Carey's computer revolution

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the computer revolution at Carey. As remote learning and communication through clever computer technologies will continue to play a central role in the school’s operation during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed appropriate to trace their development.

In 1970, Headmaster Gerard Cramer (1965–89) asked Mathematics teacher David Macbryde (1966–76) to investigate a computer for Carey. Macbryde’s enthusiastic report stated that computers would be: ‘A very substantial educational advantage to Carey students and also a significant pioneering venture in a field of immense growing importance.’ As a result, in 1971, Year 10 students learned to use Minitran, the precursor to Fortran, and one of the computer programming languages then commonly taught in schools. Carey students produced mathematical programs on coding sheets which were processed using punch cards and printed at Swinburne.

The school installed its first minicomputer in 1975. Located in the Mathematics department, it was a PDP-11 with two monitors and one visual display terminal. This machine allowed for interactive programming, and senior students enthusiastically developed problems of mathematical simulation to run on it. Year 12 Mathematics A students used it extensively, as did members of the new and popular Computer Club. Carey also offered the specialist subject of Year 12 General Mathematics Computing. It deliberately provided an alternative course for students who did not wish to study traditional mathematics, but who were captivated by modern computing. ‘They may prefer the more practical aspects of maths, and see their application in their chosen career, or may only wish to avoid the mystery of formal algebra.’

In 1979, two new Apple II microcomputers offered Mathematics students the most up-to-date technology available. One of the earliest known uses of an Apple II in an Australian classroom dates from only two years beforehand, in 1977. By 1981, all Carey students in Years 10 and 11 completed a three-week course in computer programming as part of their Mathematics courses, and in 1982 Carey introduced Year 12 Computer Science.

During the 1980s, the costs of computers were comparatively enormous. When the School’s accounts department was computerised in 1980, one Spectrum minicomputer with one terminal cost $23,000 and the software for it $7000. In 1986, $48,000 purchased one Olivetti B2/400C microcomputer with two megabytes of memory, two printers and six terminals for school administrative use. Apple IIe desktop computers cost around $2700 each.

In the early 1980s a classroom was converted into a laboratory of 15 desktop Apple computers and eight printers. Carey continued to remain at the forefront of computer use in the classroom, and in 1983 hosted a Mathematics conference on this topic for teachers. By 1985, Kew Junior School had 13 computers spread between the classrooms and library. Another Senior School laboratory of 30 desktop Apples was set up in 1987, and the extra capacity meant that Information Technology could be introduced as a subject. Computer Club members filled both computer rooms every lunchtime and after school. By the late 1980s the laboratories of Apple IIe computers were also popular with English, Science and Biology classes.

The next wave of innovation began in the mid 1990s. Kew campus libraries were automated and networked in 1994, and in that year, Carey became the first school outside the United States of America to pilot IBM’s multimedia courseware ‘Teaching and Learning with Computers’. Both Junior School campuses at Donvale and Kew embraced this technology and used it in a variety of subjects.

Carey launched its first website in 1996. Internet access and email arrived in 1997, and the first laptops were rolled out to staff and students. Bibliotech, a web-based library platform, was installed at Donvale in about 1999. A help desk, established in 1998, was implemented specifically to aid the laptop rollout, and by 2000 all students had laptops.

In the early 2000s a Wide Area Network was installed at all three campuses and a Local Area Network within each campus. Wireless was installed in the Millikan Centre in 2002, and then gradually around the rest of the School. Blackboard, the first online Learning Management System, went live in 2004. Blackboard and its successors, along with many generations of upgraded hardware, created the foundations for Carey’s rich digital culture which in 2020 we will all rely upon more than ever before.

Helen Penrose
Historian, HistorySmiths