Category Archives: Collaborating Museums, Science Centers and Schools

Exploring Designs for Teaching – Howard Rheingold on Counterculture + Social Media = Edupunk Pedagogy

On June 7th, 2016 we held an 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.

Howard Rheingold (technology innovator, inventor of the term “virtual community”, editor of The Whole Earth Review, and participant in The Well) spoke on Counterculture,  Social Media, and Edupunk Pedagogy.

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, 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…”

Much of the early EdTech work was dedicated to applying computers and computing to education and learning; and was done by people whose work challenged conventional institutions: innovators, educators, visionaries, and revolutionaries. Some of the work was recorded. But, much of their work wasn’t recorded because it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, undocumented was safer than documented. Now is a good time to refresh our memories to make sure the information is preserved, made available to researchers, and archived.

There is an urgency to record as many of these oral histories as possible. The memories are perishable. The artifacts and documentation are easy for subsequent generations to dismiss without the right perspective. We are endeavoring to record those histories through the workshop, but also through a crowd campaign so many more voices can be heard. Howard, Liza, and Lee are as well known as many other EdTech pioneers; but there are equally useful stories to be heard from elementary school teachers, hobbyists, and self-taught students. 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 built our virtual museum.) There are more stories to tell and hear. Thanks for participating.

For more of our videos from this and other presentations, visit our YouTube channel (HCLEMuseum).

Advertisements

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


(June 2017 update: select videos available)

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.

Finding Funds For Niches

Found any funding lately? We are like other niche museums working to safeguard big ideas, frugally hunting for the right partners who aren’t constrained by convention. Maybe we can help each other.

Except for windfalls and fortuitous serendipity, funding new ventures starts with a seemingly forlorn search. Funders have resources and goals, but look to others to do the work. Founders have the passion for the work, but not necessarily the funds. The broader the idea, the easier the search. The narrower the idea, the more reasons to find help about how to find help. Welcome to the world of finding funding for the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum (HCLE).

Some ideas are obvious and global. Memorials for wars, archives for art, libraries for personages, all have people who felt passionate about them. Their establishments required massive fundraising campaigns, but that’s also because they could expect to reach massive audiences. Intense emotions are behind the Vietnam and World War II monuments. Pivotal artists like Picasso or Ansel Adams have a core of patrons from which to draw. Presidential libraries count on dedicated constituents to build impressive facilities.

Some ideas are just as vital, yet easy to overlook. HCLE aims to help everyone understand how he or she learns. More particularly we highlight how computing has changed that process. Within the last few decades we have new tools to help us learn, and yet there’s no museum, archive or website dedicated to preserving and understanding that history of these innovations or their implications — except HCLE.

Our Virtual Museum sits at the overlapping boundaries of history, computers, computing, education, and learning. It’s unconventional because it is virtual.MW2014 Lightning Talk slide 2 And it covers an epoch that is within living memory but easily forgotten by young scholars. There are plenty of natural and national history museums. Computers are finally being recognized as historically significant, with increasing traffic to computer history sites as proof. Computing, as contrasted with computers, as a museum focus may not be as obvious, yet playing vintage games online is growing in popularity. Education, a fundamental activity in all our lives, has very few museums commemorating it. Museums do educate us but rarely invite us to step back and reflect on the process. Learning, that process which changes the individual (as compared with teaching or schooling), in both formal and informal settings, is more often assumed than studied. If there’s a museum of learning, please tell us about it. Virtual museums are so new they have yet to be reflected in the government funding (though we are hoping to help change that with the Online Museum Working Group.)

As we said in our Lightning Talk at the 2014 Museums and the Web conference:

  • Funding a museum about one topic is hard.
  • Funding a museum about two topics is harder.
  • Funding a museum about three topics is hardest.

As we approach funders, we encounter computer advocates who aren’t much interested in education, education advocates who are interested in tomorrow’s technology but not yesterday’s, software enthusiasts who are only passionate about games but not what the player learns from them, proponents of each major topic who realize the major topic isn’t covered well enough and therefore are less inclined to support the work at the boundaries where the overlaps live.

As a result, we must have many more conversations with organizations that aren’t focused exactly in our hybrid field. We hope to find enough common ground to fit into their agendas or to convince them to adjust their organizational borders.

