My Online Education World
My Online Education World, 1980-2020
By Morten Flate Paulsen, CEO of NooA – the Nordic open online Academy
Introduction - Posted January 2020
My Online Education World chronicle emerged as an intriguing, but daunting, idea. First at the black-tie dinner hosted by Baroness Martha Lane Fox for the 50th anniversary of the UK Open University. Again when I prepared a keynote on forty years of innovations in online education at the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University‘s 40th anniversary in August 2019.
I gradually realized that I have four decades of online education experiences and many anecdotes that I hopefully have time to share after stepping down as Acting Secretary General of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE). I also realized that My Online Education World has been formed by all the good people I have met and my experiences from ICT and pedagogy in Norway and many other countries.
My ambition is to publish some relevant recollections, year by year. The approach is inspired by Ketil Bjørnstad – the multi-talented Norwegian pianist, composer, journalist and author – who shared personal anecdotes, celebrity encounters and newsworthy moments in his monumental chronicle Verden som var min (The world that was mine). Nearly hundred pages per year, one volume per decade. So far, I have read his observations and views from the sixties and seventies. Now, I dive into his eighties. His world is especially interesting to me since we grew up in the same time, region and cultural setting.
In the same way, I hope that my recollections could be of interest to my dear family and friends as well as the many people I have encountered virtually and face-to-face in My Online Education World.
The 1980s - The Dawn of Online Education - Posted January 2020
«The Computer Age and the Modern Internet: Even though internet-type signals had been transmitted from school to school in decades past, the 1980’s are the birth years of modern internet. Before this era, the internet — and online education with it — were just research experiments. The vision for the internet was primarily based in university computer labs. But online education does finds its earliest entrants in the 1980’s with the first online college courses and online degrees as distance education embraces the idea of online learning. During this era, the internet reaches Europe and Asia. Infrastructure is laid down, providing for faster and more expansive internet operations and effectively opening the door for the total commercial and popular permeation of web use in the decade that would immediately follow». (David Ferrer’s introductions to the 1980s in the The History of Online Education)
Some useful resources:
- Computer History Timeline
- The History of Online Education
- Wikipedia: History of Virtual Learning Environments
1980 - Graduating for Online Education? - Posted January 2020
In 1980, I graduated from the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH, now NTNU) in Trondheim as a shy, introvert, mediocre but diligent student. I remember we were 180 electro students in the class, but only one female. The awkward lecturer who spent two hours on the blackboard not able to solve his own mathematical assignment. The often arrogant, sometimes brilliant and always rabid professor Jens Glad Balchen who many years later was commemorated on the tail wing of a Norwegian Air Shuttle. I saw my first microprocessors and fiber optic cables. We learned Fortran programming in front of a punch card machine. Delivered stacks of cards at the counter for compilation and picked up all the error messages the next morning.
Most students had calculators from Texas Instruments and Hewlett Packard. I had the HP 21 which could be programmed with 49 command lines, just enough for my friend Bjørn Bakken and my younger brother Frode to simulate five dices to play Yahtzee.
Long distance calls to Oslo were expensive and the telephone charges were also higher during work hours. So every Monday at 17.00, my father called me at Fru Hagen’s (my landlord) telelephone.
To add extra income to the student loan, I worked during vacations at the Norwegian state telecom (Televerket) and the minicomputer company Norsk Data. At Televerket we measured how many bits per second (300-4800) we could offer to future customers who would transfer data with modems over ordinary telephone lines. At Norsk Data we worked with the SIBAS database software.
US Road Trip
Leaving Trondheim, I never ever imagined that I would return as a professor. I had few plans for the future. So, I embarked on a summer journey with my childhood friend and 1975-76 Interrail companion Atle Gunnari. Three countries in two months: USA, Graceland and Disneyland. We travelled from New York via Dallas, Las Vegas, Tijuana and Hawaii to Seattle when Jimmy Carter was President. Hiked Grand Canyon all the way down to Colorado River and up again in one day. Visited Pearl Harbour. Spent some days in a Santa Cruz collective after we met Anna and Paula. Do they remember the Volkswagen hippie van excursion with Kim and her hippie friend? The excursion that culminated with his bamboo and coconut concert up in the huge redwood tree? Later, on the Greyhound bus, we realized that we needed to find San Francisco’s cheapest hotel room. It turned out to be in a gay hotel on Market street. I wanted to visit Silicon Valley, but to my astonishment none of the locals had heard about it.
