Tag Archives: Bob Albrecht

LOOP Center and Educational Technology

Our museum’s story stretches back to 1975 and the founding of LO*OP Center, (Learning Options * Open Portal), a 501(c)(3) California nonprofit corporation chartered:

To improve the quality of people’s lives by integrating cultural diversity and appropriate technology into local communities through educational projects and events.

Thanks to GeekFest Berlin’s 2016 event, we’ve created a series of videos from Liza Loop’s presentation that touch on various aspects of the topic and our organization’s history within it. One of those videos describes LO*OP Center’s history. Familiar names like Bob Albrecht, Dean Brown, and Lee Felsenstein; familiar concepts like timesharing and the mouse; and historic initiatives like PLATO, People’s Computer Company, and the Computer Memory Project all played their roles. One theme that Liza Loop reiterates is that people should be in charge of computers and not the other way around, and as she puts it; “know when to turn the damn thing off.”

The ways that computing changed learning and education have fundamentally shifted our society and civilization. We have found no other institution with a specific focus on formal and nonformal education that is working to preserve that history. If you are aware of any, please pass along the appropriate contact information.

2016 was the year we at HCLE saw an increased interest in the history of computing in learning and education (hence our acronym, HCLE). We are building a virtual museum to collect and catalog born-digital artifacts and digitized versions of physical artifacts to researchers, scholars, educators, and the general public. Incredible amounts of money are being spent on how to improve education and learning, and how best to integrate technology into the process. Very little is being spent studying the decades of similar attempts, which may be why society continues to ask the same questions and make the same mistakes.

The complete presentation is available at: GeekFest’s Youtube channel.

Profile of an HCLE Pioneer – Ted Kahn

Ted Kahn’s work starts back with the names familiar to EdTech historians: Vivarium, Smalltalk, Bob Albrecht, Atari, and Xerox PARC.

Ted was fortunate to be a student in one of the first programming classes, something that was enabled by Bob Albrecht. Soon after, he was involved in research and development of Smalltalk for educational simulation and game design systems (ala the Vivarium Program), and worked at Atari developing innovative computers and products for lifelong learning. He also did research at Xerox PARC developing and marketing multimedia for education and training systems at a time when multimedia was new.

Education and training isn’t confined to the classroom. Ted Kahn developed educational multimedia products with the National Geographic Society (three products won national awards), an educational technology policy study for the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, and a training system for a Fortune 500 pharmaceuticals firm.

Ted’s work continues in an organic fashion. He’s also been involved in the design of PicoNet, a telecommunications network as well as one of the first home-school computer networks. Currently, he and his wife, Frona, have founded and operate DesignWorlds.com where they help students make better decisions about colleges and careers. There’s always more work to be done.

HCLE Pioneers are frequently known for more than one contribution. In the continual drive to improve education, learning, and training there are always opportunities. One accomplishment leads to another. The organic nature of the evolution of the way we teach and learn means paths inevitably cross, which is why we are developing a virtual museum for the history of computing in learning and education. Each person leads to another. We’re connecting those links on our wiki.

Additional information is available on our wiki.
Several of his videos have also been added to our HCLE Pioneers playlist on YouTube.

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.

HCLE Second Quarter 2015 Progress Report

Welcome to the second quarter of 2015 HCLE report. We share many of these news items via our outlets (wiki, blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and collect them here for your and our convenience.

Our staff of 1.3 FTEs, several volunteers and many outside collaborators reached the following milestones in the spring quarter of 2015.

  • Attended and presented at a series of conferences (AAM, MW, Brink, STS)
  • Contacted original members of the Homebrew Computer Club for stories and funding
  • Creation of a metadata superset for simplified coordination with other institutions
  • Developed a list of supportive scholars for future proposals
  • Expanded our list of collaborators including, Pratt SILS, OAC/CDL, CITE, Henry Ford Museum, SHOT CIS, …
  • Extended our outreach via podcasts, and possible publications

With these accomplishments (and with the appropriate funding) HCLE should be able to produce a Proof Of Concept virtual museum web site in 2015. Subsequent to the proof of concept will be the major tasks of digitizing and curating the collection, and designing the complete virtual museum interface. Those tasks may not be completed in 2015, but significant progress is anticipated.

