BPD Update Online, Fall 2003
Life on the Cutting/Bleeding Edge: History of Technology at BPD
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Committee on Information Technology and Distance Education Edited by Carol J. Williams, Associate Editor, BPD Update

Computer Graphic Courtesy of Steve Marson

The Committee on Information Technology and Distance Education was founded at the 1990 APM by charter members, Steve Marson, Bob Vernon, Chet Dilday, and Dennis Cogswell, and was originally called the Committee on Information Technology and Social Work Education (CIFTSWE). The Committee’s first workshop was held at the 1992 BPD Conference in San Antonio. Steve brought a hard drive to the session and opened it with a screwdriver to show participants how it worked, thus attempting to demystify the machine.

The Committee’s first hands on workshop was held in 1993 at the University of Maryland This workshop was presented by Harry Chaiklin, Dennis Cogswell, Bob Vernon, and Steve Marson, and “the philosophy was ‘hands-on, informal, and inexpensive’”. (Finn, 1998).

Subsequent workshops over the next several years focused on introducing new users to the computer and the emerging internet. Participants traveled by bus to local universities in the BPD Conference’s host city to participate in hands-on laboratory sessions. The bus trips themselves often became adventures. While on route and during travel delays, we were led in choruses of the Internet Song by Steve Marson. The early sessions included:

• Learning to establish an email account using free/cheap email services
• Practice in sending and receiving email messages,
• Subscribing to, sending, and receiving messages from Listservs,
• Working with Usenet, and
• Doing “simple” searches with Archie, Veronica, and gopher (the not-so-user-friendly precursors of the search engines we use today)
Early workshops offered training in use of both the MAC and the PC, with Chet Dilday serving as resident MAC expert. Chet also maintained an internet camera in his computer lab which sent live video online years before this became commonplace. He demonstrated this at workshops to the amazement of participants.

In 1992, Marshall Smith made “a very eloquent, short, but powerfully moving speech [in which he] expressed the importance of the Internet for the accreditation process. He made a plea that board members consider accepting self-studies via the Internet. Marshall was ahead of his time...” (Marson, 1997) His vision became a reality ten years later when Rhode Island College became the first school to submit its self study electronically.

In 1994, Steve and Marshall developed a film entitled Cheap Email: The Movie to be shown at that year’s BPD Conference. It had a companion volume, Cheap Email: The Paper. Steve Marson (a/k/a Robert Redford) could not attend the conference as he was at home witnessing the birth of his daughter. Technology was used to allow him to participate electronically in that conference.

In 1995 the BPD listserv and BPD web page were established by Marshall Smith at RIT. Marshall managed the listserv for BPD from then until it was transferred to Bob Vernon at IUPUI in 2002. The web site and the listserv are two wonderful resources that have helped to bring BPD into the age of technology. Equally important is the listserv’s role in facilitating information exchange and ongoing networking among BPD’s geographically dispersed 800+ members. At the time of this writing, the BPD website is being transferred from Marshall Smith to Bob Vernon, the new web weaver. If you haven’t visited the new web site, please go to: www.bpdonline.org or http://bpdonline.org. (If you get the old site, you will have to erase any old bookmark or favorites listing you have for the web site and set up a new favorite/bookmark listing.)

Also in 1995, BPDers Wanda Bracy and Esther Langston established the first “disk service”. BPD presenters were encouraged to share their conference papers as computer files. The files were copied onto disks and the set of disks were sold at the conference. (Finn, 1998). This service, like many other early efforts, had to contend with files in both PC and MAC format, documents prepared in a variety of different software programs, and the presence of viruses in some of the files.

The Committee on Information Technology and Distance Education became an official standing committee of BPD (with the added charge of distance education) at the 1995 APM.

Chairpersons on the Committee have been:

• Steve Marson (1992 - 1996)
• Marshall Smith (1996 - 1998)
• Lynn Adkins (1998 – Present)

“Later workshops introduced cutting-edge (some like to say ‘bleeding edge’) technology and software...” (Finn, 1998) In the late 1990’s the Committee began to change the focus of its work to meet new demands created by burgeoning technology and heightened technological skills of BPD members. To better gauge the level for future technology workshops, the Committee decided to conduct a survey of BSW programs. The only barrier was paying for postage to mail the surveys. Thanks to the efforts of Committee member Lisa Gebo, postage for the survey was underwritten by Brooks Cole. Bob Vernon then completed the survey and analyzed the data. From the survey findings, the Committee learned that almost all BSW programs had access to email and the internet. It was now time to develop more sophisticated workshops to meet newly developing needs of a rapidly growing group of technologically literate social work educators. The Committee began developing workshops on topics such as:

• Electronic Toolbox Programs
• Use of technology in teaching
• Online practice and ethics
• The Y2K bug

Continued on the next page...

Spiral, Horizontal Line Spinning

BPD Update Online, Volume 25, No. 3, Fall 2003

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