The final bootcamp session of the day was on “emulators” by Patrick Kammerer of the University of Zurich and the blog Geschichte & Informatik. I picked this session because it’s a topic I know zero about, as one should do at an unconference.
If you want to play with a Commodore 64 emulator, you can get one here by clicking on the Program link. Downloading it and running it was quite the blast from the past, because it uses the Basic programming language, the first programming language I learned (way back in 1977). Of course, I didn’t make the best grade in that class, but in those days I didn’t know I was going to need that knowledge in 2011.
In the session, we all learned to play the original version of Tetris, which was fun, but then began to download other programs. in my case, I downloaded a Basic compiler and tried to write some simple programs, with only limited success. Around the room there was a lot of activity from the group with frowns and giggles liberally interspersed.
Patrick then asked us how we might then use this new knowledge. I suggested that this was one way to help our students understand the history of the box they use every day. Someone else thought that it would be especially useful for students to experience some of the frustrations to trying to understand these older programming processes, if only to gain greater empathy with those doing things like creating early video games.
This discussion reminded me of a conversation with Dan (I think on DigitalCampus) about students no longer getting anywhere near the command line on their computers and therefore have a hard time even thinking about writing code of their own.
But this raises the question of whether it’s really necessary for students to get to that very basic level of computer use any longer? My answer is that it depends on what the goal is. So, for instance, if their goal is to create a video and post it online, they don’t need to know what happens under the hood. They just need to know how to do what they want to do. But if we are trying to teach them the history of digital humanities, encountering the precursors of the field seem just as important as it is in a different field of history to have them encounter primary sources. In other words, these emulators let them interact with a version of a primary source in digital humanities.