On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, going through old files in the hope of freeing up some space, I began to do some purging.

A whole file drawer was filled with folders, one for each class that I took while earning a master’s degree back in the 1980s. They were thick and full of photocopied professional articles, research papers bound in see-through covers, handwritten rough drafts of everything and lecture notes with lots of doodling in the margins of lined notebook paper. Most of the material and lots of the handouts were mimeographed. Remember that purplish-blue ink that smelled like school? Perhaps we tended to pass notes in a class or two; I also found a friendly invitation from a classmate to go out to eat after class.

It took me hours to revisit these individual folders. Although I realized it was OK to dispose of all the old papers, I found myself reading almost everything before I tossed it in the recycling bin. I read the specific feedback that was given to me by my professors, the encouraging words, and the suggestions for improvement. When I looked closely at the research papers I had typed, I could even detect some Wite-Out.

Remember using microfiche reader machines to view older articles that were stored on film? Or reserving articles with a two-hour limit that could not be taken out of the library? It made sense that I had written rough drafts in pencil with lots of crossing out, arrows and carets. Once the paper went onto the typewriter roll, any mistakes needed to be erased with a special eraser – or with Wite-Out.

This nostalgia-filled afternoon was interrupted by a quick glance at the clock. I realized I had some work of my own to do.

Getting back to reality, I grabbed my laptop and logged in to the “Learning Management System” I now use to teach my own graduate students. Back in the ’80s, I never even dreamed of teaching other teachers, let alone teaching them fully online. This work prompted me to think of all the differences, all the technological advances that have taken place in higher education. There are surely many challenges, but also many conveniences.


For me, working with students online pales in comparison to meeting and teaching students face to face. Yet, by pursuing professional development opportunities and collaborating with other professors, I have been pleasantly surprised by the many ways I can individualize my online instruction, differentiating to meet the needs of all learners.

Because students submit their assignments online and I grade them within the online system, I am quickly and easily able to provide specific feedback and allow revisions. No more blue books – the mini notebooks in which we used to write answers to exam questions. No more leaving at the end of the semester and giving the professor a self-addressed stamped envelope to have my final exam mailed to me, nervously anticipating the results. Rather than signing up to borrow a film projector, screen and film from the library, I can find an online video clip depicting almost any idea or scenario that I want to share with students. Sending reminders or notifications, researching answers to questions posed by students, or partially changing course content can be achieved with a click or two.

I wonder what my graduate students of today will be thinking, decades from now, when they are advancing in their teaching careers. Will they be reflecting on their learning experiences in the 2020s? Rather than shredding paper, will they be deleting digital class content by dragging it to their computer’s trashcan? It is hard to imagine what advances in technology will look like in the near or distant future for education.

I do hope that students might look back to these as the good ole’ days, when both teaching and learning were simple, enjoyable and effective.

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