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RE: Mission Statement

> It probably shouldn't say K12, because those are US terms.  I can't
> think of the right term, though... it's there somewhere.

The move world-wide is pretty much toward Life Long Learning - I suggest you
use something like learners of all ages.

BTW, You don't say anything about the educational /quality/ of the software.
We've come a long way, made a lot of mistakes and even fixed some of them
since the kinds of maths program that's been in this list (as a brit, I
natually assume the posting's header was ironic - maybe I was wrong) and
much of the stuff that came out for the Apple 8 bit machine. I think that
there's a danger of Linux having to follow the same development route in
edsoft that the rest of us did - why not short-curcuit it and get straight
on with the good stuff.

I am finding it difficult to make my position on the nature of educational
software clear in this group (without upsetting anyone:-) so I've attached
an article I wrote for a newstand mag a couple of years back which sets some
of my thoughts and attutudes out. It was OCRed, so may be a bit wobbly.

I know it's bad form to send attachments to listserves, but it's a vewy vewy
small one :)

The History of Educational Software

It's always good to reminisce. Marshal Anderson gathers the wide-eyed little ones around, draws on his
pipe and settles back in his favourite leather arm chair to tell 'The Story of Educational Software'.

This is going to be quite a personal view of the past 15 years in educational software. It's the view of a teacher, programmer and journalist who's been blundering about in 'the industry' since the Sinclair ZX8O seemed like a good idea, which, indeed, it was. Because this history lesson is personal, and short, I'm bound to leave lot's of people out so let me send apologies in advance to Brian for that I say Brian because a staggeringly large number of Educational Software houses are run by people called Brian, so it's a fair bet I'll have left one out.

Way back in the early 80's the technology was pre-historic. Schools had access maybe to machines like the Commodore Pet, an all-in-one job that looked very Art Nouveau; the RML 380z, a big black box with one white button; or Sinclair's baby. This was all in the realm of secondary maths or computer science departments and the machines were something you taught about, not with. However; there were those of us nosing around on the edge with some sort of idea that just maybe there was more to it than that.

Beige Not Black
A new breed of teacher/nerd grew up at this point (yes, including me) who spent weekends huddled in teacher's centres rattling on about programming. The point was that programming in BASIC was easy - really - and soon little tables practice programs began to appear; poking their heads above the parapet to see if anyone would shoot them down.

All this was very rudimentary; programs stored on tape, monochrome screens, you even needed an extra chip and special software if you wanted lower case letters. Then came the breakthrough, at just about the time the next generation of computers were coming through, the government, in a rare flash of sanity, offered to pay half the price of one computer for any school that wanted one. The three machines available under the scheme were the BBC, the RML 480z (obviously exactly 100 better than the 380z) and Sinclair's Spectrum. All these machines had colour, some sort of sound and enough reliable RAM (about 16K,) to do something with. The Acorn BBC machine, however, won easily. This might have been the splendid procedural BASIC with in-built assembler, the comprehensive graphics commands, the seven screen modes or the three sound channels; but for my money the secret of its success was that Acorn had seen the future and the future was beige. The other two machines were black - wrong! RML caught on and released a beige version of the 480z a year or two later, but they'd missed the boat. Sinclair missed the point completely and went on to produce the CS, which was beige, but not a computer.

Crucial Point
And now we come to one of those crucial points in history. Somewhere in the south of England, Mike Matson stared at the machine and the machine stared back. 'One day,' said Mike, 'there'll be some really good stuff for this machine.' And he waited. Nothing arrived. So Mike decided to knock up a little program just to fill in the time 'til the good stuff arrived. The result was Granny's Garden and the rest is history.

Granny's Garden was an Educational Adventure Game and it established something very important; that computers were more than something to study or practice our tables on - they could be a place, somewhere to go and explore where effects had causes, things happened and problems could be solved. The really wonderful thing about Granny's Garden was that it didn't try to teach tables or spelling, it demanded imagination, it asked children to think and work together, it truly did something with the computer that you couldn't do any other way. This was, of course, before the National Curriculum surgically removed these kind of ideas from our schools. When you look at this program today it looks incredibly dated, just seven colours, carpet tile graphics, ear grating sound - but it works and still sells in both it's original and graphically up-dated version.

Mike sparked the imagination and enthusiasm of many teachers and our next important point was the meeting of Simon and Sue Hosler with Bill and Lou Bonham. Bill and Lou had recently started a company called Sherston Software in their loft in Sherston, Wiltshire. Both teachers, they were looking for something more than drill and practice to give to the world, they wanted something with a bit more depth and fun, as well as a sound educational base. Simon and Sue had between them exactly the kind of programming, design and artistic ideas that did just that and Wizard's Revenge was the result. This combination suddenly pushed Sherston Software above the herd and the rest is, again, history. It was about this time that I made my own contribution, Stig of the Dump was published by Sherston about a year after wizard's Revenge, and went down rather well, it think, so there! [Marshal wrote Stig of the Dump - Ed.]

