Category Archives: Stories

Stories from HCLE Community Members: How I learned about computers and how I have used computing to learn about other things.

Saving Stories From California’s EdTech Pioneers

California Humanities is conducting a storytelling grants program that will,

“illustrate the diversity and breadth of the California experience”. – California Humanities

Much of EdTech’s history began in California because many of the technologies were developed there, and many innovators pioneered technology’s introduction into classrooms. We want to share the kind of work we are pursuing within this grant, via collaborators with similar interests, or even as inspiration to others. In this case, we are focusing on the work that happened in California, but Pioneers worked around the world.  The Pioneers are a resource of lessons learned decades ago that are applicable today. The sooner we start the work, the more we’ll be able to document and preserve. Wish us luck!


The Introduction to our proposal

A California cultural revolution made computing necessary in the 21st century. These stories, forgotten amid the rush bringing new devices into classrooms, informs us about a history we may have missed, urging us to reconsider how technology impacts our lives and learning. A web-based exhibit of five 10-minute videos, accompanied by images, documents and interpretive narrative, and several live presentations will be embedded within the larger HCLE project documenting the impact of computing on learning in the 20th century. This grant underwrites and publicizes three new educational technology pioneer interviews and integrates two previously collected interviews. Storytellers are: Ann Lathrop, of San Mateo County Office of Education’s SoftSwap; Sandy Wagner, math teacher and co-founder of Computer Using Educators (CUE), Bob Albrecht, programming teacher in the 1960s and founder Peoples Computer Company, Ted Kahn, computing teacher at Lawrence Hall of Science, and the late Bobby Goodson, Cupertino teacher and CUE co-founder. Education is a concern of every member of any community; everyone needs to understand how change in education takes place and impacts their future. This project fills two historical gaps: how teachers became involved in computing; how schools struggled with a profound shift in communications media.


Interview with Bob Albrecht by Jon Cappetta

Jon Cappetta: What do you think sparked your interest in computers?

Bob Albrecht: My interest in computers? Well, let’s see; it began in 1955. After going to college for quite a few years, I finally quit halfway through a masters degree and went to work at Minneapolis Honeywell Aeronautical Division in Minneapolis. This was one of those places where almost as far as you can see in this huge room were rows and columns of desks and engineers; sitting at them doing things. At first, I worked on analog computers there- REAC analog computers. It was a room about let’s see two-thirds the size of this room (20 yards by 20 yards) full of these components and analog computers. You would use wires to hook components together and than you can simulate differential equations. We were working on flight control systems for high-speed jet aircraft. There were other ways at that time to analyze control systems, several mechanisms’ feedback control systems. Then upstairs they got an IBM650 computer, the upstairs where I hung out and worked at my desk. One day my boss called me in, I have only been there for three or four months, and he said that he would like me to go upstairs and learn how to use that computer. Once I learned how to use it he then wanted me to spread the word down where we were. So that was my introduction to computers, an IBM650 drum computer. The memory was a drum that would spin. We used punch cards for input and such. So that was my introduction to computing.

Jon: How did this introduction affect you?

Bob: I liked that so much better than the stuff I was doing before, and after about a year I started looking around for a job in the computer industry. And, at the time, I especially wanted to go live in Denver because I loved skiing. I got married during this time and also had a child.

I went to a conference, a computer conference at UCLA and then on the way back there was another computer conference in Denver. So I stopped in Denver and I met these guys from a company – from Burroughs Corporation. Burroughs had just acquired a computer company called Electrodata which was based in Pasadena CA. The Oakland office was recruiting, I interviewed and I ended up being Burroughs’ first person in Denver. They had a couple computer installations there. My title was called sales technical rep where I did sales support and also programming. So I stayed in Denver for a while, left Burroughs, did a little consulting, went to work in the aerospace industry at Martin Denver in a math think tank that had various kinds of computer stuff along the way — many different computers in fact. At that time the small computers were all drum memory. This is so much more powerful (picks up iPhone) than those computers were back in those days. The Burroughs205, used when I first went to work for Burroughs, is iconic. In old episodes of Batman you will see the console because they had lots of blinking lights and so it was the Bat-puter in those early Batman episodes. After that I joined Control Data in Denver — back when Control Data was pretty small. I then transferred to Minneapolis and worked at Control Data in Minneapolis for a while. Around the early 1960s or so I quit, dropped out and began doing a little consulting — and by that time I was traveling all over the country to teachers’ conferences giving papers and running workshops. When BASIC came along in 1964, by that time I was already running a course for high school students. So I started teaching high school students Fortran Programming in 1962.

Jon: Can you further elaborate on your experience of teaching and computing in the early 1960s?

