Despite the many volumes that have been compiled about computer-based education (CBE) over the last two decades, there is surprisingly little written on the history of this enterprise, and almost nothing written from the point of view of corporate strategists attempting to crack and technologize the education market. Instead, the vast bulk of the literature takes the perspective of the bewildered or the enthusiastic consumer, and assumes as a given the hyperbole of inevitability constructed by corporate marketeers.
What I hope to show is that from the start to the present, Big Business has never really known what it was doing in this arena. Again and again, major firms have exploited political opportunities to break into the education market and have flailed wildly, trying to make the killing they had convinced themselves was there for the taking. Far more often than not they have fallen on their faces, failing miserably and retreating to cut their losses . . . only to lick their wounds and try again, equally oblivious, once the next opportunity arose or another technology product hit the market. Despite these repeated failures, the cumulative impact of all these fits and starts on primary and secondary education has been an avalanche of hardware and software glutting the schools.
These repeated failures did not occur merely because Big Business has misunderstood the education market and the culture of the schools. These failures have resulted from the breathtakingly poor business sense of those corporate leaders most prominent in leading the charge to reform education through technological innovation. Repeatedly, leaders of major Fortune 500 firms have insisted with blind determination on believing their own illusions and on following the predictions of information-age fortune tellers, despite massive evidence to the contrary available to them, even from their own lieutenants. The hubris of these men in their self-appointed role to "save" education, to pursue the holy grail of electronic teaching, to come up with the "killer application" for their glorious computer gadgetry, has for three decades driven their firms to distraction, and sometimes to destruction.
And this high-tech sideshow has created an appalling distraction for education and educators as well, as they have been taken for a ride on the roller coaster of computer development and marketing madness, leaving the schools awash in electronic gadgetry. The ride is by no means over, as telecommunications and entertainment giants jostle for favored places on the education information superhighway into the nation's schools and homes. Perhaps a little historical reflection will sober a few would-be enthusiasts among the present corps of teachers, artists and other thoughtful people, regarding not only the technologies themselves, but perhaps more importantly, the credibility and legitimacy of the self-appointed high-tech corporate saviors of education. Certainly with state and federal politics once again greasing corporate entree into the education marketplace, there is little chance that reasonable reflection will stop the charade.
This article offers a glimpse of the littered record of past performances, specifically case studies of two major corporate ventures in computer-based education: the joint venture of GE and Time, Inc. - the General Learning Corporation - in the 1960s and Control Data Corporation's efforts to market its PLATO system in schools in the 1970s and early 1980s. These studies are derived from proprietary documents - confidential memos, letters, strategic plans - now available in public archives. The final section of this article carries the insights from these case studies into the 1980s and 1990s, for which proprietary documentation from high-tech corporations is not yet readily available. We turn first to the 1980s, in which the combination of videogames, microcomputer technology, the LOGO programming language for children and a successful information-age ideology of computer literacy led to the widespread introduction of computers into schools. We conclude with a dubious look at the recent hyperbole about multimedia, CD-ROMs and the information highway, and the driving impulse of the entertainment, cable and telecommunications industries in the latest marketing of a technology bill of goods to schools.
BACKGROUND: MILITARY R&D AND CBE
The Defense Department was the primary catalyst for early development of computer-based instruction.(1) Most early research in the field took place under military sponsorship, and substantial military sponsorship of research in artificial intelligence, cognitive science, multimedia and virtual reality applied to training and learning, continues to this day. The field itself grew out of military research and development in the late 1950s at the juncture of two areas: training science and what we now call computer science. One researcher, Harry Silberman, compared CBE to computer programming: "Instead of programming computer behavior, the educator is programming human behavior."(2) The early vision of CBE at the Systems Development Corporation in Santa Monica, California (SDC) was for educational institutions to become "man-machine digital systems in their own right," with "attributes of real-time control systems."(3) At the University of Illinois, the first experiments with cost-effective automated instruction, via time-shared PLATO terminals, were lavishly funded by a wide range of military agencies. At the military research firm Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) in Cambridge, Massachusetts (still in the 1990s a major player in CBE development), research on human-machine communication and interaction led to early experiments in automated instruction. These experiments suggested to BBN researchers that CBE, with the "deliberate exploitation of reinforcement and human engineering techniques, might be used to 'trap' the attention of students."(4)
Scattered experiments constituted the research base for CBE in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The experiments were rudimentary, using cumbersome equipment thrown together for the purpose, and utilizing local schoolchildren for experimentation either on site or in a local school. The primary focus in all sites was research, either on automated instructional delivery and control systems or on man-machine communication and human learning.
A turning point came in the mid-1960s, when these isolated research efforts would suddenly become the darlings of Fortune 500 companies, and CBE researchers would be courted with lucrative offers for high-stakes commercial ventures. Most would be "bought up" by large firms,(5) and for some, this occasioned opportunities for "gaining access to children of school age for . . . experimental investigations."(6) Computer-based education suddenly jumped from military-funded, experimental tinkering to corporate panacea for the nation's schools.
CBE BECOMES A COMMERCIAL VENTURE
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, military funding began to dry up. Defense contractors dependent on federal funding began to seek other sources of federal money and new subsidized markets. In the years 1958 through 1965, they found their answer in "a powerful [new] base of operations, [which] was established for the entrance of [these] American corporations into the profitable education industries."(7) With the passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, followed by the Vocational Education Act in 1963, the Equal Opportunity Act in 1964 and finally, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, major defense contractors found their new subsidized market. This new market was established overnight to lure defense contractors to apply their military-derived "systems approach" to the newly discovered societal problems of poverty and educational failure. This new market answered the needs of a foundering defense industry as well as the desires of educational technology researchers seeking alternative sources of support and new "living laboratories" for their experimentation.
Through massive new federal expenditures now filling the void of military cutbacks, computer-based educational technology was given its first chance for widespread commercialization. The education and poverty markets provided the perfect opportunity for warmed-over military hardware and systems to be refashioned as weapons in the war on poverty and educational failure. This latest subsidization of educational technology research, development and commercialization was, in effect, "the reselling of the Pentagon."(8) According to Oscar Gandy's dissertation by that title, the new social legislation enabled the capitalization of education with military technology and created an education market that did not before exist. Furthermore, the capitalization subsidy was producer-driven rather than consumer-driven, opening up a market for defense industry manufacturers rather than addressing any documented needs of schools, teachers or students.
Once established, industrial research and development in instructional technology became as much a marketing effort as a research effort, directed toward providing evidence or serving as models for the utilization of capital technologies. And "once the subsidy [was] established, and a clientele lobby [of manufacturers] formed, political maneuvering [became] focused more often on questions of 'how much,' instead of 'whether or not'."(9) In short, once the door was opened that encouraged defense contractors to pursue the education technology market, it would never again be closed. The idea of the technological capitalization of education, and specifically that of computer-based teaching and learning systems, was an idea whose time had come (however prematurely), and the next three decades, up to the present moment, have witnessed the seemingly inevitable unfolding, with numerous episodic echoes, of this first euphoric moment in the early 1960s.
In the words of one spokesman for defense contractor Westinghouse, whose Westinghouse Learning Corporation was one of the early beneficiaries of the new capitalization subsidy in education, the goal was "to establish a beachhead"(10) in the emerging education market, which was in fact an "unnatural market,"(11) fattened repeatedly by government largesse far in advance of technological sophistication and the capability of education consumers to use or even imagine.
