Tag Archives: computers

Steve Wozniak and Number 1 Apple 1

The story of the first Apple 1 (#1 Apple 1) may not be what you expect, but that’s the reality of history.

It may seem ironic that a virtual museum would have such an historic artifact, but LO*OP Center, the parent organization of the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum, received the first Apple 1 from Steve Wozniak, personally – back in 1976. Woz has always been an education advocate. When he saw a non-profit that had similar ideas, he decided to help by donating a computer he’d just designed. It happened to be the Apple 1, the first Apple 1. The story is best told by our Founder, Liza Loop, the recipient who then took the computer into classrooms. Here’s a link to the video, and other videos from the GeekFest event.

Steve Wozniak’s gift of the first Apple 1 to LO*OP Center 

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 technology’s effects on education and our organization’s history within it. We pass this information along as possible aids to include in your communications and as an introduction to our mission and current activities.

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

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.

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.

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.

Profile of an HCLE Pioneer – Alan Kay

Alan Kay’s accomplishments created the foundations for so many of today’s tech advances that advocates of his work have dedicated a wiki to him, yet the foundations are so fundamental that the billions of people benefiting from his contributions probably aren’t aware of his influence. HCLE’s focus is on the history of computing in learning and education which is why we are collecting information about his work with the Vivarium Program (See our post about Ann Marion for another perspective), Smalltalk, and Dynabook.


The Vivarium Program created an innovative learning environment that was one of the earliest attempts to shift the school environment from a teacher educating passive students from a set curriculum, to students actively learning in ways that they inspired which were facilitated by teachers. Instead of reading about biology, students created simulations of biological systems that they could modify to better understand cause and effect as well as interconnectivity. It was the precursor to the personalized learning that is becoming more familiar


While there were programming languages available for the Vivarium Program, Alan Kay saw a need for a different architecture. Some students may prefer text-based programming languages, but he saw the need for a language based on objects. Our world is built from objects, and programming based on objects allowed the computer to operate on things that had a variety of characteristics. The result was Smalltalk. The concept gained wider acceptance after the user community shifted the definition slightly, and modern object-oriented programming languages were born. Though it strayed from his original intent, object-oriented programming languages have become the basis of much of today’s computing.

Dynabook Learning Today

A natural extension of Alan Kay’s desire to transform learning was the Dynabook, a device that didn’t exist at the time. He saw a need for a thin and portable computer that would fit in a child’s hands and that the child could operate. Such a device would work well in the environment that was part of the Vivarium Program, as well as outside the school. A logical choice for the programming was Smalltalk. The three could be combined to dramatically expand learning opportunities, especially with advances such as the PLATO network and other innovations he worked on at Xerox PARC.

Learning Today

The Dynabook wasn’t created, Smalltalk became something different, and the Vivarium Program was eventually cancelled by Apple; but their influences have come together for children who learn while pursuing their curiosity when they use and play with tablet computers. A child learning to read at their own pace from an app downloaded to an iPad is remarkably similar to at least some of Alan Kay’s original intentions. Maybe the rest of the vision merely requires a bit more patience.


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

Our Inaugural EdTech Oral History Workshop

A first workshop

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

LLOHW image from Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

The four main presentations were:

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

(June 2017 update: select videos available)

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

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

Education made computers personal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to everyone who made it happen.

Gaps In EdTech History

There are gaps in history, eras when important things happened but no one properly preserved the records. If you study history, you probably have your favorite examples of mysteries that will only be resolved with a time machine – or a very lucky find. The history of education is facing such a blank space.

Within the last decade, conversations about #EdTech have been accelerating and expanding. More material is being produced than anyone can assimilate. The born-digital portion of the discourse is impressive. Even the research, analyses, and insights being developed today aren’t always archived correctly; but academic studies are more likely to be preserved by their institutions, unofficial but effective efforts like Internet Archive save many of the web sites, and popular press collections by journalists, bloggers, and commenters are more likely to be preserved (at least temporarily) by whoever hosts them. Today, born-digital means easily transferable, and possibly preserved.

