Does everyone need to know how to program a computer? This is a question we have been addressing at LO*OP Center since its inception in 1975. My answer has always been a strong “yes and no”. Yes, everyone needs to understand enough about how a computer is programmed to believe the old saying “garbage in – garbage out”. The easiest way to get this knowledge into an individual’s belief system is to give him or her the experience of writing a very simple program that puts a piece of patently inaccurate information into a computer and delivers it to anyone who look at the screen or printout. Will everyone need to write computer programs to hold down a job, raise a family or participate in civic life? No. In many cases writing code is a low-level skill within the computer industry. Today there may be strong demand for coders but in the long run coding is a dead-end skill if not accompanied by design, analytical and/or management abilities.
It recapitulates my own point of view that our emphasis should be on understanding the impact of computing on society. The proponents of the international movement, Hour of Code, emphasize learning to program as the most important place to start. I worry that participants in this project who decide that coding is not their cup of tea will lose all interest in the field before they get the real message:
we must teach children not just to think about how to design and program a particular technology, but to consider its potential role and impact on society – Sullivan & Denner
For a contemporary look at the Computer Literacy Debate you might want to follow Computing Education Blog by computer science professor Mark Guzdial. For an historical perspective check out HCLE’s “exhibit-in-progress”. And don’t hesitate to add your own point of view here or on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages.
What was it like to be at the Apple in April event at the Living Computer Museum on Wednesday, April 12th? I’m sure the experience was different for each of us but I can tell you how it was for me.
First came getting there at all. I didn’t know about the meeting until a few days before (Monday, April 10) when HCLE consultant, Tom Trimbath, sent me a copy of a message he had received from Living Computer Museum + Labs marketing coordinator, Lauren Bayer. Tom keeps up on social media while I am sort of a recluse so I really appreciated his heads up.
Lauren’s note was inviting Tom to visit Living Computer’s new exhibit. It read:
“Continuing the momentum, we’re excited to share that LCM+L will be hosting a new, permanent exhibit dedicated to the to the first two decades of Apple! This will include three original Apple I computers, Apple’s first-ever product, including the only operable Apple I in existence available for use by the public and a unique demonstration model that was housed in Steve Jobs’ office until he first left Apple in 1985.
The Apple Exhibit will open to the public on Friday, April 14. We appreciate your support in helping us spread the word within our community. In addition to a few images available for sharing on social channels or in a newsletter, we also crafted sample posts to leverage for your social media channels.
Our partner @LivingComputers will open a new exhibit dedicated to the first two decades of Apple Computers on April 14! #ComeInGeekOut
Get hands on with the only operable Apple 1 @LivingComputers Apple Exhibit, which opens to the public on April 14! #ComeInGeekOut
From a garage start-up to a global leader in computer technology, the @LivingComputers Museum + Labs is opening a new exhibit dedicated to the first two decades of Apple on April 14. Visitors can interact with the only operable Apple 1 available to the public, along with other computers that helped spark Apple’s growth.”
Hmmm…LO*OP Center owns the first-ever Apple 1 off the assembly line and I had visited Living Computers two years ago. Somebody there knew about our machine but staff had changed. I wondered if they were interested in our Apple I so I telephoned Lauren. She was exceedingly cordial and promised to ask around the organization. I later heard that my call had caused quite a stir. Within hours an email arrived from Executive Director, Lath Carlson, with an invitation to Wednesday’s invitation-only party. I was thrilled. I didn’t pay any attention to who was going to be there but I wanted in. Luckily I didn’t have any pressing appointments to keep me from hopping on a plane to Seattle and my dog sitter was available!
By Tuesday afternoon I was ready to go and I began worrying about what to wear – evening attire? Cocktails? Business casual? Jeans? Then I realized this was Homebrew. I’ve known some of these people since I was in my 20’s and I’m now over 70. It doesn’t matter what I wear. I decided to relax and have fun.