The approaches of choice in the establishment of the beachhead were acquisition, diversification and merger. Between 1964 and 1966, 120 combines and mergers were established to tap the education market. These hybrids typically coupled the "hardware" of technology firms with the instructional materials, or "software," provided by publishing houses. In short order, these couplings brought together IBM and educational publisher SRA; General Electric and Time, Inc./Silver Burdett; Xerox and Ginn/American Education Publications; RCA and Random House; Raytheon and D.C. Heath; RCA and Prentice-Hall; Litton and American Book Company; CBS and Allyn and Bacon/Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; GTE/Sylvania and Reader's Digest; and 3M and Newsweek. These mergers and joint ventures continued the military model of engineering psychology in its attempt to wed the hard-nosed engineering disciplines to the "softer" social and human sciences of instructional psychology and pedagogy. Their goal was to tap what was considered to be an enormous potential market in the new "knowledge industry" of electronic publishing and "electronic education." This was the grail motivating the sudden avalanche of unprecedented corporate interest in the public schools.
THE GENERAL LEARNING CORPORATION(12)
In 1965 Francis Keppel, Assistant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, guided through Congress the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), legislation that initiated industry participation in the nation's schools. Keppel championed technology in education, and in his book The Necessary Revolution (1966) he outlined the path that such capitalization of education must take. He believed that private industry, in particular the powerful defense technology firms, could provide the ideas and hardware to fuel the "revolution." "Seventy percent of the scientists that graduate don't go into universities," Keppel explained. "They go into industry. And if by legislation I'm kept from doing business with the private sector, I'm deprived of help from those brains. . . . We need ideas, the development of equipment and procedures. We need access to people like Western Electric." Keppel therefore finessed the language of ESEA, thereby opening the door through which many Fortune 500 corporations, including such major defense contractors as GE, ITT, RCA, Westinghouse, Raytheon, AT&T, Honeywell, Litton and Xerox entered the field of public primary and secondary education for the first time.
One of the most formidable of these new ventures involved Keppel himself. This was the General Learning Corporation (GLC), established in January 1966, as a joint venture by General Electric and Time, Inc. Both companies were looking for ways to diversify and were intrigued by predictions about the new education market, and especially by the prospect of huge federal outlays for education. As Keppel was to explain later, after passage of ESEA promised 10-figure federal education aid annually, "a billion dollars looking for a good, new way to be spent does not ordinarily turn the American businessman into a shrinking violet."
In early 1964, Time-Life Books had launched an Educational Systems Project team to investigate Time's possible role in the post-Sputnik, university-based curriculum reform movement. Project team leader Ezra Bowen, the Director of Educational Research and Development for Time-Life Books, conveyed the team's optimism, even as it groped cautiously in the dark for new ideas and strategies. "The big hurdle" in all of this, Bowen reasoned, was marketing:
The great hazard . . . is not in what we do, or in whether our primary audience (the kids) will accept it. The hazard is the great wall of parents, superintendents, teachers, legislators ad infinitum that we must win over in order to be permitted to bring our materials to the children. For this reason . . . we must . . . act with agonizing care . . . in picking not only the right materials to present but also the moment and method of presentation, so that . . . the whole American community feels that the materials we produce are what the community wants, badly needs, and must have.
In May 1964, Charles Silberman, a Time writer later to become a prominent journalist of 1960s education reform, filed a report on the R&D project in education, in which he outlined the shape of the coming "education revolution." He recommended that Time "reexamine our traditional policy of not dealing with hardware. . . . This could lead to the actual manufacture of hardware or working partnerships with hardware manufacturers."
Enter GE, a giant electronics firm which had recently suffered a major loss in funding in the early 1960s, leaving thousands of GE engineers unemployed. GE was looking for a way to diversify and to put those engineers to work in a profitable new market and made an overture to Time, Inc. to enter the education market together. GE, with the second largest industrial research program in the country and with more patents than any other firm, was certain "to be a big factor in [computers] in the years to come." GE seemed quite a catch.
But Time, Inc. executives were far from convinced. Caution and skepticism toward a partnership with the electronics giant were the order of the day within the stately executive suites at Rockefeller Center. Although GE's image in education was considered to be "very good," with its sponsorship of Mr. Wizard and College Bowl, still GE's contact with education and educators was considered "tentative," "remote" and "frustrating." Bowen visited GE's Schenectady operations and reported in January 1965:
GE's thoughts on education - though over-run with a kind of marketing mentality - are quite sound, but by no means sophisticated. . . . GE's educational equipment is rudimentary - surprisingly so. Basically they have built language labs, PA systems, computers, and TV sets. Little else. They have never tried to integrate a number of elements into a real system [and] at the moment, they are at a loss to know how to proceed. They smell a big market out there somewhere. But they are scared to death of the pitfalls. . . .
In an early position paper written in preparation for Time-GE talks in December 1964, the Time task force warned that: ". . . there is every need for caution. The information systems of the future are a bewitching rainbow. It is safe to predict that some solid companies will falter chasing after the pot of gold. Clearly, GE's proposal of collaboration must be viewed with utmost care. . . ." The Time people were very wary of GE's control of the venture, asking, "Do we want to be the bristles in somebody else's toothbrush?" On the other hand, they wondered, "Can Time, Inc. afford to remain aloof in the midst of a technological revolution . . .?"
This new terrain was treacherous, but at the same time, the specter of the unknown engendered a collective giddiness; these were heady times, when everything seemed possible. The skepticism persisted, however. As Bowen reminded his colleagues, "Let's not forget that part of our job is to decide whether Time, Inc. and GE should stay out of the educational system business."
Despite such concerns, task force members visited CBE research sites around the country. They concluded that "[t]he technology in use in learning situations today amounts, in almost all cases, to no more than bits and pieces of systems." Despite the task force's skepticism, the Time and GE leadership decided to go forward with the joint venture on April 16, 1965. After the decision, Time Publisher Rhett Austell wrote GE Vice President George Hailer that "[n]otwithstanding our late entry in this field, we believe that our two companies are uniquely qualified to undertake this program on a scale and with a promise of success that no other companies can match."
On January 4, 1966, the new company was formally launched, with Richard Shetler from GE as president and Roy E. Larsen of Time, Inc. as chairman. Shetier was a former manager of GE's Missile Guidance Section who became general manager of the company's entire Defense Programs Division. Larsen, a venerable member of Time's board, wasted little time in recruiting Keppel to replace himself as chairman. Keppel was considered a prime catch because of his Congressional experience, lending immediate legitimacy to the joint venture.
At this stage, GLC executives were concerned with the corporation's reputation: "Anything that gives substance to the joint venture's genuine interest in improving education will be useful at all levels of our relations with people outside." Also of concern was that even by July 1966, as Ed Solberg continued, "[c]omputer-assisted instruction [remained] in the laboratory stage." But an incentive to ignore this truth was the furious competition among so many giants, including IBM, Xerox, RCA/Random House, Raytheon/D.C. Heath and Westinghouse. Many of these companies were busy making deals with the same small group of CBE researchers at Stanford, Pittsburgh, SDC, BBN and elsewhere, whom GLC was courting. Historian Lawrence Cremin observed, "practically every one of the major guys who have been working in the field has been bought up."(13)
One GLC executive at this time, Ira Singleton, cautioned:
The assumption that 'computers and computer-based systems will form an important part of the contribution which the joint enterprise can make' might prove false . . . I have always been troubled that we have given short shrift to the possibility that computers are not of supreme value as teaching/learning devices, or that their values have yet to be demonstrated . . . It may be that because of the nature of GLC itself, or because of the name and mission given to our task force, our thinking has been conditioned to a positive and affirmative view of computer-assisted learning. If so, our thinking will have been a little less than objective.
