PLATO@50: Online Education & Courseware





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Published on Jun 22, 2010

On June 3, 2010, the Computer History Museum hosted a 6-session conference on the PLATO learning system. Session 4 was entitled "Online Education & Courseware: Lessons Learned, Insights Gleaned."

Session 4 Description:
Thousands of hours of courseware in dozens of academic disciplines were developed on the PLATO system, and deployed to thousands of students at levels from K-20. The open environment and sophisticated authoring tools enabled any interested and creative instructor to develop courseware. Because students came to terminal clusters to work on PLATO assignments, authors were able to watch students work through lessons, and observe how students responded to different tasks and lesson structures. In this rich environment, some authors began to develop lessons that were highly graphical and interactive, and encouraged playfulness and open-ended exploration. The elementary mathematics games: "How the West Was One + Three x Four" and "Animal Bagger" (Seiler), and "Darts" and "Pizza"(Dugdale et al.); the chemistry lessons "The Great Synthesis Race" (Smith / Chabay) and "Multi-step Aromatic Synthesis" (Smith), and the physics lesson "Freebody Diagrams" (Sherwood) exemplified this genre. Dr. Ruth Chabay, Dr. Sharon Dugdale, Bonnie Anderson Seiler and Dr. Bruce Sherwood make up this panel moderated by Dr. Roy D. Pea.

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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