Department of Didactics
University of Pretoria
0002 South Africa
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
You say you are interested in contructivist learning.
How did you come to be interested in that topic and were you ever an
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
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!
They would be:
- Renate Lippert who guided my colleagues and myself
through two years of evening classes, twice a week. A hard taskmaster
with a vast knowledge-base in the field.
- Stan Trollip who presented some courses in South
Africa about "Designing Effective Tests" Who provided valuable insight
in the care one has to take about desiging computer-based tests, since
the designer is not there once the poor learners face the machine.
- Tom Reeves, for his South African workshop on Evaluation
Methods, and the way he handed out little prizes to make participants
interact - and for his valuable contribution to ITforum.
- Lloyd Rieber whom I have never met in person, but
who has become part of the family and part of my classes through ITforum.
and Dirty Teaching" is quite original and interesting. Could you
give our readers a synopsis of that paper and explain how you came up
with the idea for the paper?
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.