Our Inaugural EdTech Oral History Workshop

A first workshop

On June 7th we held our inaugural Oral History Workshop – How Education Made Computers Personal at Leuphana University (Luneberg, Germany) and online. The workshop was a collaboration between HCLE’s parent organization, LO*OP Center, and Leuphana University to capture more of that history and make it available to modern researchers.

LLOHW image from Twitter

The history of how computing changed education and learning, and how learning and education changed computing is more than the story of hardware introductions and institutional initiatives. As one of the speakers, Lee Felsenstein, observed;

“the 60s – 70s resonated with the counterculture of a search for personal control, even through technology.”

And, as the motto of the People’s Computer Company stated;

“Computers are mostly used against people instead of for people, used to control people instead of to free them. Time to change all that…”

 

Our first workshop expanded on that theme with the influence of Montessori logic, applied conviviality, designs for teaching about and through computers, and pedagogy.

The four main presentations were:

  • Jeremias Herberg: IT Became Personal – Montessori Logics in 1970s Computer Hobby Groups
  • Lee Felsenstein: The Tom Swift Terminal and Applied Conviviality
  • Liza Loop: Distance, Synchronicity, Control: Exploring Designs for Teaching About and Through Computers
  • Howard Rheingold: Counterculture + Social Media = Edupunk Pedagogy

 

The workshop was well attended, considering that it was as much a test as it was a research opportunity. A few dozen people attended at Leuphana and online. Scheduling had to accommodate a 9 hour difference in time zones. It was impressive to see how many people were willing to stay up late or get up early to participate. As a reflection on the history of computing, such an event would have been prohibitively expensive and unpredictable decades ago. Now, the system we used was new, familiar to many even with a mix of languages, and was effectively a test for Leuphana. It worked more than well enough for us.

For about 5 hours, the attendees listened and participated in a discussion of the objective and subjective aspects of early EdTech. Dates and data are more readily researched; but oral history captures the subjective aspects like the motivations and circumstances that led to decisions, actions, and also abandoned ideas. Anecdotes may conflict, but they also reveal the various perspectives that existed and influenced those times and these times. Even though Jeremias didn’t work in the ’60s and ’70s, he was able to put the workshop in perspective thanks to his research. Lee, Liza, and Howard were active in that era; their presentations provided insights and inspired questions as well as possible further investigations by researchers.

Education made computers personal

Much of the early EdTech work which was dedicated to applying computers and computing to education and learning was done by people whose work challenged conventional institutions: innovators, educators, visionaries, and revolutionaries. Some of this work was recorded. Much of it was never written down in the rush to turn new ideas into programs, lessons and new ways of teaching or learning. The workshop helped to refresh our memories, to ensure  that the information is preserved, to archive it and to make it available to researchers.

The nature of the collaboration between Liza and Jeremias is a good example of creating a bridge between generations. Liza Loop is the founder of LO*OP Center and the co-creator of the event. In the early days of personal computing, she brought the first Apple 1 into schools, opened a public access meeting place for computing, and helped write the user’s manuals for the Atari 400 and 800 computers. She lived the history, and knows others who also lived it. Jeremias Herberg is a post-doctoral fellow with the Complexity or Control Project at Leuphana University and works on how computers influenced learning. A sociologist, he is studying the history of science and technology, and finding others who are active in this field. These young scholars realize that the pioneers from a pivotal era are reaching the end of their lives and opportunities to meet them and capture their stories are becoming increasingly rare. This inaugural oral history workshop was yet another step in passing along history. There are many more stories to tell, record and study.

Lee was involved in the creation of several countercultural movements and in computers, including the Free Speech Movement where he created the famous “Community Memory”. In 1975, Lee co-founded the Homebrew Computer Club, where many early Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including Apple inventor, Steve Wozniak, used to gather to swap stories and expertise. As an engineer, Lee created the Sol-20, and early desk-top computer and the Osborne 1, one of the first portable computers. Choosing from a breadth of influences, he chose to talk about the Tom Swift Terminal, a pre-PC device that would have enabled personal access to remote computers and could also be expanded into a quite capable stand-alone machine. As for how “Education Made Computers Personal”, he noted that the 60s – 70s resonated with the counterculture of a search for personal control, even through technology.

Howard was one of the first writers to point out the educational values of digital networks. He was involved in the WELL, a “computer conferencing” system and, drawing from that experience, he coined the term “virtual community”. As he pointed out, many of the issues encountered in those early days still remain after decades of development, partly because;

“Technologies, including EdTech, are changing faster than society.”

Computers and computing have changed society and the way we teach and learn; but, fundamentally, many organizations and institutions continue to struggle to adapt.

Because the details of the presentations are too much to relay here we are working at making the presentations and the video available. (You can follow some of the proceedings via #LLOHW on Twitter.) When they are available we’ll post them this blog and publish announcements on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

One workshop is not enough. There is an urgency to record as many of these oral histories as possible. The memories are perishable. The artifacts and documentation are at risk of being dismissed or overlooked by subsequent generations unless they are combined with contemporary, interpretive commentary. We are endeavoring to record those histories through the workshop and also through a crowd campaign so many more voices can be heard. Howard, Liza, and Lee are already well known through their writing as are many other EdTech pioneers. However, equally useful stories from elementary school teachers, hobbyists, and self-taught students, have yet to be captured. If you have a story, pass it along. If you want to read those stories, visit the HCLE wiki (our digital loading dock while we build our virtual museum). Keep next year’s workshop in mind and let us know if you would like to be kept abreast of our plans. There are more stories to tell and hear.

Thanks to everyone who made it happen.

 

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