Meeting Old Favorites. There were only a few minutes between checking into the hotel and catching our ride to the Museum. Standing in the lobby were magazine editors David Ahl of Recreational Computing and Tom Hogan of Infoworld, neither of whom I had met in the early days of reading what they wrote, but it’s not hard to identify aging geeks swapping stories. Four more new faces were in the limousine that picked us up. Museum staff welcomed us on the first floor. I glanced over the badges still waiting on the front desk. Oh, nice crowd! Haven’t seen him/her in quite a while.
It was hard to tear myself away from the exhibits that have been installed since my previous visit and head upstairs to the party proper. Mike Willegal of the Apple I Registry sought me out, introduced himself and asked for a photo of the jumpers on our Apple I. There was Jim Warren from the West Coast Computer Faire, People’s Computer Company and many of my other old haunts. I hadn’t seen Gordon French from Homebrew since the reunion at the Computer History Museum in 2013. I’ve been working with Lee Felsenstein (designer of the Osbourne 1) recently so we were already up to date on our goings on but it has been perhaps 10 years since I’ve had a chance to chat with Len Shustak, co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Computer History Museum in Mt. View, California.
I’m actually not a very technical person and I remember struggling to hook up Apples, Pets and Radio Shacks to the Nestar network that Len and Harry Saal put together in the early 1980s. In those days, school kids who wanted to swap computer games really had to learn a lot about operating systems and hardware at a level way beyond scripting with a drag-and-drop interface. Many of the conversations I listened in on at this party were recaps of the hardware and software repartee around personal computers that has now been going on for more than 50 years.
Hobnobbing with the Living Computer Museum Staff. While visiting with the computer aficianados of now and then was pleasant I found I had more to talk about with the young and enthusiastic educators and curators who comprise the staff of this unique museum. I slipped out of the party to chat with Nina Arens, education coordinator, about how to engage kids in coding activities and with Cynde Moya, collections manager and several others. I went back the next day for more and hope this is just one episode in a long, fruitful collaboration.
Reflecting on the Experience. I won’t bore you with more name dropping but there were lots of other old acquaintances to say hello to. I was honored to be in the company of these pioneers of the computer industry but I was also aware that my own trajectory has always been a tangent to theirs. My passion is how people learn and how we can facilitate that learning more effectively, not bits, bytes, electrons and gates. I’m fascinated by how people think, especially people who think differently from the way I do. I love watching them solve problems but I don’t have much to say to them. It was fun to observe the renewal of long-term friendships and to hear the exchange of stories, of appreciation and of genuine concern. At the same time I realized that I did not form firm connections with those who were so instrumental to my career. I felt welcomed but still an outsider. Maybe it’s that reclusive aspect of my personality or maybe I’m just so oppositional that I’m always heading upstream when everyone else is floating down with the current. That’s what I was thinking about when I looked up and saw that the group picture was being taken from the side of the crowd where I was standing. I had thought I was in the back and instead I ended up in the front, near Paul Allen, co-founder of MicroSoft and the man behind this wonderful museum — whom I had not even met.
Thank you, Paul, for hosting such an interesting party. Next time I’ll make a point of saying hello.
Recently, a German friend asked me to speak to his class of German elementary school teachers-in-training about using computers in their classrooms. I worked with teachers extensively in the 1980s and early 90s but have been focused on history for several years. Computing has changed a lot in 3-odd decades. Are my messages still relevant?
The most obvious change in ed tech is that I didn’t have to go to Germany to be a guest speaker. We used Skype to make me a larger-than-life screen presence – a live “talking head” with slides. A more subtle issue is whether, in today’s world of smart phones, MOOCs and You-tube videos, classroom teachers face the same challenges we struggled with in the past. I anxiously prepared my visuals, hoping that my comments would resonate with a room-full of millennials.
In my next several blogs I’ll share the narrative content of this presentation as well as the visuals and perhaps expand some of the ideas. The slide deck I used is available here and I’ll select from it to illustrate the blogs. I hope you will let me know through your comments whether my thoughts are useful to you and where you think I’ve missed the boat.
Here are a few preliminary comments about the slides.
Slide 3: Let’s talk about
This is the overview of the presentation. I always like to understand the participants in a seminar so I start by exploring their thinking. The event as originally given, online and in a foreign language from the students’ point of view, did not elicit the lively discussion I had hoped for. I would very much like to hear from you as you view this presentation asynchronously. I do not have pat answers to the questions posed and the topics are worthy of slow pondering. Take your time with them and let’s use this social media platform to share our ideas and responses.
