Many schools built their first networks using some Macs and LocalTalk. LocalTalk was a proprietary network scheme which allowed a few Macs to be hooked up in daisychain fashion to printers. In 1984, when the Mac was introduced, most people working with computers in schools had virtually no knowledge of networking.
Ethernet was developed at Xerox PARC around 1976 and it is likely Steve Jobs and some Apple engineers saw it in action during their famous visit to PARC to see the Alto in 1979.
Most schools developed small unconnected networks using LocalTalk, Ethernet or Token ring during the 1980s. There might be a network in a computer lab, a network in an office suite, a network in a publications center, etc.. Apple's LaserWriter, introduced in 1985, at a cost of $7000, played a significant role in promoting networks, as its high cost made it cheaper to grow the local network than buying multiple printers.
Starting in the late 1980s, and continuing throughout the 1990s, most independent schools built school-wide data networks using Ethernet. On these networks schools placed networked printers, file servers, and email servers. The Peddie School has a technology timeline on their website which covers many key events in the development of school networking during this period. Many schools computerized their library card catalogs and circulation systems during the '90s.
One of the biggest drivers for growing networks was the push to computerize the comment writing and grade entry processes in schools. At the start of the '90s most schools were using NCR forms for comment writing. The end of each grading period tended to be a paper-work nightmare as teachers needed to deposit forms in the correct folders, enter grades by hand onto grade sheets, and then rewrite comments with mistakes. As faculty started to use word processing for their own work they became increasingly vocal about replacing existing processes with a computerized systems. In the early stages of this process many schools turned to database programs like FileMaker and created their own systems. Examples of database templates created in this period can be found here.
FirstClass, originally a BBS program, was adopted by many schools -especially those favoring Macs- and its popularity with faculty and students played a major role in increasing the use of networked computers. The ease of creating conferences in FirstClass continues be a major factor in its ongoing use by schools. (Examples of FirstClass Student Conference Areas)
HyperCard, created by Bill Atkinson, and released as a free product by Apple in 1987, didn't need networks, but played a huge role in the development of educational computing during this period. HyperCard was powerful and easy to learn, and many students and teachers did their first significant multimedia / hyperlink work (HyperCard Examples) with the program. HyperCard, which Apple eventually managed to kill, had a major influence on the development of digital technology. For example, Tim Berners-Lee very much had HyperCard in mind when he was developing the World Wide Web. Another example is the use of HyperCard by Cyan Worlds in developing a series of innovative graphic adventure games starting with The Manhole in 1988 and culminating with the Myst series.
AppleWorks was another important program for many schools during this period. AppleWorks for the Mac and Windows evolved from the Apple II version. It provided the basic productivity applications (word processing, spreadsheet, database apps) along with solid bitmap and vector graphics modes. When it was first released for the Mac its easy way of allowing different apps to be included in the same document was revolutionary. For instance, in a drawing document you could embed word processing, spreadsheet, and painting "boxes" and switch between modes just by clicking in the different boxes. Another advantage of AppleWorks was that it provided a tool set very appropriate to the needs of students. Unfortunately Apple put very little effort into improving AppleWorks and the product has gradually become marginalized. There is a theory that Apple has let AppleWorks languish in order not to irritate Microsoft. Microsoft's ongoing development of Office is thought to be essential to the survival of the Mac platform, and aggresive development of AppleWorks could cause Microsoft to be less enthusiastic about developing the Mac version of Office.
Another major development was the creation of QuickTime in 1991. QuickTime brought video to school computers. I well remember the first time a student brought a QuickTime file to school on a floppy disk. He hadn't been able to open the file at home and wanted to know what it contained. It was titled "Ride Em Cowgirl." Well, we opened it, and as you can probably imagine, we were both quite embarassed to see our first (rather tame) clip of digital video porn. The clip was small and short, as was almost all digital video at the time, but it certainly previewed some of the issues that developed as schools connected to the Internet.

This history is written from a very Apple-centric perspective. I hope others who have a different view will add their perspectives. FBartels

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