Tag Archives: computing

A Glance at Early EdTech a la DEC

Screenshot 2018-02-03 at 09.42.14

Digital (also known as DEC and Digital Equipment Company) did more than sell one of the first so-called minicomputers. It also published some of the first educational software to be used in regular subject classrooms and pioneered in supporting computing teachers. Our Collection includes several documents in the EduSystems series; “computers are for kids – EduSystems – expandable, economical”.

Screenshot 2018-02-03 at 09.41.27

See, for example, HCLE Item 1015: Advanced Problems for Computer Mathematics. For $2, students and teachers received a 75 page resource manual that took at least two approaches to teaching programming and problem solving. (Today you can get it for free by clicking on the linked title above.)

As the general headings in this booklet suggest, approaches to mathematics can be dry, with abstract titles that are correct and descriptive but not particularly exciting.

  • General Mathematics
  • Intermediate and Advanced Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Mathematical Analysis and Physics

Under these headings you find sets of increasingly difficult problems that might be solved more easily using a computer program that either paper and pencil or calculator. Today, an educational software company would be likely to supply the student with either 1) a graphically fancy, game-like program that provides a solution to the student followed by a multiple choice quiz; or 2) a computer-generated video that lets the student make predetermined choices within the problem space without requiring that the student understand how to state the problems or generate the answer. In the mid-1960s when Advanced Problems for Computer Mathematics was published there were not computer graphics or videos. Only images created with typewriter characters could be made. There was no internet and no common medium on which to supply and store the programs. The most practical way to share the software was to print the program itself in the booklet and let the students type it into whatever computer they had access to. This process built a bridge between the academic discipline being studied (mathematics, in this case) and computer programming.

In Advanced Problems for Computer Mathematics problems were frequently presented in a way that suggested the steps required to solve them. Then, the student is instructed to; “Write a program…” (in BASIC.) A sample program is provided to demonstrate one possible solution. If the learner’s program actually worked (ran) after a couple of tries s/he could move on to a harder task. But the computer isn’t actually doing any teaching. It’s role is more like a laboratory or playing field.  When the learner must troubleshoot and debug a teacher (or fellow student) will be a key tool for learning. Digital’s early approach to educational software illustrated the utility of the computer along with experience of computers’ limitations. It also demonstrated that answers might be approximations, not exact. There’s even a study of how rapidly and accurately (or inaccurately) π can be calculated. “At 10,000 terms, the approximation to π is off by 1 in the 4th decimal place.

Advanced Problems for Computer Mathematics provides some abstract problems but several are word problems that suggest a variety of practical, real-world applications for computer programs.  

  • What’s the volume of a potato? A study in calculus.
  • How far must someone travel to get from various places in Possible Gulch over Bell Mountain to Probable Junction? Bell Mountain has the shape of the normal distribution curve, providing a study in statistics.
  • How does a crosswind affect a plane’s flight? An exercise in a simple simulation.

While the utility of the computer is demonstrated, alternatives to the latest technology are also supplied. For the potato problem, they include a solution Archimedes used over 2,000 years ago. Sometimes a bowl of water is all you need. As it says in the text; “Hey, that’s a good method…keep the beaker and get rid of the computer.” The computer is presented as a tool, but not the only tool. An interesting perspective considering the publication is from a computer company.

The document itself is worth studying. Even though the publication is about computers, it didn’t use desktop publishing software. There were no word processors at the time. Some pages are photocopies of computer printouts. Fonts change depending on the source. Symbols like π and graphics like the airplane were hand-drawn.Screenshot 2018-02-05 at 10.16.03 The last page is copied from the list of Digital’s Sales and Service contacts around the world, an implicit reminder that at least one motivation for producing the series was to increase sales.

Computers, computing, and new ways and reasons to learn developed together. While such publications may have helped sales, they also represent a time when an industry knew it had to build itself, its user community, and its future workforce. Prior to this, there would’ve been a much smaller audience and the publications would be directed at professionals who cared more about content than layout. Soon after this, the audience was much larger and broader, and the expectations were for more polished presentations.

Preserving such documents for researchers and the curious is why we’re creating our virtual museum. Even one edition, like this one, can provide a cornerstone from which to build broader research projects and histories. Tell us where it leads you.

 

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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.

Vivarium

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

Smalltalk

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.

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.

 

 

Computing in Schools: For Good or Evil??

At the ISTE Conference last week, Audrey Watters and David Thornburg were on a panel debating whether computers are helping or hurting in schools. Audrey blogged about this saying,

Screenshot 2015-07-06 at 21.24.45

From @AudreyWatters, “In the early days of educational computing, it was often up to innovative, progressive teachers to put a personal computer in their classroom, even paying for the computer out of their own pocket.”