Please pass our news along, especially if you know someone else who will want to contribute money, know-how, artifacts, stories, or connections. Even by glancing at what we’ve done, you’re helping make HCLE happen as you pass along the story. Thank you.


  • LO*OP Center

    • Open Education Systems (OES)
      • Liza published the first draft of the OES concept on the HCLE wiki. HCLE is about the past. OES is about the future. The two naturally work together with HCLE providing the data and insights that direct the OES vision.


  • Fundraising

  • HCLE currently relies on general operating funds provided by LO*OP Center, Inc. Future sustainability requires additional underwriting from individuals, members, foundations and government agencies. At present there are no plans to generate revenue through fees to access the Virtual Museum.
    • To increase the chances of grant awards, we initiated a search for a professional fundraiser/grantwriter. No selection has been made, yet.
    • CLIR
      • A proposal for the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) was prepared but not submitted. The exercise, however, produced an impressive list of scholars and collaborators who now support our work.
    • A letter to scholars has been drafted to encourage research, maintain relations and to provide a source of Letters of Support for grant proposals.
    • We made a direct appeal to member of the original Homebrew Computer Club. While the primary intent is to collect their stories, a secondary benefit is to increase our visibility to potential funders. See Stories for their response.
    • A draft was created for a Kickstarter project to crowdfund the Proof of Concept.
    • We have received a promise of grant writing assistance from Jeremias Herberg (Luneburg University).


  • Operations/Virtual Museum Web Site

  • As HCLE progresses from the present start-up phase into normal operation this section will enlarge.
    • Proof Of Concept (PoC) web site
      • Preliminary conversations were carried out with Jessica Sullivan about the Proof of Concept web site. Preliminary specifications were sketched out. The PoC site is a high priority. Funding is being sought with public, crowdfunded, and private sources.


  • Collection

  • The content of the HCLE Virtual Museum comprises materials collected and preserved by founder-director Liza Loop and currently owned by LO*OP Center, Inc. Additional items are being donated and related items, owned and hosted online by other individuals and institutions are being referenced in the HCLE catalog.
    • The Collection continues to be digitized as resources allow. Mark Pilgrim is digitizing Apple ][ disks, Anthony Cocciolo (Pratt Institute) digitized various floppies and Betamax tapes, and Jerry Herberg (Luneberg University) aided Liza in sorting, cataloging, and digitizing parts of the Collection. Discussions with Henry Lowood (Stanford) and Fred Turner (Stanford) continue.
    • All digitization efforts are being encouraged to use the Catalog, though some translations may be required.


  • Catalog

  • The Catalog is the software that contains and manages the database. No free open-source software was found that met our criteria, so we are developing this capability internally.
    • The Catalog is in use and enabling the digitization of the Collection.
    • Stan Crump, our programmer, improved the operation and coordinated with the digitization project at Pratt. The more we use it, the more we learn about how it must handle needs such as multiple users; especially, collaborators.


  • Metadata

  • Information about each item is stored in the Catalog and can be displayed in various formats for scholars, museum staff and visitors. Maintaining a rich set of metadata is essential for locating documents and images as well as understanding their context and significance.