The decades before the Internet became a common (and largely chaotic) depository for all of human information weren’t so fortunate. It was an era that started with discussions about students possibly being interested in getting jobs that would develop computers, up through the period when computers dominated classrooms but were largely constrained within the walls of the schools. It was an era that had governmental and institutional initiatives; but it was dominated by pioneering teachers, administrators, and students who didn’t wait for official approval to expand what, why, how, when, and where they taught and learned. Compared to today, there was far less material produced, which means each artifact is that much more valuable. We at HCLE (the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum) are focused on that era and those people, and are surprised that we can find few others doing similar work.

The teachers, administrators, parents, and students then asked the same questions being asked today. How much screen time is appropriate? What lessons are best taught by the teacher lecturing versus the student exploring software? Does the cost of technology create a digital divide based on wealth? EdTech’s historical gap is filled with insights and answers that apply to questions today.

EdTech’s blank space exists because the pioneers who didn’t wait for approval also didn’t necessarily document their intent or process. Sometimes it was unintentional, because the pioneers were so busy pioneering that they postponed documenting their progress. Sometimes that was intentional, because official records could trigger official demands to cease and desist. 

The documents that were produced were usually printed on non-archival paper. They are perishing through age and neglect. The hardware is becoming more fragile, and possibly impossible to repair because of the lack of replacement parts. The software is being lost because it was stored on a variety of media, some of which are degrading quickly, some of which are orphaned because the hardware readers are no longer available, some of which are orphaned because the operating systems no longer operate, and some of which might work but no one remembers how to run the programs. The most valuable and ultimately most perishable information are the stories stored in people’s memories; the true source of the research, analysis, insights, and wisdom that may or may not have been documented elsewhere.

Liza's van with computer monitors, wheel barrow of monitors and Stephie dog
News “Managing the not-so-virtual assets of HCLE” – by Liza Loop

It is a sad, yet unavoidable, reality that the pioneers are reaching the end of their lives. The era we study began in the mid-fifties, sixty years ago. As people age, memories fade, and are ultimately buried. After they’re gone, their descendants are tasked with sorting through estates that may include boxes of old notebooks, personal letters, newsletters, photos, home movies, computers, programs – a massive amount of work given to someone in mourning who understandably wants to get past a difficult part of their life. Artifacts are easily tossed away. Our awareness of the urgency is why we are preserving our document collection, recording stories of the pioneers, and reformatting born-digital information that was almost orphaned. (Thanks to the volunteers and collaborating institutions that are making it possible.)

The loss of artifacts and first hand accounts is not unique to our museum. Any museum that is working with the history of a topic from the fifties through the nineties experiences the same urgency.

Change in society is accelerating, but today’s efforts are more likely to be born-digital in an era when the awareness of preserving the information is being discussed. The efforts of decades ago didn’t benefit from the preservation efforts; yet, those efforts were the enablers of today’s acceleration.

Change requires adaptation and learning. A hundred years ago there was change; but a person could learn skills that would be useful for decades. Very little retraining was required. It was the era of lifelong careers. If you needed or wanted to learn something new, you found a class and learned from the teacher. Today, the skills you learned to operate your computer, your phone, your car, and your appliances may become outdated with the next overnight update. If you need or want to learn how to use the new version, you expect to teach yourself, possibly by communicating with peers. We’ve become less reliant on authority figures and more reliant on ourselves and our community, online or offline.

Understanding how we adapt to change is becoming more important because change is accelerating and adaption becoming more necessary. And yet, the history of our adaptations to one of our most important changes is being lost.

Civilization was enabled by education. What, why, how, when, and where is largely different from a hundred years ago, and even fifty years ago. Our civilization is entering a new era that is dramatically different from the previous era. Between the two was a transitional era, an enabling time that is easy to ignore, overlook, and even throw away. We are working to defend against the growth of that blank space in our history, to save enough of the artifacts and first-hand accounts to tie the eras together, to document a time when change accelerated – a useful study considering how understanding change will be necessary for understanding our civilization. If you’re doing the same, great! Thanks for doing what you do, and thanks to everyone who is helping.

