How did you become interested in Computer-Asssisted Education as a career?
It started in 1983 when as junior teacher I had to help with the school computer club. They had all of two BBC micro computers. One boy had connected it up to a robot called NORMS, which he had built himself.
In 1988 as lecturer at a Technical College I explored the possibilities of PLATO to teach English as a second language to secretarial students. Not much came from the project. In 1990 I met Jason Ohler of the University of Alaska, and later visited Alaska and saw their PLATO lab working very well. Then in 1992, Renate Lippert, a Univeristy of Minnesota PHd, started a tutored Masters' Degree program in Computer-Assited Education - the first one in South Africa and I enrolled to become one of the first 27 students. When she left in 1994, I took over from her.
Tell us more about your trip to Alaska in 1990. How did that come about and what did you take away from the trip?
I was a member of a 5 strong "Group Study Exchange" program sponsored by Rotary International. At the same time 5 young people from Alaska toured South Africa. One came away with a strange feeling about how similar two countries on opposite sides of the globe can be. It was specifically interesting to see how Alaska deals with its Native population. Affirmative Action and Subsistence were words which were just beginning to surface in South Africa - remember, this was BEFORE the 1994 elections. It was particularly interesting to see how they were using (or actually NOT using) technology to bridge problems of small groups of people sparsely distributed in vast rural areas. This is a problem we South Africans are constantly addressing.
What areas of research are you most interested in and why?
The nature of the course which I present requires me to maintain a holistic view of the whole field. My particular field of interest, however, lies in learning theory, particularly constructivism and cooperative learning, and the way in which the WWW and the internet in general can be used to support co- operative constructivist learning. To this end I have constructed a virtual classroom which you can visit at http://hagar.up.ac.za/rbo
You say you are interested in contructivist learning. How did you come to be interested in that topic and were you ever an "anti-contructivist"?
I attended a particularly liberal (by South African standards) high school where teachers were encouraged to allow learners to do their own learning. In my early post graduate studies I worked in the field of literary theory and was introduced to the idea of reader response criticism and post-modernism. The idea of the responsibility for assigning meaning lying with the reader rather than the author made a great deal of sense to me. When, much later, I started working in the field of Education, I noticed the same swing towards learner centered work and constructivism. This tied up so nicely with both my school and university background. It also gave me a theoretical bacground for the "gut feel" teaching which I had been doing until then.
In one of your papers, you discuss the development of an EPSS called "New Engineering Contract." It was interesting to read one of your conclusions that it "is essential that the Subject Matter Experts are believers in their subject matter". What do you mean by that?
One of the problems in the development of the particular product, was that the purpose of the EPSS was to support the implementation of the "New Engineering Contract" (NEC) at the Electricity Supply Corporation - one of the largest para statals and the only supplier of electricity in South Africa. BUT, the NEC in itself was not accepted by everyone in ESKOM. The subject matter experts were the only people who knew the NEC. Not all of them, however, were convinced that the NEC was the best way for the organisation to go. The result was that they were not all that enthusiastic about letting us have the information required to build the EPSS, and neither were they all that interested in seeing the EPSS make their lives easier.
One of your sites includes a "Who's Who" in computer assisted education. Which people have had the biggest impact on your own way of thinking in regard to computer assisted education?
I guess those who are closest to you often have the greatest effect. (Funny I should say that, while I am trying to bridge geographical distance through the web). However, if I were to arrange people in order of the size of their impact, then it seems to correlate with the time I spent in physical contact with them!
I attended a conference where Jack Foks presented a paper on the Ten Commandments of Computer-Based Education. He preambled his speech by saying that one should really never talk about religion or sex, but that he had decided to tackle the topic of religion anyway. That meant that I was left with sex. I had to present a paper at a conference on the Internet and teaching. At that stage (as is still the case) teachers and parents had a great deal of resistance to the net in schools because they had heard terrible stories about sex on the internet. I felt the problem had to be addressed in a unique way and set about trying to show what made pornography alluring, and then "demonstrating" how Malone's elements of intrinsic motivation (Challenge, Curiosity, Control and Fantasy) could be identified as items which attracted kids to cyberporn. I then suggested that the same four elements could be built into good teaching to make it "dirty". The term "Dirty Teaching" is from Seymor Papert. He uses the dancing lessons in the movie "Dirty Dancing" to distinguish between "clean teaching" - the way it is done by dancing instructors in the dance halls, and "dirty teaching" - the way in which Baby is totally immersed in the task of learning to dance in the back rooms and servant quarters. Clean teaching is devoid of context and consequently less effectvie.
What are 2 or 3 books that you think are "must reads" for people who want to do research in computer assisted education?
In spite of their advanced age, I still think Alessi & Trollip's Computer-Based Education: Methods and Development, and Hannafin & Peck's Book, now out of print, are classics.
I also like Mager's "Interactive" book on "Preparing Instructional Objectives". Nevertheless, I seem to think that, given the speed at which technology advances, Books are out of date. I would suggest to would-be researchers that they spend their time with their noses in recent journals, ETR&D, Educational Technology and, of course, ITforum.
You are the first person we have interviewed to suggest that, because of the rapid advances of technology, books are out of date. Will magazines, too, become out of date and, if so, is the Web the future of instructional technology publishing?
The same thing which makes books out of date is happening to magazines. The only thing is that magazines are a little less out of date. Consider this. You do some research. (let's make it about the use of MS Office95 in the classroom). The research takes you about 6 months. You take about two months to write it up. It is then posted off to the journal. There it waits about a month for the editor to send it to reviewers who take about a month to review it. It is given the OK and then waits for the next available slot to be published. Say it misses the deadline for the next issue. This means it waits another quarter (provided there is space in the following issue). SO our results are published TWELVE months after our research started. Then it takes at least six to eight weeks before the American journal reaches South Africa and another four before it hits the library. By this time we are beginning to read about MS OFFICE97, and the original research is dated. I remember how hotly we debated the Dos vs Windows issues in selecting an authoring system in the middle of 93. The argument was that too few companies had machines capable of running Windows. In the beginning of 94 the situation was reversed. It was pointless desiging in DOS. Multimedia CD Roms had hit the streets and everyone was upgrading and no one wanted to touch Dos stuff. Now, had an article been written defending the DOS route, it would only have been published in this time.
No, not just the WWW. I think it is a starting point. Email and Gopher-based online journals have been with us for quite some time. What needs to happen, though, is that these journals and discussion forums such as ITForum, should build up sufficient credibility so that publishing with the right one will carry the same weight with academic institutions as does paper-based publishing. However, one has to realise that academic institutions are by their very nature conservative and thus it may take some time before such accreditation happens.