Video, tapes, histories of educational technology, and growing up in Cyprus

One of the courses I teach examines the foundations and histories of the field. Writings about the histories of educational/instructional technology/design predominantly identify and examine particular technologies that were in vogue at particular periods of time.  For instance, Martin Weller discusses the use of streaming video in his 25 years of edtech series. One might do the same with radio, overhead projectors, mySpace, and so on. Here, I want to share with you a personal story, a story about a particular VHS cassette.

VHS tape – By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain

My Twitter bio identifies my location as Canada and Cyprus. Cyprus is where I grew up, and where I tell people I am from when they ask me the seemingly innocuous but loaded question “Where are you from?,” as if people can be from just one place. Growing up in a divided country like Cyprus, I was constantly reminded of conflict, war, occupation, fleeing, and loss. I grew up with textbooks emblazoned with the slogan Δέν Ξεχνώ, a nod to a national policy aiming to convince GreekCypriot children to “never forget” the occupied areas of Cyprus. It wasn’t just the not-so-hidden national curriculum. I know of many people who were and are refugees and people who were directly or indirectly impacted. Friends. Friends’ parents. Uncles and aunts. My parents. My maternal grandparents.

In the 1980’s my grandparents were given a tape. Someone – an acquaintance of an acquaintance of a family member – visited the occupied areas and drove for hours, recording what they could from their car. I don’t remember the details. I do remember that the video was grainy and mostly uninteresting to a pre-teen. But, it brought us together to discuss issues more important than the roads, farmlands, and abandoned villages depicted in the tape: war, coup d’état, peace, borders, the “other.”

My aunt and uncle owned a video store in the 80’s. I spent many days in the summers there and watched my fair share of tapes. But that tape, that grainy tape, is forged in my memory. The impact of video on education reveals a worthwhile pedagogical story because it often culminates in how video replaces other media and rarely causes pedagogical change. Particular artifacts though, in particular situations, at particular times, with particular participants, do. That may not be the norm in formal educational environments, but I can at least point to one instance where a tape had impact.

Do you have any similar stories?


My neighborhood


The seduction of the digital


  1. Dennis Beck

    It was 1984, and I was angry at my parents for not having a VCR.

    It could have bern argued that they made sure that I had everything I needed. After all, i had an Atari gaming system and an Atari 800 personal computer. And I was already adept at a few programming languages too.

    But for some reason my parents wouldn’t buy a VCR. They argued about the compelling nature of watching live tv, claiming that the VCR was a passing fad and wouldn’t last. As a result, they also didn’t buy a video camera.

    Which was why it took until 10th grade AP English class that I was able to use a videocamera. The play was Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The assignment? To recreate the play in our own way, in the genre of your choice. So of course we chose the mafia genre. The teacher assumed it would be performed live, but one of our group members had a videocamera and we got permission to film and show it to the entire class.

    That experience drew me into Shakespeare in a way that I’d never before experienced. I had to analyze the text and interpret the meaning before I could be videoed as Horatio. I had to try to translate Horatio into the top guy who worked for Hamlet, Mafia Prince of Little Denmark.

    I wasn’t interested in Shakespeare until I saw what videocamera technology could do. Filming and editing fascinated me, and it also helped me to break down the content and think of ways to put it back together again in different ways.

    I still love literature. But I also love seeing how technology can, at times, make a change in how someone learns.

    It did for me.

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