The BBC Micro – press ‘space’ to continue

The BBC did a recent article on the BBC Micro and it seemed like a fitting prompt to encourage our Convener Willie Coffey take a trip down memory lane, delving into his attic to retrieve his favourite computer and a few memories besides…..!

If you have any experiences to share or want to comment on Willie’s post, please do so at the bottom. We can plunge into unforeseen depths of geekery and retro-techno-memories! Thanks to Willie for putting fingertips to keyboard for us.

press <SPACE> to continue

Just think about it. Thousands of Scottish school kids in the 1980s grew up with this message indelibly printed on their psyche – every time they used the school computer, the BBC Micro!

No mice, no pop-ups, no pull-downs, no windows, no internet. Life was simple then. But at least the software worked.

If you take a trip down memory lane, all 32K of memory to be precise, you would find a lovely little micro computer with BBC Basic that was loaded with functions to make even the most nerdish of programmers drool at the prospect.

These were the heady days of creative genius; custom built educational software. Stand alone experiences that challenged the kids to think, reason, negotiate, make decisions, laugh, cry; and then press <SPACE> to continue to get to the next eagerly awaited screen.

Ah the joy of it all. Innocence expressed in such a tiny computer by the industry’s talented professional software designers of the day.

Those in the know (everybody in school) could press CONTROL-T to get to the Teachers section and you could vary the lesson plans and examples so that every session with the software could be unique. Such power exists Mr Klaatu? Indeed it does Professor Barnard.

Specification groups of teachers and advisers emerged to ‘unleash the power of 8-bit micro technology’ and we all gasped at the capabilities of the Simplified WORD processor for schools (SWORD) as its proud flashing cursor prompted you to give it a command on the BBC machine and then the RML 380Z micro.

Was it all a dream? Or did it really happen? Well, 20 (or is it 30?) years ago, the micros in schools boom was a silent revolution, well before it’s time. The technology was ground-breaking but still very limited compared to the mega, giga, tera byte world that we live in now.

Educational software was truly bespoke and tailored directly to the needs of the Scottish curriculum. Education Ministers came and went, enthralled at turtles walking all around the room. Our vision was limitless even if the e-turtles were just as slow as their organic carbon based cousins.

We even fixed the computers ourselves, having our own lab and technician plundering bits of one micro to go into another. It was like a scene from Dr Who with five minutes to go; warning lights flashing and sonic screw drivers eaking out and replacing the offending chips in the nick of time just before the launch of the Microspecial pack.

That’s real pressure Doctor!!!!

And now? The capabilities of our current machines are light years ahead of those micros. Limitless memory and super fast chips with everything now. But we don’t write stand alone software no more!

The kids live almost totally now in a virtual world of the internet, facebook, twitter, skype and mobile phone apps. And the wealth of educational resource material ‘out there’ is fabulous in its breadth and depth.

The world of learning has changed utterly and totally since the internet arrived. It has defined almost completely how we use technology in education. The computers are ‘windows’ into an external, virtual world full of riches – and rubbish!

Who is helping today’s kids on their journey through today’s cyber jungle?

Yes, our dear teachers who have also had to adapt quickly to huge changes taking place with the technology.

So just when they finally got used to pressing <SPACE> to continue, they are now grappling with multiple concurrent apps, downloads out of control, twittering school bullies and chit chat clubs on facebook with its whirlwind of icons and txt encrptd shrthnd tht only thos in th knw cn rd. U2 cn b an xprt! K?

Bless them!

My advice? Don’t bother with the manuals. Just give it your best shot! You did OK then when the revolution began.

Just hop on board each new micro special as it leaves the digital platform.

And prepare yourselves for the journey of a lifetime.

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About mcclarity

External Relations Manager at Ofcom Scotland. Support for Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Digital Participation
This entry was posted in News and Information and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The BBC Micro – press ‘space’ to continue

  1. Hello Willie

    I love this post and I totally agree about jumping in and giving it your best shot. I train a lot of people who are petrified of technology and actually the hardest part in learning how to use new technology is actually changing your mental approach and attitude when learning something new especially in relation to technology. I even play music to relax people! Building confidence and knowing how to keep yourself safe online is key the rest will follow!

    Thanks for your post.

    Diane

    (i’m sure I remember pressing too)

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