Singleton also wondered "whether we should say that we will 'improve the quality of education' or 'improve the effectiveness of learning'. These seem brash statements - presumptuous. . . . In effect, we are saying that we will succeed where Dewey and countless others have failed."
Predictably, by the start of the following year - one year after GLC was launched - things began to fall apart, long before any product was ready for market. Keppel realized that the technology was not there, and grew impatient with the technical preoccupations of his GE colleagues. In March 1967, the inevitable happened: more than 60 GLC executives and professionals lost their jobs in a "massive shakeup" engineered by Keppel and the GLC board. Shetler was fired, with Keppel replacing him as president while still remaining chairman. The bitter shakeup stemmed from the drastically different views of engineers and educators about the direction of the company.
Thus software triumphed over hardware, and Keppel came to realize, "you can't take computers designed to put people on the moon and put them in the classroom." Almost all of the GE executives who were fired had formerly worked in GE's Apollo Support Division in Florida, and were considered by the new president to be "gadgeteers" for whom the computer was the all-purpose panacea. Keppel redirected the $37 million company toward the development of decidedly low-tech learning materials targeted at academic and vocational education of disadvantaged students, abandoning the high-flung promises for which the joint venture was originally launched. "Euphoric is not a bad word for [this original expectation]," he wrote, but by 1970, "it was no longer taken for granted that . . . modern technology would rescue Pauline from her perils. . . Euphoria had turned into caution, perhaps even doubt."
Keppel also foresaw a role for GLC in "performance contracting" and voucher plans then under consideration that would put private firms in charge of managing schools (the precursors of such private ventures today). He recommended that GLC produce materials for everything from daycare centers to religious schools to proprietary schools, while also keeping a foot in "government programs for the unemployed," which, though "wobbly enterprises," would be useful to GLC for public relations. He even suggested that GLC might provide consulting services for the Iranian education system, since Time president James Linen was a friend of the queen of Iran. Grabbing at such straws for several years, Keppel and GLC stumbled on until 1974, when the company was sold to textbook publisher Scott-Foresman for $20 million, after having lost $11 million for Time, Inc.
GE eventually squandered its opportunities in the overall computer business, too, through fragmented operations, overly ambitious projects and a lack of commitment from top management. From 1957 to 1970 GE's domestic computer business lost $163 million, and in 1970 GE jettisoned its computer business altogether.
When GLC was sold in 1974, most observers faulted GLC's premature timing. Few noted that the technology itself was far from ready to enter the classroom. Solberg lamented, "schools were not yet ready for advanced technology, and the teachers would have nothing to do with it." Rather than acknowledging that teacher resistance - almost always passive and unorganized - was justified, given the irrelevance of the highly experimental computer wares to their classrooms, Solberg blamed the victim. He insisted that the timing of this "resoundingly premature venture," and not the bill of goods GLC and others were intent on hawking, was the "the prime cause of our fiasco."
In a 1983 interview, Keppel explained: "in the middle 1960s . . . there was then as there is now again, an enthusiasm, a euphoria for what modern information technology, computers, etc., could do for education. . . . This was going to be the great system of changing education. It flopped. All the companies flopped." These education companies, he recounted, "were put together out of idealistic dreaming and very little hard business sense."(14) One GLC top executive explained the "fabulous failure" of GLC as just "one of those mad rushes into the future that big corporations do now and then" - taking schools, teachers and students along for the ride.
PLATO AND THE CONTROL DATA CORPORATION(15)
Only two years after the inglorious sale of GLC, and after most of the combines established in the mid-1960s to tap the educational technology market had also dissolved for similar reasons, yet another major corporation embarked on a "mad rush into the future" in an effort to push CBE into American schools. Control Data Corporation (CDC) was started in Minneapolis by William Norris in 1957 (after he left the Office of Naval Research), and quickly rose to become a giant in computer and peripheral manufacturing and in worldwide data and computer services. At its peak, CDC employed 57,000 people worldwide and made $3.6 billion a year in revenues.
Norris was an unusual entrepreneur and business leader, one with a social conscience whose enduring legacy, according to his biographer, is that he "showed the way to give capitalism a human face."(16) He also had an idee fixe, an obsession for a system of computer-based education that eventually ruined the company.
The story of the CDC fiasco begins with the PLATO CBE system, originated in 1960 by engineer Donald Bitzer and others at the military-sponsored Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois. The PLATO project, whose acronym stood for "Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations," reflecting the military focus on automated instruction, had hardly begun when Norris was first told about it by a CDC salesman in Illinois. Norris was intrigued by the potential educational applications that might be developed for CDC computers at government expense, and in 1963 he entered into an agreement with the University of Illinois to provide the PLATO project with a CDC 1604 mainframe computer and subsequent updated mainframes in the following years.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, Bitzer's laboratory, which changed its name to Computer Based Education Research Laboratory (CERL), experimented with successive versions of PLATO, introducing such technological innovations as the plasma display screen for the terminals linked to the large mainframe computer. In 1966 military funding stopped, but generous funds from the National Science Foundation and other government agencies continued the support of the laboratory. CDC provided computer equipment and servicing, but not direct funding. In 1971 CDC set up its own education department, hired university professors who had been working on computer courseware, and began using PLATO for internal training. Although both CDC and Bitzer's laboratory were slowly developing courseware, there was a proprietary mistrust by those at CDC toward the PLATO laboratory, who viewed it as potential competition down the road. Bitzer later referred to CDC's relationship with the lab as one of "benign neglect": "They did their own thing; they tried to develop their own courseware, which was expensive . . . even though they could have tapped the courseware people at UI . . . for much less money."
The formal effort to establish a commercial line of CDC PLATO services began in January 1974, according to J. W. Dannemeyer, who directed the first education efforts at CDC. PLATO was made compatible with the then current CDC Cyber-operating system, and an architecture was developed for long-range PLATO evolution "leading to profitable operation at prices competitive with traditional public school instruction costs." The most significant early problems encountered between 1973 and mid-1975, according to Dannemeyer, were "internal CDC acceptance and the rationalization of a commercially viable product and services line." Nevertheless, by April 1976, PLATO had "increasing momentum within CDC," and so Norris determined that the PLATO system was ready for the commercial market. Although its initial target would be higher education and training operations in industry and government, CDC's ultimate goal was to bring CBE to children in schools and homes. With a flourish, Norris and Robert Morris, CDC vice president in charge of CBE products and services, held a New York press conference to announce the commercial offering of PLATO, whose acronym newly stood for "Programmed Learning and Teaching Operation." One report of the event, referring to the corporate CBE debacles of the 1960s, declared that "[y]esteryear promises of computer assisted instruction as the solution to staggering educational costs, illiteracy and poverty were reawakened" at the conference. Morris acknowledged such views, exulting, "This is the biggest thing since the beginning."
Unlike GLC, CDC had a product, not simply a fantasy. But Norris and company had a fantasy as well, the same one that the high-tech corporate leaders of the 1960s had: to break into the school market and to revolutionize education. The PLATO system eventually became "the most extensively used computer-based instructional system in the world" by the early 1980s, primarily used for industrial and military training. But the fantasy of revolutionizing education by bringing PLATO into schools and homes led Norris and CDC into a frenzy of corporate missteps that ultimately brought down the firm. The problem was this: PLATO might in some eyes have been ready for the external market, "but the [school] market was not ready for PLATO. It had to be developed, and that proved more difficult than anticipated."