On July 22 we were on the road towards Seatle when Mount St. Helen erupted with destructive force. The sky was dark with smoke and the bus driver used the windshield wipers to see through the ashes coming down from the sky.
Returning home, I bought a NOK 35 000 one-room apartment at Ammerud in Oslo. There, I applied to have a landline telephone and was lucky enough to get one after a few months. I bought Pink Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall and played We don’t need no education repeatedly on my gramophone. In the fall, I started working with my master thesis at the microcomputer company Mycron. It was headed by the serial entrepreneur Lars Monrad Krohn who I interviewed for educational TV in 1989.
As part of my thesis work, I designed and built a central processing unit (CPU) for a microcomputer with the Intel 8086 microprocessor and 8087 co-processor. The thesis was written with the very early word processor Mytekst (developed for Mycron by Haakon Wiig) and stored on an eight inch floppy disk.
Among many successful colleagues in Mycron were Terje Tinglum and Ingar Rune Steinsland who developed CPM 86 together with Gary Kildall. We all expected it would be the operating system for the planned IBM PC. Arild Haraldsen wrote about this in his Norwegian article Den sanne historien om PCens historie (The true history of the PC).
1981 - Working with Microcomputers - Posted January 2020
After finishing my master thesis at Mycron, I continued to work there for six months as a hardware engineer. The company’s future looked bright, so unfortunately, I bought the company shares we were offered as employees. How could I foresee the impact of MS-DOS and the 1981 introduction of the Osborne 1 portable computer and the IBM PC? It was the same year I bought my first home computer. I considered the Sinclair ZX80, but chose the Commodore VIC 20 which foreshadowed the very successful Commodore 64. I later added a cassette tape recorder to store programs and learned to program in Basic.
Analyses and acquisition of shares are often more successful in hindsight as this short clip from my 1989 interview with Bill Gates indicates:
Looking back, I realize that many of Norway’s most talented ICT personalities started their careers in Mycron. Just to mention a few I remember working with: Vigleik Eide, Monica Nøkleby and Ivar Andersen. Stein Bergsmark has been active in the clima debate and Gro Jørgensen cofounded Tiki Data for the school market and started CyberBook – a company that provides online learning resources.
In the Navy
In the summer, I was called to do my military service in the Norwegian Navy. It started with three weeks boot camp at Madla in Stavanger. Fortunately, I was soon transferred to SMK (Sjømilitære korps) – the Navy’s vocational boarding school in Horten. There, I spent one of my best years as a quartermaster and teacher along with my university classmates Olav Stokke, Bjørn Hopland, Christopher Lund and John Harald Bergheim. Brynjulf Freberg was a frequent visitor at the old military villa we shared at Karljohansvern. As quartermasters we had privileged access to house cleaning maids, windsurf boards and sailing boats. But we worked bloody hard as teachers and duty officers.
As duty officers during weekends, we were responsible for the nearly 200 students at the military boarding school. This was especially tough when they returned from the local discos and pubs. Often hard to wake them up the morning after they received their monthly payment. But we learned that they respected and cared about us – because we cared about them.
I fondly remember my 24th birthday. When I showed up in the classroom, it was decorated with petunia flowers in five half-litre beer mugs. Respectively stolen from the school’s flower bed and the local pub. At lunch, about 200 male and 10 female students sang happy birthday in the cafeteria.
With no teaching experiences, I was thrown into teaching mathematics, chemistry and electronics. The students were nearly my age and not very motivated to learn theory. So, I soon realized that we needed some action in class. Chemistry became more interesting with explosive demonstrations and electronic lab sessions were more fun when we grilled hotdogs at 230 volts, injecting electric cords in each end. We learned that the sausages were very well done when the fuses cut. It probably went too far when I ignited a leftover military thunderflash in the teacher room during lunch break.
The school had a number of Swedish ABC 80 microcomputers and we were able to connect them in a local area network (LAN). I expect it was one of the very first LANs in Norwegian schools. On this we developed our very first online education application. A competitive arithmetic game, where the students tried to solve as many assignments as possible in a limited time period. It became very popular and the competition to be on the top ten list was fierce.
If not on duty, I went to Oslo during weekends with my first car, an old Renault 5. We installed a car computer and attached sensors to measure the flow of gas and rotation speed of the wheels so that the computer could show the current and the average gas consumption and speed of the car. Le Renault did not like steep hills, but gave a special feeling of freedom.