Bob: So, in 1962 I began to teach high school students. Some of whom are well known now such as Randy Levine and Bob Kahn, both of whom were in the first group of students that I taught Fortran to in the Control Data office. I talked the University of Colorado Denver Center into going for a National Science Foundation grant. Control Data than provided a 160A, which would run Fortran paper tape, punch a paper tape on flexi readers and feed it in. So we ran that. My students were the teachers; so, they taught students and teachers in the evening classes under this NSF grant. I wrote about these kids in Datamation magazine in about 1964 and the article I wrote was called a Modern Day Medicine Show. We picked up the 160A moved it into George Washington High school and for an entire day my students ran demonstrations for different classes that were brought in. Similar to an old fashion medicine show of some guy standing up there trying to sell phony medicine, it struck with me, that this was like this with my students as the barkers. (Students including Levine and Kahn, and Fred Riss whom, I believe, eventually became a vice-president of Research at IBM.)

Jon: Let’s talk about your campaigning for BASIC.

Bob: Well, this was in the day of time-sharing systems, so the only access to BASIC at that time was by a time sharing system. BASIC was created by Kemeny & Kurtz at Dartmouth, as an open lab tool for any student on campus at Dartmouth. Kemeny is a famous mathematician and I believe he was the President of Dartmouth at the time, so they created this language called BASIC. They wanted to enable students in fields other than science and mathematics to use computers. At the time, nearly all use of computers required writing custom software, which was something only scientists and mathematicians tended to learn. I said that’s it! No more Fortran, so I started traveling all over the country crusading for BASIC.

In Minneapolis I worked for a while towards a PhD in behavioral psychology; and I just wasn’t PHD type, I think. But during that time I taught the teachers at the University of Minnesota High school, which was on campus at UoM. At this time, BASIC had come along and I was sort of touring the country with the National Counsel of Teachers of Mathematics Group called the Computer Oriented Mathematics Committee. The Committee had six members. So we would meet every so often at educational conferences and we wrote a couple of booklets published by NCTM. We decided to write an introductory booklet, a little thin booklet about computer languages suitable for the teaching of mathematics.

Some people in the NCTM lobbied the booklet to incorporate Fortran, and I lobbied, ranted, and raved for BASIC. By that time I had made big buttons that said SHAFT (Society to Help Abolish Fortran Teaching), also I made SHAFT business cards, so I was crusading all over the country for BASIC. We voted and it was 5 and 1 in favor of BASIC. We wrote a little booklet, we wrote most of that booklet in a conference in Miami — wrote a booklet called Introduction to an Algorithmic Language — BASIC, so that was my first BASIC effort.

One day, a member of Addison Wesley Publishing Company tapped me at one of the conferences and gave me a contract to write a book for teachers and high school students on BASIC. So I worked for a while on that book. Although I grew up in Iowa, went to Iowa State for a couple years than UoM — as you may know, Minnesota is kind of cold. My publisher was in Palo Alto [California]. And then one December, 23 days of below zero weather, I said to myself: “Why am I writing this book here in Minneapolis for a publisher in Palo Alto? Why don’t I move to California?” So I did. I moved to California, to San Francisco, and continued to write the book. Took me about three years to write a book I could write in six months now. That was my first big book, it was called Computer Methods in Mathematics. It was mostly about BASIC but they required me to throw a little Fortran in at the end of the book.

Jon: What discoveries and adventures came next?

Bob: Well I piled everything I owned at the time — I was single now — in my Volkswagen bus and drove to San Francisco. Lived in San Francisco for a while, wrote the book (Computer Methods in Mathematics) with lots of programs and some pretty complex programs and I mostly did not have access to BASIC — to a time sharing terminal. So I sat down and hand executed them, and fortunately almost every program worked later on when they were checked. I lived on Lombard, the most crooked street in the world, in the house on the east side at the top of a street. It was several stories and I was in a two story flat with a friend of mine. Every Thursday evening I would run computer programming, wine tasting, and Greek dancing parties. A guy named Dick Raymond came to one of these. Dick told us how he had an idle, non-profit corporation that isn’t doing anything right now, and this looks like something that might be fun to do. So I moved to Menlo Park.

Portola is a very important part of this story. Dick and I started cranking up Portola Institute. Now I was still going around to a lot of educational conferences, especially California math counsel teacher conferences, at the time. I was being quite successful in talking some of the early makers of programmable calculators into loaning me equipment. So I would load up my Volkswagen bus with equipment I borrowed from various places — now I was also able to borrow equipment from DEC [Digital Equipment Corportation] as well as Hewlett-Packard. I would borrow mini-computers and I could carry one, but it was fairly large. I would load up my VW bus with equipment and go to University of California campuses and teach a weekend course on BASIC, and Bob Kahn went with me a couple of times.