    • Svetlana Ushakova completed her metadata crosswalk work, effectively providing a comparison between three external metadata sets (EADS, MARC, Dublin) with our internal metadata set.
    • A metadata superset was created based on the work done by Svetlana. A superset will allow us to capture enough metadata to export subsets that match the requirements of collaborators.
    • Svetlana will document some of her work as part of a class project.
    • We began a search for a new metadata coordinator because Svetlana needs to concentrate on her studies.
    • We prepared a metadata schema (list of fields with explanations) and distributed it to various collaborators so we can better coordinate our efforts.
    • We’ll pass along this quote from a collaborator that distinguishes metadata from search data.
      • museums systems were not developed with public search in mind, and they do not support much descriptive metadata.” – from Ellice Engdahl


  • Wiki

  • This informal web site serves as an online rallying resource for those building the formal Virtual Museum. It will continue to provide a virtual sandbox and conversation pit for staff and volunteers after the museum site is launched.

    • The wiki continues to grow and the style continues to mature and stabilize. A restructuring has been proposed, but only style elements have been incorporated. This may take a dedicated individual for an intense, short-term effort. The main additions have been:
      • OES (see LO*OP Center above)
      • PIAL Play It And Learn (the draft of the games section)


  • Stories

  • Our stories highlight how folks learned to use computers between 1955 and 1995 and how and what teachers taught with them. Our emphasis is on learning and teaching; we leave documenting the history of the computing industry to others. Our story tellers are not the celebrities of the high tech revolution. They are the unsung heroes who changed the way we educate ourselves and our children.
    • HCLE EdTech Pioneers: our growing list
      • We launched a new initiative to contact each HCLE EdTech Pioneer, if possible, asking them to improve their pages, nominate others for the list, and contribute, information, insights, artifacts, introductions and any other resources that HCLE can use.
        • The following people were kind enough to be interviewed; and have nominated several other EdTech Pioneers.
          • Liza Loop, our founder – whose page hadn’t been given the attention it deserved, until we consolidated several pages into one.
          • Bob Albrecht – interviewed by Jon Cappetta and possible blog
          • Glen Bull – who will also propose to CITE’s funders about publishing Pioneer stories on a regular basis, and who may work with Jacoby Young on podcasts.
        • The following people have been contacted. There have been some improvements to their pages, but the bulk of the material awaits existing links or an interview.
          • Marge Cappo
          • Kevin Lund
          • Mitchel Resnick
          • Dan Bricklin (Innovator)
      • HCLE Pioneer Meeting
        • We are organizing a meeting of the HCLE Pioneers to demonstrate our appreciation, provide a venue for collaboration and gather more stories. Formal, structured interviews are useful, but informal, casual conversations from Pioneer to Pioneer may reveal insights an interviewer wouldn’t know to pursue.
    • Atari podcast
      • Thanks to an interview of Liza Loop on an Atari podcast, contacts were made that may extend the reach of our Pioneers’ stories
        • Jacoby Young – podcast
        • Glen Bull (CITE) – an HCLE column in the CITE Journal


  • Exhibits

  • Online exhibits will simulate a gallery of objects to wander through, take the visitor on a guided tour or invite hands-on participation.
    • PIAL Play It And Learn (the draft of the games section)
      • The PIAL exhibit will provide gamers and the curious the opportunity to play the original games within browser-based emulators of the original environment, while providing data to researchers interested in investigating what the gamers learned, and how.
        • A draft page has been produced and will be heavily modified.
        • Bibliographic references to game design have been added to aid designers and researchers.