The principal objective for CDC strategists was to define, condition and penetrate the school market. Morris, who became vice president of the CDC education company, insisted in 1977 that "early market penetration . . . must be considered as our single highest priority objective. . . . We are dealing with a dormant market. It exists, has needs and has money." He was most distressed that "[p]otential customers do not share our sense of urgency for the implementation and use of computer-based education."
One approach to the development of a market was to exploit the recurring financial crises of the schools. A Norris-led strategy session in 1977 concluded: "[t]he current and growing financial crisis will hit its peak in 1979-1980. It will be so severe as to cause a restructuring of the total U.S. educational process. This provides an opportunity for CDC to work with several viable school systems to produce CBE alternatives that legislators and politicians can turn to for solutions." Within some minds at CDC, things seemed ripe indeed for PLATO.
But things began to unravel for CDC and PLATO. From 1973 to 1979 PLATO lost about $38 million for CDC. Some former employees reported that Norris ordered CDC units other than the education unit to bear part of PLATO's launching costs. One indicated that "PLATO so thoroughly permeates all CDC businesses that the company has a problem accounting accurately for its revenues." They also accused Norris of "rushing headlong into the education industry without a solid marketing plan." In 1979, in response to analysts' recommendations for CDC to jettison PLATO for the sake of profits, Norris replied: "No! I've stayed around to nurse this along, and we won't back away from it. For Control Data, PLATO is a way of life."
CDC had several half-baked strategies left, among them offering PLATO as a computer-based solution for the delivery of standardized testing and the implementation of new federal guidelines for individual educational plans for special education students. By 1981, CDC also introduced a microcomputer, CDC1 10, in order to compete with Apple and IBM in the school and the home markets. It also entered into an agreement with Texas Instruments (TI) to market PLATO in diskette form for TI's standalone microcomputer. The following year TI left the personal computer market, abandoning CDC. Dannemeyer saw CDC's foray into the microcomputer industry as a sacrifice to the educational "toy" market of the original, bold PLATO mission. He was distressed when Apple succeeded where CDC had failed, by tapping into the Minnesota school market. He later wrote, "The growing impact of such toys appears to have thrown CDC's PLATO people into a panic to produce their own stand-alone version of a functionally cut-down 'little PLATO.'"
Norris, too, was indignant at the fad-like manner in which schools were acquiring personal computers and accomplishing little beyond exposing young people to a few elementary tasks. At the time, no other computer companies were providing a total system for managing the teaching process. "This fell far short of the revolutionary impact on education Norris had envisioned;' wrote Norris's biographer James C. Worthy in 1987. Norris and CDC by that time had invested over a billion dollars in PLATO.
In 1984, in a last-ditch effort to market PLATO, CDC joined forces with Wicat Systems, Inc. of Orem, Utah, which had its own large computer-managed "curriculum-delivery system." The joint venture, called PLATO/Wicat Systems, spent "tens of millions of dollars . . . to court schools" before folding after two years because of differences in marketing strategy. Wicat was eventually sold to Jostens Learning Corporation, which became the latest major CBE marketer to succumb in pursuit of the CBE pot of gold.
After Wicat, the game was up for PLATO and things turned sour for CDC as well. Because so much of CDC's efforts had been wrapped up in PLATO, the company began to disintegrate. In a "free-fall" through the 1980s, it lost more than 90% of shareholder value. According to one account, "It was a terrifying, painful ride down," with "a seemingly endless stream of selloffs, spinoffs, layoffs and restructurings while the company struggled to find equilibrium." In 1986, Norris was forced to step down. But it was too late to save the company, which was dismembered in 1992. CDC was divided into two companies, Control Data Systems, which markets mainframes and computer peripherals, and CERIDIAN, which provides payroll services nationwide and owns Arbitron, a company that sells market ratings and audience demographics to radio stations. The PLATO system itself was sold to the firm NOVANET.
Worthy writes, "Norris will be remembered for his vision of the part business as business can play in building a more humane society." But at his last press conference in January, 1986, announcing his retirement from CDC, Norris was asked what was his proudest accomplishment. He answered, unhesitatingly: "PLATO."
LESSONS FOR THE PRESENT
It is now almost a decade since Norris retired from Control Data Corporation, and over three decades since GLC set out to revolutionize education through computer-based education and other educational technologies. Their "electronic revolution" would supposedly bring schools into the "information age," allow students to learn at their own pace, unleash the power of students' thinking, provide polished and customized curriculum, bring the entire world into the classroom, enhance teachers' work, and make the entire educational process more productive and cost-effective.
How far have we come? There are now 5.8 million computers in the nation's schools, and over $2 billion is being spent yearly by schools to purchase hardware and software for the "information age." Yet there is a consensus that, except for a few futuristic demonstration projects, all of this money and hardware has had an insignificant effect on educational practice in the nation's schools.
The latest Office of Technology Assessment report on educational technology released in April 1995 concludes that because teacher training has been largely ignored, the billions of dollars schools spend each year on computers, software and other technologies have brought few benefits to classroom instruction, despite the millions of computers now in the nation's schools.(17) Apple Computer, Inc., in a 1992 issue of Macworld magazine entitled "America's Shame," found "[a]ntiquated computers, unused computers, computers used for games and not for teaching, schools and teachers unprepared to use computers that they own, mismanaged or misdirected policies, and unknown hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the last decade for little return."(18) The truth is," the article concludes, "that we are groping toward [yet] another ill-defined approach to the implementation of technology in the hope that the next effort will be the one that brings order from chaos."(19)
Time magazine, in its Spring 1995 special issue "Welcome to Cyberspace," concedes as well that "the promised revolution has failed to materialize," despite the millions of computers and the billions of dollars. However, says Time (now a subsidiary of cable and entertainment giant Time Warner), the "bold predictions" of CBE pioneers of the 1960s, including those at Time, Inc.," were not wrong, just premature."(20) "It may take 10 years, or more likely 20," Time's paean to Cyberspace concludes, "but the prophets of the post-Gutenberg age in education will finally be proved right."(21) In a word, despite a dubious past and present, the euphoria continues, now more rancorous than ever, to revolutionize education with computer-based technology, this time linked up to Time Warner's and others' promised "information highway."
Business leaders, from the start of the CBE enterprise, have repeatedly blamed schools and teachers for the ineffectiveness and under-utilization of their educational technologies. They point to the schools' ponderous bureaucratic structures, their antiquated instructional methods and teachers' ignorance of and resistance to technological innovation, as the explanations for why, after 30 years and millions of high-tech purchases, computers have still not made much of an impact on what happens in the nation's classrooms.
But blaming education is a 100-year-old refrain, popular with businessmen looking for a convenient scapegoat for their own failures. The truth is that corporate marketers of CBE have not devoted much energy to the training of teachers in technology, because such training is a long-term, costly undertaking, while their intent is to get computers into the schools today. Corporate marketers have also provided such a myriad of prematurely conceived uses for their gadgetry over the years, that teachers, who have precious little time in their already arduous workdays, cannot be bothered. If computers really could provide the revolutionary changes that have been promised for 30 years by their vendors, and if they could be used to accomplish these changes in an accessible way in the short term, many teachers and schools would jump at the opportunity. But the vendors have not delivered the goods, and pull out when the going gets rough or prolonged, pointing fingers as they leave.