Established museums have, almost by definition, established funding. The initial hurdles have been cleared, and while funding may change, there’s a history of sustained performance, an audience, and direction. If one funder leaves, another may be identified through association. Almost every non-profit has a tenuous future, but momentum helps. New institutions like ours are especially challenged.

We are like many niche, small, and new museums. Our momentum may not be as impressive because momentum is mass times velocity, and no matter how fast we work, we don’t have much mass behind us. We can’t demonstrate the sustainability of our future because we’re still creating our present. We’re doing as much as we can with what we have. We are frugal by necessity, doing a lot with very little, relatively speaking.

Frugality and efficiency are not key criteria for funders. They may be fine criteria ideologically, but in reality the criteria are more bureaucratic and historic. Conventional grant processes ask for information that is reasonable, except in proportion to the size of the organization asking for the funds. Large and small grant proposals take almost the same amount of scarce organizational resources to complete. A five page proposal sounds simple, yet if it asks for historical financial reports, several negotiated commitment letters, detailed program plans, while adhering to strict formatting, then a small museum can be so overwhelmed that all the day-to-day museum work must be postponed for days or weeks while proposal writing is going on. The process is nearly the same for a grant of a few thousand dollars as it would be for a few hundred thousand dollars.

As frustrating as a niche’s search may be, it is encouraging to know that diversity provides possibilities. Unconventional ideas do succeed. Take an entertaining look at some niche museums in a recent Mental Floss video about weird museums. Almost all of them found funding though probably through unconventional means.

Ironically, the History of Computing in Learning and Education actually touches on a trending topic: EdTech, Educational Technology. Billions of dollars are being spent on technology for learning, both inside and beyond the classroom. People and organizations are trying to solve problems in, and change the future of, education and learning through the use of hardware, software and communications technology. Unfortunately, these people often fail to look back at the problems of the past and previous attempts at solutions.

We sit at the periphery of many topics, as do many niche organizations. We’re working towards funding by talking to as many of our neighbors as possible. If you can think of some person or organization to contact, please pass along their contact information. And, if we can do the same for you and your organization, please contact us. The best resource we have is each other.

Online Museum Working Group Introduction

Digital technologies mean a new definition for the word, “museum.” What makes a museum a museum if its entire collection in online? The following post discusses an initiative and conversation inspired by IMLS (Institue of Museum and Library Services)  and implemented by HCLE.  We are pleased to be a part of this work and hope you will join us. Read on to find out how to participate and follow the progress.

(excerpted from a working page on HCLE’s wiki.)


 

Online Museum Working Group

Introduction

How do we distinguish between someone’s fly-by-night website that shows pictures of their favorite things and a serious ‘virtual’ or ‘online’ museum?

This question was recently posed by staff at the US Institute of Museum and Library Services (1). Current legislation (PUBLIC LAW 111 – 340 – MUSEUM AND LIBRARY SERVICES ACT OF 2010) includes the following wording: Section 273(1)(20 U.S.C. 9172(1)) is amended by inserting

includes museums that have tangible and digital collections and

after “Such term”.(2)”

This wording permits IMLS to address digital holdings but only in museums that also have a brick and mortar facility. True “virtual” or wholly online museums are not eligible for these funds.

Congress will reauthorize the Museum and Library Services Act in 2016. The purpose of this group is to recommend wording for the new bill that will enable IMLS to make grants to purely digital museums without opening up the application process to every blog site and online picture gallery.

You may participate in this effort at any of three levels.

  1. As a member of the public you may leave a comment on this blog or on this wiki page. No signup, registration or personal information is required for the wiki.
  2. To join the working group, please send a message to workinggroupimls@hcle.org requesting membership and briefly outlining your expertise in this area.
  3. Once some progress has been made by the working group we will convene a smaller drafting committee to craft the wording we suggest for the upcoming legislation. Members of this committee will be chosen by the working group.

The draft legislation will be passed back to the working group for approval and/or revision. A final document will be offered to the correct Congressional Appropriation Committee for its consideration.

