Being WebWise means more than clicking around
Most people have mobiles that are more powerful than computers of 30 years ago.
The BBC recently reported that a group of schoolchildren were being taught how to program computers using a collection of ancient BBC Microcomputers maintained by the National Museum for Computing at Bletchley Park.
Back to BASIC
The BBC Micro, designed and built by Acorn Computers, was part of the BBC Computer Literacy Project in 1981, and around one and a half million of them were sold.
Its facilities were minimal, with a tiny amount of memory and no built in disk storage, but it did a great job getting people introduced to computers and computing.
The BBC Microcomputer
They were tough machines too, and tended to last a long time. When I first started writing for WebWise at its launch (in 2000) my daughter’s primary school still used them for some teaching, even though much more powerful computers were available.
In the thirty years since the Micro was launched computers have gone from being rare and expensive objects that few people owned or understood to form the basis for much of our everyday life, certainly here in the UK. Most of us have mobile phones that are far more powerful and many of us have laptops at home and use computers at work or in college. At home, washing machines, dishwashers and cars are packed full of electronics.
Yet the BBC Micro had its advantages, even if it was hard to get started with and lacked many features we consider vital in today’s computing world. For one thing, it encouraged users to be programmers too, by making it very easy to enter and run programs written in the BASIC language, and it was very easy to add new components to it, so users got used to taking the lid off and messing around with cables and connectors.
Computers still don't bite
The reason students from Newport Pagnell were taken off to Bletchley Park to use old computers for their classes was to encourage them to learn a bit more about how they work, as well as just how to surf the web or look up information in databases, and this is an important aspect of WebWise too.
There’s a direct line between the BBC Computer Literacy Project, ‘Computers Don’t Bite’ in the late 1990s and WebWise today, because being WebWise has always been about much more than just getting by online or knowing which button to click on your screen.
It’s about understanding what computers can and can’t do, what they can do for you, and how they are changing the world for all of us, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about being part of WebWise as it goes forward.