Tag Archives: EdTechHistory

A Glance at Early EdTech a la DEC

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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”.

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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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Preserving My TRS-80 Likes Me

Things really were simpler then, at least when the topic is computing and the era was before 1980. One document in our catalog (item #1030) is,

My TRS-80 Likes Me – When I teach kids how to use it!, by Bob Albrecht.

1030

The eight page document is “a resource guide for the elementary teacher.” Within those eight pages are example programs, fundamental computing concepts, and a playful attitude. Similar guides are possible now, but their instructions are likely to be layered on browsers, apps, and operating systems. Back then it was: boot the machine, type the code and RUN. But the guide also taught more fundamental concepts, as well as setting a tone and culture that encouraged kids to play and learn.

We’re preserving such documents so researchers and the curious can study and recall an era that redefined the way we learn.

The programs were all in BASIC. He prefaced the text with a disclosure:

“IMPORTANT NOTICE! I am not saying that the TRS-80 is the best computer for a// purposes. I am not saying the TRS-80 is the best overall educational computer. I am saying that I think the TRS-80 is the best computer that I have used (so far) to teach elementary school children, grades 4, 5 and 6, how to understand and enjoy BASIC.”

Programs start with four lines, grow to over a dozen, and end with one program that has three dozen lines. Elementary school students learned to print their name, but also how to write games and create graphics for the screen. 

At the time (1979), BASIC had been available for about 16 years. There were advocates for programming languages like FORTRAN, and for limiting classes to college students and graduates; but Bob knew younger people could learn to program, too.

As he wrote:

“THEY WANT TO CONTROL THE COMPUTER.
Why not? They control the future; so, let them control the computer, the tool of the future; give your kids this tool: let them shape it in ways unknown to us. Then stand back and enjoy!!”

One lesson that helps illustrate the fundamentals that had to be taught were “Tell them about the prompt(> ) and the cursor(-).” Cursors continue, but > prompts are hidden behind those layers described above.

Starting with such simple lessons is logical, but the more important lesson may be the attitude.

“Let the kids do all the hands-on stuff. Be patient- let them make mistakes, correct their own mistakes. and above all, encourage them to EXPERIMENT!”
“Now the fun begins.””

There may only be eight pages, but there’s enough in them to provide insights into history.

Bob Albrecht didn’t do all of the work. As he said in an interview we posted earlier, “people like Gerald Brown and Mary Jo did such a beautiful job of pasting it up, laying it out,…” The story behind the group effort leads to People’s Computer Company (our previous post), the Whole Earth Catalog, and about 32 more books on BASIC published as recently as 1996.

History is a network. Documents influence other documents. Contributors contribute in more than one place, and unintentionally inspire others. There’s enough to explore whether you’re interested in early educational technology, BASIC, the TRS-80, creative hand-produced publications, or a community that mixed programming with wine tasting and Greek dancing. (Read Interview with Bob Albrecht by Jon Cappetta for more.)

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.

Exploring Designs for Teaching – Liza Loop on Distance, Synchronicity, Control

On June 7th, 2016 we held an Oral History Workshop – How Education Made Computers Personal at Leuphana University (Luneberg, Germany) and online. The workshop was a collaboration between HCLE’s parent organization, LO*OP Center, and Leuphana University to capture more of that history and make it available to modern researchers.

Liza Loop’s presentation, Distance, Synchronicity, Control: Exploring Designs for Teaching About and Through Computers, was inspired by the work of Stuart Cooney, Seymour Papert, and LOGO. Asynchronous teaching is very old. Paintings on cave walls, words in books, and files in computers are all stored instructions that control and pass information to later learners. EdTech has been with us for a long time.

The details of the presentations are too much to relay here; which is why we made a few videos of the presentations available and want to focus on one here.

The nature of the collaboration is a good example of creating a bridge between generations. Liza Loop is the founder of LO*OP Center, the co-creator of the event; and brought the first Apple 1 into schools, opened a public access meeting place for computing, and helped write user’s manuals for the Atari 400 and 800 computers. She lived the history, and knows others who also lived it. The other co-creator was Jerry Herberg, a doctoral candidate at Leuphana working on how computers influenced learning. He is studying the history, and finding others who are also eager to study the history; especially, because they realize the opportunity to meet the pioneers is becoming increasingly difficult. This oral history workshop was yet another step in passing along history. There are many more stories to tell and record and study.

