Posted by: elightkeeper | June 21, 2010

Line-ups and old technology

In the office of the virtual school, we have a machine that you might find in a butcher shop or Passport Office. It dispenses numbers for customers to be served in order. When you pull your number, it will inevitably give you a figure in the neighborhood of 96 and you will look up and see “now serving 28”. The number machine was purchased several years ago when the majority of our students came to the school to register for courses. Many of these students passed the average age for graduation waiting in reception.

The ticket machine on the office wall is old technology. Every once in a while, two people will arrive in reception at the same time and one will dutifully pull a number in order to ensure a place in the queue.  To prevent embarrassment, it is only proper to catch up the machine before serving a waiting person who has a number in hand.  So suddenly, the machine will beep loudly and repeatedly, about the number of times one might expect to hear from a commercial vehicle backing up from the Vancouver Learning Network to say, Surrey Connect.

The ticket machine reminds me of days not that long ago. Hot, sweaty lineups wound out the door and down the hall – wilted hoards of students, patiently waiting for the next summer session registration clerk.  It reminds me my own educational life, pocked with long, glacial-paced lines for registration, books, fees and pub entry. When I was in university, everything I did required a line-up. I do not remember this with any degree of fondness.

This is how education was organized before technology came along to speed things up and provide efficiencies. The number machine on the wall is as quaint as a clock radio or a VCR. While it is reminiscent of a simpler time, we have a tendency to hang on to things that are no longer useful. But technology is a double-edged letter opener. We are equally quick to toss out that which is falling out of favor, usefulness aside. My Blackberry chirps at me with unsuspecting abandon even as I write this.

These days, most of our students register via the web. Thousands register at all hours of the day and night over a very short period of time, and a startling number of registrations occur between the hours of 9 pm and 3 am. We couldn’t hope to accommodate  “night owl” student preferences through the old face-to-face registration approach unless we had a fleet of clerical staff working three weeks of nightshift in housecoats and slippers. Progress is a good thing.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but smile when I think of the recent line-ups to purchase the widely-hyped IPad on its first day of consumer sale. It would appear that line-ups also accompany new technology.  I have a ticket machine I’d gladly donate to Best Buy for use during their next product release.

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