Leroy Finkel was one of the most influential people in the early days of computers in education. At Portola our little group was called DYMAX, which came from dymaxian world of Buckminster Fuller. This was in the heyday of the counter culture movement. All kinds of interesting things were going on in Menlo Park, including the Mid-peninsula Free University 2848. There were a thousand or eleven hundred people either giving or taking free classes through the MFU. This is when Doug Englebart was doing his magic at SRI, so we quickly accumulated a few, somewhere between bright and brilliant, high school students that started coming in to use all of this equipment that I got on loan. They were amongst the early hackers — hackers in a good sense. We then caught a contract from Hewlett-Packard which had come out with its first programmable calculator. I think it was called the 9600 and it was about the size of a typewriter and programmed in Reverse Polish notation and it was the forerunner of, eventually, the handheld HP calculators. At the same time there were several other programmable calculators that were coming available. One interesting programmable calculators was the Wang, which had a box about, oh, so big (6 in. by 12 in.), four hardwired calculator terminals, so it was programmable. Of course they had all the scientific operations that you might see on today’s calculators. So this money provided enough income for Portola to began to expand a little bit.

Jon: What were some things that came out of Portola?

Bob: One of the things that happened was — is — Stewart Brand came to Portola and set up his group which eventually produced the Whole Earth Catalog. So Portola is best known for Stewart’s work. My little group eventually split off. We went and found a cheap warehouse in Redwood City and set up there. We had a couple of PDP-8 computers on loan. The PDP-8 ran four terminals with BASIC using high-speed paper tape input, 10 characters a second and high-speed printer output — Teletype model 33. So various people came drifting in to use this equipment: Mark LaBrun, Tovar, Jane Woods, and others. That’s when I wrote My Computer Likes Me. I wrote it. But people like Gerald Brown and Mary Jo did such a beautiful job of pasting it up, laying it out, that they contributed tonnes to this, tonnes — that is t-o-n-n-e metric, I’m sort of a metric evangelist. Then, one day, wandered in to our place in Redwood City, DYMAX, was Judie Wilson from John Wiley & Son’s. She asked us if we would like to write a self-teaching guide. Now Wiley was just beginning to start these self-teaching guides that were initially linear Skinner programs. Linear Skinner programing is a system of self teaching developed by B.F. Skinner, the behavioral psychologist. Other people began behavioral psychology but B.F. Skinner was the great popularize. A linear Skinner program is a book consisting of frames. A frame might be informative and then immediately followed by a question or an exercise or something for you to do to write in the book, which is then immediately followed by the answer. So you go down, frame by frame by frame, with constant reinforcement. Then, at the end of the chapter, there is a self-test with answers. So we started writing self-teaching guides for Wiley and that continued for a long time, for years. So Leroy Finkel and several other people eventually fit in to DYMAX as co-authors of books of this type.

Around 1970, we moved to Menlo Park on Doyle St. Me and Dennis Allison started doing things initially as DYMAX, there on Doyle St., and I got a great urge, inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog, to do a periodical. In 1972 Leroy said we could do it if we can do it cheap. So that is why we did the tabloid newspaper — the cheapest way to publish a lot of stuff. So I decided to call it “People’s Computer Company” in the same spirit as “Big Brother and the Holding Company”. See Big Brother and the Holding Company was not actually a holding company. People’s Computer Company was not a company at the time.

Jon: Tell me more about People’s Computer Company. What were the main objectives?

Bob: We didn’t really think about objectives, we just did things as they occurred to us.

October 1972, first issue of PCC: by that time we were doing all kinds of fun things — like Wednesday night potlucks where we would make our computers available to anyone who came, and I tried to teach Greek dancing and stuff like that. So that was the first issue of PCC which became a six times a year periodical. It’s frequently referred to as a quarterly in some of the current online stuff, but it was six times a year. First issue October 1972 was, what, about 16 pages, tabloid. Mark Labrun drew the cover and I put the stuff at the top about computers being used against people. So that was the beginning of PCC, the newspaper, the periodical. Then Dennis and I, Leroy, and some others decided to start a non-profit corporation called People’s Computer Company. Now we had PCC the periodical, and PCC the non-profit educational corporation. So this was in the early 1970s and during this time and a few years there after, Leroy and I, Bob Kahn and others continued to load up all of the computers and go to educational conferences where they would give us a space. The California math counsel conference was held at a Asilomar every year and Asilomar has all of these wonderful little buildings. They put us in a little octagonal building and we just ran open workshops all day. If the conference doors were open we were open. We would — when we would be doing a presentation [this] allowed us to talk about this or that. And, of course, what we were showing was BASIC and programmable calculators like the Hewlett-Packard and the Wang [calculators] or whatever else we could borrow and take to this thing. We started writing lots of material so that people could teach themselves how to use all of this equipment and of course most of our work was done on the context of the teaching of mathematics.