So what lessons emerge from our two case studies of the early corporate marketing of computers in education that might be instructive in assessing the latest corporate efforts to revolutionize education with technology? In this section, I first try to clarify these lessons and then look briefly at how each in turn helps to clarify recent corporate efforts to change the educational process through technology.
LESSON 1: Schools are typically sold a bill of goods, not the goods themselves. Penetration of the education market with computer-based technology has depended more on effective conditioning of the market through advertisement and ideological barrage than on the effectiveness of the technologies themselves.
Participants in the early ventures in CBE typically blamed their failure on the fact that the education market was not yet "ready" for their technology. This is partly true, but not because the technology itself was ahead of its time; rather, the ideological leavening of the education market had not yet set. Although the glamour of technology captivated some, the schools were still not fully conditioned by the rhetoric of the information age and computer age to welcome the gadgetry into classrooms. The first real inroads came with tax-deductible donations of microcomputers to schools in the late 1970s and with the ideological campaign for computer literacy and thinking skills ("mindstorms") in the early 1980s. By 1984, with Time magazine's celebration of the computer as its "man of the year" and the Nation At Risk report calling for computer literacy, even programming, as a "new basic skill," the information age had seemingly arrived and the schools opened up to a flood of computers.
In 1982, Steven Jobs, chairman of Apple Computer, Inc., tried to get an "Apple Bill" passed through the U.S. House of Representatives that would give the company tax deductions for computer donations to schools. It passed through the House but never made it to the Senate. However, later that year a similar bill passed the California legislature, to take effect from January 1983 to June 1984. The bill offered Apple a 25% tax credit from California taxes for computer equipment donations based on the fair market value of the donated equipment. This program, called "Kids Can't Wait," placed one Apple IIe computer in each of California's 9250 eligible elementary and secondary schools and afforded Apple great public relations visibility for its products. IBM and Hewlett Packard soon followed suit.
Meanwhile, not entirely satisfied with these arrangements, Apple, Tandy, IBM and other companies represented by the American Electronics Association attempted to get Senate bills introduced during 1983 that would provide for deductions beyond the cost of donated equipment, up to a maximum of 200% of the equipment cost, thereby ensuring a profit for donations.(22) Apple and IBM were interested in the education market not to revolutionize education, though they saturated the schools with such rhetoric. Rather, they were intent on establishing very early brand loyalty among students who would eventually become adult computer users.
At the same time, in California, State Superintendent of Instruction William Honig began a national trend by requiring computer literacy courses for all California high school graduates. "Computer literacy" was a term no one could define, but most states soon followed Honig's lead and invested heavily in technology to bring computer literacy to their students and prepare them for the information age. The term itself had been coined with just that scenario in mind. Andrew Molnar, director of the Office of Computing Activities at the National Science Foundation (NSF), later recounted that educational technophiles at NSF were deeply concerned about the scattered, uncoordinated programs in computer-based instruction (including PLATO and BBN's LOGO) that a skeptical NSF was reluctantly funding. They wanted a coordinated effort to bring CBE into the schools. "We spent . . . something like a half a billion dollars on technology in education, but they were so uncoordinated that you either had to be a liar, a thief, or corrupt in order to pull all of these things together to do a program that would involve technology in any significant way."(23)
Molnar and his colleagues took just such a deceptive route:
We started computer literacy in '72. We coined that phrase. It's sort of ironic. Nobody knows what computer literacy is. Nobody can define it. And the reason we selected computer literacy was because nobody could define it, and nobody knew what it was, and that it was a broad enough term that you could get all of these programs together under one roof.(24)
Molnar and others then set about holding prestigious national conferences on computer literacy, and eventually in the early 1980s the term took on a life of its own, resulting in millions of computers in schools.
Hundreds of thousands of computers also entered the schools amids the exaggerated claims by Seymour Papert and BBN that their LOGO software would bring thinking skills and "powerful ideas" into the classroom through child-centered computer programming. In fact, LOGO was first conceived as a means to teach students grammar and then elementary mathematics; the idea that LOGO would teach generalized thinking came later. As one LOGO developer later recounted, "[T]he psychological dimension of LOGO, as represented by Papert's claim that LOGO programming would lead children to more explicit, better articulated reflection on their own cognitive processes and that this in turn would affect the character of their cognitive development, was in fact a late conceptual formulation."(25) It was an afterthought, one still never proven in years of research on LOGO use by children in schools, but an extremely marketable notion nonetheless. Computers would miraculously get kids to think powerful thoughts, simply by exploring a "microworld" programming environment designed for children. The image of a child at a computer came to symbolize intense intellectual inquiry akin to that depicted by Rodin's famous statue.
The LOGO-inspired movement to enable children to think and have powerful ideas using computers flooded the schools with new hardware and software, that now remain in the classrooms even as their exaggerated rationale has long since been abandoned. In a recent retrospective on LOGO,(26) its apologists and proselytizers, now reduced to an insular cadre at MIT's Media Lab, conceded that they had been "naive" and that once "realism . . . set in," they realized that the "LOGO culture" was drastically - and prematurely - oversold to the nation's schools. Only a handful of schools still use LOGO now, and with severely reduced expectations of its benefits for children. Meanwhile the cognitive tinkerers at MIT's Media Lab, now bankrolled by Lego Corporation along with the Department of Defense and NSF, continue to play with ever more sophisticated technological versions of LOGO as a vehicle for science and mathematic exploration. But there is no more talk of enhanced "thinking" or "powerful ideas."
The recent term "information superhighway" also serves the purpose of saturating schools with computer technology, this time bringing fiber optic cable and online services into the schools at an estimated eventual cost of $10 billion. Vice President Albert Gore, a key promoter, has labelled this enterprise the National Information Infrastructure. A recent comprehensive report on the information highway notes that no two educators, technologists or other telecommunications experts define the term the same way, or "agree on exactly how [its] development will affect education."(27) This information "hype-way" is but the latest, and perhaps the most costly - or lucrative, depending on where one stands - bill of goods sold to the schools in the name of a computer-based educational revolution.
LESSON 2: "Mad rushes into the future" rather than altruism or business sense often drive corporate decisions and unlikely joint ventures within the education market - taking schools, teachers, and students along for the ride. The leaders of large corporations, whose business leadership lends them credibility and whose high-tech firms are paraded as models for education, often subscribe irrationally to futuristic fantasies of vast market size and revolutionary technology.
Three examples over the last decade illustrate once again these insights from the early marketing of computer-based education. Douglas Carlston, chairman of educational software leader Broderbund, recounts the big software bust in the mid-1980s. in 1982, says Carlston: "venture capitalists were entering the software industry in a big way at the same time market researchers started predicting phenomenal growth in the area of educational software. This led to the idea of the software publisher as a marketing company."(28) According to Carlston, marketing image was more important than substance, as was company name more the focus than individual products.
