In Memoriam: Educational "Computing Pioneer" Patrick Suppes Passing Noted

real hi res jpgEDITORS’ NOTE: Dr. Patrick Suppes, a man who saw the future of computers in education long before personal computers existed has recently died. [Click here to see attached NYTimes article.]

Pat Suppes

Forty-eight years ago Professor Suppes, a longtime Stanford professor, predicted that millions of school children would have access to the technology now being used in K12 schools everywhere.

Suppes’ vision of computer-aided learning aligned with the visions of several others pioneers, but his vision included key ideas on how such uses would actually function with learners of all ages. Along with Stanford Project partner, Professor Richard Atkinson, Suppes saw the computer as a “tutor” in the drill and practice routines for elementary school students. Their new twist was dubbed “CAI” for Computer Assisted Instruction. Hundreds of other entrepreneurs followed their model. Millions of kids around the world have since participated in Suppes’ model for CAI learning.

DaleRE@L002Blogmeister Dale LaFrenz had the same big-picture visioning in those early days, but he also saw the computer as a tool for delivery of supplemental learning resources for the teachers and students in the K12 schools. Out of his vision came famous software programs like “Oregon Trail.” It became, arguably, the most famous educational computer simulation of all time.

There were many camps of computer-using educators in the early days. Some believed that computer in schools should help kids to learn programming skills. Many still believe that programming (now more commonly known as coding) would be essential going forward in a technology-driven society. Whatever the implementation strategy, the vision was the same: This new computer-driven world was going to impact the K12 education world very significantly. It did and it still does.

Teletype days1

Dr. Suppes’ vision was far ahead of his time. He was a product of the early era of  “paper-tape” programming being fed into a Model 33 Teletypewriter to transmit code over telephone wires to a giant computer. This was all done at a “lightening-speed” of 10 characters per second and often tested the user’s patience. This happened before the invention of BASIC the language that accompanied time-sharing. CAMP Text

Also, this year is the 50th Anniversary of Dartmouth College announcing BASIC and time-sharing. It was a giant step toward engaging increasingly large numbers of K12 students in educational computing. Further, Dale, and his team at the University of Minnesota, severeal years later wrote a series of texts, known as the CAMP (Computer-Assisted Mathematics Programming) series, with the goal to help teachers and students learn how to integrate programming into the learning of mathematics.

The current status of educational computing must have made Dr. Suppes smile in wonder and satisfaction. He surely recognized his role in predicting and contributing to the positive contribution of computers in K12 education. We certainly have.

RE@L is very pleased to acknowledge the significant role of Patrick Suppes in visioning our future in CAI and helping even more new tools happen. Thank you, Dr. Suppes, for your efforts, insights and perseverance!


RE@L’s Trivial Pursuit Question of the Week:

What Dynamic Duo brought the first real computer into the classroom and the home?

Bonus Q: What was it called?

Click on the globe below to post any answers, questions or comments you may have. Thanks!


Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.

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