Jon: What came next?

Bob: Now it was about 1972 or 1973 and I stayed on as editor of PCC, the periodical for the first five years. I then created Dragonsmoke — it was my page or sometimes two pages in PCC. Basically this page was whatever I felt like putting in, so that’s why I called it Dragonsmoke. This was an 8 1/2 by 11 thin periodical consisting of a mish mash of computer and computing related information.

During that time I began the move to create the Community Computer Center. We rented the space next door. My group eventually moved downtown in Menlo Park. PCC, the periodical, was produced by PCC, the non-profit corporation, and Community Computer Center set up its very own non-profit corporation that remained on Doyle St. Of course during all of this time we were writing books. From 1969 when Computer Methods of Mathematics was first published until 1996, I was author or co-author of about 33 books. Most of the books about some form of BASIC, up to and including visual BASIC, but also other things like Ramon Zamora and I wrote a shareware book. The shareware book was 768 pages, a big thick book on shareware word processor and spreadsheet and, I think, a drawing program. Ramon and I wrote a book, a little tiny book, on Excel. So we kept on writing books and brought in other authors. I think something like 10 or 11 people wrote their first book as my co-author and then they would branch out and write their own books. Jerry Brown wrote a beautiful book. Jerry started as a co-author on our first Wiley book called BASIC a Self Teaching Guide. Then he wrote a beautiful book later on his own called Instant BASIC. Jerry was a graphic artist and video artist; he had a huge collection of talents and skills. I have no idea of how many of his copies sold but I hope a lot of Instant Basic. He would do the whole thing — he wrote it, did all the graphics, laid it out, pasted it up and everything, and sent it off to a publisher, and it got published

Jon: What was it that made you see the potential in the concept of education through computing?

Bob: What got me into that was when I taught Fortran to those high school kids. I said, “Wow this is so much more fun than anything I have ever done.” So because of that – and word started getting out – I was then invited to lots of teachers conferences, mostly math teachers. There were also a few beginning conferences about data processing and computing which eventually led to the huge conferences that exist today, but these were smaller conferences. So I was still with Control Data at the time and Control Data acquired Bendix Computer Division. Bendix had a computer called the G-15. The G-15 is about the size of a Coke machine with a typewriter input and output paper tape — input and output. Later on they had some [magnetic] tape drives for the G-15. Well, Control Data wanted to sell these G-15s to schools, very cheap at the time, although it was kind of a trap because you needed access in the same town to an engineer in case it broke down. So I got involved with G-15s. I would travel around to an educational conference, computer conference. I would go in two days early and Control Data would ship a G-15 in and I would teach 10 or 12 kids and help these kids teach themselves on the G-15, the language called Telecom. So I traveled around the country with a G-15 and then these kids would put on a show. They got out of school for this. They loved it and every kid would produce an interesting program, typically related to mathematics. They would then demonstrate that program to everybody who wanted to see it at the Conference. Later on, at the Association for Computing Machinery meeting in Denver, my high school students: Bob Kahn and Randy Levine, those guys were set up by Control Data on the exhibit floor and they spent the entire conference demonstrating what they had learned about Fortran. ACM at that time did not like this. They castigated me. They dissed me for having the audacity to teach computer programming to high school students. At the time they thought they should teach computer programming only. Also, they felt it should be taught only at the college level. A couple of guys would get on my case because I was using BASIC instead of something like APL (a computer language that uses Reverse Polish notation).

Jon: How did Fortran Man come about?

Bob: Fortran Man was done by two guys. They were classic nerds or geeks if you will. They were so clever it was terrific. One lived in Chicago and one lived Milwaukee. On one of my trips I made it a point to visit them and talk to them. They were just classic nerds and I wonder where they are today or if they are even still alive. As Fortran Man grew it became graphically better. I think Ann, Mia, or somebody on the PCC staff started re-doing their work and it really looked beautiful. Not only Fortran Man but Billy Basic too. Billy Basic came in later and it was sort of like the dynamic duo so it was Fortran Man and Billy Basic. The best thing to do about Fortran Man is just for you to sit down and read all of the episodes of Fortran Man. It is beyond me to describe, it was so much fun.

Jon: What was your favorite experience in People’s Computer Company?