(1) personal communication via telephone with Liza Loop, Susan Hildreth, Christopher Reich, June 19, 2014

(2) URL http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ340/content-detail.html accessed June 19, 2014


Some first thoughts by Liza Loop, June 19, 2014

Some types of web sites:

  • Simple, informally-formatted, picture collections (with captions but no interpretation)
  • Illustrated blog sites that include situational explanations, narrative or interpretation
  • Linked blog sites that include graphic images, narrative text and links (on or off site) to further information about an item
  • Cataloged picture galleries that include searchable catalogs with standardized metadata for each image
  • Virtual world sites that provide the visitor with a 3-dimensional, first person view of a simulated physical museum exhibit hall

…to be continued…

So Glad Our Museum Is not Real

So Glad Our Museum Isn’t Real – It’s Virtual
– An Overlooked Overlap by Tom Trimbath – Project Manager, HCLE

Many museums, libraries, and archives are creating virtual versions; either because of outreach, costs, or experimentation.

Overlaps between museums create niches that inspire small, targeted museums; but, the inefficiencies of small museums can overwhelm small staffs and budgets. One solution is to go virtual.

MW2014 Lightning Talk slide 2

In HCLE’s case, other museums cover History, Education (from the dawn of history), Computers (from room-sized machines down to ingestible devices), and Computing (there’s a demand for games). They overlap, but insufficient funds mean the core missions of museums can fade at the borders. HCLE is preserving the intersection of three.

Funding niches is harder than funding broader museums. The broader the topic, the larger the audience, and the greater opportunity for fundraising. Cover the intersection of two topics, and the remaining set is a smaller number. Cover the intersection of three topics and the population becomes quite small.

Disadvantages can become advantages. Competition encourages HCLE to duplicate each type of museum, which is expensive. Besides, each type of museum has a different culture and requires a different infrastructure. Collaboration instead of competition means duplication and costs are reduced. By contributing appropriate artifacts and efforts to established museums, both collaborators win. Topics at the border are emphasized rather than marginalized.

In HCLE’s case, we need to preserve and make accessible the documents, software, lessons, and experiences that affected how society rapidly learned a new way to learn. All of that material is perishable; particularly, educators rarely formally documented the  techniques they pioneered, except as newsletters and stories. We’ll collect what others won’t save.

But, simply dispersing the various elements and artifacts does not enable the necessary integration for academic research and insight.

Fortunately for HCLE, the remaining unarchived elements can all be digitized; which is why our museum is virtual.

Collaboration eases the overall effort, but it requires above average levels of communication (a potential burden for a small museum.) We must relinquish control of most of our artifacts, because that’s the best way to improve a collaborator’s collection; while simultaneously guarding a core mission. Respecting our mission requires a stewardship of access to the artifacts while developing a common standard across disparate disciplines.

MW2014 Lightning Talk slide 5

The effort is large, complex, and valuable; but, the effort is far smaller thanks to collaboration.

We’re attempting to fill the gap by using open source software, advancing the art of the proper catalog (using Dublin Core+), hosting the database within shareable environments (mySQL), building collaborative exhibits (Omeka), providing provisional access during  development (our wiki), and researching other repositories to minimize duplication and to introduce disparate partners.

HCLE’s essence is like many museums’: deliver a body of knowledge to a diverse users through a variety of avenues. Our avenues must enable: data mining for researchers, archive browsing for participants, and virtual exhibits for the casual visitor.

MW2014 Lightning Talk slide 8

To see our progress or collaborate, check out our wiki (for information about our database, catalog, and repository) and the draft of our first exhibits.

Archives To Connect – Eldon Berg

What have you stored, collected, and privately archived? Much of the pioneering work that invented ways to include computers and computing in the classroom was inspired by necessity. Little of it was documented, and most of those documents were printed on non-archival material.

We’re happy to find someone who has saved the work they did in the early computer era, and especially pleased when they’ve digitized and uploaded their collection. Eldon Berg has done that with his work. In particular, his Periodical Guide for Computerists contains lists of articles organized by topic and publication, and includes titles and page numbers. That may seem dry, but such a reference is wonderfully valuable to anyone researching the then state-of-the-art. The files are even searchable, so terms like BASIC can be queried.

The entry of computers into the classroom means educators everywhere had to find new ways to teach. Newsletters, support groups, even informal correspondence chronicled some of the work. Eldon Berg’s periodical isn’t limited to education, but by putting it online he enables researchers to access the pieces they need.

Eldon Berg is not alone. Many such personal archives exist. One of HCLE’s tasks is to connect with them to create a scholarly foundation of information that extends beyond the reach of any one archive. There will be a lot of reformatting, but the value is worth it.

If you have such a storehouse, collection, or archive and want to be included, send us a note. We’re glad we found Eldon. We look forward to finding you.

