Tag Archives: EdTechHistory

Which comes first, the message or the audience?

Comments by Liza Loop, HCLE Founder & Executive Director

Earlier this year HCLE applied for a grant from California Humanities, a state-wide calhum_logoCouncil that gets its support from the US National Endowment for the Humanities. We didn’t get the grant. In the proposed project, entitled Hopes for a Future of Education: 5 California Ed Tech Pioneers Tell Their Stories, five pioneering California educators from the 1970s and 80s will tell us what inspired them to introduce computing into their classrooms, how it changed their teaching and how they hoped this would benefit their students. They will also share their thoughts about the status of ed tech today.

Since the deadline for another round of funding is approaching I asked CalHUM for feedback on our previous proposal. The program officer sent me the review sheet from one of the reviewers saying that the other reviewer basically agreed – their comments were more direct about the limited audience appeal demonstrated.

Why is it so hard to find participants for this conversation? I think it’s significant that there is no Museum of Learning and Education. This topic is buried so deeply in every society’s culture that, like the proverbial fish and water, it is difficult to perceive and taboo to question or change. During my 15 year association with Stanford’s Graduate School of Education I saw almost no initiatives to explore paradigm shifts in teaching or learning (although there probably were some in other departments). “Educational Reform”, a catch phrase from the period (1960-1990), meant tinkering around the edges of conventional, class-room based, teacher-centered educational practice. My hypothesis that schools and class rooms may not be the best technologies to support learning was summarily dismissed. And that was the response in a community of practice dedicated to education.

varveltrojanhorse
Source

In the larger (developed) world remarkably few people enjoy or thrive in schools but even fewer are interested in working to invent something better. Instead we continue to export this institution throughout the lesser developed world and systematically plow under all vestiges of indigenous ways of cultural transmission. In 1985, I and my colleagues in educational computing saw the personal computer as the Trojan Horse that would allow us to break down the walls of the conventional classroom and conquer the status quo. I thought the audience for this message would grow.

And the audience has grown but it has split into two very different channels. The current HCLE  crowd is  an audience of rebels. Many of them are pioneers in different aspects of the electronics industry. They are the ones who were bored in school and were also able to access external sources of teaching so that they could learn to create new devices and functions. They have become the world’s intellectual and economic elite. They understand that there is something wrong with our educational system (and by “our” I mean those of India, Japan, Russia, Indonesia and others, not just the US). Unfortunately, few of them have turned their prodigious analytical skills to the problem of building better scaffolding to support learning in the broad “normal” population of the planet. Some don’t understand that, by definition, most people have an IQ of 105 or less and do not fall in the upper reaches of the bell-shaped curve as they do. IQ was designed to predict capacity to learn and excel in school-like settings. If we are to have an “educated” world population we cannot teach only the best and brightest. We have to support prodigious learning for everybody. Computing offers a promise of delivering prerecorded, interactive teaching materials to learners around the world — all learners, not just the very bright. Some HCLE supporters are so busy succeeding in their chosen fields they don’t realize how critical our educational failure is to sustaining their way of life.

The audience in the second and larger channel is engaged in a contemporary debate about the effectiveness of electronic devices in the classroom. For the most part they are unaware that their concerns and experiences have been under discussion for over forty years so they keep repeating the same old arguments. They are willing to consider “flipping” the classroom but not eliminating it as the principle way of organizing students.

It is important for our potential funders to understand that the current size and composition of the HCLE audience is the very reason they can benefit from supporting us. The people we can reach without additional funding are those who can catch the message without extensive curation and professional-level presentation techniques. But progressive social change is not a popularity contest. It’s a search for meaning and likely to be unpopular in it’s early stages. That’s why it needs partnerships with government agencies and philanthropic organizations. If it was popular Jane or John Q. Public would just buy it and we would not be asking for support.

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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.