Most of the significant new companies in 1982 and 1983 weren't especially interested in games. Their mandate was educational software, especially for young children. The futurists had said that educational software would be the area of greatest growth for the next few years, and it seemed auspicious that there were so few companies taking advantage of this particular market. A billion dollar pie was . . . waiting to be cut up. Today's startups in the educational software field were bound to be tomorrow's success stories. . . . The fortunes of the near future were going to be made in educational programs.(29)
"Furthermore," writes Carlston, "educational software was respectable. Video games were magnetic, but based on nonsense. Educational software would be a rational market, one in which senior programmers could implement designs formulated by professional educators and could bring out products that could be sold by truly professional marketers." Many major firms jumped into the educational software market. Simon and Schuster and Readers Digest "began to look hungrily at this new market that seemed to have appeared overnight. CBS Software Division moved away from video games for the sake of games - toward educational software. By 1983 most of CBS Software's products were presented as 'educational.'"(30)
By April 1984, however, a slowdown began. Sales were abysmal. Carlston asks, echoing the post-mortems after GLC and CDC: "What was going wrong? How could savvy and well-funded oufits . . . fail so spectacularly?" He answers: "Part of the problem was their collective inexperience. They insisted that software was just a form of literature that happens to run on a machine. Also, book publishers didn't know the real size of the market." The area of young children's educational entertainment products ("edutainment") was opened and then filled in 1983 and 1984. By the Summer of 1984, it was a terrible market for most companies. Large corporations were, once again, "caught with their assumptions down."(31)
A more recent example of a corporate leader taking his company to the brink of disaster by "a mad rush into the future" of educational technology is the sudden demise of Jostens Learning Corporation, in 1993 the largest educational software firm in the country. H. William Lurton, chairman of Jostens, Inc, vendor of school graduation products such as class rings, yearbooks and school photographs, decided to diversify into multimedia education. Although Jostens knew nothing about interactive educational software, he rationalized that Jostens was already in the educational market, so it would not be too great a stretch. Besides, Lurton saw the potential K-12 market for Jostens Learning products as "huge."
Lurton rushed into a hot business he knew nothing about - "a cropper chasing a fad," according to an account in Forbes.(32) In 1988 he purchased a 25% stake in Broderbund Software. Then he bought Education Systems Corporation, an interactive software company, and hired its chairman, "a slick entrepreneur" named John Kernan, to become chief executive of a new subsidiary, Jostens Learning. From 1986 to 1991, "Jostens Learning grew merrily," and in 1992 Kernan persuaded Lurton to buy Wicat Systems, Inc., former PLATO partner and its biggest educational software competitor, for $102 million. This gave Jostens Learning more than 60% of the market in "integrated learning systems," focused on sophisticated multimedia presentation with sound, animation and video. The same year, Lurton was chosen to be the new chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with his principal goal "to advance the education-related initiatives of business" such as former President George Bush's America 2000 and the Chamber's Center for Workforce Preparation and Quality Education. Lurton, Kernan and Jostens Learning seemed exceptionally well-placed within the education business.(33)
But Jostens was really heading for disaster. The problem was that Jostens software could only run on its own computer systems, which were very expensive. Educators were starting to choose software that could run on different computers, preferably those already installed in their schools. Jostens did not know enough about such trends in computing, and its market share began to erode. By mid-1993, Kernan had left and Lurton was unceremoniously ousted after 22 years as Jostens' CEO. Kernan, a former cable executive, is now chairman of anew education venture. Jostens Learning, however, is mostly out of the learning business, leaving behind myriad school districts littered with its computer-based detritus.
As a final example, John Akers, John Sculley and Kay Whitmore, former chairmen of IBM, Apple and Kodak, respectively, have been key corporate figures in federal education policy since the late 1980s. Under Bush, Whitmore was on the board of the New American Schools Development Corporation, Bush's corporate foundation to invent high technology "break the mold" schools. Akers was a prominent player on Bush's pivotal Educational Policy Committee and chaired the Education Task Force for the blue-chip Business Roundtable. Sculley represented corporate America in President Bill Clinton's own high-technology vision for schools. All three leaders paraded their companies as models to be emulated in school restructuring, and their corporate philanthropy to ward schools lent them legitimacy as educational leaders.
None of them is on the education scene any longer, however. They have all been ousted unceremoniously from their firms because of woeful mismanagement that led their companies to the brink of disaster. Akers left with the worst record of any chief executive in IBM's history. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been cut from these companies - which have pulled way back from their self-proclaimed and self-aggrandizing commitment to educational reform as well as from marketing and servicing educational technology products, which, of course, remain in the schools under-utilized by teachers and students.
LESSON 3: Corporate strategies for the marketing of computer-based education are chameleon-like, changing their colors to meet the needs of every new educational fad or government invitation or technological innovation that comes along.
As we have seen, companies marketing computer-based education have typically invested themselves in a rapid series of strategic overhauls in attempting to attain access into schools. Technology is dressed up in one guise after another in order to appear as perfect solution to the latest educational fashion, whether it be remediation, accountability, individualized instruction or special education. Most recently, this list of fashions has come to include school restructuring and authentic assessment, as firms stumble over themselves to demonstrate that computers are the perfect solution both to portfolio assessment strategies and to the overall reinventing of school organization.
When Bush's New American Schools Development Corporation, for example, announced the winners in its multimillion dollar competition to design new schools for the twenty-first century, "the big winner," according to the editors of Educational Technology, "was technology."(34) Computers, one reads again and again, are critical to restructuring schools. Andrew Molnar, the central figure in the NSF's support of computer-based education over three decades, announced in a recent address: "The current crisis in education and the current desire to restructure education offers us a 'window of opportunity.' It is now time to begin building a new, national infrastructure to make computing available to all."(35) Meanwhile, the nationwide movement toward authentic, portfolio-type assessments of children's progress has been targeted as another set of problems for which the computer is the perfect solution.(36) Restructuring and assessment are among the latest examples of how computer-based technology is marketed to the education community.
A recent report on educational technology, released in April 1995 by the Office of Technology Assessment, recounts how "the advice of experts in education technology has changed dramatically over the past decade."(37) In 1983, teachers were told to use computers to teach students programming in BASIC, because "it's the language that comes with your computer." In 1984, they were told to teach programming in LOGO in order to "teach students to think, not just to program." In 1986, they were told to use integrated drill-and-practice systems in computer labs to "individualize instruction and increase test scores." In 1988, they were told to teach word processing, because children should "use computers as tools like adults do." In 1990, they were told to teach with curriculum-specific tools such as science simulations, history databases and data probes, in order to "integrate the computers into the existing curriculum." In 1992 they were told to teach hypertext multimedia programming because "students learn best by creating products for an audience." And in 1994, they were told to teach with Internet telecommunications in order to "let students be part of the real world." These rapid-fire changes in the prevailing wisdom of educational technology experts indicate that even after 30 years, the implementation of computer-based technology in education is at a highly experimental stage, despite billions spent annually. More importantly, they reflect a powerful, unrelenting pressure from corporate marketers and their education allies to get the computers into schools, one way or another.