HCLE At Living Computer Museum October 2013

Emails, phone calls, hangouts, tweets and retweets are all ways we communicate but sometimes the best thing to do is walk in the front door and say hello. That’s what I did at the Living Computer Museum on Friday (October 11, 2013). Living Computer Museum The visit was definitely worth the price of admission. The insights were thanks to conversations with the staff. The flashbacks were a bonus.

The Living Computer Museum exists thanks to Paul Allen’s philanthropy, which was greatly aided by his success developing software for that hardware. But it isn’t just an homage to Paul’s history and legacy. As is true with one of Paul’s other museums, if the equipment is there, it must be fully functional. For the Flying Heritage Museum it means the airplanes must fly. For the Living Computer Museum it means the hardware must be able to run, and the only way to prove that is to have the appropriate software. Historical and historic compatibility must be maintained.

PCs can best be understood in relation to mainframes, so the Living Computer Museum has an impressive amount of floor space dedicated to DEC, Data General, and IBMs. Living Computer MuseumThey even have an operator’s console from an IBM 360, the room-sized mainframe that I never saw but used as an undergrad. I was particularly drawn to a PDP 11/70 that was being resurrected, the type of machine that I used for years as an engineer. It was considerably smaller, about the size of a few refrigerators instead of the size of a house. An emulator box doing the same job is about the size of a small phone book, with lots of room to spare. If you are a geezer geek, drop by. They need to maintain, repair, and in some cases replace fragile components that never were meant to be used for decades. (If you have any spare RP-06 or RP-07 read heads they’ll be happy to hear from you.) Living Computer Museum

Despite my flashback moments, I was there because the Living Computer Museum has to deal with many of the same issues as HCLE. How do we sort, store, and catalog documents and software that were treated as disposable in their time? One task in particular caught our eye. We’ve been compiling lists of games, not for the games’ sake, but because games were educational tools, whether that was their intent or not. A few days ago, LCM tweeted a photo of one of their staff members steadily sorting through hundreds of games. If LCM is putting together a list of games, and HCLE is doing the same, we may find that there’s a lot of overlap. We’re not the only ones. PlayingHistory.org has not only compiled a list of games, but they also have them operating online in proper emulation environments. Want to play Oregon Trail on an Apple IIe? They can probably do that. We’re in contact with universities who have similar collections. Undoubtedly some portion of the government should have some games as well.

I was lucky enough to get an hour of the Chief Archivist’s time as she walked me through their cataloging process, database architecture, and how they network with similar institutions. I don’t have any pictures from that conversation because we were in the back room. The exhibit hall is much more colorful, and I’d rather show you that side. It is apparent that keeping track of thousands of artifacts is much more than a spreadsheet can handle. (Care to search their archives? They are online.) Proper cataloging can take years. Storing software may involve disks from back when they truly were floppies. There are also the instruction manuals, and even the boxes – especially, if the boxes provided information that wasn’t in the manuals. Manuals are rarely comprehensive. Every piece may be necessary, and must be tracked.

Living Computer Museum

After I monopolized enough of her time, I joined the visitors touring the museum. I opted for my self-guided tour because so many of the machines were familiar to me. (They even had a Newton MessagePad. I guess they don’t need mine.) What impressed me most regarding HCLE’s mission was LCM’s display of personal computers, including the Altair and early PCs. One PC was so early that its display was vertical, like a sheet of paper. Why did we ever switch to horizontal from vertical? I forgot to ask. Most of the PCs were running either graphics or games, and obviously were intended to be used. I had more fun watching people play. Living Computer Museum And realizing that they were learning, sometimes through trial and error, sometimes by asking someone for help. That has been the nature of our association with computers.

HCLE has a focus, preserving those lessons learned about how to teach and learn in that dramatically changing environment. As computers entered the classroom, teaching and learning shifted from person-to-person to somehow including a digital presence. Museums like Living Computer Museum are doing incredible work preserving fragile hardware. Some go as far as LCM in preserving software. We intend to preserve the lessons too.

This is the time for protecting such material. Little, if any of it, was produced on archival media. The tricks and traps of getting software and hardware to operate were frequently in human memory. Recording those stories and tying them to the appropriate devices and applications is a time-critical task. Those memories are passing with the people who hold them.