Freedom of choice was however not abundant in the Norwegian society. In December, Minister of Culture Lars Roar Langslet announced a list of providers that were accepted for testing local radio and television broadcasting. It ended the Norwegian state broadcasting monopoly.
1982 - Gaining more Educational Experiences - Posted February 2020
1982 – Gaining more Educational Experiences
The SMK officers often met in the large living room of our villa to socialize or watch a VHS video. We served beer from the bar and called the private soldiers on duty when we needed more wood for the fireplace. Frequent discussion topic among the naval officers were Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Falkland war between England and Argentina. It started when Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands in April and ended in June when the Argentine forces surrendered.
It was a special day. King Olav V visited SMK. We were all lined up in navy uniforms and the King took time to inspect and greet everyone. My body hurt from lined up immobility. My soul was pleased with the royal handshake.
The open day for the local community and student families started with the traditional ceremony of hoisting the Norwegian flag. Maybe Thomas was among the students in the parade. At least his parents and handsome older sister were watching.
After two years of schooling, Thomas and the other SMK students continued with two year military training at the Haakonsvern naval base near Bergen. As their teachers, we got a military flight to a guided tour of the base and the submarines. I was not intrigued by travelling anywhere by submarine, but inspired by the opportunity to hop on free empty seats on military flights to northern Norway. Christoffer Lund and I used the opportunity to seek the midnight sun and visited Tromsø and Bodø during summer vacation.
At the end of the school year, my military service as a teacher ended. The students celebrated it traditionally by throwing their teachers, wearing quartermaster uniforms, into the cold Oslo fjord. It changed my interpretation of the word wetsuit.
In the spring, I applied for a position at the Norwegian correspondence school NKI that was announced in Aftenposten as shown in the figure. September 1st, after a successful job interview with Solveig Grepperud, I started as head of a project group which should investigate and develop new educational initiatives related to computer technology.
NKI produced a lot of written course material for their correspondance students and had a typewriter pool of women who typed from dictaphones and handwritten manuscripts.
One of the benefits was that the job came with affordable rent to one of the ten apartments NKI predisposed in Limsteinveien near Bekkestua in the outskirts of Oslo.
The Arab Stunt
NKI had international ambitions through ownership in ISOT – the International School of Technology. One of several ISOT-projects was a training programme in electronics for Syrian and Saudi Arabian engineers. It was part of a development program initiated by the Saudi Presidency of Civil Aviation (PCA) for Saudi technical personnel at the new airport in Jeddah.
As I recall it, Stein Tore Jenssen called me on a Friday to tell that the coming week’s teacher had withdrawn. Could I please step in and teach them PDP 11 assembly programming – in English. He argued that, since I knew some English and some assembly programming and had the whole weekend to prepare, there was no way I could decline. It was tough, but I made it. After a while, I appreciated that Stein Tore dared me to push my limits.
In the summer, NKI bought 400 BBC microcomputers for educational purposes. The BBC Micro was developed by Acorn for the BBC Computer Literacy Project which also included educational TV programs, textbooks and software. NKI’s intention was to use the computers for its computer courses and to get a foothold in the Norwegian school market. This effort was not especially successful since Tiki Data and IBM took over the school market.
I was however fortunate to use the BBC micro and the additional resources for personal learning and some classroom ICT courses that I developed and taught for banks and insurance companies. I learned assembly programming with the computers popular microprocessor 6502 and published a compendium with program examples and exercises.
1983 - Establishing Norway's first private ICT College - Posted February 2020
ICT Courses for Companies and Organizations
It was a general need for more ICT competence in the work force and we organized a number of short courses for business and organizations in the Oslo area. I used to teach many of these courses.
The picture shows an advertisement from Aftenposten in January including several of my NKI colleges. It also includes the BBC micros, black and white TV -monitors and cassette recorders we used in the courses.
Carnival in Brazil and Norway
In February, my neighbour and friend Arthur Knutzen invited me to the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. He worked for the Scandinavian Airlines and had access to affordable flights. He snail mailed postcards to numerous friends whenever he travelled and always packed the Oslo telephone directory to easily find their addresses.
It was an unbelievable week of experiences. We enjoyed body surfing and getting distracted and mugged by topless girls at Copacabana. We ran from shooting in the crowds outside Maracãna stadium and rode a yellow Volkswagen Beetle taxi with an exploding tire in a tunnel towards Corcovado. Most memorable were however the penetrating samba rhythms that heated up a frozen Norwegian. The experiences started a lifelong fascination with Brazil – a country that ever since has a special place in my heart.
