History of Computers in Education

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The field of computers in education is, of course, part of the overall field of education. Because computer use now permeates education, every teacher should have some knowledge of the field of computers in education. The purpose of this document is to provide a short overview of the history of computers in education. There also are links to resources that may be useful to people who want to study this history in more detail.

Before the Invention of Writing

The history of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education can be traced back many thousands of years before the first development of reading and writing. We have cave wall paintings and we have notches carved onto bones; both are long-lasting artifacts.

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Long before the earliest written records, there are drawings that do indicate a knowledge of mathematics and of measurement of time based on the stars. For example, paleontologists have discovered ochre rocks in a cave in South Africa adorned with scratched geometric patterns dating back to c. 70,000 BC.[2] Also prehistoric artifacts discovered in Africa and France, dated between 35,000 BC and 20,000 BC,[3] indicate early attempts to quantify time.[4]

Throughout their history, humans have faced the need to measure and communicate about time, quantity, and distance. The Ishango Bone artifact shown below is perhaps 25,000 years old.


Quoting from http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/Ancient-Africa/ishango.html:

At one end of the Ishango Bone is a piece of quartz for writing, and the bone has a series of notches carved in groups. It was first thought these notches were some kind of tally marks as found to record counts all over the world. However, the Ishango bone appears to be much more than a simple tally. The markings on rows (a) and (b) each add to 60. Row (b) contains the prime numbers between 10 and 20. Row (a) is quite consistent with a numeration system based on 10, since the notches are grouped as 20 + 1, 20 - 1, 10 + 1, and 10 - 1. Finally, row (c) seems to illustrate for the method of duplication (multiplication by 2) used more recently in Egyptian multiplication. Recent studies with microscopes illustrate more markings and it is now understood the bone is also a lunar phase counter. Who but a woman keeping track of her cycles would need a lunar calendar? Were women our first mathematicians?

The picture below shows Sumerian clay tokens whose use began about 11,000 years ago. Such clay tokens were a predecessor to reading, writing, and mathematics.


Since the Invention of Writing

A written language can be thought of as a type of computer. It provides for the input, storage, and output of information. And, it is an aid to the manipulation of information. Compare this with a commonly used definition that a computer is a machine for the input, storage, manipulation, and output of information.

Note that written languages provide for the representation of both words and numbers. The first electronic digital computers were specifically designed to deal with numbers. However, it soon became evident that they could also deal with alphabetic symbols. Computers made possible the automation of many numerical and alphabetic manipulation processes.

A comprehensive history of ICT in education thus begins more than 70,000 years ago and continues on into modern times. Before the development of written languages, ICT education was informal. The development of reading and writing quickly led to the development of formal schools in which students come together in a classroom setting and receive instruction from a teacher.

Think about the abacus that was developed more than 4,500 years ago. Its roots lie in marks drawn in dirt or sand, and in a collection of pebbles in which the pebbles are in one-to-one correspondence with a herd of animals.

An abacus with beads on strings in a frame provides a compact device to aid in counting and doing arithmetic. Probably from the very beginning of the use of this type of abacus, there was the issue of learning its use with very little understanding versus learning with deeper understanding. That issue still exists today in paper and pencil arithmetic, use of electronic calculators, and use of computers.

In brief summary we know that:

  • Humans have innate capabilities to learn oral communication.
  • Humans developed aids to oral communication more than 70,000 years ago.
  • Reading and writing are very powerful aids to oral language. We can think of written language both as a "technology" designed to aid oral communication and as an aid to the human brain in the storage and processing of information.
  • Machines have been developed that are powerful aids to the use of written language. Click here for a brief timeline for the development of computers.
  • We now have electronic digital computers. During their brief history they have made very very very rapid progress in gaining increasing power as an aid to the input, storage, automated manipulation, and output/retrieval of data, information, and knowledge.
  • It is possible to use these computer capabilities with relatively little understanding. However, a deeper level of understanding on the part of the user considerably increases the usefulness of computers. Thus, ICT is now a very important area of, or component of, both informal and formal education.

What Do We Want Teachers to Know?

Each academic discipline has considerable depth, breadth, and history. We can single out any one discipline and ask what we want the teachers of that discipline to know about the history of the discipline, the history of teaching and learning in that discipline, and so on.

Many disciplines name some of their important results after people who contributed greatly to the development of the results. Thus, in math we have Euclidean geometry and we have the Pythagorean theorem. In physics we have Newton's laws of motion and Einstein's theory of relativity. Students learn a tidbit of history of a discipline as they learn about some of the people who contributed to developing the discipline.

Giving a name to an important result, whether named after a person or not, is an aid to communication. In science, for example, we have a theory of evolution and a theory of plate tectonics.