I am glad to have met the people at Living Computer Museum, and to have witnessed their impressive work – and to emphasize why HCLE exists and why we have a lot of work to do.

HCLE At MW2013

The conference is over and I’m glad we attended. HCLE (Liza Loop and I) was at the 2013 Museums and the Web conference in Portland, Oregon. Days of tours, workshops, sessions, exhibits and demonstrations were overwhelming and useful; though the people and ideas may linger longest. I gained a new perspective on the size and need for our museum, and the state of the museum culture.

OMSI action shot – Tom and Liza (She’s the one in action.)

Museums are in transition. Digital technologies, whether they are the web or smartphones, are changing the way museums are managed and visited. Archives can be tracked more efficiently, and frequently must include room for digital artifacts. Visitors are more likely to begin their visit online where they decide when and how they’ll visit, and during their visit, are more likely to add to their experience by pulling out their smartphone and diving into details (even if those details come from uncurated sources like wikipedia.) This is a major shift for organizations that were built into massive structures, expansive halls, with complete control over the collection and its commentary. Digital technologies usurp some of the control, which sometimes means visitors create an unexpected experience, and sometimes mean they don’t feel the need for a physical visit. Challenges are opportunities.

Other industries are undergoing digital revolutions. To quote from another of my blogs;
Digital technology allowed independent movies to revolutionize Hollywood, garage bands to challenge record labels, ebooks to shock publishing houses, . . .
In each of those industries, new formats arose, surprised convention, and have since lived beside the earlier format; and both continue to change.

HCLE will be almost completely digital. (Details on the HCLE wiki.) The majority of our collection will be either scanned documents or heritage software. Our major physical exhibit will be a traveling show, a replica of a 1980s classroom computer lab. The other major element will be the story project where we collect people’s tales of how they learned and taught, about and with computers. We changed how we learned how to learn. We taught ourselves a new way to teach. It is appropriate that the museum is a new type of museum.

The most positive lesson I learned was that many of the tasks before HCLE have been solved for similar situations. Massive databases of digitized information are becoming the norm. The task remains as large as before, but it is encouraging to know that others have completed similar projects. Maybe none have exactly the same set of tasks, but that isn’t a surprise. And, if there isn’t a museum example, there may be other examples in other industries. As one attendee put it, (pardon me as I paraphrase),
If you think your database is large and potentially slow, go to amazon.com and search for something, anything. Their search will sort through millions of items and an amazing array of possible search terms and deliver a comprehensive result within seconds.
Somewhere starting with spreadsheets at one end and amazon’s monster solution at the other lies what most museums need. As for user interfaces and academic access, Disney has probably solved the one and the Library of Congress has probably solved the other.

I also had my mind opened by a gentleman from Qatar. Without intending to, he made me realize that the history of computing in learning and education is international and multi-lingual. I’ve known that, but a personal conversation can have much more impact than an abstract consideration. Others, without realizing we were focusing on the earliest years of classroom computers, extended the concept to insights into modern day MOOCs (Massively Open Online Classes) and distributed synchronous learning. Our job may have just gotten bigger, again.

Throughout the conference, I was reminded by a role model. Every time I walked outside, I saw OMSI across the river. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry sat across the Willamette River from our venue. Liza and I have mentioned them in previous posts. They served as a reminder that change happens, and the easiest way to adapt is to accept it early and positively.
OMSI and solutions

Now it is time to sort through the program, my notes (available on twitter @tetrimbath and #MW2013), a stack of business cards and pamphlets, and memories to allow the key solutions to become clear. We have a big task. It could be a lot bigger. But, now I know that there are solutions to problems, and one thing the conference was good for was finding solutions. (Besides, who would want to go to a conference looking for problems?) Thanks to everyone who made it happen. I hope I see you next year.

Tom Trimbath, HCLE Project Director

(For a more personal take on the conference and especially the city, you are welcomed to read my post on one of my other blogs.)

OMSI Watches Computers Grow Up

First, barely a mention. Next, a short meeting or two. Within a few years, labs, field trips, seminars, workshops, and pages of possibilities – and then barely a mention. So went the integration of computers into the psyche of OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). OMSI was one of the first organizations in the country, and maybe the world, that paid attention to what many considered a fad. And now, computers don’t generate as much attention because they have been so well integrated that we no longer shine spotlights on them. The people at OMSI helped their members then, and they are helping HCLE now.