Saving Stories From California’s EdTech Pioneers

California Humanities is conducting a storytelling grants program that will,

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

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


 

The Introduction to our proposal

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

Managing the not-so-virtual assets of HCLE

Liza's van with computer monitors, wheel barrow of monitors and Stephie dog
Unloading the van

20151031 HCLEBlog

Managing the not-so-virtual assents of HCLE

I must be crazy to be doing this but after more than 10 years at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits in Milpitas, CA, LO*OP Center, Inc. is moving again. Most of the physical stuff we have is the HCLE collection of papers, books, magazines, computers, toys, software and memorabilia.

I had hoped to sort through these material belongings in the Milpitas office (see the lower end of the arrow on the map below), scan everything there and ship the physical items off to waiting museums, libraries and universities anxious to conserve these historical artifacts. Curating the resulting digital surrogates would be a piece of cake, right? It isn’t happening that way. This is about the 8th time I moved a lot of the stuff, ironically, some of it from my former home in Sebastopol, a few towns south of my present Sonoma County location. That was 1979.

LO*OP Center started as a storefront computer center in 1975 in Cotati (next to Rohnert Park on the map). When I closed the shop I moved what we had to my barn in Sebastopol and I went to Silicon Valley HCLEmovemap(actually Palo Alto) to consult. A few years later Bob Albrecht (a key Ed. Tech. Pioneer) rented the Sebastopol house and added parts of what used to be Peoples’ Computer Center to the barn storage. After that, ComputerTown USA! (which was located in Menlo Park, one town north of Palo Alto) folded and I salvaged more stuff for the collection . Meanwhile I continued to amass leavings from my consulting work and other Ed Tech Pioneers started handing me the contents of their offices, attics and garages. When Bob left the Sebastopol house so my sons could move in they wanted the barn cleared out and the collection went into public storage — in Menlo Park near the old Peoples’ Computer Center. In 2001 office space in Palo Alto was cheaper than public storage and I wanted to have a place for people to congregate and help build the museum, so another move ensued. When sharing space with my for-profit business didn’t work out we moved to Milpitas. Then, a couple of years ago, I moved myself back to Sonoma County – Guerneville this time. It took me 2.5 hours to drive to the office. Needless to say, I did most of my work at home.

Last week several volunteers, a few hired hands and I packed 100 boxes of papers, books and magazines, loaded them into a U-Haul Truck and drove them the 150 miles to their new home – LO*OP Cottage next to my house in Guerneville. I have mixed feelings about this decision. Although my commute is now minimal it’s much harder to enlist volunteers here in the country. Although I have neighbors who used to work at IBM and Apple, they are retired and pursuing art, music and theater rather than high-tech nostalgia. We have many passionate, local educators but they, too, are more interested in looking forward than back. I’m focusing on recruiting high-school students and online volunteers to help plow through the mountains of work ahead.

LOOP mailbox, Watson Rd., Guerneville
Watson Rd., Guerneville

The good news is that this is an exquisite place to be. Light pollution is so minor that you can see the whole Milky Way on clear nights. The redwoods beckon, the Russian River keeps flowing and the Pacific Ocean, 15 miles down the road, is magnificent in all its moods. Ah well, I have to go inside now and sort a few more papers!

Retentiveness is key to Progress, so — a History of Learning and Education is Important

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

-George Santayana, The Life of Reason [1905-1906], Volume I, Reason in Common Sense, Chapter 12, 1906

Whenever I attend educational technology conferences today, I am reminded of George Santayana’s admonition to learn the history of one’s craft. At meetings, I often see young researchers and developers struggling with the same problems technology pioneers were discussing 40 years ago. In 1976, I brought the #1 Apple 1, the first one off the assembly line in Cupertino, into a classroom for the first time ever. Apple 1Soon, I was part of a growing community of educators and learners who were anticipating the potential benefits and issues introduced by the advent of small, fast computing. We thought a lot and experimented as best we could. We discussed the issues among ourselves and published our ruminations in now obscure journals and newsletters.

Continue reading Retentiveness is key to Progress, so — a History of Learning and Education is Important

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.