Back in Norway, I met Marith from Molde town at a party in Petter Tjelle’s neighbour apartment in Limsteinveien. We started joggin together, ran Oslo Marathon inspired by the two legendary, female Norwegian runners Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen. We also attended the first out of three Oslo Carnivals. Unfortunately, the cheerful but unrestrained carnival crowds did too much damage to establish a sustainable carnival tradition in Norway.
In the spring, I initiated EDB Sommerskole. It was a series of weeklong courses for youth who wanted to learn programming in BASIC with the BBC microcomputers. I engaged my brother Frode to help me. We filled a Ford Transit with computers and monitors to arrange courses in Oslo, Dombås and Grimstad. We had much fun with barbecues, bonfires and windsurfing. But I will never again agree to have 24/7 responsibility for teaching and social activities for youth on vacation away from their parents.
NKI Datahøgskolen – Norway’s first private ICT College
NKI Distance Education decided to establish NKI Datahøgskolen as a private ICT college in 1983. The first three employees were Bjørn Kristiansen, Oddvar Bentsen and me who already worked at NKI. We found a factory building at Grenseveien 107 in Oslo which we transformed into a school building with auditoriums, class rooms and 60 terminals for our HP 3000 mini computer. I vividly recall that I used shuffle and wheelbarrow to clear the basement from crushed bricks and dirt to make room for the minicomputer. Appropriate work for a hardware engineer.
When the first 60 full-time and 120 part-time students enrolled in September, the college was still partly a construction site. We had employed Einar Sandvik and Mona Sætrang in the administration and a number of part time teachers with experience from the ICT-field. Agnar Nilsen was engaged as ICT Manager to take care of the HP 3000 computer system which was used for COBOL programming and word processing with HP SLATE which the students often called HP LATE.
The students were motivated, challenging and nearly my age. We were a young team with much more enthusiasm than experience. We learned how hard and rewarding it was to be entrepreneurs. And how difficult it was to establish a private college that challenged the public college system. However, without this enthusiastic team, the college would not exist.
The toughest shock came when the Ministry of Culture and Science declined our application to join the scheme for public student loans. When the news broke, I remember welcoming the TV news reporter Audgunn Oltedal from NRK Dagsrevyen. She retorted «I’m not here to be nice». However, Tore Krogdahl argued well on behalf of NKI on Dagsrevyen – the most watched News program on Norwegian television. Aftenposten, the leading Norwegian newspaper, broke the negative news on November 24, 1983.
We called an open meeting for all students who expected to receive student loans. Standing in front of more than 100 hostile students in a stuffed auditorium was not pleasant, but we negotiated an agreement with bank that offered our students loans on similar terms as they would get in public colleges. The tension abated and I still have many fond memories of the first students at Datahøgskolen.
1984 - Changing Perspectives - Posted February 2020
Our dear mother, Else Rigmor Paulsen (born Bådstøe), died in February of cancer at the age of 52. She was a mild tempered and careful mother and wife. She met father when they both worked at the Osram office at Drammensveien 35 in Oslo. They married in 1956 and moved to an apartment in Eiksveien 51 in Bærum. When I was close to two years old, they moved to a three room apartment in Flyveien 15 in Luftforsvarets byggelag. I still remember when she came up the stairs in 1961 with my baby brother Frode.
I was not much older the first time she took us to her uncle and I saw all his ski trophies. I was not that impressed by the six much smaller brownish medals. At the time, I was not old enough to realize that Johan Grøttumsbråten was history’s most winning Winter Olympian with six Olympic medals, three of them in gold.
Mother was a housewife who took care of her two sons from Snippen day care, Huseby primary school and Peersbråten secondary school until we left home to study at NTH in Trondheim. She was artistic, played violin with Bjølsen pikeorkester and Kringkastingsorkesteret, listened to Roger Whittaker on her casette player and decorated our mountain cabin near Gålå with rosemaling.
Picture: Mom plays first violin for Bjølsen school orchestra at the University of Oslo in front of Edvard Munch’s famous painting of the sunrise in Kragerø.
Her world was different than ours. It was without computers. She was abroad only once – to attend her sister Lill’s wedding with Uncle Arne in Copenhagen. Altogether, her radio and TV-channel options were four.