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…”

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

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

Distance Learning – Then and Now

Distance Learning isn’t new. Start with the clay tablets, the Greeks, mail order classes, and eventually work through history to examples like Liza Loop’s LO*OP Center where people who were interested in learning could remotely login to mainframes and explore programming. Distance Learning was enabled by our ability to “Store it Forward” in things like books and now digital media. Storing information forward for future generations is a basis for civilization’s advance. Some of today’s issues were questions and concerns then; and that history may hold answers for now. Now, partly because of the pervasiveness of computers, everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a learner. Students sitting in classrooms already know there’s a lot to learn beyond four classroom walls.

Thanks to GeekFest Berlin’s 2016 event, we’ve created a series of videos from Liza Loop’s presentation that touch on various aspects of the topic and our organization’s history within it. We pass this information along as possible aids to include in your communications and as an introduction to our mission and current activities.

Geekfest Berlin 2016 – Liza Loop – Distance Learning – https://youtu.be/eVSEDK_MBKw

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.

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 – Lewis J Perelman

During the 1980s and 1990s, Lewis J. Perelman became widely recognized as a leading authority on transforming education, training, and employment systems to meet the needs of a post-industrial economy. A post-industrial economy would potentially make traditional education and learning models obsolete, the way jets took over from ships and trains.

“The salient economic connection in both transportation and education is that the success of one new technology wave eliminates the market for the old – not because it is better and not because on a particular test it gets better scores. Rather, because the new takes away enough customers to make the old economically unsustainable.”

“Long before reform of the educational system comes to any conclusion, the system itself will have collapsed.”

He advocated for an expansion of learning systems beyond the classroom and children because the modern world requires everyone to continue learning throughout their life in every aspect of their life.

“Of the more than sixty million Americans who learned how to use personal computers since 1980, most learned from vendors, books, other users, and the computers themselves, not in schools.”

He wrote about a new perspective on learning called Hyperlearning which will be enabled by a convergence of technologies like artificial intelligence, telecommunication, information, and biotech.

“Hyperlearning is a categorical step — the proverbial ‘quantum leap’ — beyond ‘artificial intelligence,’ beyond broadband telecommunications, beyond information processing, beyond biotechnology. Rather, hyperlearning represents the fusion of these technological threads. HL is weaving into the fabric of a new industrial base for a new kind of world economy.”

An additional concept called kanbrain was developed as an extension of the Japanese management system based on just-in-time learning, and collaboration.

As with most of HCLE’s Pioneers, his influence extended beyond education and learning. Dr. Perelman’s work also addressed and continues to address: alternative energy technologies; infrastructure security, resilience, and adaptability; climate change; knowledge sharing and collaboration; human capital investment; and sustainable business and economic development.

Additional information is available on our wiki.

Profile of an HCLE Pioneer – Ted Kahn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profile of an HCLE Pioneer – Don Bitzer

Don Bitzer saw a new way to aid education and learning through the use of innovative hardware and software in 1960. PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) was a computer-based, interactive communication system developed to connect a variety of students, instructors, and resources. It existed before the ARPANet and social media which would eventually have much in common in PLATO.

The system allowed lessons to be stored in the computer and accessed by students at their convenience. It was also a distributed system which allowed access by multiple users in multiple locations. Eventually, a communication element was added called Notes, which allowed user-to-user discussions that didn’t require any action by the administrators.

To aid in learning, two other sensory interactions were enabled. Audio was provided that helped language instruction. Touch was added so students could select words or figures and learn more about them.

PLATO continues to exist in archive sites and in descendants that have evolved into commercial services.

PLATO is equally well known for the consequences of its creation.

Many of PLATO’s connectivity features were eventually echoed in the ARPANet and subsequently the internet. It took ARPANet about a decade to exceed PLATO’s traffic.

The Notes program became one of the first online communities, an ancestor of online bulletin boards and social media. It and its architecture enabled game play among multiple users, similar to today’s online games.

Don Bitzer is particularly known for the invention of the gas plasma display that was developed for PLATO. The addition of touch enabled more direct contact for the student. That ability and technology went on to create the gas plasma display industry. While PLATO’s goal was to improve interactivity, the television and monitor manufacturers were drawn to such displays to be thinner than conventional displays. In that regard, Educational Technology is like any other technology, advances in one field can have far greater impacts on other fields.

Don Bitzer is currently a Distinguished University Research Professor at North Carolina State University after having taught for several decades at the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois.

Additional information is available on our wiki.

Several of his videos have also been added to our HCLE Pioneers playlist on YouTube.

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.