Tag Archives: PLATO

LOOP Center and Educational Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.