Well, Audrey, yes and no. What we need to give up is human passivity, not the tool/computer. Any tool — a hand, a stick, a motor, a computer — can be used by one human to dominate others. They can be used for war or peace, control or compassion. Computers are no exception. The non-liberation phenomena (the use of computing in schools to control and indoctrinate students) that you observe is not the ‘message in the medium’ of computing. It’s our human tendency to give away our power to others who claim to know more or better. Blaming this on the machine is an additional example of giving up power and agency. The computer remains unbiased and neutral. What it does do is extend the reach of the tyrant by orders of magnitude. We do need to fight back, but smashing the machine will not be effective. Giving as much attention to ‘social technologies’ as we have to electronics will be a more fruitful strategy. IM-not-so-H opinion, computing actually is liberating us from a powerful agent of domination itself — the school. By storing and forwarding learning objects (open educational resources from single pictures to MOOCs) and instrumenting a planet-wide communication system computers are breaking down the walls of the classroom and the authority of the formal school. So, yes, we need to give up computers in schools. Classrooms are special (and costly) meeting places for people and should not be wasted on activities that can be engaged in anywhere else. And, no, we should not try to eliminate computing as a tool for learning, any where, any time, by any person.

Should Computing be in Classrooms?

Response to WSJ article: Does Technology Belong in the Classroom? 

What’s the Question?
“Does technology belong in the classroom?” is the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking; “Is the classroom the best technology for this student to learn this lesson?” The answer depends on the student and the content of the lesson more than on the wrapper – classroom, informal group or solo space with distance presentation device.

“This innocuous little letter gives us a hint of a controversy that raged…”

Classrooms serve several purposes. They can aggregate learning resources: books and materials, fellow students and one or more teachers. They are physical containers that wall out distractions, and house furniture and people gathered together for the purpose of study. But classrooms are also a technology of control within which a teacher can enforce disciplined behavior on children against their will. They provide teachers with captive audiences backed up by threats of confinement, ostracism or even physical violence. As computing devices become smaller and wearable, schools will become less able to ban them from classrooms. The challenge for teachers is to remain (or become) relevant in the minds of collections of learners.

Detail of Google Glass
Photo by Antonio Zugaldia

This brings us to ask about new roles for teachers rather than classrooms. Is the role of the traditional classroom teacher diminished? Hardly. The Wall Street Journal article suggests teachers should “focus on teaching their students how to process that information by reflecting deliberately on how it changes their view of the world.” But this is only appropriate when the teacher is the one in the student-teacher pair who is more facile at processing information and has no fear of changing his or her own world view. In many cases the teacher is better off focusing on understanding how the student already thinks and suggesting new approaches based on existing student strengths.

In Favor of Computer Enhanced Classrooms
In her response, Lisa Nielsen advocates using the communication features of modern computing devices to bring the world into the classroom saying: “We know that any connected device provides access to information, resources and experts far beyond what a school building could ever offer students. Why would we limit learning possibilities by not fully taking advantage of that?” She mentions that one role for teachers is to make sure that students are engaged in approved activities while using their devices in class. Another advantage of group learning activities is that students teach each other. Some pick up ideas and skills from watching others. Some students are explaining their actions to both their peers and, often, the teacher. To be successful in this environment the teacher must give up the role of “sage on the stage” and become an expert “guide on the side”. That guide must be an expert at observing learners and gauging when to intervene and when to stand back and let discovery and reflection work their magic. Such a teacher is no longer serving as a single funnel of information into the heads of students. Connected devices give students much broader access to extremely well-crafted didactic instruction. But this frees the classroom teacher to observe and attend to the social and special needs of individual students. From the perspective of the teacher, classroom becomes a much more complex, and more effective, learning environment for all participants.

Arguing for “A Sanctuary of Focus”
“classrooms should be a sanctuary of focus. Children need a place to learn mental stillness, deliberation, critical thinking and human empathy”, suggests Jose Antonio Bowen in his rebuttal to technology in the classroom. Certainly such sanctuaries are sorely needed, but most school classrooms, even before the ubiquitous onrush of electronic devices, have failed to fulfill that function. Computing has increased focus, not diminished it, although students don’t necessarily focus on the topics approved by teachers. We need to respond positively to Bowen’s plea but not by banning all computer-enhanced devices from all classrooms. Rather, teachers should be encouraged to choose the environments in which their professional skills thrive and administrations should promote a variety of classroom styles within their schools. If permitted a choice, students might sort themselves into the classroom that best fit their learning styles — not by chronological age but by interest and social comfort. Sanctuary does not look the same for all students or all teachers.