Consider the discipline of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Who are the people (and what are their contributions) and/or what are some of the "named" Big Ideas that help to give a historical perspective in this discipline? For example, is it important that a teacher (or especially an ICT teacher) know something about Gordon Moore and Moore's Law? How about the transistor and the massive changes it made possible in ICT? How about fiber optics and communication satellites? How about the Internet and the Web? How about some other specific people such as Alan Turing (the Turing Test for artificial intelligence), Douglas Engelbart (inventor of the computer mouse), or leaders such as Pat Suppes who pioneered computer-assisted instruction?

How abut some history on the development of computer programming languages, and of languages such as FORTRAN, BASIC, and LOGO? For example, might we expect that a leader in the field of ICT in education would know something about Seymour Papert's role in developing LOGO and his many major contributions to the field of computers in education? How about the general idea of computer literacy and Art Leuhrman's contribution to this field?

In summary, there are a number of really important "named" Big Ideas in the field of ICT in education. Some have the names of people associated with them, and some do not.

Challenge to readers: Name a few of these "named" Big Ideas that you think are very important. Share your insights and justifications with others. The next section of this document is a good place to write your ideas.

Soliciting Input

On 6/13/09 David Moursund sent the following email to the ISTE SIG for Teacher Education:

Recently I was reading the various topics listed in the ISTE/NCATE Technology Facilitator endorsement.
One of the items in the Technology facilitator endorsement is "Discuss the history of technology use in schools."
I currently have a Web Page at http://iae-pedia.org/History_of_Computers_in_Education that contains some items about the history of ICT in education.
I would like your ideas on what you think various groups of educators should know about the history of Information and Communication Technology in education.

Please send your ideas on revising and expanding this page so it provides an adequate introduction for preservice and inservice teachers who want to know something about the history of ICT in education.

Please send ideas and comments to my email: moursund@uoregon.edu

Possible audiences and uses of this page might be:

  1. For preservice teachers as they gain knowledge and skills such as listed in NETS Teachers. (Thus, what do you think every teacher should know about the history of ICT in education?)
  2. School administrators (see ISTE NETS for Administrators). (Thus, what do you think every school administrator should know about the history of ICT in education?)
  3. For teachers working on the ISTE/NCATE Technology Facilitator endorsement. This endorsement is aimed at people who want to be a school level technology facilitator computer coordinator. (Thus, what should this endorsement include about the history of ICT in education?)
  4. For teachers working on the ISTE/NCATE for Technology Leadership Standards. This endorsement is aimed at people who want to be a school district or higher level computer leader or computer coordinator. (Thus, what should this endorsement include about the history of ICT in education?)
  5. School Board members. (Thus, what do you think that every School Board member should know about the history of ICT in education?)

Here are some of the responses.

Comment from Craig Cunningham 6/13/09

Isn’t a general understanding of the history of education more important, even for tech facilitators?

Comment from Marianne Handler 6/13/09

Only if we want to point out how slowly we have changed and remain mired in thinking to/for the past. Big ideas... not the details, please.

Comment from Bob Richardson 6/14/09

As a historian foremost and an instructional technology coach by default, the only thing I think anyone needs to know about the history of education in America is that Horace Mann's grand experiment, like all other socialist experiments, doesn't work and is a miserable failure. Technological advancements have been rapid and meaningful because they have been unfettered by regulation and do not rely on taxes to proceed. Public education has enjoyed neither of these two freedoms. The premier historian of our time, Arnold Toynbee, once described public education as casting pearls before swine and noted that the only industry which actually made profit from and supported public education was journalism -- the yellow kind. Now that we all know the old infrastructure is unsound, new platforms should be our focus; currently I am intrigued with Newpoint schools -- a start in the different direction.

Comment About Socialism 6/14/09 and Subsequent

A sequence of email messages were received that discussed whether Internet and/or the Web were products of a socialism approach to federal government spending.

There are not included here because they seem to have wandered off the topic of the discussion about ICT in teacher education.

Comment by David Marcovitz 6/15/09

Getting back to the question at hand, not the political discussion of whether or not public education is a socialist enterprise and/or a complete failure...

I have always been a bit baffled by this standard in the ISTE standards, and I never know what to do with it. In general, I find history to be important, but in this instance, it really does seem to be a waste of time to dwell too much on history. While I always throw in historical references (after all, I used to work in the lab where PLATO was invented), I don’t think it really matters whether my students (er, I mean candidates since we’re talking NCATE/ISTE accreditation) know anything at all about PLATO or other historical attempts to use technology in education. I include information about things like the ACOT study, not because they are history but because there are lessons that apply to my candidates today (e.g., it is a good description of change in schools).

While I wish I had a good answer to this, I wish more that this standard was eliminated.

Short History of "Modern" Computers in Education

Much of the work on the first electronic digital computers developed in the United States was done by university faculty members. Thus, from very early on some students had access to computers—and, indeed, aided in the development of hardware and software.

A nice (free) poster on the history of mainframe computers is available from http://insidetechtalk.com/mainframehistory/.