Bob: We became a focus for a lot of activity during these early days of computers in education. Then, of course, I loved traveling all over California and teaching weekend courses. We typically get around 30 teachers to attend the courses. These courses were called “Computers in the Classroom 1 and 2”. Two different courses two credits from the University of California extension. Teachers could use these credits to lobby for pay raises, and the other courses were called “Games Computers Play 1 and 2”. Whenever we went to teach somewhere we ran all four concurrently, so if you have taken Computers in the Classroom 1, you can sign up for 2. If you have taken Games Computers Play 1, then you can sign up for Games Computers Play 2. There was virtually no structure, the instructors, usually two of us, would wander around and help people play games or if they wanted to learn to program we would give them teach yourself set up materials so they can start teaching themselves how to program. Sometimes we would wander around and say: “For all of you people who crave structure we will be in the lunchroom at 1:00 for an hour to have a seminar if you want to come.” And a few people would come and some wouldn’t. Some would just continue working away. We also asked these teachers to grade themselves because I was not a classroom teacher in a normal sense. A lot of teachers intensely resisted grading themselves and practically begged us to give them a grade. So I have no idea of how many of these we did, but it was a lot of them. We taught a few at Lawrence Hall of Science (UC Berkeley), UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbra, UC Davis, and we even ran one course at the airport in San Mateo. We traveled to almost all of the campuses of the University of California extension and ran these courses.

Well, all of this happened because I began teaching kids how to program, and I liked doing that so much that it sort of just took over my life. Almost everything that was going on was related in some way to helping kids teach themselves. I don’t like to say that we are teaching, I like to set up environments in which people can teach themselves with a little help. That is why I write ‘teach yourself’ instruction materials. I wrote teach yourself books so that people who did not have access to a computer teacher could use these books as an alternative; so all they need is access to a computer that ran BASIC and they could teach themselves how to program. It was really fun. I loved Wednesday evenings because all of these interesting people would come in and they would play computer games; especially when the computer center was set up next door. So, we had these two places; we had so many things going on at the same time.

David Brittain’s Story

(cross-posted from our wiki, aka the digital loading dock for our virtual museum)


David Brittain is recognized as an edtech pioneer for various reasons: he was the Director of Educational Technology for Florida’s Department of Education, continued similar work as a consultant for MGT of America, and may be best known for having the primary responsibility for creating FETC (FETC, Florida Educational Technology Conference) and participating in the creation of ISTE (ISTE, International Society for Technology in Education).

Dave’s Story

Dave graduated from Florida State University in 1964 with a degree in history and then got a job with the Florida Department of Education (FL DOE). The department needed someone willing to work in computer science. Mainframes were the only devices to work with in those days, and the first applications were for education administration, not classroom instruction. As computers advanced and became more accepted, the legislature began receiving numerous requests from small school districts asking for substantial funding for computers, in some cases as much as $1 million.

Rather than provide funding to purchase large computers for every district, the Legislature chose to promote the sharing of computers among districts.

They established the Florida Educational Computing Project (FECP) and appropriated $5 million or so for each of the next four years to enable the FECP to assist districts in purchasing the computing equipment they needed to accommodate the administrative needs. Given the amount of funding allocated, in addition to addressing administrative needs, FECP was able to direct 15-20 percent of those funds to promote instructional uses of computers.

After four years of observing the FECP, the Legislature concluded that this function should become a permanent part of the DOE and so in 1982 created the Office of Educational Technology (OET). Brittain was appointed the Director of OET and served in that capacity until his retirement from DOE in 1994. Using funds allocated by the Legislature, this Office was responsible for a number of instructional technology initiatives. Some of those are described below.

1) The Florida Instructional Computing Conference (which later was renamed FETC) was first conducted in 1981 as a forum for teachers and administrators to gather and learn together. The conference proved to be an idea whose time had come. DOE’s Ed Tech Office planned for 500 attendees in that first conference, but 900 showed up. Three years later attendance reached 2,500. In January of 2015 the 35th edition of FETC was held and it attracted around 20,000 attendees and vendor representatives.

2) The Florida Information Resource Network (FIRN) was established which provided economical access to the Internet for all of Florida’s 67 school districts, 28 community colleges and nine state universities. OET included a technical support unit that provided technical assistance in the implementation and maintenance of the statewide network. Many fascinating examples of communications experiences could be cited but one of the most interesting was an early example of cross-cultural communications. The FIRN staff established communications between middle school students in Tallahassee and London, England in 1991. One sobering lesson learned through that effort was that the American students had not yet learned the meaning of the word “terrorism,” a term with which English students were most familiar.

3) Five Model Technology Schools were created through legislative funding administered by OET that enabled teachers and administrators from around the state to visit the school nearest them to see some of the best practices in use there and participate in professional development offered by these schools.