Computing as the Trojan Horse of Schools
(re: Behold the Trojan Horse: Instructional vs. Productivity Computing in the Classroom by Liza Loop)

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Computing has been breaking down the walls of schools since the early 1960s. It lets the outside in. It lets those inside see a much broader horizon and often frees them to walk away. It challenges old methods of control. It presents new skills to master, new ways to communicate, new forms of social organization. These new opportunities are enhancements in the lives of some but threats to others. Rather than search for the one right way, the technological silver bullet for education, we can embrace both the old and the new. “If it works, don’t fix it.” Some learners thrive in traditional school classrooms with blackboards as the most modern technology. Other learners find freedom, engagement and efficiency in surfing solo through the internet. Still others may become most highly educated by a multi-year hike down the John Muir or Appalachian Trail. Whatever your preferences, computing is here to stay and we humans, young and old, must learn to deal with it. Either/or is not the question. It’s when, where, and how?

Why republish old stuff

Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It builds on what was done before — or does it?

Some of you may remember the announcement of the first microcomputer kit, the MITS Altair.

Others hark back to visiting the computer lab at the Boston Children’s Museum on the US east coast or the Lawrence Hall of Science on the west coast. The more geeky (now) old folks might have been among those who begged for access to their school’s administrative computer so that they could type in BASIC language games or educational simulations. In the late 1960’s and early ’70’s these were among the only ways to get your hands on a computer.

Students from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in their school's computer room. (Photo courtesy of OMSI)
Students from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in their school’s computer room. (Photo courtesy of OMSI)

Most people had no idea what computers were, how to operate or program them or, most important, what impact these machines would have on our daily lives 5, 10, 20 or 40 years in the future. A few of us were concerned that those who didn’t learn to take control of computers would be controlled by them — or, more accurately, controlled by the people who controlled the computers.

Fast forward about 40 years.  “I can’t do that, the computer won’t let me,” says the customer service representative. How many times have your heard that one? And how many customers have the knowledge to retort: “Who is in charge here, the people or the computers?

The computer is totally neutral. Behind it is a responsible person who specified how the programmer should make the computer respond. That’s the one I need to talk to. Many early educational technology theorists were concerned with what both children and adults needed to learn about computers so that they couldn’t be tyrannized by the hidden person behind the machine.

How did we do?

In my opinion, the road taken by computer educators led us to the subjugation of students by teachers hiding behind computers – teaching via computer very effectively and to a vastly increased audience – but teaching the same old things. Today’s much vaulted e-learning makes the masses more vulnerable to intimidation by an elite oligarchy of managers at the top of large organizations, both for profit and nonprofit. The microcomputer, which I originally saw as a Trojan Horse that was infiltrating teacher-centered classrooms and fomenting creative problem solving, has been co-opted. How did this disaster happen?

Bigger, faster, better-programmed, little computers – those same machines that help us accomplish so much and keep us amused every day – may be turning us away from independent thinking and the sense of self-determination that is so necessary for the effective democratic citizen. There’s no evil actor here. The passionate programmers that turned the early, print-out based simulations like Oregon Trail into fancy video games didn’t intend to take the most valuable lessons out of the learner experience. The colleges that grant computer science degrees to students who are marginally proficient with a narrow collection of business application programs don’t intend to be misleading either their graduates or potential employers. But don’t take my word for it. Explore the world of learning through and about computing for yourself.

Oh. You can’t find anything about computing education from 40 years ago? That’s because we didn’t have the world wide web and the information you seek isn’t online – yet. HCLE is putting it there. As we build this online museum you will be able to compare the first versions of “Oregon Trail” (or 101 other educational computer games) with their later implementations and see whether the subtle learning transmitted by using the game has changed over the years. While you’re enjoying the game aspects of these materials, our curators can suggest questions to stimulate your thinking about what kind of learning you want for yourself and the children you know.

Who needs this? You do as you find your personal path through our modern world of life-long learning. Educators (administrators, teachers, curriculum designers) need to know that there are many alternatives to video-game-like programs that will engage learners in subject matter relevant to modern work and play. Citizens need to discover that knowing how to program computers gives them a better basis for making public policy decisions and holding their legislators accountable. And besides all that, history is fun, quaint, amusing and thought-provoking. That’s why I think we need this virtual museum.

What do you think?

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.