Educator's Enthusiasm for technology leaves
legacy for BC schools
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1997. First
published in Computer Player, September 1997
When they go back to school this month, thousands of
school computer-using students and teachers will be missing a friend
Barry Macdonald, teacher, administrator, and pioneer
in the use of computers
in the classroom, died last Spring, of cancer, at the age of 53.
As a young teacher, at East Vancouver's South Hill
Elementary, in the
early 1970s, Barry gained access for his students to the main frame
at John Oliver Secondary, down the street, via a teletype link. A few
later, seeing the potential for the classroom of the then brand new
computers, Barry started working with a Commodore Pet, one of the first
generation of PCs.
With such primitive equipment, and with support from
the school district,
he soon fired up EdNet, Western Canada's first school-focused BBS,
remained in operation until 1996, serving generations of students and
with educational software, on-line games and trivia contests, Internet
links, and a safe environment for students to chat.
Moving into district administration, Barry helped to
build up the Vancouver
School Board's Media Services department, which, among other services,
provided a library of software which teachers could borrow for
use. He helped create a District Technology Centre, to provide training
for teachers in the educational use of computers.
While providing leadership and direction to schools
looking for ways
to increase the use of computers in the classroom, Barry never lost
of the idea that computers were not an end in themselves-they were a
to encourage student learning. The key question, for Barry, was always
'what will students learn from this activity'?
During the 1990s, while his job responsibilities
increased as he was
appointed District Principal, managing a department that was expanded
include library resources and curriculum development, Barry continued
look for ways to connect technology with education; for a year, he led
a group of local teachers, contracted by the provincial Ministry of
to work on ideas for integrating information technology into the school
curriculum at all grade levels, helping to create the framework that
school year has become Information Technology, a newly-required course
for grades K to 10.
As well, he pushed and prodded the Vancouver school
district to connect
schools electronically to one another and to the Internet. . Stargate,
a Web server, was set up to host school Web sites
and because of his efforts, Vancouver continues to build a Wide
Network, promising high-speed Net access to all students, even in these
times of funding cutbacks
The cutbacks took their toll, however.
As part of Vancouver's budget tightening this spring,
Barry, along with
all the other District Principals, was laid off. At the same time, his
Media Services and Technology department was pared back, losing much of
its staff, and dispersing much of its collection of software, films,
other media to individual schools.
And in May, Barry, who had been battling cancer for
several years, died.
He will be remembered for a sense of humour, and for a
that given technology tools and training, teachers and students can
more creative problem solvers... that it's not enough to throw hardware
into a classroom-that while that needs to be done, it needs to be done
with thought, with support, and with a plan for its use. And always
a sense of 'what will students be learning from this'?
In the coming school year, as parents, teachers, and
students work together
to get computers and the Internet into Vancouver classrooms, as they
with ways to meet the requirements of the new Information Technology
as they learn to use this new technology to prepare students to be
learners and citizens of the next millenium, they will be building upon
the ideas and leadership of Barry Macdonald. His encouragement of the
of technology in the classroom has made Vancouver schools a richer
environment, but the loss of the man has made us all the poorer.
New: PDF of the program from
the Vancouver School Board 1997 memorial for Barry Macdonald (1.8 MB