4) OET initiated an effort called co-development in which the DOE joined with private corporations to develop educational materials (primarily video discs at that time) for use in schools. The idea was that products coming out of these development efforts would be sold at a discount to Florida schools and Florida would receive royalties from sales outside the state. In these partnerships, the DOE invested money to help cover development costs as well as use state curriculum and subject area experts to assist in the actual design of the products. Among the partners that worked with OET were ABC News, National Geographic, and Davidson Software. The most memorable of these co-development efforts was a joint effort with other states. OET was able to convince representatives of the Texas Education Agency and California Department of Education to join with Florida and Davidson Software to create a middle school social studies product that addressed the history of U.S. interactions with Mexico and Cuba. In addition to each state’s investment of $400,000, each state also supplied social studies experts from its Mexican-American and Cuban-American populations to work on the design of the product. Davidson Software was exceedingly cooperative in this endeavor.

5) Again using funds allocated by the Legislature, OET established three Instructional Technology Centers in the state to assist educators with professional development and to serve as a resource for technology related learning materials. These centers were established at the University of South Florida in Tampa, the University of Central Florida in Orlando and Broward County Schools in Ft. Lauderdale.

Professional Employment History

  • Worked for Florida’s Department of Education from 1964 to 1994, with the last 16 years as Director of Educational Technology.
  • Headed the Educational Technology Practice Area and the Learning Technology Evaluation Center for MGT of America (a management consulting firm) from 1994 until 2006.
  • President of ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) in the late 90s. Chair of ISTE’s conference committee. Member of ISTE’s Finance Committee.
  • President of NECA (National Educational Computing Association) in the mid 90s
  • Helped design and implement FIRN (Florida Information Resource Network)
  • Established the Florida Educational Technology Conference.

Paul Hagstrom’s Story

(cross-posted from our wiki, aka the digital loading dock for our virtual museum)


Paul Hagstrom is a fine example of the realities of computer-related learning in the 80s. Self-directed, supported with hardware just enough to let him take the next step; and those steps led to a reinforcing cycle of exploration and education. Not everyone learned computers and then turned that into a career. Paul is an associate professor of Linguistics at Boston University, which doesn’t have much to do with computers; and a co-founder of a podcast about the Apple ///, Drop /// Inches, which proves learning persists.

Paul’s Story

My first encounter with computers was when I was in fifth grade. The school had a single Apple II plus, but its only role in the curriculum was a small set of projects one had the option of undertaking that taught very simple BASIC programming. I took that option, and liked the process of programming so much that I continued to spend most of my free time on it. I did not at the time have much competition for the machine, to the extent that the school actually loaned it to me over the following summer when school was not in session. Apart from that initial introduction, I was completely self-taught using the manuals, some magazines of the time, a few books on programming. There were a couple of teachers a couple of grades later that were interested in my programming projects, and gave me slightly more access to equipment than other students had in order to help me along, and that made a difference as well, certainly. As well as starting to have more interactions with a few other students who by then also turned out to enjoy programming and computers. I can’t pinpoint exactly what drew me to it, but it was probably partly the sense of exploration and the challenge, the ability to figure out new things to do with it, have ideas about how to improve programs I’d written and puzzle through how to implement them. It was also something entirely under my control, if I told it what to do correctly, it would do exactly what I told it, predictably. But for whatever reason, it captured my attention quite thoroughly, and soon after the summer with the borrowed computer, our family got one, which I dominated until I eventually got my own. This stuck with me, I continued to be quite involved in computing ever since, although it wasn’t where my career actually went. These days, I have gone back to become involved in trying to archive what remains of that time in the history of computing, which turns out to have been very important in a much wider context, although for me at the time, it was just what being a kid was about.

I was not the only one to have done that optional programming project in fifth grade, but it affected me quite a bit more than it seemed to have affected the others who did. It might just be that I was lucky in having noticed the potential in programming, beyond just the content of the little project, there wasn’t really much follow-up in place in the curriculum. It was also a pretty different time, things wouldn’t happen the same way now I don’t think. Everyone would be able to relate what they did to the kind of things they see on their iPads, but the complexity of modern computing presents a higher barrier to entry as well. With the computers of the 1980s, you drove the machine directly, you could know everything about it, and getting it print text and ask questions and do computations was something you could do in seconds without having to open windows, include libraries, or compile things. But to the larger point about kids being able to teach themselves once sufficiently intrigued with whatever topic, I definitely have myself as anecdotal evidence that it works. I consider myself today to be relatively expert in many areas of contemporary computing, and I was back in the late 1980s as well, but I have only ever taken one structured course (a half semester on parallel programming in C), the rest of what I know all being through reading books/magazines/web sites and experimenting.

Continue reading Paul Hagstrom’s Story

Early Apples, I And II, At LOOP Center

(An observation by HCLE’s founder, Liza Loop)

Stories about individual action are easily lost to history.