Slides 5, 6, 7: Questions
Most of us use our own learning process as a standard to inform the way we teach. These questions are intended to help bring personal learning to a conscious level. By being aware of our own learning we can harness our self-model to benefit those of our pupils who think and learn as we do. This awareness will also free us to adapt new models to help us reach students’ whose minds follow paths different from our own.
Slides 8, 9, 10, 11: 21st Century Skills
Actually I don’t think the skills mentioned are new in any way. Humans have needed them throughout their existence. The “21st century” label is just a way to highlight how essential they are. The questions offered in this section are my suggestions for teachers to pose to their students as ways to exercise these skills.
Slides 12, 13, 14: Beyond Screens
It’s easy to view ed tech as an alternative to teachers giving lectures, but there is so much more we can do with it. This section provides some hints for activities that don’t require each pupil to have a separate screen and keyboard.
Slides 15, 16, 17: Transferring learning from games
Not all students spontaneously transfer what they learn in one context to another. These slides set the stage for discussing how teachers can use simple games (Tic Tac Toe, for example) and complex computer applications (Mindcraft) to acquire skills they can use beyond the game setting.
Slide 18: References
I’ve included links to other web sites throughout the slide deck. Don’t forget to click on them. This last slide offers several more sites I thought might enrich your teaching practice. Please let us all know which ones you found useful and add other personal favorites the rest of us may not have discovered yet.
Would you agree that a computer, like an empty blackboard, is a blank slate which can be used to transmit both truth and lies? The internet is not just one computer, it’s a huge amalgamation of thousands of connected computers, but one can experience the principle of ‘garbage in-garbage out’ through learning to program a single, small, general-purpose machine. Once you have programmed a computer to repeat “The moon is made of green cheese!” to anyone who will glance at your screen you are on your way to developing immunity to the huge wave of garbage the internet exposes us to. Even more powerful is the disconnect between you who composed the message and whoever reads it. Unless you choose to disclose your authorship you can make a computer tell any lie you like and no one will be the wiser. Heady stuff for a 10-year-old learning to write her first computer code. Headier still for someone who wants to influence the US presidential election.
In a recent blog, posted on “Internet applications and technology and their implications for individuals, organizations and society”, Larry Press notes:
Trump supporters seem to worry a lot about voter fraud. They advocate easing mechanisms for challenging a voter’s registration and encourage strict requirements for proof of identity and residence. There is more evidence of demonstrably fraudulent political information on the Internet than fraudulent voting. If their concern is genuine, they should support a real-names policy for domain registration.
It is through the ‘domain registration’ that you can find out who actually is behind something you find on the internet. Most domain registration is handled by ICANN, a “not-for-profit corporation (the “new corporation”) managed by a globally and functionally representative Board of Directors”. Larry points out that fraudulent articles posted on the internet before the election may have misled many voters. Current international policy permits individuals to keep their domain information a secret. Just like the mischievous 10-year-old, any one can post anything anonymously. But instead of reaching only those standing within view of your little screen these messages are delivered to billions of people across the globe.
How is this phenomenon related to HCLE? We are providing an historical backdrop for the contemporary issues and policies you and your children must deal with. What do we need to teach our children today so that they can better distinguish fact from fiction as they surf the web? What were we exposed to during our formative years that left us so vulnerable to the lies computers forward to us? Was this problem anticipated? What did the Educational Technology Pioneers think we should do about it? And what should we do about it now? If you care, read more of what Larry Press has to say.
Long-time ed tech journalist, Larry Press, has been monitoring how college freshmen are using online learning tools. Check out his article below.
I draw two important implications from Larry’s report:
Kids who want to get into top colleges like UCLA will voluntarily seek out open educational resources without being forced to do so by teachers’ assignments. This was one of the effects that ed tech pioneers hoped for. It’s gratifying to see that we were right.
Ambitious African American kids, who may well represent many populations with limited access to learning resources through their schools, are even stronger voluntary users of computer-based teaching than more privileged kids. This was another phenomenon we speculated about early on.
