William F. Atchison

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Introduction

William F. Atchison (1918—1998) is representative of a number of college and university faculty members who became pioneers in the field of computers in education. The following In Memoriam quoted from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland provides a good summary of his work.

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William F. Atchison was Director of the Computer Science Center at the University of Maryland from 1966-1973, acting chair, Department of Computer Science from 1973-1974, professor computer science 1966-1988, and professor emeritus, 1988-1998. Prior to joining Maryland he held positions at Georgia Institute of Technology, from 1955--1966 where he subsequently became professor and chief of the Rich Electronic Computer Center 1957--1966.
Bill received his AB in mathematics and chemistry from Georgetown College in 1938, an MA in mathematics from the University of Kentucky in 1940, and a PhD in mathematics from the University of Illinois in 1943.
During WW II he was in the U.S. Navy, 1944-1946 as educational services officer on Guam. He and his staff taught college courses to GIs returning home from service.
Atchison started his career in computer science at the University of Illinois in 1951 where he programmed the Illiac computer. He became active in service to the scientific communities. He was member and chair for several years of the AFIPS Education Committee; AFIPS representative to the IFIP Education Committee, serving as chair Education Committee (TC3) and chair, Secondary Education Working Group (WG 3.1). He also served as Maryland's representative to EDUCOM and was elected chair of the Interuniversity Communication Council, 1972-1973.
Atchison's major contribution to computer science was in education and curriculum development. He was a world leading expert in this field. As chair of the ACM Curriculum on Computer Science, his committee developed the report, ``Curriculum 68, in 1968, and its predecessor, ``An undergraduate Program in Computer Science, in 1965. These reports were the first in he world to recommend comprehensive curricula for computer science. The reports were used as the basis for computer science programs in the United States, and throughout the world, and influenced computer curricula in other fields such as information science. Atchison was influential in the development of degree programs at Maryland. As part of the Computer Science Center, before the start of the Department of Computer Science, he was able to convince the Administration to start an M.S. degree in computer science in a non-academic unit, and to obtain faculty lines for the program. The program was approved in 1967 and started in 1968. This was followed by a PhD program which was approved in 1969. It was not until the Department of Computer Science was formed in 1973 that a B.S. in computer science was approved. Atchison had a major role in the approval of the degree.
Because of his pioneering work in computer science education, Atchison received numerous awards: The ACM Distinguished Service Award, 1973; the Chester Morrill Memorial Award, Chesapeake Division, Association for Systems Management, 1975; Special Award, IFIP WG 3.1; First ACM SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education, 1981; the Distinguished Alumni Award, Georgetown College, 1982; Honorary Member, IFIP WG 3.1, 1992, and Founding Fellow, ACM, 1994.

NCTM Computer-Oriented Mathematics Committee

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has a long history of exploring and supporting uses of computers in math education. Here is a list of members of the NCTM Computer-Oriented Mathematics Committee:

Robert L. Albrecht
Sylvia Charp
David C. Johnson
Bruce E. Merserve
John O. Parker
Dina Gladys S. Thompson
William F. Atchison (Chairman)

This group wrote the following 49 page booklet: Introduction to an Algorithmic Language (BASIC). Copyright 1968. Publisher: NCTM.

Notice that William Atchison was chair of this committee. Other Computer in Education pioneers such as Robert Albrecht, Sylvia Charp, and David Johnson came from a math background and served on this committee.

In a private conversation (8/1/08) between Bob Albrecht and David Moursund), Albrecht indicated that there was considerable discussion in the committee as to whether the booklet should be based on FORTRAN or on BASIC. At that time, BASIC was still a relatively new programming language. It went on to become a major force in the field of computers in precollege education.

Up Close and Personal

I (David Moursund) worked with Bill Atchison for many years through the Association for Computing Machinery. Like me, he was a mathematician who became interested in computers and eventually ended up working in a Computer Science Department and focusing on the field of computers in education. I remember him as a gentle, gracious, very nice person with a good sense of humor. He strongly encouraged and supported my precollege-oriented computers in education work with the ACM.

Bill was a leader who saw what he felt needed to be done, and then got it done. For example, the In Memoriam describes his work in getting a master's degree and doctorate program in computer science started at the University of Maryland before a computer science department was started. In my opinion, this was an amazing achievement.

His work with in Chairing the ACM Curriculum 68 committee certainly helped define the undergraduate computer science curriculum. I became the head of the Computer Science Department in 1969, and eventually the Curriculum 68 document became the "Bible" for our curriculum implementation. Remember, this was back in the days when people thoughts a good CS curriculum mainly consisted of courses like FORTRAN, Advanced FORTRAN, COBOL, Advanced COBOL, RPG, Advanced RPG, and so on. The Curriculum 68 work moved the field out of the dark ages.

References

Atchison, William F. (1981). Computer education, past, present, and future. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin. A 437 KM PDF file of this document is available at http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=989307.

Author or Authors

Initial work on this page was done by David Moursund.