniences

Skype logoHow did students ever get by without the modern conveniences of online journals and Skype and Google Docs? Case in point: I just got off a Skype chat with a group for one of my courses – we are preparing for our class on Thursday
and while on the call, we were brainstorming and then looking up resources to check out some of our ideas – we sent links via the chat function of Skype and emailed articles from online journals in mere moments as we talked.

Google Drive logo

Tomorrow I have a group meeting with another group for another one of my courses – which we’ll be doing by WebEx, so that we can share our computer screens with one another as we talk and we’ll be participating from various places across the Lower Mainland, plus Calgary and Kelowna1. In preparation for that call, we’ve been brainstorming by adding our ideas to a shared Google Doc.

When I was a post-secondary student the first time – i.e., in my undergrad2, Masters3, & PhD years4 – we didn’t have any of this stuff. Want to share a document? You had to print it out on a piece of paper and hand it to the other person! Or, if you wanted to be fancy, you’d save it on a floppy disk!

remember when your whole life fit on a 1.4 megabyte floppy disk?

Group meeting? You had to do that in person! We actually went to the library to work together. But that was OK because you had to go there to photocopy that article you wanted from a giant bound volume of journal issues from the stacks.

We did have email – I got my first email address very early in my first year of undergrad – but the only other people I knew with email addresses were other university students and we all had to go to the computer lab to check email, since we didn’t have Internet access in our rooms. You were likely to see the person to whom you had sent an email in class, in the caf, or in residence before they actually got to the computer lab to see the email. And then when you did get an email, you’d print it out on a dot matrix printer, because it felt like you should probably have a record of that.

Hell, my profs didn’t even start to use PowerPoint until I was in my third or fourth year, and even then it was only the most innovative of profs and they had to have a back up set of slides on acetate because there was a 50/50 chance that the computer and projector wouldn’t actually be able to connect properly.

Now5, my profs post their PowerPoint slides lecture notes in our class Connect site, or in SugarSync or some other such marvel of modern convenience, I meet my classmates virtually, and I have access to virtually any article, website, or other resources in a millisecond. I collaborate on group papers in Google Docs in real time, I submit those papers via email, and my profs mark them using an annotation app on their iPads. And then I blog about it to a world wide audience! When you stand back to think about it, it’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time.

Floppy Disk Image Credit: Posted by ehpien on Flickr.

  1. Unless our Kelowna-based group member is working in the field, in which case she’ll join in from wherever the heck she ends up tomorrow evening. []
  2. 1995-1999 – a.k.a., grades 13-16 []
  3. 1999-2000 – a.k.a., grade 17 []
  4. 2000-2006 – a.k.a., grade 18-23 []
  5. I.e., in grade 25. []

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  • I nodded and grinned throughout this entire post, especially the paragraph that begins “We did have email”.

    I submitted a couple of hand-written essays during my first year of undergrad, believe it or not! Then, when I was writing my PhD thesis, I couldn’t afford my own computer so I borrowed an ancient beast that had been retired from the department’s computer room. I cycled to and from work with my thesis on two zip drives* in two different pockets, wrapped in all my hard copies of relevant published papers, in case I fell off and broke one of them, because there was no cloud computing and my email inbox wasn’t big enough to cope with the Word document let alone the figures… even if I could have accessed my work email at home, which I couldn’t. Ah, happy memories!

    We’ve come a long, long way!

    *that probably dates my thesis to within a three or four year period. Our IT department recommended the zip drive because they said it was the next big long-term thing. Now I have my thesis only as one hard copy and one completely useless digital one.


  • My PhD thesis was saved on my hard drive (I did have my own computer), burned to CDs and emailed to myself via my brand new (at the time) Gmail account!

    One of the profs I know did his PhD at one university in NYC while teaching at a different university in NYC. While writing his thesis, he kept copies at home, and at each of his offices. He felt that if all three copies were somehow destroyed at the same, there were much bigger problems in the world than the loss of his thesis!


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