In various ways, «Mutter’n» preserved raspberries, red currants, blackberries and gooseberries in the summer. Cherries, apples, pears and plums in the fall. It was incredible how much fruit, berries and flowers we got from the tiny garden colony lot at Sogn Hagekoloni. It was established around 1920 by Fire Chief Ole Paulsen at Hegdehaugen Fire Station. He was «Fattern’s» father and the garden colony provided welcome food resources when Oslo was occupied during the second world war.
The picture shows Dad, aunt Marit and grandma Hilda Sofie, Sogn Hagekoloni ca. 1925.
Much of the berries we picked were frozen for the winter. At that time, few people had private freezers, so we rented access to a cold storage in the basement of an apartment building at Majorstua. I still remember how creepy it was to go down there to fetch frozen berries, pork or reindeer meat from the dressed carcases the adults sometimes bought from farmers and prepared in our kitchen.
Many of my fond memories of mother is associated with weekend visits to her parents’ apartment near Sagene Church (where I was baptised) and the summer house in Ekornveien at Nesodden.
Mother’s cousin Mary was married to Håkon Granlund who became a good friend of my father. After mother died, he took my father on a European road trip which obviously was a welcome distraction and experience.
Håkon was an energetic and innovative entrepreneur who started HÅG, an office chair company named after his intials. I remember visiting his impressing Røros Mansion and privat fishing dam at Rørosvidda. HÅG soon became a cornerstone factory at the Unesco World Heritage mining town of Røros. The town became the shooting venu of many movie pictures with strong women. Pippi Longstockings, An-Magritt featuring Liv Ullmann and Ibsen’s Dollhouse with Jane Fonda as Nora. Håkon proudly told that Jane rented his Røros mansion as her residence during the filming in 1973.
I also recall several enjoyable days with Håkon, Mary and their children Erik and Nina at their summer house at Lake Tyrifjorden. It was close to the island of Utøya, the location of the July 22 massacre in 2011. Håkon had built a private fishing dam at Rørosvidda were he farmed some trout and build a log cabin there. In 1970, it was dismantled and transported on a huge truck to Gålå where it was rebuilt as our mountain cabin.
Erling S. Andersen
In April, NKI was fortunate to engage Erling S. Andersen as Rector for Datahøgskolen. His challenge was to develop Datahøgskolen into a credible and respected institution. He immediately started to recruit a number of good academic staff members. Dag-Arne Hoberg was probably the first. Later came my good colleagues Johan Havnen, Andreas Quale, Vidar Keul, Tom Sørensen and Knut W. Hansson. The efforts soon payed off and in July we got the news that our students could apply for student loans.
NKI Datahøgskolen is not well known as a brand name anymore, but the impact of our pioneer work can be better understood through the institution’s mergers and name changes:
- 1983 – NKI Datahøgskolen
- 1993 – NHI Datahøgskolen after merging with Norges Høyskole for Informasjonsteknologi NHI when NKI acquired NæringsAkademiet
- 1995 – Den Polytekniske Høgskolen after merging with NKI Ingeniørhøgskolen
- 2002 – Norges Informasjonsteknologiske Høgskole (NITH) as a result of more strategic focus on ICT
- 2014 – Westerdals – Oslo School of Art, Communication and Technology after a merger with Westerdals. Both schools were owned by ABNU.
- 2017 – Campus Kristiania after a it was acquired by Campus Kristiania
Finally, Silicon Valley
In July, Erling took Dag-Arne and me to New York where we dined with Phil Dorn (a regular contributor to the Nordic computer journal Data which Erling edited), the National Computer Conference in Las Vegas and Hewlett Packard’s Palo Alto headquarter in Silicon Valley. I started to realize that Erling was an excellent and very inspirational boss.
Erling was an active member of the Norwegian Computer Society (Den norske dataforening – DND) and became chair of the organization from 1985 to 1987. He encouraged me to join, and I learned much from taking part in the annual Nordata conferences and DND’s working group on data communication. I also enjoyed a vantage point since the long serving Secretary General Kåre Gunnari was father of my best friend and one of the former Chairs, Haakon Branæs, was a close friend of my father.
1985 - Discovering Modems and Electronic Bulletin Boards - Posted March 2020
Return to Rio
In February, Arthur and I celebrated carnival in Rio for the second time. He still teases me for not reaching the top of the Sugar Loaf. But a Copacabana girl offered to teach me samba at a local carnival party. I did not speak much Portuguese, but she understood that I was blown away by her appearance when I picked her up at her grandmother’s modest apartment. My beautiful Brazilian date was dressed in a minimal carnival costume and sparkled all over her body with golden glitter. We danced all night. I forgot how little samba and Portuguese I knew.