Professional Simulations – Not Playing Around

Take a bucket, a broomstick, a potentiometer, and a desk chair, and you’ve got a simulator – if you do it right. Flight simulators are incredibly lifelike because of computers and computing, though they were developed for teaching and training for decades before computers were invented. As simulators evolved from crude contraptions to multi-million dollar machines capable of certifying pilots, their evolution changed the what and how of learning and education in an industry. How we learned a new way to learn deserves significantly more research, which we are doing and are inviting others to do, too.

Critical tasks, by their nature, benefit greatly from training and practice in safe environments. A soldier needs to know the basics of how to attack and defend. A surgeon needs to know how to do no harm while also caring and curing. A pilot needs to know how to fly without dealing with the consequences of a failed flight. Falling out of the sky teaches a lesson, but the grading is fatally harsh. It is an invaluable learning tool to be able to stop and talk about a situation, something that can’t be done with a plane wobbling through the sky.

Modern flight simulators are so realistic that pilots can receive the majority of their training on the ground. The most expensive simulators cost millions of dollars and can throw the cockpit and the crew through wild and potentially damaging gyrations. The greater the motions, the more money is spent on hardware for moving the cockpit. Reality is always different because the real vehicles are more complex, the atmosphere is chaotic, and accidents happen. But, the simulator allows for unlimited training so a pilot’s actions are more intuitive and quicker. The extent of the flight’s accelerations and vibrations is only limited by the mechanical systems of the simulator.

Take the same software and constrain the flight to something more benign that a Shuttle landing, and it is possible to simulate the majority of a flight by tilting the pilot and the cockpit. Simulating a different vehicle may only require new data for the simulator and swapping cockpits. The pilot can learn the basics, train for failures, and refine techniques. The vibrations and accelerations are only representative for part of the flight envelope, but obvious hints are provided if limits are exceeded.

Remove most of the hardware and all of the motion, and the cost comes down dramatically. The result is a simulator that can run on a PC, which why some simulators are used more as games than trainers. The graphics can simulate as much as more sophisticated systems. The cockpit and controls can be simplified to be computer generated views, instruments, and controls. The basics of flight, though, can still be taught, though that first real takeoff and landing can be real surprises. It may not be possible to complete the majority of training with a fixed-base simulator, but a lot of training can happen for very little money.

Prior to the PCs were the mainframe simulators that could only be operated by corporations and governments. Many of them were motion simulators after the industry cleared the motion’s first main technological hurdle: hydraulics. The cockpits could mimic the real cockpits because it was possible to get pieces of an airplane and bolt them to a platform. A lot of heavy structure and non-essential systems were removed, though, to ease the mechanical load. The main difference within the era of the mainframes was the view. Current systems can pull in 3-D maps of the world. Step back far enough and the view was from a camera mechanically driven across enormous maps. Fly off course, and the view would blank out as if there was no more world. The pilot’s acceptance of the simulation was interrupted.

Digital computers access databases and algorithms that model the world, the vehicle, scenarios, and internal systems. Complex computers use complex models. Simple computers used far simpler models. The capacity of the simulation was limited only by processing power and memory available.

Prior to digital computers there were analog computers. Few remember working on them, but there were computers that weren’t based on ones and zeroes. Analog computers were based on electronic components: resistors, capacitors, and inductance coils. That may not seem obvious, but physical systems like vehicles can be modeled as a collection of springs, masses, and dampers – which have analogs that are resistors, capacitors, and inductance coils. Analog simulators are like the difference between LPs and MP3s. An LP is a continuous record of the vibrations that are a song. MP3s break up the continuous vibrations into a digital representation that captures most, but not all of the song’s dynamic range. Analog computers were smooth, and therefore more representative of fine motion; but programming one required skills that were more like circuitry design than writing in a formulaic language. The extra setup costs meant each simulation had a very limited flight envelope. The lack of computer generated graphics or computer driven cameras meant the main feedback for the pilot was the instrument panel.

There were simulators prior to computers. The risks and costs of in-flight training were too high to ignore. Vehicles can be modeled as springs, masses, and dampers – so they were. Mechanical simulators provided relatively rudimentary responses to pitch, yaw, and roll which were still better to learn on land rather than in the air. The pilot was much more aware of being in a contraption instead of an aircraft.