The Programming Language FORTRAN

The FORTRAN programming language, developed during 1953–1957, substantially decreased the level of computer knowledge and skills needed to get started in making use of a computer. By 1958, a number of precollege students were learning to use FORTRAN and punch cards as an input device to computers.

Various activities in Minnesota, beginning about 1963, are important parts of the history of computers in education. An excellent document capturing part of this history is a 1995 interview of Dale LaFrenz. Quoting from that interview:

After five years at the lab school I left, but during my stay a U-Hi there that were five others (David C. Johnson; Pam Katzman; John Walther; Tom Kieren; Larry Hatfield) in the mathematics department who were convinced that the computer was going to be an integral part of education. In 1963 we decided that every kid needed to have a computer access. We began looking around for a way to provide access. Some people will remember that at the time Minneapolis-St. Paul was the computer capitol of the world; this is where all the action was as we made most of the computers here. Univac's home-base was here; Control Data's home-base was here; Honeywell was here and in the computer business at the time; IBM was down the road in Rochester; and then 3M, while not making computers, was making all kinds of other related products.

The interview with Dale LaFrenz indicated that by 1963 Robert Smith (people called him Doc Smith) at Control Data had put together some curriculum and computer activities based on a large set of pre-punched FORTRAN cards. Students could create a variety of programs making use of subsets of this large deck of cards, and run them on Control Data Corporation computers.

By that time, some precollege students had been using FORTRAN (on various computers) for about five years. That is, the history of precollege students doing programming goes back at least to 1958. Richard Andree was involved in some of this early work.

I (David Moursund) first became involved in the educational use of computers at the precollege level in Summer 1963, when I helped teach a class for Talented and Gifted students on the University of Wisconsin campus. The students learned FORTRAN and I also taught them some uses of computers in numerical analysis.

More of the Minnesota Story

Here is a further quote from the 1995 interview of Dale LaFrenz:

O'NEILL: With the development and growth of the courseware idea, did you get away from then teaching programming?
LAFRENZ: Yes. The evolution that took place in the United States and the one that we had in Minnesota where it started was paralleled across the United States and is now being paralleled in Europe. That is, we first started out to teach programming. Then we began to see that there is more to this than just teaching programming. Then we started having stored programs in the library, or software, and then there was the whole era of three, four years that we went through where computer literacy was the thing to do. During this time we discovered that, "The computer's going to have greater influence on society than just a few programmers sitting around. In fact, it may be going to invade every part of our lives." About 20 years ago we were predicting this would happen. We agreed that everybody who comes through a comprehensive K-12 education program should know about the positive and negative impacts of the computer.

Time-shared Computing and then Multics

Gedda, Rodney (11/11/09). Blast from the Past: 40 years of Multics, 1969-2009. Multics pioneered hierarchical file systems, file access controls, and dynamic linking on demand. CIO. Retrieved 11/16/09 from http://www.cio.com.au/article/325323/cio_blast_from_past_40_years_multics_1969-2009. Quoting from the article:

October 2009 marked an important milestone in the history of computing. It was exactly 40 years since the first Multics computer system was used for information management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service) is regarded as the foundation of modern time-sharing systems. Multics was the catalyst for the development of Unix and has been used as a model of operating system design since its release four decades ago.
Professor Fernando J Corbato was the leader of the Multics project at MIT and also led the team that developed Compatible Timesharing System (CTSS) in 1961, one of the first timesharing systems and the research precursor to Multics.
Corbato -- or “Corby” as he is known by his Multics peers -- went on to receive a coveted Turing Award in 1990 for his work on time-sharing computer systems and coined "Corbato's Law" which states the number of lines of code a programmer can write in a fixed period of time is the same regardless of the programming language.

History of Computing for Learning and Education

Liza loop is the organizer of a project and accompanying website on History of Computing for Learning and Education (HCLE). See http://hcle.wikispaces.com/ and https://hclemuseum.wordpress.com/tag/liza-loop/.


Some of the Pioneer Pages of this Information Age Education wiki contain quite a bit of history. See, for example:

See also:

CITE (2003). Five Pioneers of the Application of Computing to Education. Contemporary Issues in Technology in Education. Retrieved 1/23/2009: http://www.citejournal.org/vol3/iss2/seminal/article1.cfm.

Licklider, J.R.C., & Taylor, Robert (April 1968). The Computer as a Communication Device. Science and Technology. retrieved 3/17 2010 from http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-computer-as-a-communication-device. Quoting from the website:

This landmark 1968 essay foresaw many future computer applications and advances in communication technology, such as distributed information resources and online interactive communities that are commonplace today as Internet chat rooms and peer-to-peer applications.
In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face.
That is a rather startling thing to say, but it is our conclusion. As if in confirmation of it, we participated a few weeks ago in a technical meeting held through a computer. In two days, the group accomplished with the aid of a computer what normally might have taken a week.
We shall talk more about the mechanics of the meeting later; it is sufficient to note here that we were all in the same room. But for all the communicating we did directly across that room, we could have been thousands of miles apart and communicated just as effectively-as people-over the distance.
Our emphasis on people is deliberate. A communications engineer thinks of communicating as transferring information from one point to another in codes and signals.

