OTTUMWA — Bob Meyers isn't sure when the invasion started, when he first saw computers making their way into schools.
“Oh, gosh. Let me think here for a minute because I've been out for 10 years now,” he said. “Maybe as far back as the late 1980s.”
Sure, there were computers in the schools earlier, but the encroachment was gradual. It proceeded at different speeds in different areas.
Early computer companies were transitory. Survival wasn't guaranteed, and if you bought the wrong system, you could find yourself out in the cold. Texas Instruments is an example. They still make calculators, but they once made computers.
Such a fluid environment posed a risk for schools, which often had small tech budgets, and the teachers who occasionally brought computers in from home.
“Some of us purchased those on our own and started using those on a limited scale,” Meyers said.
It happened slowly. The Apple IIE came with floppy disks that were actually, well, floppy. Microsoft rose, bringing early versions of the world's dominant operating system into education. In fits and starts the silicon advanced until it achieved a level of dominance those early users could never have expected.
Perhaps nothing has altered classrooms more in the past couple decades than technology.
Never has more information, both accurate and otherwise, been so accessible. Looking up answers with a few keystrokes is a vastly different exercise than tracking it down in a library. Where technology once meant a card catalog, today it most often involves a keyboard.
There's broad agreement on one basic point: Students must graduate with basic technological skills. They will use computers, spreadsheets, databases and email on a regular basis in most professions. Even trades will use a computer interface to track materials and make sure employees have what they need to get the job done.