Switched-On Teachers
The important point about all these people was that they were teachers and they had a vision. They knew what was going on in classrooms, they knew what children needed and what teachers could cope with. Many companies at the time went to the wall because they thought all you needed to do was get some beardless youth to write Space-Invaders-Tables-Practice and the world would beat a path to your door. It did, but not for long.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, something was happening that was quite depressing. The home computer industry had discovered that it was possible to scare the national parent population witless by telling it that children without access to a computer NOW would end up pushing a broom in MacDonalds or be completely unemployable. On the other hand, those with access to said equipment would achieve excellent results at school, go on to university to gain degrees and... end up pushing a broom in MacDonalds or be completely unemployable. Along with education at home, the poor innocents were promised home accounting word processing and a general freedom from the administrative drudge of life. When e-mail arrived in the mid eighties Canadian lady, who's name I forget, confidently predicted the end of the Royal Mail by 1990.

The Bubble Burst
It was all a lie, but people bought into it like all the other 80's dreams and any company that remotely felt it had some IT connection got in on the act  remember Good Housekeeping's range of educational software? Then the bubble burst. Actually you couldn't operate your central heating remotely, putting your address book onto a database that had to be loaded from tape was a singularly stupid idea and the educational software aimed at the home was dull, bugged and simply didn't educate.

The thing that rescued our indigenous educational software producers was the decision not to try to sell to the home market. This way quality could be kept up, selling through mail order and exhibitions avoided costly distribution and packaging, and a price could be charged for a product to be used by 30 children that made no sense if it was to be used by one.
And the ideas kept coming. Cambridgeshire Software House produced the classic Mary Rose, a huge exploration program in which children systematically excavated the ship, and Cars, Maths in Motion, where teams of children constructed, modified and raced Grand Prix cars against each other. The adventure side blossomed, with Flowers of Crystal and the constantly underrated World Without Words from Mike Matson at 4mation, The L Game, a mathemagical adventure from the maths teacher's association, a plethora of wonderfulness from Simon at Sherston and even a couple more from me.

Other areas were developing. Logotron gave us a proper version of the Logo programming language. This allowed children to explore in a mathematical environment, writing programs in a proper procedural language that gives them the chance to develop problem solving skills as well as tightening their grip on mathematical concepts. The Domesday project had schools all over the country gathering data for a hugely ambitious undertaking -a survey of life throughout the UK in text and pictures, all gathered together on a multimedia interactive video disc (why have we never seen this on CD-ROM?)

Word processing was refined for kids, with packages that provided dictionaries, nice, big, clear print and an economy with the bells and whistles that we seem to have lost in the meantime. Databases also became child-friendly, nice easy interfaces, simple searches and plenty of files to choose from.

Jaw-Dropping Acorn
Acorn pretty much had a stranglehold on the education market, but this actually turned out to be a good thing. They didn't just sit on their laurels, they forged ahead on the hardware side and at the end of the decade unveiled the Archimedes system. This had our jaws dropping to the floor - a fully multi-tasking desktop environment, at drag and
drop with 16 channel stereo sound, 32 bit RISC technology - the works.

Sounds wonderful, but stuff happens (to paraphrase) and the first thing to happen was the National Curriculum. Up until this time there had been enough autonomy in schools for them to follow their strengths. A school might be particularly good with music and have a large commitment to IT but a duff football team -you couldn't have everything. But suddenly you had to have everything, and those schools that had been doing pretty good work in IT suddenly found there wasn't time to do even what the National Curriculum demanded, let alone try any experimental stuff.
As if that wasn't enough there was the constant cutting of budgets, and the 'privatisation' (ie. closure) of the Advisory Service. The Advisory Service had been central to IT in schools, it gave bulk purchasing power, it collated information about new products, it fixed our printers.
So, while the schools were getting less to spend on IT, the hardware was getting better but more expensive (the software ditto) as it now took much longer to develop, and the training on how to use it all was disappearing rapidly.

Up To Date
As far as computer use in schools goes, this pretty much brings us up to date. The upshot is that we've pretty much weeded out all the useless software houses, but the good, small innovative ones are struggling with massive development budgets and a shrinking market. Many of the larger publishers are getting more and more corporate in their approach and the money men' are back. An interesting quote from the MD of one of these 'big boys'; when asked what teacher input there was to a vast new product he told me, proudly, 'None, you don' t need to be a driver to design a car.' What this unfortunately means is that new product is safe', it won't upset anyone, but it won't take us anywhere either. The US invasion hasn't helped, creating expectations of soaring production values from the likes of Disney and to hell with the content.

Which kind of brings us back to the home market. A new generation of parents have arisen (that's you) and you're being told that the computer is a quintessential prerequisite for your child's education. Not only that, but you can do your accounts on it, keep addresses in an oh-so-simple database and the Internet will mean the end of the Royal Mail by the year 2000... Erm, does this sound familiar?