U.S. Federal Office of Educational Technology

T.H.E. Journal (11/10/2010). 2020 Vision: Experts Forecast What the Digital Revolution Will Bring Next. Retrieved 11/17/2010 from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2010/11/01/Talkin-about-a-Revolution.aspx. Quoting from the article:

Directors of the federal Office of Educational Technology both past and present—as well as a range of ed tech leaders nationwide—predict what the digital revolution has in store for the next decade, while taking account of its impact to date. Plus: a timeline of learning technologies.

In September 1993, Linda Roberts was appointed inaugural director of the newly created Office of Educational Technology within the US Department of Education. The phrase “surfing the internet” was but a year old, and the tide was still low for the few knowledgeable enough to test the waters. Broadband and wireless held significance only to the most sophisticated techies.
So much has changed since then, but Roberts (who headed the Office of Educational Technology until 2001) and two of her three successors, John Bailey (2001-2004) and Karen Cator (the current director, appointed to the position in 2009), agree that the most dramatic technology-enabled transformations are still ahead of us. Recently, the three of them sat down with T.H.E. Journal Editorial Director Geoff Fletcher to discuss how far we’ve come in education technology, and where we can expect to go.

Article by Arthur Luehrmann

Luehrmann, A. (2002). "Should the computer teach the student..." — 30 years later. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 2(3). Retrieved 1/22/09: http://www.citejournal.org/vol2/iss3/seminal/article2.cfm. Quoting from this article:

Until editor Lynn Bell suggested I write a page or two about how things have turned out since 1972 (the year I presented the paper "Should the Computer Teach the Student, or Vice-Versa?" at a Boston conference) I hadn't reread this little parable in ages—probably not since Bob Taylor republished it in "The Computer in the School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee" in 1980. I enjoyed the reread, and I hope others will too.
And how have things turned out? That's easy. Out of Taylor's trichotomy, teaching tool use is just about the only impact that computers have had on schools. Walk into any middle or high school and ask to see the computers. Most will be found clustered in a computer lab, not in the classrooms. Go to the lab and ask a student what he or she is doing. The most likely answer is, "I'm working on a word processing (or spreadsheet, or database, or graphics) assignment for my computer applications class." They're learning computer tools, in short, even though they rarely use them outside the applications class.

Article by Patrick Ledesma about 25 years ago

Ledesma, Patrick (11/29/2010). 25 Years of Computers in Education: What Has Changed? Retrieved 11/30/2010 from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/leading_from_the_classroom/2010/11/as_black_friday_and_cybermonday.html. Quoting from the article:

As Black Friday and CyberMonday tempt us to buy more technology, I remember the home computer commercials from childhood that helped me convince my parents to buy our first family computer, the Commodore 64.
Selling more than 17 million units in the early 1980's, the Commodore 64 remains the best selling personal computer of all time.
What did Commodore 64 commercials say that helped me convince my parents to purchase a home computer?

The article then goes on to show a number of commercials that were used to help sell the Commodore 64 in the mid 1980s. It follows this up with a discussion about education not having been changed much in the past 25 years by computers.

The Programming Language BASIC

See the 2004 article: Dartmouth remembers computing anniversary. Quoting from the article:

In the early hours of May 1, 1964, a quiet transaction at Dartmouth made computing history. It was on this day 40 years ago that two Dartmouth mathematics professors, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, launched their BASIC computing language with the help of many industrious undergraduates. Two of these students, pulling an all-nighter while their professors slept, successfully ran two simple BASIC programs at about 4 a.m. on two separate Teletype terminals located in the basement of College Hall, which was part of the current Collis Center. BASIC (which stands for Beginners' All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) went on to be the most widely used computer language in the world, according to Kurtz, bringing computer technology to general audiences.
BASIC ran on the Dartmouth Time Sharing System (DTSS), a network of multiple simple terminals connected to a large computer, which was about a five-year-old idea at the time. DTSS became the early model for future large and more complex networks, and both BASIC and DTSS laid the groundwork for many of the computer applications we see today.

See the Wikipedia article: Logo (programming language). Quoting from this article:

Logo was created in 1967 at Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN), a Cambridge, Massachusetts research firm, by Wally Feurzeig and Seymour Papert[1]. Its intellectual roots are in artificial intelligence, mathematical logic and developmental psychology. The first four years of Logo research, development and teaching work was done at BBN. The first implementation of Logo, called Ghost, was written in LISP on an SDS 950. The goal was to create a math land where kids could play with words and sentences. Modeled on LISP, the design goals of Logo included accessible power[clarification needed] and informative error messages. The use of virtual Turtles allowed for immediate visual feedback and debugging.
The first working turtle robot was created at MIT in 1969. A display turtle preceded the physical floor turtle. Modern Logo has not changed too much from the basic concepts before the first turtle. The first turtle was a tethered floor roamer, not radio-controlled or wireless. Later, BBN developed a turtle named Irving that had touch sensors and could move forwards, backwards, rotate, and ding its bell. The earliest year-long school users of Logo were in 1968-69 at Muzzey Jr High, Lexington MA. The virtual and physical turtles were first used by fifth graders at the Bridge School in Lexington, MA in 1970-71.