In the 1980s when computers were beginning to penetrate classrooms there was considerable concern that gifted and/or white kids would be steered into programming classes while minority and/or remedial students would only get to use computers for drill and practice. (See Hispanic Education and Technology, for example.) We didn’t have the internet at that time so teachers were the gatekeepers. We also didn’t have the wide cafeteria of teaching resources now accessible via the internet outside of classrooms. We predicted computing would change relationships among formal schools, teachers and learners. This UCLA study supports that idea.
I must be crazy to be doing this but after more than 10 years at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits in Milpitas, CA, LO*OP Center, Inc. is moving again. Most of the physical stuff we have is the HCLE collection of papers, books, magazines, computers, toys, software and memorabilia.
I had hoped to sort through these material belongings in the Milpitas office (see the lower end of the arrow on the map below), scan everything there and ship the physical items off to waiting museums, libraries and universities anxious to conserve these historical artifacts. Curating the resulting digital surrogates would be a piece of cake, right? It isn’t happening that way. This is about the 8th time I moved a lot of the stuff, ironically, some of it from my former home in Sebastopol, a few towns south of my present Sonoma County location. That was 1979.
LO*OP Center started as a storefront computer center in 1975 in Cotati (next to Rohnert Park on the map). When I closed the shop I moved what we had to my barn in Sebastopol and I went to Silicon Valley (actually Palo Alto) to consult. A few years later Bob Albrecht (a key Ed. Tech. Pioneer) rented the Sebastopol house and added parts of what used to be Peoples’ Computer Center to the barn storage. After that, ComputerTown USA! (which was located in Menlo Park, one town north of Palo Alto) folded and I salvaged more stuff for the collection . Meanwhile I continued to amass leavings from my consulting work and other Ed Tech Pioneers started handing me the contents of their offices, attics and garages. When Bob left the Sebastopol house so my sons could move in they wanted the barn cleared out and the collection went into public storage — in Menlo Park near the old Peoples’ Computer Center. In 2001 office space in Palo Alto was cheaper than public storage and I wanted to have a place for people to congregate and help build the museum, so another move ensued. When sharing space with my for-profit business didn’t work out we moved to Milpitas. Then, a couple of years ago, I moved myself back to Sonoma County – Guerneville this time. It took me 2.5 hours to drive to the office. Needless to say, I did most of my work at home.
Last week several volunteers, a few hired hands and I packed 100 boxes of papers, books and magazines, loaded them into a U-Haul Truck and drove them the 150 miles to their new home – LO*OP Cottage next to my house in Guerneville. I have mixed feelings about this decision. Although my commute is now minimal it’s much harder to enlist volunteers here in the country. Although I have neighbors who used to work at IBM and Apple, they are retired and pursuing art, music and theater rather than high-tech nostalgia. We have many passionate, local educators but they, too, are more interested in looking forward than back. I’m focusing on recruiting high-school students and online volunteers to help plow through the mountains of work ahead.
The good news is that this is an exquisite place to be. Light pollution is so minor that you can see the whole Milky Way on clear nights. The redwoods beckon, the Russian River keeps flowing and the Pacific Ocean, 15 miles down the road, is magnificent in all its moods. Ah well, I have to go inside now and sort a few more papers!
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
-George Santayana, The Life of Reason [1905-1906], Volume I, Reason in Common Sense, Chapter 12, 1906
Whenever I attend educational technology conferences today, I am reminded of George Santayana’s admonition to learn the history of one’s craft. At meetings, I often see young researchers and developers struggling with the same problems technology pioneers were discussing 40 years ago. In 1976, I brought the #1 Apple 1, the first one off the assembly line in Cupertino, into a classroom for the first time ever. Soon, I was part of a growing community of educators and learners who were anticipating the potential benefits and issues introduced by the advent of small, fast computing. We thought a lot and experimented as best we could. We discussed the issues among ourselves and published our ruminations in now obscure journals and newsletters.
