Lud Braun

In the late 50s, I did the calculations for my dissertation on anIBM 650 computer. I punched cards to load my program and my data into the computer and passed them through a hole in a glass wall where the priests of the computer loaded them. A day or so later, I got a printout which usually told me that I hade made a bunch of logical errors. After a week or so, I was able to get some results. (The high priest of this computer-sometimes called the computer-center director-and I didn't get along very well. I wanted my students to have relatively free access to computing, and he didn't.)

In the mid 60s, I was part of a team that developed a system-engineering curriculum for high-school kids, including a section on computers. There were computer experts on the team-and there was me. They all thought that the way to teach kids about computing was to expose them to half adders, registers, and machine language. I disagreed, feeling that there was more to educational computing than such esoteric stuff. I also disagreed with a bunch of folks who touted the computer as a deliverer of drill-and-practice stuff to kids. Fortunately for me, in 1970, the National Science Foundation gave me a grant to demonstrate what I thought computers could do for kids. Using that grant, Mike Visich and I developed a bunch of simulations called the Huntington Two Simulations (with lots of help from classroom teachers, consultants, and, most especially, my undergrad students who were refugees from the tyranny of the computer priesthood). Our stuff was among the first educational software to be made available to classroom teachers. By that time, we had Dartmouth BASIC and the Dartmouth Time Sharing System, and we could thumb our noses at the computer center and its FORTRAN-punched-card system. We also had Digital Equipment PDP-8 computers that we put in some of our schools.

When I saw the eyes of kids light up and saw them bubbling with enthusiasm, as they used our simulations, I became an evangelist, traveling around the country telling everyone who would listen what a wonderful tool we had; that was when I was convinced that the computer is an intellect amplifier for kids and for all of us.

In about 1975, I read an ad about a kit that you could buy to make your own microcomputer. It was the Altair 8800. I bought a kit, and my son and I spent that Summer building it. When we got done, it actually worked. This convinced me that microcomputers (later to be called personal computers) were the way to go. At about that time, Jim Warren held his First Computer Faire in San Francisco. I was a presenter at that Faire. On the plane flying out there, I prepared my remarks, one of which was a prophecy-that within five years, we would have a microcomputer available for under $1,000. I got off the plane and went to the convention center where Commodore had a booth with its PET microcomputer for under $1,000. That ended my career as a prophet.

I guess that I ran into Bob Albrecht at that Faire. I visited his People's Computer Company and became an early subscriber to his great PCC newspaper. Since then, Bob and I have become brothers in spirit.

Over the intervening years, I spent a lot of time flying around the country and abroad (before frequent-flyer days), talking to school boards , teachers, and university folks about the coming wonders of computers in education. I got into lots of arguments about computer languages. I agreed with Bob that BASIC was the language to use with kids, but some of the latter-day high priests of computing thought that PASCAL and a host of other languages were better. The high priests also thought that much more powerful machines than the PETs and Apples and Ataris, were preferable. They ignored the facts of fiscal life in schools. We were able to do remarkable things with 4K and then 8K of memory and BASIC, and the schools could afford these simple machines.

I retired from the university scene in 1987, and have retired six times since, but still am working. Along the way, I prepared a couple of reports that describe how innovative teachers use computers to enhance the education of their kids, and showed that, among other benefits, perhaps the most important is the impact on at-risk kids. Now, I teach science in a local elementary school as a volunteer, and I bring computers and the Web into the class whenever it fits. I also am helping the Educational Technology faculty at the CW Post Campus of LIU to expand their exciting vision of the role of technology in the classroom.

PCC has gone (except in the minds and hearts of some of us), as has the Oregon Computing Teacher which absorbed PCC, and has become ISTE and Learning and Leading with Technology. Jim Warren's Computer Faires have gone also, but live on in the NECC held every year. It's been a wild ride, but has been a lot of fun; and it isn't even close to over. There's lots more excitement just over the horizon. I hope that I will be able to stick around for a while yet to enjoy the ride into the future. Hold onto your hats!

Lud Braun

Last Modified: Tue May 15 15:16:44 2001