June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
11.661.1 - 11.661.17
Geek Civilization: Amateur Radio and First-Year Projects To Improve Recruitment and Retention In an ECET Program
This paper describes the author’s current efforts and future plans to restore the path which led many of today’s senior professionals into electronic technology. That path usually began in the teenage years with an interest in amateur radio and tinkering with electronics, followed by math and science courses in high school, then pursuit of a degree in engineering or technology. Unfortunately, that path has nearly disappeared over the last twenty-five years or so because of the evolution of electronic technology in ways that make it seem less accessible to tinkerers and amateur radio operators and because electronic technology is so pervasive in modern life that most people simply take it for granted. The author is attempting to restore the traditional path by expanding the use of hands-on construction projects which are intended to catch the interest of students and kindle their enthusiasm early in the curriculum, and to encourage an interest in amateur radio through radio-oriented projects.
I. The Ancient Geeks
In ancient times (mid-20th century) a technologically inclined teenager might be lucky enough to have an adult relative or friend who was an amateur radio operator (often referred to as a “ham” radio operator, or just a “ham”). He would be exposed to the nuts and bolts (or tubes and wires) of electronic technology through that person (an “Elmer”, ham slang for mentor), would learn that hams were capable of communicating worldwide via HF (“shortwave”) radio, and would also learn that hams often built their own transmitters and receivers either from scratch or from kits (those were the days of the fabled Heathkits and the lesser Knight Kits) using basic tools like pliers, screwdrivers and soldering irons. Building a Knight Kit Star Roamer five-tube shortwave receiver, easily capable of receiving broadcasts direct from distant places like Moscow, Johannesburg, and Quito, Ecuador was a powerful motivating experience for a 13-year-old, and he naturally wanted to build other things. Parts for electronic projects could often be scavenged from old TV sets or radios (available for the asking at the local TV repair shop) or purchased for a reasonable price at the local electronic distributor.
This teenager, having discovered and begun to develop an interest in electronics, would usually be classified by his peers (most were boys) as a geek. He would have little opportunity for a “normal” teenage social life, which would be replaced by a circle of geek friends. These became both a social and a technological support system. Many young geeks also had access to local amateur radio clubs with members of all ages and levels of technical knowledge, which were an excellent support system. Many geeks became amateur radio operators themselves before their 16th birthday (the youngest ham on record was 5 years old when first licensed, ten-year-old hams were not uncommon), qualifying for a Federal Communications Commission license by passing a written examination covering basic electronic theory and the required demonstrating skill of receiving Morse code “by ear.”
Most geeks, having been “hooked” by technology at an early age, gravitated toward math and science courses in high school. There were no “computer geeks” in those days, because
Goodmann, P. (2006, June), Geek Civilization: Amateur Radio And First Year Projects To Improve Recruitment And Retention In An Ecet Program Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1089
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