Thursday, October 06, 2005

How School has Changed

It's only been five years since I finished my undergrad. But in five years technology has taken a foothold on campus.

When I first began my undergraduate career, oh so many moons ago, I had to register in person. I got my class schedule in the mail, and then worked out my ideal schedule. Nothing too early, nothing too late, nothing on Friday, etc. I had the perfect blend of classes and schedule convenience as I entered the cafeteria at my college.

The cafeteria was lined with card tables, and on the card tables were large, heavy green/black CRT computer terminals. Each card table was stationed with a disgruntled school employee who would take your paper and key it into the system.

My first encounter went something like this: I handed my paper to the lady. She took it and started typing. The computer beeped, and she made a mark on my schedule. She continued typing, and the computer beeped. She made a mark on my schedule. This happened about five times.

She handed my paper back to me, and I noticed that all of my classes had been crossed off. "Those classes are full," she informed me. To the back of the line I went, while I quickly re-organized my schedule. The next time only two of the classes were full. My schedule wasn't promising to hold up that well... Third time was the charm, and I ended up getting all five classes.

Two were early morning classes (7:30 AM). One was at another campus, a 30 minute drive in the opposite direction from my home.

When I transferred to an actual university in Utah, I registered by phone. Again, I had my ideal schedule worked out. From the convenience of my home in Virginia, I dialed into the university's registration system by phone. I entered my student number (SSN back then), my pin, and then began selecting my classes.

The cheerful voice on the other end of the phone said something to the effect of, "You have selected ... ... ... Economics. One. Oh. One. The class meets Monday. Wednesday. From. 9 AM to 10:30 AM. ... Is this correct?" Yes, it's correct. Back then you couldn't talk to automated phone operators like you can today, so you had to actually push a button corresponding to your answer. 1, correct.

"Please wait!" Ahh, how chipper the automatic registration lady sounds! So much better than the disgruntled person at the cafeteria card table...

"Economics. One. Oh. One ... Section two ... Meeting Monday. Wednesday. From. 9 AM to 10:30 AM ... is full with ... zero ... seats remaining at this time."

Huh? What? She said "zero" with an air of delight, I sensed it. Alright, fine, I'll try the early class. *sigh*

"Economics. One. Oh. One ... Section one ... Meeting Monday. Wednesday. From. 7 AM to 8:30 AM ... has been added to your schedule."

And so it went.

Several Utah schools later, when I transferred to the University of Utah, things had progressed to the point that you could register online. Oooooh.

You could simply input the class you wanted, and it would display all of the available sections and how many seats were left. Quite handy! But secretly I missed how the automatic phone lady taunted me when a class was full.

My last semester at college I had one professor who used PowerPoint. The new classroom building at the Eccles School of Business had been pre-wired with laptop ports at each student's seat. Hardly anyone had a laptop, and if you did, you felt weird whipping it out in class. You'd be the brainiac, or the gizmo kid, or the rich dude, or whatever.

My classes now all use PowerPoint exclusively. Everyone has a laptop, and everyone uses it. Granted, most people are Web surfing during class, but the laptop doesn't seem out of place.

The funny thing I noticed is that the laptop ports still aren't being used. Why? Because now the classroom has wireless access, and no one needs to plug in to get online.

Eventually, they'll be able to simply beam the knowledge into my brain. That way I can sleep during class.

Oh, wait, I already do that... I guess some things don't change over time.