Here is a somewhat different version of the history of Logo. Quoting from 2006 an article by Robert Tinker:

In the late 1960’s Wally Feurzeig at Bolt, Baranek and Newman developed a programming language for children called Logo that ran on time-shared computers. Seymour Papert at MIT seized on this idea and obtained NSF funding to develop a microcomputer version that first ran on the TI-99 and, later, the Apple II. A compelling speaker and writer, Seymour popularized the idea of using Logo programming to teach math and thinking skills. Beginning in the 1970’s the project developed and extended the language, created student activities, supported school implementations, and studied their impact. This early work had a huge effect worldwide.
At that time, the NSF had a cumbersome commercialization procedure that required MIT to solicit publishers and split any royalty with the NSF. Eventually, two companies agreed to publish Logo, but in the year that it took to negotiate the agreement, Seymour formed LCSI and made a new version that circumvented the copyright on the grant-supported material. LCSI still markets Logo. An NSF grant in the 1980’s funded Logo-in-a-brick, which was commercialized as Lego Mindstorms. The MIT team continues to improve Logo, now supporting two multi-agent versions that are free, one of which is open source. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including additional NSF grants and the Media Lab. While interest in Logo as a programming language has waned in the U.S., it is still viable and widely used internationally. Mindstorms continues to reach kids worldwide, and the new Logos are likely to continue in this tradition.

Microcomputer-Based Laboratory (MLB)

Quoting from 2006 an article by Robert Tinker:

In the late 1970’s my team at TERC applied to education the idea of collecting and displaying real-time data using microcomputers, a technique we called Microcomputer-Based Labs, or MBL. A Department of Education grant in 1983 allowed us to apply this to the Voyage of the Mimi project and an NSF grant in 1984 supported further development. At that time, we attached a Polaroid ultrasonic sensor to the Apple to create the first motion sensor, an original probe that is now a cornerstone of physics instruction. The project developed the software, hardware, and student activities, and studied student learning with this approach.
The NSF still required licensing commercial exploitation of materials, so HRM Software became the publisher. We also made $10 kits, which we advertised through our free newsletter. Other companies picked up the idea, in several cases through the kits. IBM funded a major improvement in hardware and software and TI adapted them to calculators, changing MBL to CBL. This strand of R&D is responsible for probe use, which is widespread in secondary and college science teaching. Five vendors now serve this market and offer over 40 kinds of sensors.

1996 Book Chapter by David Moursund

The complete chapter from Looking Backward and Forward is available at http://iae-pedia.org/Looking_Backward_and_Forward.

Here are the first few paragraphs. They give a personal perspective on my early days as a computer educator. The remainder of the chapter presents more general perspectives.

I have been actively working in the field of computers in education for more than 30 years. In the summer of 1963 I helped teach a computers and mathematics course for talented and gifted high school students. Even by then, the computer field was sufficiently well established so that some graduates students were doing their doctorate work in computer science, a number of secondary schools were experimenting with computers in their curricula, and the discipline of computer-aided learning was beginning to develop. Minicomputers were challenging the mainframe philosophy, and timeshared computing was emerging as a way to make computers more readily available.
My career as a teacher of teachers began in the summer of 1965, when I taught computer math in a National Science Foundation summer institute for teachers. This was about the time when time-shared BASIC was beginning to become available. For many summers thereafter, I was the director of a NSF summer institute in computers in education for school teachers.
During the 1960s, the NSF was supporting a variety of research projects in the field of computer technology in education, such as computer-assisted instruction and curriculum making substantial use of computer tools. Even then—well before microcomputers—it seemed obvious to me that computers should be having a significant impact on the precollege curriculum. For example, it seemed ridiculous to me that high schools were continuing to teach by-hand methods for solving polynomial equations and systems of simultaneous linear equations, when these by-hand methods were no longer being used by engineers and scientists.
My first big insight into using technology in education was for teachers not to waste time teaching things that could be better done using a machine. I felt that they should be using that time to teach more advanced ideas. That didn’t actually happen. You can go into an elementary school today and find superb teachers still teaching children how to do long division! Their answer now is that they teach them how to do it with pencil and paper first, and then how to do it with a calculator. So what that says to me is that just because technology can do something there still exists resistance to make fundamental changes to the curriculum. This resistance seems to be due to the testing system as much as teaching practice. Over the past 15 years, there has been a gradual integration of calculators into the math curriculum that has occurred as the price of calculators has dropped dramatically and their functionality has continued to increase.
Then with the advent of the microcomputers in the late 1970’s, we started using Taylor’s model of tutor, tool, tutee as a way of thinking about how to use this powerful new technology in instruction. At that time I made the analogy between what a book had done for intellectual growth and what I saw that a computer could do. Books were used to store and transmit knowledge from one person to another in a very efficient way. They represented a major step forward in providing knowledge and education to many people who previously were not able to receive that knowledge. Many educators realized that the microcomputer had that same knowledge storing and transmitting capability, only greatly magnified and with a mode of interactivity not possible with books.
With the computer literacy movement of the early 1980’s, we worried about how to teach students to program or something comparable to programming as a way, we thought, to make them better problem solvers. My thinking at that time was that here was a machine that could not only replace tedious tasks, like the calculator, but could also expand the student’s ability to conceptualize and solve higher order problems. Again, however, both curriculum and teaching practice were slow to incorporate the changes needed to embrace this new way of integrating technology into the classroom.
During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the focus shifted to use of spreadsheets, databases, and hypermedia as a way to learn procedural thinking. We can also look at the research on CAI that has been done over the past three decades. There is very strong evidence that in all kinds of situations kids learn on average 30% faster and better in computer-assisted instruction modes. I can imagine that eventually CAI will be standardly available to all students in all grade levels in all kinds of subject matter.