Ed Tech Pioneers envisioned the potential of personal computers to deliver personalized lessons to students with a wide variety of learning styles, strengths, weaknesses and needs. This vision is only partly realized today. Students are accessing a wider variety of materials through the web both within and outside the formal classroom, anytime and anywhere there is a wifi connection. But conscious efforts to embed the educational content in teaching materials specifically designed to make learning easier for “special” students, those whose learning needs put them outside the statistical norm, has not caught the attention of many instructional software developers. We are focused on “going viral”, on creating a product, albeit educational, that appeals to the many while we continue to let the few fall by the wayside.
Terry Burnham writes about the cautions behind assuming one result works for all, even if it is an academic trial.
Liza Loop expands into the greater implication with the comment she posted there that we reflect here.
A deeper problem is highlighted in this story: We, as a society, are not skilled at generating statistically significant findings or interpreting experimental results appropriately. Results from a study population of 40 individuals, such as the CRT mentioned here, only tell us that an outcome **can** happen. They do not imply that the same result is **likely** to happen. This mistake is epidemic in learning and education research as well as the popular press. We experiment with a small number of students, find something that works for them and suddenly mandate that treatment for every school child in the English-speaking world. In education, we should be using small population studies to inform ourselves about how to personalize teaching, not how to generalize our practices. These small-scale results challenge us to investigate just who — what kind of student — will respond as our study subjects did, not to assume that our small sample was representative of the whole population. Even more troubling is to contemplate how this tendency toward flawed generalization from small studies impacts democratic decision-making. It is “too bad” if scholars fail to update their citations to reflect emerging revisions in psychological theory. It will be catastrophic if voters and legislators base the laws that control the many on effects found only in a few.
The idea that humans learn happily and thoroughly through play and games did not originate with the video game as the following blog, reposted from the Institute of Play, points out. Although few of us cling to the old idea that play isn’t compatible with the work of learning, we still have a lot to discover about how play facilitates learning and how to craft playful environments to insure that specific academic targets are hit. The Institute of Play is making an important contribution to this field.
What qualifies someone to be an HCLE EdTech Pioneer? Our philosophy is inclusive. We are focusing on “unsung heroes” so that we can highlight the depth of thinking of those who explored the use of computing for learning early on. Some of these ideas have endured and informed current and upcoming applications. Many have been forgotten. Their loss impoverishes the field and means that they have to be reinvented in order for future generations to benefit from them — unless we rediscover them and encourage their originators to restate and elaborate them. Without input from edtech pioneers we risk losing both context that clarifies and experimentation that facilitates evaluation of educational innovations.
Of course, some old ideas are bad ideas. The problem with forgetting them is that they tend to recur. If they are not part of recorded and accessible history we waste time and effort retracing the experience that extinguished them in the first place. Our human ability to learn from recorded, as well as living, memory permits us to accelerate our evolution beyond the pace of random “natural” selection.
As for the “sung” heroes, those innovators who have managed to ensure the endurance of their intellectual legacy amid the current deluge of advertising and hype, HCLE has something to offer them as well. HCLE’s gaze surveys the whole panorama of learning about, for, and with computing, not just the latest, greatest, electronic song and dance. We are a platform for better-known innovators and leaders to demonstrate how and why their processes benefit learners in the long term. We enhance their voices by blending them into the chorus of lesser-known participants and provide a richer tapestry by weaving together the threads spun by other thinkers.
HCLE EdTech Pioneers are not only the most charismatic public speakers or the writers and inventors who capture popular attention by asserting their own importance and uniqueness of their ideas. They are also the more modest contributors, those who see ourselves as riding on gigantic shoulders, as part of a crowd of concerned workers who did and are still doing their part to enhance tools for learning.
So, are you one of those quiet individuals whose creative thinking brought an enhanced way of teaching into schools, workplaces, recreational centers or homes? Did your work with computing change the learning of hundreds, if not thousands, of children or adults? Do you have cautionary tales? If so, consider joining our chorus — you don’t have to be a soloist. Just let us know what you did, how it incorporated new media, and why you believe it helped to improve teaching and learning. We’re not out to flatter you or make you famous. We just want to do the best job we can of learning from the past to make a better future.
Thank you for being willing to add your chapter to this larger story.