Unfortunately, I was food poisoned the day before we returned home. It was still allowed to smoke in the back of trans-Atlantic flights. Boarding long, international flights cramped with abdominal pains next to a smoking area is not recommended.
Erling S. Andersen encouraged me to pursue an academic career. Write articles, give presentations, enrol in relevant courses and join Dataforeningen – the Norwegian Computer Society. At Datahøgskolen, he wanted me to teach introduction to computer science, project management, data communications and operation systems. Therefore, he sent me to a week-long data communication course in Stockholm in March, a data communication seminar in Kristiansand in June and a Unix fair in Stockholm in October.
In addition, I taught introductory courses in computer science at BI – the Norwegian School of Management.
The proliferation of computers paved the way for several computer Magazines in Norway. I read them all. Contributed frequently with articles, interviews and suggestions. Datatid was introduced as a magazine for ICT professionals in 1978. PC World Norge was established in 1984. Dataforeningen distributed the newsletter DND-nytt to its members. For many years, I read Computerworld Norway every Friday.
It was a kick to see my first article «Tall blir bilder» in PC World Norge. An encouragement to reach out and make a difference.
Erling was an active member of the Norwegian Computer Society (Den norske dataforening – DND) and editor for its Nordic magazine Data. As chair of the organization from 1985 to 1987, he had regular opinion articles about ICT in Norway’s leading newspaper Aftenposten. He encouraged me to join DND, and I learned much from taking part in the Scandinavian Nordata conferences and DND’s working group on data communication. I also enjoyed a vantage point since the long serving Secretary General Kåre Gunnari was father of my best friend. One of the early DND chairs, Haakon Branæs, was a close friend of my father.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bone. So, in November, I established the limited company Datakilden AS. At that time, Norwegian entrepreneurs had to invest NOK 100 000 into shares in a new limited company. Nearly the cost of a new car. In 2020 it is much easier. Only NOK 30 000, the prize of an electric bike, is required.
The company income came primarily from the writing and teaching activities I did on top of my full-time work. In hindsight, Datakilden gave welcome additional income, sometimes too much work, but definitely useful business experiences. In 2006, I dissolved the company because I gradually focused more on international activities.
My father’s health started to worry us, so I bought a pager (personsøker) he could ping when he wanted me to call. It was a mobile pocket device which sole function was to receive the telephone number of the person who wanted you to call back. It was introduced as a public service in 1984 and terminated in 2003. Obsoleted by omnipresent mobile phones.
The Norwegian female athlete Ingrid Kristiansen broke the world records for 10 000 meters (30.59.42) and Marathon (2.21.06). My personal marathon record was also improved. However, I realize that Ingrid could run her marathon, go to a movie theatre and still welcome me at the finish line.
Our students at Datahøgskolen thrived and became attractive for the job market, much because of Oddvar Bentsen. He knew all students by name and always had quick, friendly and personal comments to them. Something I later found very important in online teaching.
Aftenposten May 8, 1985.
Oddvar was the practitioner who implemented Erling S. Andersen’s strategies, ideas and wishes. Together they were dynamite. He worked long hours and presented himself as the janitor when he answered the school phone in the evenings.
Oddvar continuously tried to quit smoking. One of his defunct attempts was to put his cigarettes in a cover envelope addressed to himself in the morning. Then he spent the whole day waiting for the company truck to return with the mail in the afternoon. Good for him that e-mail was not yet available.
Oddvar was missed by all students and colleagues at Datahøgskolen when he died at the age of 55 in July 2004.
PC-LAN and Software
Datahøgskolen engaged Scanvest Ring Nettverkssystemer to install its first Local Area Network (LAN) for PCs. Among the first software applications on the LAN were WordPerfect, Lotus123, Turbo Pascal, Dbase II, GrafDoc and the accounting software Saga Regnskap.
I still recall how Helge Kjeilen and Øystein Moan crawled under our desks to install the network servers, cables and PC cards to get the network up and running. In 1986 they founded Cinet and in 1997 Øystein became the CEO of Visma which has become a large international ICT company.