Human-Computer Interface

Continuing improvement of the Human-Computer interface is a key aspect of progress in the computer field. This is easy to see when one compares the text line interface of early computer systems with the mouse and keyboard driven graphical user interface (GUI) of today's computers. For some of the history of human-computer interface see Jacob Nielsen's article of 31 March, 2002, and his more recent article of February 2, 2009. Quoting from the latter article:

The Macintosh was introduced January 24, 1984. …
The Mac didn't pioneer any individual user-interface innovation. Its most prominent feature, the mouse, had been invented by Doug Engelbart in 1968. That the mouse took 16 years to move from the lab to popular use is a striking example of how slowly things move in the tech business — particularly when it comes to getting diverging designs into widespread use.
(Admittedly, the original mouse was not especially appealing: As I have experienced first-hand, the initial model was a heavy brick with an awkward-to-push button.)
… the Mac offered 3 breakthroughs:
  • The features were integrated: Users got them all in one package, rather than having to accumulate far-flung innovations. This was a case where the whole was much greater than the sum of its previously scattered parts.
  • The GUI was the platform's expected foundation, rather than an optional add-on. In fact, early Macs didn't even have cursor keys, so applications had to be mouse-driven — and a mouse shipped as standard with every Mac. Although users could buy mice for many other computers (Microsoft's mouse was launched the year before the Mac), most of their apps remained character-based for years because the GUI wasn't the expected UI and designers couldn't rely on users having a mouse.
  • It created a human-interface standard that independent software vendors had to follow in order to have their applications deemed "Mac-like." Because the resulting consistency reduced the learning burden for new applications, users were willing to buy more software. And indeed, Mac users purchased about two applications more per computer than DOS users did.

Computer Museums

Computer History Museum.jpeg
Computer History Museum. Mountain View, California. Retrieved 3/28/09: http://www.computerhistory.org/.

As the picture illustrates, this is a large and ambitions project, drawing resources from a number of donors. One of the features of this website is a video collection. See http://www.youtube.com/computerhistory. Quoting from that page:

Welcome to the Computer History Museum on YouTube. We're committed to preserving and presenting the history and stories of the Information Age. Here on YouTube we offer videos of the many lectures and events at the museum and also historic computer films. Also, be sure to check out the Computer History Museum website for even more information including online exhibits, upcoming events and our collection of computing artifacts: WWW.COMPUTERHISTORY.ORG
The Playlist of videos includes:
* Computer History Museum Overview (6:61).
* Internet/Networking (6 videos).
* Personal Computing (10 videos).
* Semiconductors (12 videos).
* 60 other videos of varying length, many being presentations by people important in the history of computers.

DigiBarn Computer Museum. Retrieved 3/28/09: http://www.digibarn.com/about.html. Quoting from the Website of this Northern California museum:

The DigiBarn Computer Museum seeks to capture personal stories and track technological evolution through a large collection of vintage computer systems, manuals, videos, interviews, and other fossil relics of the "Cambrian explosion" of personal computing that ignited in 1975. When we get visitors who "burst into tears" upon seeing certain systems which may have defined their lives and careers, our cameras roll to capture the inevitable stories. Thus the interconnected redwood rooms of the museum constitute a kind of "memory palace" for the nerd-inclined and help us piece together the amazing story of the invention of personal computing and Cyberspace. It is my fantasy to one day "get professional help" (ie: a foundation grant or other philanthropic support) and really have the resources to fully document the people and their inventions, and thereby capture the true essence of this time in history.