Intense corporate pressures and competition continue to fuel the lucrative educational software market in the 1990s, in which developers are scrambling to create "killer apps" (software applications) for the coming education superhighway. To cite just one example, take Kernan, former head of Jostens Learning Corporation. As a media marketer turned "educator," he explains his interest in education in succinct competitive terms: "What I've always wanted to do with this business is beat Nintendo."(38) Now head of Lightspan Partnership, Kernan is questing after the "killer app," the computer application that, as defined by Education Week, is "so immediately useful - and so potentially lucrative - that it will create consumer demand."(39) For Kernan, the "killer app" is in education, and he is gambling the company on finding the right combination of education, entertainment, multimedia and telecommunications to get to the pot of gold before anyone else. Lightspan's production of "interactive, industrial-strength K-6 curriculum," packaged as entertainment, has attracted over $35 million in investments from such corporate giants as Microsoft, TCI and Comsat, which are themselves gambling on such visions of the future.(40)
Microsoft's chairman Bill Gates was also the original promoter of CD-ROM multimedia in the late 1980s, triggering another corporate, competitive frenzy that has found its way to the schoolhouse door in the past few years. Competition among computer hardware makers and software publishers has driven firm after firm to leap into a consumer and school CD-ROM market that is in fact "mainly wishful thinking" rather than a real market based on consumer demand.(41) Corporate marketers have thrust CD-ROM capabilities, built into personal computers, on school and home consumers, not because an abundance of quality CD-ROM-based multimedia software exists or because CD-ROM technology is the wave of the future, but rather, because companies see the CD-ROM market as a competitive strategy. According to one executive, it is "a low-risk way to practice making content for interactive television (ITV)" on the information highway.(42)
Corporate executives admit that CD-ROM technology and software is merely a "bridge technology," a stopgap on the way to the information highway: "CD-ROMs are the Quonset hut of media - temporary structures that have a way of becoming permanent."(43) Explains one executive, "You're not going to get to participate in ITV unless you get in early. . . . It's a warm-up."(44) "Companies view CD-ROM as a competitive advantage," says one industry observer, and this competition to position the firm for the information highway has resulted in untold quantities of CD-ROM drives and "a proliferation of ill conceived and sloppily executed CD-ROM [software]" being discounted or given away to schools in the wake of "seller-fed hysteria."(45) Once again, crazed competition, not educational benefit, or consumer demand or even careful business sense, is what is driving such technologies into an already bewildered school market.
LESSON 4: Computer-based education is more about using schools and the education market in the service of technological product development and profits than it is about using technology in the service of education, schools and students.
Much of the school experimentation with computer-based education in the 1950s and 1960s was only marginally about education. The computer industry and military agencies were aggressively pursuing research in human-computer interaction, interface design and automated tutoring systems for technical training. So-called educational research in this area, therefore, was in fact serving purposes very far afield from education, some of which, one might even argue, were antithetical to the needs of education. This is true in the 1990s as well, with the expansion into the schools of the information highway, which arguably serves the interests of the entertainment/telecommunications industry rather than the needs or interests of education.
The latest merger frenzy now dominating the mad dash to the information superhighway is surprisingly reminiscent of the flurry of mergers between "hardware" and "software" companies that took place in the mid-1960s. A recent article offers a scorecard:
MCI and News Corp, US West and Time Warner, Creative Artists Agency and Nynex, Bell Atlantic and Pacific Telesis, Walt Disney and three other Baby Bells. There seems to be no end in sight to the coupling of the entertainment and communications giants. . . . The reason for the scramble to do a deal? The cable and phone companies are the infrastructure guys . . . [and] the entertainment companies have the content needed to fill those pipelines.(46)
In other words, we're seeing the convergence of hardware and software all over again. Only this time education is a mere afterthought, or more accurately, a niche in the coming interactive media deluge that will someday, it is widely believed, flow through the pipelines of the information superhighway.
Educational materials and instruction are now viewed by corporate America as one small category of "software" or "content" on the information superhighway, alongside computer games, electronic mail and bulletin boards, news, books, magazines, movies, pornography, television shows, interactive TV, consumer advertising, gambling and home shopping capabilities. The target for all of these products is vast: the apparently limitless market for entertainment and other services pumped to homes and institutions along the information superhighway. And the motivations behind these latest corporate mega-ventures are even less noble or honorable than those driving the mergers into education in the '60s. Here, there is not even a hint of social responsibility or philanthropy; these firms do not even pretend to be saving schools, or the poor or the underprivileged. In fact, they have had to be goaded by the federal administration into linking their telecomunications to the schools, since the education market is but a mere speck in their grandiose, and unashamedly greed-inspired, visions.
As in the 1960s, government leaders, and prominent education leaders as well, champion and encourage the latest technological assault on schools, decrying the woeful lack of an electronic infrastructure that, according to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, keeps students "locked up in education cells."(47) Just as in the 1960s, Gore's promotion of a National Information Infrastructure linking schools to the Information Highway has attempted to "alert . . . the telecommunications industry to a huge new market."(48) And just as in the 1960s and again in the 1980s, the FCC chairman has argued that "networks into the classroom [will] be the greatest technological advance since the printing press."(49) His fantasy is that "from their individual classrooms, teachers must be able to send and receive faxes, upload and download information from communications satellites, have access to interactive television programming, communicate with parents at home over telephone lines, and join virtual communities of their colleagues on-line."(50)
Despite these high-sounding prognostications (however removed from the real concerns of teachers), such communication capabilities are not what the information highway is actually all about. From the perspective of the corporate giants investing the billions to make it a reality, it's about entertainment - period - and education will perforce become steadily subsumed within entertainment when and if the information becomes reality. "What's clear," notes one Bell Atlantic executive, "is [that] this is not so much an info highway, but an entertainment highway."(51) The reason is obvious to Bell Atlantic's CEO Ray Smith, who explained, when asked why the telecommunications giant was betting the company on interactive television and other interactive entertainment media: "Why . . . ? Because that's where the people are."(52) And, indeed, Americans spent about $340 billion on entertainment in 1993, compared with $270 billion spent on elementary and secondary education, both public and private.(53)
Already there are many signs of the coming marriage between education and entertainment, with computer and telecommunications technology serving as matchmaker. The two cultures that dominate children's lives - education and entertainment - are merging, as entertainment companies seek to legitimize their products in the eyes of parents and educators by making them "educational," while educational technologists strive to incorporate the magical motivational ingredient of video games into their lessons. In the words of one observer, "video games increasingly strive to instruct and learning software [increasingly] attempts to amuse. . . ."(54)
Publishing itself has become a component of software production, alongside movies, computer games and other entertainment products, as most major publishing companies have been bought up by media/cable giants. This is true for educational publishing in particular, as textbook publishers and educational software developers are swallowed up into the vision of media conglomerates. Two examples are Broderbund and Davidson, ranked first and second in educational software. Broderbund, Carlston's firm, recently was nearly acquired by video-game giant Electronic Arts Inc. before the deal fell through at the last minute. And Davidson and Associates, Inc., a leader in "edutainment" software with its "Math Blaster" series, recently entered into a five-year agreement with CCC at Paramount (now part of media giant Viacom) to produce consumer software.
A ground-breaking meeting of textbook and technology publishers convened in February 1993, to "redefine instructional materials" and determine the "implications for education and publishing." It concluded that "there is no longer a 'textbook' market and a technology market in schools. . . . [Instead] it's an instructional materials market that needs to draw upon multiple media to deliver new curriculum to education."(55) Echoing identical pronouncements in the '60s, the conference called for new "strategic alliances" between technology and textbook companies in order to "meet the multiple media needs of the schools [and homes]." The common denominator of these needs is entertainment. According to Patrick Donaghy, president of Optical Data Corporation, the leading marketer of educational videodisks, "For companies that don't recognize that education and entertainment are coming together, there's not going to be a future."(56)
In point of fact, the entertainment industry, rapidly merging with the telecommunications industry in the production and delivery of interactive media products along the superhighway, is the real engine of technological development in the 1990s, just as the military was its prime mover during former decades. According to the chairman of Silicon Graphics, a supplier of technology and software to the entertainment industry, "The entertainment industry is now the driving force for new technology, as defense used to be."(57) And just as development of defense technology in computer-based instruction and human-computer interaction shaped the very first computer-based forays into the schools, now the technological visions of the entertainment/telecommunications industry are shaping the latest computer-based "classrooms of the future," as technologies developed for movies, interactive games, and theme parks are "repurposed"(58) for delivery to the classroom. And educators, according to Education Week, are, "at best, peripheral players in the game."(59)
Once again, because the moguls behind the new, highly competitive industry have no way to predict real consumer demand, and therefore the real size of the market, the result could be devastation for many of the major corporate players and for those consumers - including schools - unlucky enough to hitch their futures to these players. "The question is," Viacom's chief executive asserts, "will the market grow quickly enough to accommodate all the new players at the table? I think probably not."(60) Admits communications mogul Rupert Murdoch, "We don't have the slightest idea what people are going to buy."(61)
And yet none of these corporate conglomerates of entertainment and telecommunications seem willing to bypass the high-stakes risks involved. No wonder, according to a story in Business Week that "[o]f all the segments of the entertainment economy, the Information Highway generates the most angst among executives. They know it will be powered by entertainment. But the capital investments are gigantic."(62) They are all in it up to their corporate chins and so, by default, it appears, are the rest of us. Especially now, as powerful new legislation to deregulate these industries has issued forth from Congress, successfully undercutting any hope for governmental roadblocks to the industry's rapacious hegemony. As for education, "somebody's 'big wire' is going to be in every school," notes one executive, "and that presents a [huge] opportunity,"(63) one apparently too big for the Big Boys to miss out on. And so, still again, education is being sold a bill of goods by the relentless, rapacious marketers of a dubious technological future.