Not only did Steve Wozniak give the first Apple 1 to LO*OP Center, Inc. (now the host organization for HCLE), as noted in this article, he also gave the 10th Apple II.

Woz and Wayne

The $300 Steve Jobs made Woz pay for it was a big deal at the time, which made it a super generous gift. I hope we repaid him by taking the Apples to schools and teachers’ meetings beginning in 1976!

HCLE is working to gather stories like this from those of us who were present when this history was being made. If we leave the task to memory and anecdotes the facts are likely to get garbled leaving posterity with inaccurate cultural memory. Historians try hard to get it right but they need our active cooperation to get the story right.

Computer Dating a la 1965

Do you think of computer dating as a very “today” thing? Like many computing activities, it actually originated years ago and hasn’t changed all that much. I first used a computer dating service in 1965. Here’s the story.

I had dropped out of college, was working as a chemical lab technician, and was sharing a house with 3 friends, two of whom were attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA. One morning, at breakfast before we all took off for the day, Joel pulled out a large paper form with lots of little fill-in boxes on it and a No. 2 pencil. “Liza,” he said, “we’re all applying for this computer dating thing. Andy will read you the questions and I’ll fill in the answers for you. It matches you up with guys you’ll be compatible with. I tried it, it’s fun.” “OK,” say I, “how does it work?”

My roommates all worked with computers and explained to me that the form would be automatically read into a big machine that would compare the requirements of all the other applicants. Then it would spit out a list of guys who fit my criteria. (I don’t remember whether gay matches were an option in that era.) This certainly seemed more logical than hoping my mother would introduce me to someone or cruising the local bars (besides, I wasn’t yet 21). I mention that the target computer was “a big machine” because there weren’t any little ones in those days. One roommate, Richard, was actually working for Digital Equipment Corporation, a company that pioneered “minicomputers” but “microcomputers” only existed in science fiction stories.

The multiple choice questions on the form were not surprising: age, physical characteristics, ethnicity, nationality, religion, education, intellectual interests, hobbies, pastimes, sports, etc. There was a section for me and another for the “target”. It never occurred to me that my roommates might not be filling in the answers I gave and I never found out. I wasn’t picky except about education and intellectual interests so I answered “any of the above” for lots of them.

Three dollars and about a week later the results came back: 13 names and phone numbers, 9 of whom I went out with at least once. Most of my “matches” were from outside the US. I don’t know what the matching algorithms were but I suspect that there were a lot of lonely foreign students in male-dominated, high-tech Cambridge. It may be that most of the female applicants were looking for white Americans of a specified religion. It did not occur to me to ask my “matches” what they had put on their forms.

So what has changed? We use online screens now instead of paper to initiate the matching operation. The results come back faster and we can exchange photos online although some services suggest you don’t do that until you get to know the person. We now have the option of using email as well as phone and face-to-face meetings in a neutral setting. Many of us have online personas that can be searched. But the questions are the same and the need for “chemistry” in a real-world, romantic relationship is still there.

IMHO, the most significant shift is that we now have the opportunity to participate in rich online relationships with individuals located around the globe. History gives us many examples of friendships and romances conducted by letter but the timing is very different. And, video technology allows us to simulate an in-person experience that only lacks smell, taste and touch. I hear they’re working on that too.

Oh, you want to know what happened with my nine dates? Six of them were duds and we only met once. One I went out with three or four times but there was neither “chemistry” nor enough common interest for me. As for number 8, I enjoyed hanging out with Basil, a tall, beautiful and very bright Jamaican, for several months but I think he lost interest in me. The last one, Charlie, was actually rooming with the girlfriend of one of my roommates so it’s likely that we would have eventually met even without the computer. Charlie and I hit it off, became lovers and lived together for more than two years. Although our romance ended we remained friends for about 20 years until he passed away unexpectedly in his early 40s.

And those roommates with our crowd from Cambridge? We’re spread across the county now and, you guessed it, we check up on each other via Facebook.

You can read more about early computer dating at

HCLE Writing Competition – October 2014

The History of Computing in Learning and Education

– the Writing Competition

Mission: To preserve and interpret documents, artifacts and stories relating to the history of computing in learning and education; to make them accessible and usable by educational and computer leaders, historians, practitioners and the public.


We want you to participate in our big project. Education transformed between 1960 and 1990. Computers entered classrooms and our lives. What had to be learned, and how it was learned, changed for the educators and the students of all ages.

Careers were risked as the early advocates of incorporating technology and education fought convention and ignorance. These pioneers frequently began their endeavors alone, eventually meeting up with others to find new ways and subjects to teach.

