A tribute to Penny Farron
It is a unfortunate truth that some gifted academics can be so far ahead of others in their vision and thinking that the true value of their contributions to science and teaching are not recognised until after their death. In my experience, Penny Farron was such an individual. I first meet Penny at Massey University in 1991 and remember her as an friend and wonderfully gifted academic who possessed a vision of what the future of education would look like; empowered and enabled by emerging technology. Sadly, Penny passed away in the late 1990s shortly after her retirement from lecturing and research and just before the technological revolution that we have witnessed of the last 10-15 years that has effectively mainstreamed so many of the ideas that Penny envisioned and contributed to. More than any other teacher, it was Penny’s commitment to the design of ‘technology rich’ teaching and learning environments that awakened my own interest in this area. Penny’s contributions to the use of technology in education were many and varied.
Long before the invention of digital video, Penny saw the potential for using live video feeds as part of a structure learning environment. This outcome was achieved by writing code that made it possible for a computer to auto search and play sections of video from a VCR recorder with timecode that was interfaced to the computer via a ‘cavalcard’. The cavalcard was no of-the-shelf product. It was the result of a collaborative development with electronic engineers that Penny herself had initiated and managed. The cavalcard was the VCR forerunner of the ‘Laser Video Disc’ and early external SCSI CD-ROM players that were based on the same basic idea. As the very first colour computers arrived on the market, Penny adopted the very early versions of Adobe Premier and Macromind Director as tools that could be used to fully internalise the editing of video and creation of teaching aids within a computer environment. At least, that was the ‘idea’. In reality, the early generations of colour computers lacked the hard drive space, speed and RAM needed to turn this vision into a practical working reality.
In the mid 1990s Penny retired from teaching and closed Massey Universities first and only Apple Bureau. This outcome was precipitated by university leadership of the time who were unable to see that computer’s would ever play a serious role in classroom teaching and learning activities. Penny’s retirement removed a substantial literary and capital investment in computer technology from Massey University that was, over process of time, passed onto our small home schooling project located on a rural farm property in the back blocks of the Manawatū. Over further process of time, our small family school project became iPansophy Limited. Thus, we remember Penny Farron as gifted scholar, visionary and New Zealand pioneer in the use of technology in Education. It is our sincere hope that Penny’s vision will live on and find realisation in the work of iPansophy Limited, for many generations to come.