The Virtual Museum of Computing (VMoC). Bowen, Jonathan (n.d.). Retrieved 11/27/07 from http://vmoc.museophile.org/.


Archives of the CITE Journal. Retrieved 1/23/2009 from http://www.citejournal.org/archives.cfm. Quoting from the website:

The CITE Journal began in 2000. It includes an article: "Setting the Priorities: Electronic Scholarly Publishing for Instructional Technology and Teacher Education.

Barry, Nathan (7/22/09). 100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About. Wired. Retrieved 7/26/09 from http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2009/07/100-things-your-kids-may-never-know-about. Quoting from the website:

This article contains a list of 100 things related to technology that have changed so much during recent years that today's kids will likely not be familiar with them. Here are a few examples:
  • NCSA Mosaic.
  • Finding out information from an encyclopedia.
  • Using a road atlas to get from A to B.
  • Doing bank business only when the bank is open.
  • Shopping only during the day, Monday to Saturday.
  • Phone books and Yellow Pages.

Computer History Museum (n.d.). Computer History Museum: Where computer history lives. Retrieved 11/27/07 from http://www.computerhistory.org/.

Cormode, G., & Krishnamurthy, B. (6/2/08). Key differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Retrieved 6/18/08 from http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2125/1972

DigiBarn Computer Museum. Retrieved 3/28/09: http://www.digibarn.com/about.html.

Leventhal, Adam (10/13/08). Flash storage today. ACM Queue. Retrieved 10/13/08 from http://www.acmqueue.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=553.

Discusses past, present, and possible futures of flash memory.

Memento Project (11/3/09). Retrieved 11/17/09 from http://www.mementoweb.org/. Quoting from the site:

Have you ever felt frustrated by your inability to get to old versions of Web pages? Did you bookmark a page last year, and revisited it recently only to find that the current content isn't even remotely related to what caught your interest back then?
If so, the Memento project should be of interest to you because it advocates a rather straightforward approach to make navigating last year’s Web as easy as navigating today’s.
Remnants of the past Web are available, and there are many efforts ongoing to archive even more Web content. It’s just that the past Web is not as readily accessible as today’s. For example, if you want to see an archived version of http://cnn.com, you can go to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and search for it there. Yes, you can find the CNN front page of 9/11 there. Or if you want to see an old version of the Wikipedia page about – say – Clocks, you can go to the current page and from there follow a link to one of the many prior versions. And, if you are interested in stories that featured on the BBC news site on your last year’s birthday, you can explore the archive that Matthew Somerville set up in his spare time.
But wouldn’t it be much easier if you could just connect to cnn.com, Wikipedia, or news.bbc.co.uk indicating that you are interested in the pages of March 20 2008, not the current ones? If you could activate a time machine in your browser or bot?

NECC (n.d.). National Educational Computing Conference (NECC). Retrieved 11/27/07: http://center.uoregon.edu/ISTE/NECC/history.html#%231.

Contains some information about the first 25 conferences, 1979—2004.

Quirk, Kathy (8/24/07). Tracing computer history from “ancient” times to the latest technology. University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee). Retrieved 11/27/07: http://www4.uwm.edu/about_uwm/news_press/uwm_featured_stories_detail.cfm?customel_datapageid_11602=135365. Quoting from the article:

Thomas Haigh, assistant professor of information studies at UWM, is among a very small number of computer experts in the world who are also historians, studying the role of technology in broader social change. These new experts are tracing how computers have changed business and society.

THE Journal (June 1997). Computers in education: A brief history. Retrieved 11/27/07: http://www.thejournal.com/articles/13739_1. (13 pages)

THE Journal (June 1997). Retrieved 11/27/07: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb5022/is_199706. This issue of Technological Horizons in Education contains six articles. A free one-week membership will give you free access (for a week) to the articles. The articles are:

  • The best time to plant a tree was twenty-five years ago. (outlook for computing and education) (Technology Information)(Cover Story) by Luskin, Bernard J.
  • Some reflections (the 30-year history of computers in education) (Industry Trend or Event) (Editorial) by Charp, Sylvia.
  • Technology in education and the next twenty-five years. (Technology Information) (Cover Story) by Withrow, Frank B.
  • The future of computers and learning. (Technology Information) (Cover Story) by Bork, Alfred.
  • Computers in education: a brief history. (Technology Information) (Cover Story) by Molnar, Andrew S.
  • Educational computing: how are we doing? (history of Logo programming language) (Technology Information) (Cover Story) by Papert, Seymour.

The Virtual Museum of Computing (VMoC). Bowen, Jonathan (n.d.). Retrieved 11/27/07 from http://vmoc.museophile.org/.

Time Magazine (October 10, 1983). The CRT Before the Horse. Retrieved 1/30/2009 from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,955240,00.html?promoid=googlep.