HCLE’s founder, Liza Loop, and I are in Portland, Oregon attending the Museums and the Web conference (MW2013). Being within walking distance of OMSI was definitely a bonus.

OMSI was nice enough to let Liza Loop spend hours (I helped a bit) sifting through decades of records. The staff had even found a volunteer to collect newsletters and quarterly catalogs back into the sixties. Then, four of the staff offered their conference table as a temporary work space. Hours later, dozens or hundreds of photos had been taken to document OMSI’s public relationship with computers.

I was intrigued by what I found. Every time we found a mention of computers or programming, especially if education was specified, we took a photo of the page. In the early sixties there was very little. Flip through a lot of aging paper before setting them aside to be photographed. In the seventies, the mentions were more common, once or twice per newsletter, usually for a recurring meeting or class. There were enough pages to photo that it just made more sense to work standing. By the eighties, there were classes for kids and adults. Instead of a 1 1/2 hour class about computers, there were drawn out courses on specific programming languages. Assembly was taught to adults. Graphics programs were taught to five year olds. OMSI - Science Scope newsletter The course listings went on for pages and my camera’s batteries ran out. But I noticed that it didn’t seem to matter. Within a short while there were fewer photos to take. OMSI had ridden the wave from everyone’s a novice, to crowds dividing out of crowds to specialize in programming versus usage versus general interest, to where we are now.

Now, most people use computers without knowing binary math or assembly. Few have to deal with compilers and motherboards. We know the computers won’t work perfectly, but rather than debug and fix, we leave the diagnostics to experts, who may also not know the fundamentals of the situations they are asked to resolve. We rely on trust, perseverance, and sometimes acceptance of imperfections to get the job done. We’re trusting the computers to the point that, from at least one perspective, we’ve put them in control.

We’ve come a long way in a short time.

OMSI does pioneering work; and, they save their history. By building HCLE’s archive and database with such resources, we’ll be able to better understand how people and organizations adapt to rapid change. Rapid change is now the norm. Looking back at the history of computing in learning and education it becomes obvious that we, as a society, passed through phases; and, that we’ll pass through similar phases in other fields.

OMSI and HCLE use the past to help others adapt to the future. I thank OMSI for their help. They’ve provided a wonderful example of how a few documents can provide rich insights. We worked through dozens of folders. The HCLE collection contains about ten thousand artifacts. We know that many times that is out there in corporate archives, people’s garages, and even in other museums. Many are only stored in people’s minds. We look forward to your stores and stories being added to the HCLE database, and we look forward to the experts who will know the right questions to ask of such a resource.

For now, I’m glad I found some spare batteries, and that leafing through so many old records refreshes my memories of learning FORTRAN, the first time I used a terminal instead of punch cards, and why I was so glad that inkjet printers were so much quieter than the chatter of fan fold and dot matrix.

Spotlight: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)

Blogged by Liza Loop, Vision Keeper for HCLE

I want to design an exhibit for the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum that showcases the work done by early public access computing sites. Today I had the privilege of being hosted at OMSI by curator, Lori Erickson. Lori found old newsletters and photos from the ‘60s and ‘70s for me to comb through looking for details about OMSIs pioneering work in providing kids with an opportunity to learn about computing. Thank you, Lori. Below is a taste of what I discovered.

OMSI 20130416A 

Although no year is printed on this newsletter, OMSI was already ahead of the curve in creating interactive science experiences in the ‘60s.

OMSI 20130416B

The slide rule was still king but OMSI knew that some kids needed better access to science and math education than they were getting in school but progress was slow.

By 1973 Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, CA, was the only one of 12 museums, including OMSI, that received mention of computing in an article entitled “Science Museum Programs for the Young” in Science and Children magazine*. The story changes by 1975. That year OMSI receives high praise for its innovative support of aspiring student programmers.

OMSI 20130416C

The records in OMSIs files are spotty. Clearly the staff was too busy planning new exhibits and classes to worry overly about documenting what they were doing. That’s one reason HCLE is important.

This same 1975 report** goes on to show that real partnerships developed between OMSI and the budding geeks they hosted.

I’ve only gotten part way through the ‘70s in Lori’s box of goodies so keep watching as this story unfolds. OMSI did more to lead the way to inspiring a generation of young programmers and engineers.

Come back later for a continuation of this story.

 

OMSI 20130416D