Unfortunately, few of the pioneers were ever given the credit they are due. Here’s where you come in. You are invited to pick a pioneer, or even a significant brand, then research enough of their work to write about and properly applaud them.

If your story is good enough, we’ll include it on HCLE’s wiki and on iae-pedia and then in the Virtual Museum when launched. The better the story, the more likely it will spread the word (and your good name) through our social media channels. And if it is the best, you’ll be awarded $200.

HCLE exists to acknowledge the pioneers, preserve their insights, and improve the continuing debate over how to make sure technology improves the educational experience. Your writing can help us all.



    • deadline: December 31, 2014 (11:59pm US West Coast)
    • word count: ideally around 1,000 words, but there are no limitations
    • topic: list of suggested Pioneers (feel free to nominate others, autobiographies enthusiastically welcomed):
    • references: Include your sources, partly so we can acknowledge them, partly because researchers may use your work. (unlimited, not included in the 1,000 word essay)
    • style: Content is more important than literary merit, and the best has both.
    • rights: CCby – author retains ownership. HCLE will have rights for use on the web site, and in any communications, advertisements, and fundraising literature. (
  • edits: HCLE reserves the right to edit for format, brevity, and referencing
  • criteria:
    • their story (What did they do? How many did it reach? etc.)
    • your style (Be creative and clear.)
    • references (Researchers will want to follow through.)
    • initial obscurity of pioneer (Uncovering a gem is worth a lot.)
  • award date: January 31, 2015





HCLE Pioneer – Joyce Hakansson

Educational Pioneers took on many roles. They saw needs and filled them, usually without regard to conventional teaching practices or even career choices. Their contributions are each so varied that they make for interesting stories.

Joyce Hakansson is a good example. As a Pioneer she did more than just bring a box into a room. She used a computer van to reach underserved places. Children’s Television Workshop, the place known for Sesame Street, was introduced to computers and networks because of her. From there, she started a software company, which didn’t just produce a program. Instead, it produced dozens. She mined her experience to pass along insights such as, Lessons Learned from Kids: One Developer’s Point of View,”in Human Computer Interface Design”. There was always more work to do, and she proves it by continuing to work with as an educational technology and accessibility consultant.

It is easy to see the Pioneers as school teachers who managed to get administration officials to let a computer or two into the building. But, the Pioneers that had the passion to clear that first hurdle ended up with momentum that carried their efforts further.

We encourage researchers to use what we’re collecting to make better decisions today based on work already accomplished years ago. And, we encourage everyone to get to know these Pioneers like Joyce so we can appreciate what they’ve done. Besides, they have lots of stories to tell.

Go to our wiki for more information about Joyce Hakansson, and other pioneers too.

Volunteer Opportunities – January 2014

Volunteer opportunities!

We are focusing on encouraging folks to volunteer in several different areas.

      1. Contribute your own learning story.
      2. Research an ed. tech pioneer and write an essay about what you find.
      3. Join the Data Base Team working on designing, implementing and updating the Catalog which is the core of HCLE.
      4. Join the Museum Team working on the design and implementation of the Web Site that will serve as HCLE’s Virtual Museum.
      5. Join the Financial Development Team that raises money to support HCLE.

Want more details? Head over to our wiki.

HCLE Writing Competition – January 2014

We have a lot of work to do, and you may be able to help, and your work may win an award.

The HCLE (History of Computing in Learning and Education) Virtual Museum is coming alive. 2013 was a year of building a foundation and framework where we’ll store the digitized documents, software, and stories from the pioneering age when computers met classrooms. In 2014 we’re filling the shelves. We’re asking for your help with the stories.

Thanks to Stanford, Internet Archive, and other collaborators we’ve arranged for some excellent support for archiving the documents and software. Automation and existing archives enable efficient and effective storage. But, the stories are harder to collect and store.

We need to collect biographies, anecdotes, and references that describe the educational pioneers and their work. This is a job for people, not machines.

Anyone is welcome to submit stories to our “digital loading dock” which is our wiki, but we decided to provide an extra incentive. The writer who submits the best Pioneer’s story before the deadline will be awarded $200. It and the other top entries will be publicized via our wiki, blog, facebook, and twitter accounts. All of the entries that are chosen to be incorporated into our story database will be available to the public and researchers.

Our goal is to acknowledge the contributions of overlooked educators – and to connect the people, their stories, their lessons, with the documents and software archives into a research resource that will help future educators better understand how to adapt to technological change in the future. The computer’s entrance into the classroom was a major step in the shift from education centered on the instructor to education centered on the student. There are lessons to extract from the experiences of the pioneers.

Help us collect those stories, to help future educators and students.

Here’s a link to the details and hopefully answers to any of your questions.

Good luck.