  • Outreach

  • As a new institution, HCLE is making contacts in the worlds of museums, formal education and independent learners — both online and face-to-face.
    • Conferences
      • A variety of conferences, seminars, and gatherings were attended to improve HCLE’s network, identify interested scholars, publicize our progress, enlist collaborators, and identify potential funders.
        • Museums and the Web
          • attendance and blog
        • Alliance of American Museums
          • attendance and represent Online Museum Working Group
        • Brink Institute
          • panel participation and blog
        • Science and Technology Retreat Conference
          • recruiting for HCLE
    • Publications
      • We are pursuing the (re)publication of two books:
        • ComputerTown USA! e-book
        • Future Flashback – a new look at the past and future of educational technology
          • We are considering convening an Ed Tech Pioneer private meeting to generate additional material for Future Flashback
    • Podcasts
      • Liza Loop participated in one podcast (Atari) which may inspire an HCLE series through the actions of Jacoby Young.
    • Social Media
      • We have been reasonably successful at engaging other professionals by commenting on and sharing posts and publications found on social media. Though informal, these contacts have expanded our network and produced opportunities for collaborations, funding, and increased visibility.
      • We continue to use social media as a source of Initial contacts
      • Social Media Traffic Report
1/1/2014 12/29/2014 3/28/2015 6/30/2015
Facebook 59 91 92 97
Twitter 67 271 294 354
WordPress 18 42 43 46
Wikispaces 12 41 42 49
  • #EdTech could use a dose of #EdTechHistory



  • People/Volunteers

  • We are a community of builders, researchers, educators, learners and enthusiasts. We aim to recognize each person who contributes to HCLE. Their contributions are described throughout this newsletter
    • Svetlana Ushakova – Metadata coordinator, soon to be emeritus
    • Stan Crump – Programmer, soon to be emeritus
    • Jon Cappetta – Interviewer (Liza Loop, Bob Albrecht)
    • Helen Passey – in negotiations for graphic illustration
    • Jeremias Herberg – assisted Collection, is a Collaborator, and may provide insights into funding


  • Collaborations

  • HCLE is such a small organization that it must join with more established partners to accomplish its mission. Happily, we are finding willing colleagues.
    • Associate Professor Anthony Cocciolo from Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Sciences enlisted a class of students to help digitize and present some of HCLE’s artifacts.
      • Artifacts: floppies and Betamax
      • Timing: summer project
      • Coordination: Anthony and Stan are getting media into catalog
    • Henry Ford Museum
      • Liza Loop visited the Ford to establish contact and to investigate possible collaborations.
    • Letters of Support (consequence of preparing CLIR proposal)
    • OAC/CDL (works with DPLA) – contact = Adrian Turner
      • Application to be Contributing Institution in process
    • Texas Coast Bend Collection shared their (private) example of a digital museum.
    • tschak909 – Thom Cherryhomes, Atari Education System
    • Kimon – exhibit, Retrocomputing


  • Admininstration

  • Even virtual organizations must attend to the tasks that make them “real” within the surrounding social and governmental context.
    • Possible Advisory Meeting
      • We are considering convening an advisory meeting to get an informed, outside opinion of HCLE’s progress and direction.
        • IEEE History Project
        • SHOT
        • Museum of Play
        • The Henry Ford
        • Larry Cuban
    • Newsletters
      • We continue the production of these quarterly newsletters, partly to spread the word about our progress, and partly to capture and preserve the history of this history museum.
    • Backups
      • They may be dull, but backups are a high priority for a virtual museum.



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.

Peoples Computer Company At Stanford

Thanks to our new (2014) arrangement with Stanford University Libraries Special Collections, you can now see the first issues of the People’s Computer Company (PCC) newsletter. (Here’s a partial index.) People learned how and why to use computers through such newsletters.

It is easy to stereotype the era as a time when every computer user thought computers were panaceas. PCC didn’t hide the fact that it saw big topics ahead.

Computers are mostly
used against people instead of for people
used to control people instead of to free them
time to change all that –
we need a . . .

Welcome to 1972. Much of the debate about computers and their influence on education, life, and society was carried out in handwritten, handdrawn newsletters published by passionate people. They were urgently trying to affect change.

Welcome to 2014. Most of those newsletters, notes, brochures, and pamphlets were printed for the moment, which means they weren’t archival. Forty year old mimeographs and xeroxes are fading. We are urgently trying to save those records.

Thanks to people like our founder, Liza Loop, who stored thousands of documents and to professors like Fred Turner and Henry Lowood, who teach about such subjects we are making those early discussions available for the inquisitive and the academic.