Tinker, Robert (Spring 2006). How Do Innovations Travel from the Lab to the Classroom? Concord Consortium Newsletter. Retrieved 1/25/09 from http://www.concord.org/publications/newsletter/2006-spring/innovation.html. The newsletter provides interesting insights into Logo, Microcomputer-based Labs, Kidnet, and Virtual High School. Quoting from the newsletter:

Technologies don’t just happen; there is a fascinating and revealing history behind most popular technologies. Did you know that the mouse was invented with Air Force funding in 1963 at the nonprofit SRI by Doug Engelbart? Then a Xerox lab integrated it with software windows for the laser printer they invented. In 1979 Xerox shared the window concept with Apple, which Steve Jobs incorporated into the Macintosh in 1983. After resisting the mouse, Bill Gates incorporated the idea in Windows in 1985. It finally took off in 1990. Widespread use of the mouse required almost three decades!
This history has convinced us that the best way to disseminate educational innovations that incorporate sophisticated software is to encourage mimicry by giving away the technology and making it easy to author related student materials. We hope to duplicate for educational applications the phenomenal worldwide spread of the open source GNU/Linux operating system. All the software now being developed at the Concord Consortium is free and open source. These include a wide range of models, probeware, and graphing tools, along with hundreds of student activities based on these.

Willoughby, Stephen S. (December 1983/January 1984). Mathematics for 21st Century Citizens. Educational Leadership. Retrieved 11/30/07 from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_198312_willoughby.pdf.

This article provides a snapshot of math education in 1983, some history of reform during the past 20 years, and some recommendations for the future. Calculators and computers are strongly recommended.

Wozniak, Steve (7/16/2008). Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak Says Education Was a Primary Motivation for His Invention. The Wired Campus. Retrieved 7/16/2009. Includes a short article and a two-minute video interview of Wozniak.

Zinn, Karl (1982). Karl Zinn Testimony on Technology Education Act of 1982. Retrieved 3/25/09: http://iae-pedia.org/Karl_Zinn_Testimony_on_Technology_Education_Act_of_1982. This testimony provides good insights into the status of the roles of computers in education in 1982. Quoting from the article:

In order to get right to the heart of my experience and expertise related to placing new equipment in schools, I'd like to begin with these assertions about computers and schools and technology education.
1) Technology education is especially important to the U.S. economically and socially right now. Leaders from industry, government, education, economics, and many other fields have argued for greater investment in education and training which would: a) develop a technically literate workforce; b) encourage more young people to enter scientific and technical fields; and c) provide the basic skills and understanding that every citizen needs to make good decisions in a technological world. Every day I see new examples of how technical knowledge and skills determine who gets jobs, which businesses survive, and how technology is used or misused in the workplace, in commerce, and in entertainment. Our present system for science and technical education needs help!
2) I will not take time to describe the situation schools face: very little money to spend on technology; donations from industry are down due to the economy; schools are under considerable pressure from parents and community leaders to provide students experience with computers; only 10% of the elementary schools have even one computer for kids to use; less than half of our high schools, mostly the large ones in affluent areas accustomed to spending more on learning materials, report providing student access to computing; etc.

References Suggested by Agatha S. Charles

The following email message was sent to David Moursund on 6/7/2011.

Hi Dave,
My name is Agatha and I am a computer/technology teacher. I came across this page http://otec.uoregon.edu/history_of_computers.htm while working on my lesson plans for my summer classes. The students that will be taking summer classes with me will be writing papers on topics related to computers and science technology.
This page had some good resources that I will be including in my list of "reliable sources" for my students to refer to during their research on their papers. During my planning period I came across some other sites that if I may suggest, would be great additional resources to the reference section on the page. It will also make your page more resourceful for any student or teacher who happen to come across this page (much like I did) in search of reliable information.
I really appreciate the time you took in building this page and for adding resourceful links that students, teachers and parents will be able to use.
I hope my suggestions are useful for this page.
Kind Regards,
Agatha S. Charles

Links to Other IAE Resources

This is a collection of IAE publications related to the IAE document you are currently reading. It is not updated very often, so important recent IAE documents may be missing from the list.

IAE Blog

All IAE Blog entries

Game of Jeopardy: Computer versus humans.

Golden oldie computer in education news items.

Mastery Learning: What goes around comes around.

Rising above the gathering storm, revisited: The rapidly approaching Category 5 storm.

Mind brain education: The discipline of Educational Neuroscience.

Think globally, act locally.

IAE Newsletter

Past and current criticisms of our educational system. Authentic content and assessment.

Past, present, and future uses of computers in education.

What is the Information Age? Two brains are better than one. Becoming more responsible for your own education.

IAE-pedia (IAE's Wiki)

David Moursund's To Write List.

History and Pedagogy of Mathematics.

History of Computers in Education.

ICT Educational Pioneers.

What the Future is Bringing Us.

Women and ICT.

I-A-E Books and Miscellaneous Other

David Moursund's Free Books.

David Moursund's Learning and Leading with Technology editorials.