The computer and I

(Last edited: Friday, 23 December 2005, 10:32 AM)

The computer and I

Archived Entry

  • Post Date :
  • Friday, Sep 9th, 2005 at 12:26 am
  • Category :
  • Using Moodle

Im Jim Robertson, from Provo, Utah, USA. Not exactly in the UK, sorry about that. Allow me to introduce myelf in this blog. Then I will make some comments about Moodle in another.

General Introduction: grew up in California (LA then bay area), oldest of 6 children. Family moved to Phoenix, Arizona (parents still there), went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah still here. Married, wife Judy from very small town (300) in Nevada. Have 9 children, 7 married, youngest started college this week. No empty nest proxmity to BYU (10 minutes) and large extended family guarantees someone always living in basement while attending BYU (right now is niece & husband & 3 children). Enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, cooking, reading (especially aloud to anyone wholl listen), discussing ideas, listening to music (but more on that elsewhere). I dont really like gardening, but I live on 1 acre and I like grape juice, peaches, apples, apricots, various berries and other fresh produce, so I maintain a large garden. Used to be one of 3 properties between 2 large orchards, had chickens, neighbors had sheep & goats (even pigs once). All but us & one neighbor sold & developed during last 2 years into posh neighborhood, wonder what they think about the two remaining eye sores in the middle. We sometimes feel a little like the couple in the old Good Neighbors sitcom.

CAI-relevant Introduction: First introduced to personal computing in 1961 when G.E. tried experiment with remote terminals in 100 local employees homes, used Basic and 8-bit punch tape. Didnt think it took at the time, but have never been far from it since. While a grad student at BYU (c. 1980) I became involved in volunteer work at our gradeschool, teaching computer skills to children in an early-moring program. We used PET computers (5K!) and BASIC, which proved to be a great tool for building problem solving skills and encouraging creativity. It didnt really strike me then that teaching 3rd-6th graders how to make the computer do something by programming it was rather innovative, but some of them have since told me it was something of a turning point.

I had also met some professors involved in early CAI projects and instructional design. Some of them helped start Wicat, a company for developing computer-assisted teaching. Wicat produced what was probably the first comprehensive K-12 computer-based curriculum, delivered from a mini mainframe to 30 workstations. I started working for Wicat and soon found that while I had been hired to develop a set of ability tests (Ph.D. in experimental psychology), I had a knack for programming and was increasingly involved in software design and coding. A reorganization sent me from the Education Division to the relatively small Training Division, where I did front-end analysis and design on CBT for aircraft pilot training. Not exactly the revolution in education, but still a great place for involvement with computer aided instruction. I became interested in making training program development more consistent and automating it as much as possible, so I again found myself increasingly doing programming tasks.

A common limitation in CBT was that practice segments were pretty much lock-step, whereas most tasks being trained could be accomplished through many differenct sequences. In the early 90s we began developing avionics simulations for the new glass cockpit airframes that were coming into service. These were delivered on desktop PCs and were intended to become part of an expert system training program (guided practice). Unfortunately, we could sell simulations better than educational concepts, and by 2000 we had been purchased by Faros (a French company) and had moved entirely to the simulation business, producing full-cockpit Flight Training Devices.

Airplanes are fun, no getting around it. But my interest in simulation had been as part of training software, not as a separate self-contained component. I spoke with some of my educational contacts about moving my career back towards education, but nothing came of it. Meanwhile, the troubled airline business caused further cutbacks; finally in March of this year Faros terminated Wicat operation, and I found myself looking for work.

On to Moodle: My next door neighbors own a small school, a medical-dental technical college. The husband runs the business aspects, the wife is the educational director. They suggested I might have a look at what they called some IT problems at their school, which might serve as employment while I looked for employment, or even become a long-term position. After two days of reviewing their computer and records systems, I concluded that what was needed was more than a patch, but a thorough-going systematic approach. I had heard of Blackboard and WebCT, but hadnt heard much good about them and their cost was prohibitive (the school has 20 full-time employees). Still, those represented a systematic approach. During the next few days an associate of the school introduced me to Moodle. By the end of the week I was sure I had found the solution.

One thing has led to another. We are a long way from the overall implementation envisioned, but have made a lot of progress. I dont know where this will lead (anyone got an opening for someone who is equal parts educator, programmer, psychologist, simulations designerand loves Moodle?), but for now I feel that Moodle represents the coming-of-age of computer-assisted teaching. I will describe this more fully in the following blog on Moodle.

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