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Luke Hagen, Forum News Service , Published January 27 2014

Today’s life transformed by 1980s innovations

MITCHELL, S.D. — Tony Kinneberg’s entire science class gathered around the computer’s glowing green screen.

A junior in high school, Kinneberg had never seen or worked with a computer before going to class that day in 1983 in Richland, N.D.

Though it has been more than 20 years since that day, his recollections of seeing his first computer, a Tandy, are clear. At that time, it was the only computer at the school.

“You’d spend the whole hour working on a program and spend so much time saving things,” said Kinneberg, now the technology coordinator at the Parkston School District in southeastern South Dakota. “It was so tedious and it took forever to run a program, but that was the only thing we had, so we didn’t know any different.”

From his childhood through his adult working life, Kinneberg has seen firsthand how the technology explosion rooted in the 1980s has molded the world we inhabit today. Just prior to Kinneberg’s first interaction with a computer, Time magazine chose its first nonhuman for its annual Person of the Year. It was the computer.

That first year computers entered Kinneberg’s life, it took an entire class period’s time to program a basic task such as rolling dice to play Yahtzee, or choosing random numbers. To do that, the teacher and students wrote code that was put on cassette tape.

“The class would gather around the teacher and watch him work with it because he was so big into the computer and technology,” Kinneberg said of his teacher. “By no means was it as exciting as it is today.”

In 1977, Radio Shack introduced its first model of the TRS, or Tandy Radio Shack computer. Throughout the ’80s, the TRS improved. The first Apple Macintosh was rolled out in 1984, and the Windows operating system from Microsoft came out in 1985.

Rob VanLaecken, activities director at Parkston, who moved to town in 1975, said he believes computers were introduced to the Parkston School District in the early to mid-’80s. He said a line of Commodores, likely the C64, was the first at the school.

Even today, more C64s have been sold than any other single computer system at about 17 million systems. The Commodore, including models C64 and PET, was widely used in classrooms, and Kinneberg said he remembers seeing his first Commodore in 1985.

Kinneberg started with Parkston in 2000. The school added his position because of the rise of technology in education. Besides teaching a media class and leading the media club, he is in charge of the district’s computer security, filtering content for educational purposes, and repair work.

Kinneberg said each student in Parkston from seventh to 12th grade either has a laptop or an iPad, and the elementary school has about 60 to 90 iPads available for teaching lessons.

“It’s a scary thought how much we rely on technology and computers now,” Kinneberg said. “Back then, it was exciting to see a computer, but what you could do with it was very limited.

“There are so many things that are electronic that if the power went out, you’re pretty much at a standstill. If all that stuff goes down, you’re just lost.”

Education transformed

That’s a far cry from the educational system of the early 1980s, when chalk was still a primary teaching medium. Burnell Glanzer and Bob Krietlow, both superintendents of area school districts, said computers and technology have significantly changed education during their careers.

Glanzer started teaching in Armour in 1975 after graduating from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Glanzer, who is known as a successful high school basketball coach, was also a math teacher in Armour, where he recalls drawing pie graphs on chalkboards during teaching lessons in the ’80s. At the time, calculators that had a square-root button were hard to find and cost about $50, he said.

“School has definitely changed, that’s for sure,” said Glanzer, who taught for 35 years before becoming an administrator at the school. “There are PlayStations and Xboxes and other computer games. Kids are used to those flashy things and aids for teaching. If you went back to a chalkboard with teaching, you’d be out of date. You couldn’t capture their interest anymore.”

When Glanzer was in school, his first typing classes were on a typewriter and were introduced when he was a sophomore. These days, formal keyboarding classes begin for third-graders in Armour.

“Can you imagine trying to type with the hunt-and-peck system?” he said. “You’d be in trouble.”

Krietlow also started his teaching career in 1975 and worked in the classroom through the ’80s until becoming a school administrator in 1990.

“So much has changed,” he said. “It’s something where the younger generations are accustomed and used to, and for us older people it’s a transition. Some teachers have readily embraced it and others haven’t.”