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The Origins of WebLearningTools Research

Draft 1: 11.03.16

I have been interested in contributing to what is now called "distance learning" since my first year working full-time in the computer programming field, 1966.

The Inspiration: I visited a million dollar IBM 360 computer installation in Colorado Springs, Colorado (USA) to obtain a removable "mass storage device" containing 8 kilobytes of information in a hat-box sized plastic cylinder to take back to my employer, the El Paso County election office, which had a multi-thousand dollar mini-computer with a punch card reader and a huge noisey printer.  In the million dollar computer room I saw television like devices called "terminals" that were connected by wires to the main frame computer, each with green-and-black display screens and a keyboard.  Of course I had to look at them more closely.

One of them was running a simple "Programmed Instruction" program.  "Programmed Instruction" (PI) I would learn years later was invented by famous Behavioral Psychologist B.F. Skinner.  "PI" was used to train Allied troups in WW-II, 1939-1945, in a variety of primary and secondary school subjects important for more effective military operations.  The soldier would be given a stack of numbered paper flash cards, like 3" by 5" cards today, and told to study each one, one at a time, then guess the correct answer to any question also presented on the card.  The next card after the question would tell them if they were right or wrong.  If they were right, the "correct" statement would tell them to go to the next card to continue with the next part of the lesson.  If they were wrong, the "incorrect" statement would tell them to find a different card in the stack of lesson cards, a card with some very different card number, a set of cards possibly added to the end of the stack of lesson cards.  Once there, i.e. once looking at the first "you were wrong card", the student would go through that smaller tutorial set of cards until they understood better how to choose the right answer.  Then the last of the smaller "you were wrong" tutorial set of cards would tell the student to return to the card following the "you had the right answer" card from whence this whole tangent began.  PI turned out to have very effective learning results in and after WW-II in the US and western Europe.  The student paced themselves from one card to the next.  The student was responsible for completing any and all of those small tangential "tutrorial" sets of card sequences as well.

In the 1966 main frame computer room with a PI computer program running in front of me, I observed that a person, a student of some kind, sitting at the terminal would see a crude graphic image of a 3" x 5" paper flash card with text displayed "on the card" image -- just like a paper flash card. Displaying graphics images of any kind on a computer screen was unheard of to me at this time!  The text displayed on the screen presented a problem and a question for the student to answer about the problem.  There might be true-false  choice answers like "1: true" or "2: false" displayed below the card or multiple choice answers displayed below the card image.  The person sitting at the terminal could type in the letter or number displayed by the answer they believed to be correct and press the return key.  The million dollar computer would then display another graphic card image saying if the person chose correctly or if the person made a mistake.  If the person made a mistake, the "course of instruction" (i.e. the sequence of flash cards presented to the student) using these computer generated flash cards would change!

I thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread. It was obvious to me that entire pages of books could be displayed on the little green-and-black terminal screen.  I vowed to myself to change from accounting and simple scientific computer programming to "computer assisted education" programming as soon as computers got smaller and cheap enough for ordinary non-programming people and students to use.  By 1981 that was so -- for wealthy middle class US citizens -- and I went back to college to study formally what seemed to be appropriate for this future career.

About 1986 or so, Macromedia (now Adobe) came out with a computer program for a $5,000 desktop computer called "Authorware".  "Authorware" presented to the student sitting at a desktop computer almost the exact same kind of "flash card" system as did the 1966 PI system on a main frame compute, but now with white letters and lines on a black background or black letters on a white background, and pretty colors and sound as well as the text.  What was new was the "authoring" part of the "Authorware" program.  An instructor could make up a series of flash cards as if using a by now ordinary word processing program, create the correct and incorrect answers for each card, and create alternative paths -- a flow chart of paths -- the student might take through the complete stack of flash card to be used to learn a lesson.  A non-technical instructor could literally program the learning paths a student could take through a series of lesson elements in a computer delivered lesson or course of lessons -- if that instructor could master the "Authorware" user interface and the school could afford the computers and the software... and there were no special needs students in the class.

My First Steps In the Distance Learning Direction: My work in the computer programming and system analysis fields from 1966 through 1981 gained me a great deal of practical "hands-on" knowledge and experience. But by the late 1970s the new bachelor degree of "Computer Science" existed at major US and UK colleges and universities and was being added to the under graduate degree choices at California State Universities. Non-networked desktop computers were popping up in small business officers and at schools. I had heard about "the Internet" in the 1970s and knew it would become a public utility sooner or later.  I took my savings from contract programming and went back to college full-time at nearby San Francisco State University. But I was slowing down from an unknown worsening congenital heart valve problem. My savings were gone in two years and I had to work part-time or ful-time and take courses part-time.  I finished the Bachelor of Sciences degree in 1986.

My Attempt to Lay the Foundations of a Ph.D. Thesis for my MA in Instructional Technology: xxx

About WebLearningTools Research: an overview

Since March 1998 WebLearningTools Research (or WLTRes) has been a "d.b.a." (doing business as) "front" or pseudonym (i.e. a 2nd name or a business name) for me, Jennifer Gopinathadasi Woodward, MA Instructional Technology.  I am the founder of "WebLearningTools" and principal investigator.  I intend the "front d.b.a. operation" to soon become a California 501-C3 non-profit organization focused on education for non-technical educators about and research in mostly technical areas of distance learning and intelligent tutoring systems that relate to the delivery of "better" affordable education and educational outcomes.  But before non-profit incorporation can happen, I had to define the future organization, test-run it as a party (person) of one or two, and build-out this web site to help "run it," to inform and educate all who use  WLTRes and to keep in contact and facilitate the online collaborative work of all those who volunteer to work to achieve the goals defined on the WLTRes web site.

There are very few active project details here so far, and those that are here are viewable only by registered site users with the appropriate additional access permissions.  Active projects currently consist of site-development projects.  There are no completed Moodle-based or Drupal-based classes or tutorials published here yet that are ready for free public examination or for free or tuition-required public use.

However, there will be some partially updated PowerPoint "slide shows" of talks I gave in Lima, Peru, in 2002 on distance learning.  Nevertheless from what is already web-published here, and what will be appearing in coming months, I hope you can get the "gist" of what else "we" (a special interest group or groups to be formed) are going to publish here "soon" and in coming months and years as we "evolve" the site content, services to educators and technicians, and our overall goals and objectives.

Through your casual browsing and searching of this site, you should also be able to determine what else "we" might develop collaboratively online using this WLTRes web site.  The "employees" who will do the collaborative work yet to be explicitly defined in detail for some time will be "just" volunteers perhaps including yourself.  If volunteer work produces results that with funding could become prototype or a deployed educational site, I or some of us solicit grant money to do so.

To provide WLTRes site content to site users world-wide in at least three (3) languages, English, French, and Spanish, some tasks to be defined, tracked and coordinated here will include those of translators.  Those will be mostly the volunteer services of qualified registered site users who are fluent in two of the three primary site languages: English, Spanish (espanol), and French (francais).

To help us work collaboratively, more efficiently and effectively in these tasks, we will be using the project management features available on this web site that will be offered to qualified registered users of this site.  I am open to your suggestions for other directions "we" should take and to your constructive criticisms of the directions I have already presented here.  Please send your remarks and suggestions to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or log in and submit an article or log in and submit a Forum category topic posting.

Read more: About WebLearningTools Research: an overview

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