At each stage of the evolution of flight simulators the learning and the education changed. The pilot’s immersion was originally superficial with rudimentary systems, and has become so deep that entire flights can be simulated with pilots experiencing many of the physiological reactions from fatigue, failures, and even figuring out how to feed themselves in flight.

The role of computers and computing on professional pilot training deserves far greater research than a simple blog post can embody. That is one of the goals for the History of Computing in Learning and Education’s Virtual Museum. The story is undoubtedly similar within other industries. They all warrant significantly more studies. There are many papers to write and read and support. Contact us if you are working on something similar. In the meantime, here’s the list of simulators we’re starting with: ATC, CAE, Flight Gear, Flight Safety, Frasca, InMotion, Link, X-Plane – and a link to our digital loading dock.

That broomstick, bucket, and desk chair simulator did exist. A few decades ago, a small group of design engineers needed to test a new type of airplane before it left the drawing board. One of the engineers settled into the chair with the bucket between his legs. They housed it in a small room with only a moving horizon on a television and a few spare instruments bolted to a board. After only a few minutes of flight the test engineer was sweating and so anxious about the flight that he had to look over his shoulder to regain his composure.

The technology behind the learning experience isn’t as powerful as the learner’s depth of involvement. Technology is valuable for enhancing the learning experience, but the learner is more important.

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.

Self-publishers spread the know-how from 1974 on…

Virginia Tech Professor,  Dave Larsen, started reaching beyond his classroom with self-published Bugbooks in 1974.  Most of his readers were hobbyist or in other professions, not computer scientists. Dave’s books were standard fare at LO*OP Center, computer conferences and hobby clubs where people hungry for information about computers gathered to learn and teach.

reblog from Bugbook Historical Microcomputer Museum, What is in a Name


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Vintage Computers – What is in a Name – How we are named the “Bugbook Historical Microcomputer Museum”

Why we call our museum the “Bugbook Historical Microcomputer Museum”  – here is the short story.

Bugbook III

I call our museum  “The Bugbook Historical Microcomputer Museum”  is because of the original  “Bugbooks” .

Museum bugs

About 1974 I was part of a team that produced these books. The first two Bugbooks were written and published by Professor Rony and I.  I named the books Bugbooks because the small digital integrated circuits looked like a bug with its legs.  Professor Rony typed the manuscripts and we self published the first few printings of the “Bugbooks” .  These books were the start of a book series called “The Blacksburg Continuing Education Series” .  The books covered various topics of digital electronics, computers and software. Dr. John Titus and Dr. Chris Titus joined the group and became important members of our team.

Bugbooks 1 & 2 for sale 1975

During the period 1974 to 1984 about 75 books were published with a circulation of over 1 million copies.  Our team hired 31  authors to help write books in the series. In addition to the books our team designed several computers and other teaching / engineering aids that were sold world wide. John Titus was the computer designer and I designed the digital engineering  / teaching hardware aids. Most or the books were published and marketed by “Howard W Sams” and the hardware was marked by “E and L Instruments” in Derby Connecticut.  Many engineers, technicians and  electronic hobbyist of the late 70’s and 80s used  these books and hardware.  All the books and hardware are on display in our museum.

Howard W Sams Advertising Display of “Blacksburg series books.

A reoccurring comment from  folks visiting the museum is – I  learned digital electronics from the “Bugbooks”.  The experience with the Blacksburg Group started my interest in collecting microcomputer memorabilia for 40 years and has resulted in the thousands of items collected and the small display in the museum. The Bugbook story involves many relationships, interesting events and eclectic people.  It is my  intent to get the details of these adventures in writing — soon I hope.




Howard W Sams Book catalog with the “Blacksburg Continuing Education Series” Books for sale – about 1978


E and L catalog 1977 with all the Blacksburg Group books and hardware for sale.
See Video’s about Dave’s Historical Computer Collection CLICK.