And so, still again, as perhaps never before, it is appropriate to echo the query of education historian Lawrence Cremin, who asked, in response to the first corporate assault on education with technology in the mid-1960s: " . . . who is big enough and honest enough and independent enough, and where can the countervailing power be mustered to call for order?"(64)
1. For a detailed account of the military origins of computer-based education, see my book The Classroom Arsenal: Military Research, Information Technology, and Public Education, (London: Falmer Press, 1991).
2. H. F. Silberman, "Characteristics of Some Recent Studies of Instructional Methods," in J. E. Coulson, ed., Programmed Learning and Computer Based Instruction, (New York: John Wiley, 1967), p. 17.
3. Harold Sackman, Computers, System Science, and Evolving Society: The Challenge of Man-Machine Digital Systems, (New York: John Wiley, 1967), pp. 562, 568.
4. J. C. R. Licklider, "Preliminary Experiments in Computer-Aided Teaching," in Coulson, p. 226.
5. Cremin, p. 95.
6. A. W. Melton, "The Science of Learning and the Technology of Educational Methods," Harvard Educational Review Vol. 29, no. 2, p. 103.
7. Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., Instructional Technology: The Reselling of the Pentagon, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford University, 1976, p. 61.
9. Gandy, p. 90.
10. Ibid, p. 185.
11. Ibid, p. 202.
12. The documentation for this section on the General Learning Corporation is the papers of Carl Solberg, GLC's Director of Research and Development, at Special Collections, Millband Memorial Library, Columbia Teachers College; and the Francis Keppel papers at Special Collections, Harvard University.
13. Lawrence Cremin interview, 1968, p. 95. Carnegie Corporation Oral History Project, Oral History Research Office, Columbia University.
14. Morton A. Reichek, "High Marks in the Teaching Business," Business Week (May 2, 1970), p. 32.
15. The documentation for this section on the Control Data Corporation comes from the Control Data Corporation archives at the Center for the History of Information Processing, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota.
16. James C. Worthy, William C. Norris: Portrait of a Maverick, (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1987), p. 227.
17. Peter West, "OTA Decries Lack of Focus on Teachers," Education Week Vol. 14, no. 29, p.1.
18. Jerry Borrell, "America's Shame: How We've Abandoned Our Children's Futures," MacWorld (September 1993), p. 3.
19. Ibid, p. 5.
20. Claudia Wallis, "The Learning Revolution," Time Vol. 145, no. 12, p. 49.
22. Ken Uston, "9,250 Apples for the Teacher," Creative Computing (October 1993), pp. 179-183.
23. William Aspray, "Interview with Andrew Molnar," OH 234, (September 25, 1991). Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, p. 17.
24. Ibid, p. 18.
25. R. W. Lawler, "Learning Environments: Now, Then, and Someday," in R. W. Lawler and M. Yazdani, Artificial Intelligence and Education, Vol. 1, (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1987), pp. 11-12.
26. "Rethinking the LOGO Culture: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" Symposium at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, April 18, 1995.
27. Peter West, "Logged On for Learning," Education Week (January 11, 1995), p. 6.
28. Douglas G. Carlston, Software People: An Insider Look at the Personal Computer Software Industry, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985) p. 206.
29. Ibid, p. 207.
30. Ibid, p. 224.
31. Ibid, pp. 229-230.
32. Albert G. Holzinger, "A Commitment to Helping People," Nation's Business (April 1992), p. 83.
33. Charles Blaschke, "Review of the NASDC Awards," Nation's Business (April 1992), p. 83.
34. Charles Blaschke, "Review of the NASDC Awards," Educational Technology (August 1992), p. 4.
35. Andrew R. Molnar, "Computers in Education: A Historical Perspective of the Unfinished Task," Unpublished speech, National Science Foundation, n.d., p. 10.
36. See, for example, Yolanda L. Jenkins, "Touching the Mind: Technology and Assessment," The Computing Teacher (March 1994), pp. 6-8.
37. Peter West, "UTA Decries Lack of Focus on Teachers," Education Week (April 12, 1995), p. 11.
38. Peter West, "A Soft Sell," Education Week (January 11, 1995), pp. 10-11.
39. Ibid, p. 10.
41. Stephanie Losee, "Watch Out for the CD-ROM Hype," Fortune (September 19, 1994), p. 127.
42. Ibid, p. 140.
43. Ibid, p. 143.
44. Ibid, p. 141.
45. Ibid, pp. 128, 143.
46. Greg Clarkin, "Giants' Mad Dash to Find Partners," New York Post (May 11, 1995), Business Section, p. 29.
47. Peter West, "Paving the Way for the Information Highway," Education Week (January 11, 1995), p. 7.
48. Peter West, "Logged On...," p. 8.
49. Peter West, "Paving ..., p. 7.
51. Michael Lasky, Bell Atlantic, quoted in Evan Scwartz, "Ray Smith: The I-Way, My Way," Wired (February 1995), p. 114.
52. David Kline, "Align and Conquer: An Interview with Bell Atlantic's CEO Ray Smith," Wired (February 1995), p. 164.
53. Mark Landler, "Are We Having Fun Yet? Maybe Too Much" Business Week (March 14, 1994), p. 66.
54. Herb Brody, "Video Games That Teach?" Technology Review Vol. 96. no. 8, pp. 52, 53.
55. Maggie Hill, "Textbook, Technology Publishers Meet On Common Ground," Electronic Learning (May/June 1993), p. 12.
57. Michael J. Mandel et al., "The Entertainment Economy," Business Week (March 14, 1994), p. 60.
58. Peter West, "Logged On...," pp. 6, 23.
60. Mandel et al., p. 61.
61. Ibid, p. 63.
63. Peter West, "Logged On...," p. 25.
64. Lawrence Cremin, Interview, 1968; Carnegie Corporation Oral History Project: Columbia University Oral History Research Office, p. 96.
DOUGLAS D. NOBLE is the author of The Classroom Arsenal: Military Research, Information Technology, and Public Education (1991) and numerous articles on the political economy of educational technology. He currently is a Learning Specialist at Rochester Institute of Technology and teacher coordinator at Cobblestone School, an elementary school he co-founded in 1983 in Rochester, NY. This article was written with the support of a National Academy of Education Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship.…