Stanford Libraries has generously begun scanning and archiving Liza’s collection. The results are online. How else can you learn that it wasn’t all about soldering hardware or debugging software?

is a newspaper . . .
about having fun with computers
and learning how to use computers
and how to buy a minicomputer for yourself or your school
and books . . . and films . . . and tools for the future.”

We expect everything to be computer-generated. Desktop publishing has become so ubiquitous that it isn’t even mentioned now. Anyone can use templates to create professional looking publications. Software packages proudly proclaim their ease and creative options. Take a look at a few pages of PCC. Handwritten notes meant no font restrictions. Handdrawn graphics meant expressive and unique art. Cut and paste meant scissors and glue which also meant anything could be printed at any angle. And dragons. They made sure there were always dragons.

We’ve mentioned People’s Computer Company before. It was founded by several pioneers, several of whom are described on our wiki, and two that were also described here on this blog. (Bob Albrecht, Leroy Finkel)

If a description sufficed, then there’d be no need for anything more than these posts. You’ve got to see this for yourself. And, if you can, thank and support the people doing this work.

HCLE Pioneer – LeRoy Finkel

LeRoy Finkel is a recent addition to our wiki’s list of Pioneers. We wanted to bring attention to him now because we just discussed one of his compatriots: Bob Albrecht.

A list of pioneers can seem like a long string of individuals. While many educators were alone in their struggles to bring computers into classrooms, many were also fortunate enough to find support from other educators and advocates. As the referenced article states;
“he showed the way, cajoling, nudging, encouraging, criticizing, as teachers struggled to integrate computers into their classrooms”. He, Bob Albrecht, and several others came together to create People’s Computer Company,

LeRoy Finkel’s work is easier to access than most because he published his work. Particularly, Technology Tools in the Information Age Classroom, a book that “is designed for use in an introductory, college level course on educational technology, and no prior experience with computers or computing”. When he published the book in 1991, most people knew of computers, but not about computers; yet, many were confronted with having to quickly become comfortable enough with them to incorporate the hardware, software, and topics into existing classes. LeRoy Finkel is one that led the way.

It is too late for this year (the deadline was mid-December), but there is a Fellowship Program in his honor that promotes leadership in the field of educational technology because the task continues. Know someone who fits that description? Pass along the word so they can apply for the next grant.

Thanks to iae-pedia and Computer-Using Educators for the background so far. Please pass along additional information so we can all expand the stories of the Pioneers.

HCLE Pioneer – Bob Albrecht

HCLE wants to do what we can to honor the people who pioneered the use of computing in learning and education. Our wiki has an expanding list, and within each entry we intend to expand their stories. We’ve only just begun, and we invite you to participate.

Bob Albrecht helped start People’s Computer Company:
It happened on a nice day in the summer of 1972, probably while enjoying drinking beer with friends at Pete’s Harbor. An idea: Wouldn’t it be nice to start a periodical about personal access to computers for learners, teachers, anyone? As the beer dwindled, the idea grew.

wrote or coauthored 30+ books, including many beginner’s books about Basic

It is people like Bob that we hope to learn from, and to bring to light for those who haven’t been aware of what it took to introduce computers and computing to classrooms and students.

Bob’s an extraordinary example because he actually documented and published his insights. Thousands more tackled similar issues, but didn’t create companies, or write newsletters, articles, and books. We at least have Bob’s lessons, and even his newsletter’s motto:
Computers are mostly
used against people instead of for people
used to control people instead of to free them.
Time to change all of that.

Check out the image of the newsletter’s cover. We have it over on our wiki.

Bob’s work continues and has evolved, but the themes of making computers meet the needs of people. What’s not to like about a work called, “Play Together, Learn Together”?

We’re glad to see such people in the world, and thank them for their efforts.

Want more? Head over to our wiki. That’s what it is there for. Got something to add? Good. That’s why we made it a wiki.