The dawn of the personal computer in the 1970s promised the greatest change in American instructional methods since the 19th century—which is when schools began to use standardized textbooks. While the fulfillment of the personal computer’s educational promise is debatable, the machines’ commercial impact on education is not: During the 1980s, public school systems and universities across the United States threw themselves headlong into the PC revolution, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in computer systems, accessories, and software. Tech companies eager for new customers were happy to oblige, and a new educational market was born.
Soon it became common for most schools (some of which were perpetually under-funded) to assemble their expensive new computers in one place for group instruction. And thus was born the computer lab. In the slides ahead, we’ll take a trip back in time to visit some of these formational learning grounds of the 1980s.