Finding Funds For Niches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oregon Trail – More Than A Game

Get ready to hit the Oregon Trail. Buy your oxen, fill your wagon, climb aboard. That’s the way the computer game, Oregon Trail, is played. In its original 1972 incarnation the players had to learn how to log into their timeshare computer and load the program before they could play. Learning about the real Oregon Trail was likely to be a secondary activity. Games for education are back in style, as if they ever left, but there’s a lot about how and what they teach that we have yet to learn.

Even after 40 years of using computer games and simulations to teach, educators still have little quantitative proof that games are an effective method for attaining academic goals or what factors can improve a game’s impact. Oregon Trail is unique because the same theme, informational content and player actions have been used in new versions of the game every few years for decades. We plan to use these successive versions to test the educational effectiveness of the various versions from player-typed text listings to plug-and-play, heads-up, high-resolution, video games.

To understand how computer or video games promote academic learning, the factors that influence retention of the target information must be isolated and most of them held constant while a single factor is varied separately.

One such factor is the format used to present the educational content (e.g. text, type-writer graphics, crude cartoons, complex cartoons and realistic video). Oregon Trail is old enough to have versions throughout the range allowing us to explore the impact of these different forms of presentation on the learning outcomes of comparable players. The variables are complex — more than ‘computer vs. no-computer’ or ‘game vs. drill sheet’. Museum visitors will have the option of playing one or more versions of Oregon Trail,  online, with the same academic content. What varies is the presentation (stimulus).

Today anyone can play Oregon Trail by searching online or by firing up a Nintendo. The goal is to survive the journey. The hazards for the pioneers were real, but can feel abstract if just presented as text and paragraphs. As a game (which ironically is abstract or at least virtual), the players must make choices based on uncertainties, strategies, and contingencies. They learn about some of the challenges and can better appreciate what the pioneers went through.

Originally, anyone wanting to play Oregon Trail could learn the same things about the pioneer journey. In addition they might have to learn typing, programming, debugging, and other computer skills. The player was also more likely to be aware of the assumptions and equations that were the basis of the game. They typed it all in. A missed zero could radically change the outcome, and that would also become an accidental lesson in sensitivities and a decreased expectation that computers are infallible. Garbage in, garbage out was much more apparent.

The current and historical experiences sound like two dramatically different learning events, so it is easy to accept that one is better than the other. Assumptions aren’t as powerful as measurements; and there are very few measurements of such comparisons.

The Oregon Trail Virtual Museum Exhibit that we will host is one example of why we are building the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum.

Creating the exhibit will allow the curious to check their scores across versions; and will also provide metadata in terms of pre- and post-test responses, game-play keystrokes and timing, and self-reports of players. The exhibit will gather enough anonymous biographical data to create comparable groups for data analysis.

Most educational explorations of classroom methods use a treatment and control design administered to two comparable groups of students. The control group receives what is thought to be the same academic content delivered via lecture, paper-and-pencil drill or some other more conventional teaching strategy. Both groups are tested for various skills and content knowledge before and after the intervention.

Analysis of the data will answer: a) does format correlate with retention of target content; b) does format effect time on task; c) do different grade levels of learners retain the same target content when various formats; d) does retention of target content correlate with previous subject matter knowledge; e) do players who already know the subject matter play longer than those for whom it is new information?

The Oregon Trail Virtual Museum Exhibit addresses the persistent question of whether educationally significant results can be gained from the use of computer games and what design factors impact game effectiveness. It may also be useful for game designers. And, of course, it will work best if it is also fun. Wagons ho!

PS Want to watch our progress? Check out the Oregon Trail page on our wiki. We’ve only just begun.

Online Museum Working Group Introduction

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



Online Museum Working Group


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

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

includes museums that have tangible and digital collections and

after “Such term”.(2)”

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

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

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

  1. As a member of the public you may leave a comment on this blog.
  2. To join the working group, please send a message to workinggroupimls@hcle.org requesting membership and briefly outlining your expertise in this area.
  3. Once some progress has been made by the working group we will convene a smaller drafting committee to craft the wording we suggest for the upcoming legislation. Members of this committee will be chosen by the working group.

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

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

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

Some first thoughts by Liza Loop, June 19, 2014

Some types of web sites:

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

…to be continued…