David D. Thornburg, Ph.D.
PO Box 7168
San Carlos, CA 94070
Could you tell us a little about your educational and
After receiving my Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, I joined the
Palo Alto Research Center as the 25th employee. From 1971-1981, I
worked on awide variety of projects, including the design of user-interface
technologies for the first personal computer (the Alto, a 1973 precursor
to the Macintosh)
One of the themes in your writing and speaking is that
the Information Age is over and we are now in the Communication Age. Will
the Communication Age change the way we do research?
Clearly, broadband communication tools make information available in a
more timely fashion. Print journals in science will be dead in a year
or two as all research papers get posted on the Net immediately. Progress
in pedagogy and curriculum developments can now be sent around the world
at the click of a mouse. The challenge that remains is the human challenge
- getting institutions to transform their practice, but that is nothing
You also talk a lot about "Lifelong Learning." Is technology
the key to providing lifelong learning opportunities?
Absolutely. We already see a growing list of courses and resource materials
on the Net for those interested in improving their skills or exploring
new career options.
Have you written any books that you feel would be
especially interesting to people in the field of Instructional Technology?
Our most recent book, "Education in the Communication Age" is timely and
also contains a framework for thinking about technology planning that
properly places pedagogy and curriculum BEFORE technology acquisition.
Like any author, though, my favorite book is my next one (in progress
What are a couple of books by other people that you
feel are "must reads" for those interested in the future of education,
technology, and society?
Neal Stephenson's "Snowcrash" describes a VRML-like world quite nicely,
and is worth reading if only for the quote: "All information looks like
noise until you break the code." In the non-sci-fi domain, I enjoyed Negroponte's
"Being Digital," and I generally read WIRED cover to cover. To think about
educational technology intelligently, I find it useful to see where technology
is heading overall.
Are there any trends that you see in technology and
education that really excite you and make you optimistic about the future?
I'm quite optimistic. We are witnessing a tremendous trend toward truly
personal, powerful computational devices with built-in communication capabilities.
We will soon be freed from our desks and from power and phone jacks. Today
you can get a web browser for the Newton and, using the Ardis network,
surf the web from anywhere you happen to be.
Can you describe a project you worked on or were associated
with that was especially interesting or had a lot of intrinsic rewards?
Every project has had its intrinsic rewards. I think the KoalaPad and
Muppet Learning Keys are two of my favorite inventions. With the Muppet
keyboard we brought computers to the pre-school crowd in a humane way
- plus I got to work with Jim Henson! The KoalaPad was the first touch
tablet for computers, and we had a heck of a time convincing potential
customers that they could draw pictures on the computer with a pen!
Are there any emerging educational research topics
you feel will be especially important in the next 5-10 years?
The greatest project to work on would be to figure out why, with all we
alre ady know about effective models of learning (Gardner, etc.) we persist
in many schools in providing an educational program delivered in a manner
largely unchanged since the 1600's. Better yet, we could figure out how
to change our system of schooling in ways that support student achievement
of the skills needed to thrive in our post-capitalist society.
On the whole, what are your thoughts on the impact
technology has had, and will have, in the K-12 classroom?
The impact to date has been minimal overall. Some schools are doing wonderful
things, and many are not. A lot of the blame for this falls (in my opinion)
on a system that provides access to technology without any support for
staff development. This is, in a word, stupid. The good news is that Florida
and Texas have decided to not be stupid anymore. The bad news is that
a lot of states (including, tragically, California) have yet to grasp
this simple concept.
What are your future plans?
Well, I kind of make life up as it goes along. I have decided to expand
the Center and have added some stellar players to our team. I'll continue
to write and conduct workshops, etc., only not at my current pace. Starting
next year I'll be teaching part time at the
of Notre Dame in Belmont, CA helping the next generation of educators
get started. Beyond that, I'll always be active, but just with more balance
in my life.