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PLATO@50: PLATO Learning System Software

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Published on Jun 21, 2010

On June 3, 2010, the Computer History Museum hosted a 6-session conference on the PLATO learning system. Session 3 was entitled "PLATO Software: Driven by a Clear, Compelling Challenge."

Session 3 Description:
The software architecture of the PLATO Learning System permitted high interactivity with hundreds of users and a TUTOR programming language that enabled faculty (and gamers) to write their own interactive graphics programs. These capabilities required close management of scarce system resources. Learn how it all worked in this discussion with panelists: Dr. Robert Rader, Dr. Bruce Sherwood and Michael Walker. Steve Gilmor moderated the panel.

PLATO Overview:
PLATO was a centralized, mainframe-based system, with very sophisticated terminals connected to it. Its mission was to deliver education electronically at low cost. But it became much, much more than that. It quickly became home to a diverse online community that represented a microcosm of today's online world. Much of what we take for granted in today's hyper-active, always-on world of social media, blogs, and addictive computer games could be applied to what life was like on the PLATO system beginning in the mid-1970s.

PLATO, an acronym standing for "Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations," started as a project of the Coordinated Sciences Laboratory (CSL) at the University of Illinois in 1960. The original goal was to build on the mechanical "teaching machine" work of B.F. Skinner and instead see if it was possible to build a computer that could teach. In time they discovered not only was the answer yes, but computers could be extremely effective, and economically viable, at teaching large segments of the population.

In the 1970s, Control Data Corporation entered into a series of agreements with the University of Illinois to commercialize the PLATO system and bring it to the marketplace. The result was a great expansion of PLATO throughout the U.S. and the world, with systems installed in Canada, France, Belgium, Israel, Sweden, Australia, South Africa, United Kingdom, and elsewhere. Fifty years on, PLATO has left its imprint across a wide range of computing activities, from e-learning to social media, from online multiplayer games to major hardware and software innovations.

Catalog Number: 102702356
Lot Number: X5778.2010

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