Our NKI colleagues in Norsk DataInstitutt opened a store downtown Oslo to sell PC equipment and software. It was no commercial success, but it gave us access to all the new PC-software that entered the market. I was really thrilled by the ground-breaking opportunities provided by a deluge of new software. I read user manuals as others read poetry. Even wrote a compendium about Software for microcomputers.
No doubt that this was a technological revolution, the beginning of a new era.
We moved up the road on September 9. Purchased a house with four bedrooms. A garden with cherries, apples, pears and plums. The same house where we first met in 1983. Our modest belongings were carried from the one-bedroom apartment we rented across the road in Limsteinveien.
Following the Parliament election on radio the same evening, we realized that Kåre Willoch would continue as Prime Minister in Norway. His ambitions to dissolve governmental monopolies and regulations would continue. During his government, Norway had already become a much more open and rich country fuelled by the increasing oil economy. Norway’s national esteem was improving. We were proud when Norway for the first time won the European Song Contest with Bobbysocks’ Let it Swing. Amazed when the Norwegian band A-ha reached the top Billboard Hot 100 in the US. Optimistic when Lillehammer applied to host the 1994 Winter Oympics.
Online Bulletin Boards and Modems
As microcomputers and modems became more available, a few enthusiasts started to set up Bulletin Board Systems at their private computers, enabled people to dial in with modems, exchange software and take part in online discussion forums. Among the most renown pioneers in Norway were Bergen By Byte and Odd de Presno’s Saltrød Horror Show. It was also interesting to follow FidoNet which emerged as an international network of PCs running BBS server software.
I was intrigued by the BBS systems’ potential and bought myself a 300 bit per second modem for Christmas. This was definitely a turning point in my career, because I understood that computers and data communication were the future of distance education. I also realized that I could make a difference since I worked at a computer college in a private school with much competence in distance education.
1986 - Designing the first LMS for distance education - Posted March 2020
On the Soviet Border
In March we celebrated Ragnhild and Atle’s wedding in Kirkenes and used the opportunity to visit the border between Norway and the Soviet Union at Grense Jakobselv. This was during the cold war and many Norwegians had served in the military to protect the area from the Soviets. Mikhail Gorbatsjov had recently become general secretary of the Communist Party, but many Norwegians felt threatened by the communists and their nuclear arsenal.
Just a few weeks later, on April 26, we experienced the biggest nuclear accident ever when a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant failed. The Soviet authorities did not report the accident, and Norwegian researchers measured unexplained increases in radioactivity. Norwegian mushrooms, berries, moss, meat from sheep, reindeer and other game contained large amounts of radioactivity after the accident.
The first NordData conference was organized in Helsinki in 1968. Every year the conference was past on to the next Nordic country in line. In June, I attended my first NordData conference in Stockholm with NKI’s ICT manager Ragnar Andersen. The presentation I prepared was titled PC-communication – The gateway to a new world. It was an enthusiastic account of my explorations of various bulletin board systems using my PC, modem and communication software.
At the conference, I met several Norwegian pundits who I still admire: Arild Haraldsen, Peter Hidas and Helge Seip. I also met Jacob Palme. The man behind PortaCom developed at the Stockholm University Computing Center. A system for computer mediated communication (CMC) that Kjell Åge Bringsrud and Dag Belsnes introduced me to when it was tested at the University of Oslo.
Gro Harlem Brundtland had just started her second period as Norwegian Prime Minister and the Swedes were still in chock after the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme on February 28. Christer Petersson was later arrested and convicted of the murder but acquitted after being in prison for about 5 months. Palme’s killer is still unknown.
Sweden. Norway’s closest neighbour. Twice our population. The richer and bigger brother we left in 1905. The arrogant best friend we always wanted to trounce. A small country with international ambitions and influential leaders. Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the UN. Alfred Nobel and Olof Palme.
Growing up, I spent much time in the back of Volvos and SAABs. Read Astrid Lindgren. Saw Bjørn Borg play tennis and Ingemark Stenmark excel in slalom. Listened to ABBA and watched a lot of Swedish television. Heavily influenced by Swedish culture.
Looking back, Norway’s fascination and inferiority with Sweden has gradually decreased. Globalization has opened our eyes to a variety of cultures. Oil richness and growing successes in international affairs, music, literature and sports have gradually improved our national self-esteem. I think it is fair to say that Norwegians now pereive Swedes more as friends and partners than big brothers.
The EKKO Learning Management System
Inspired by my experiences with PortaCom and the PC-based Bulletin Board Systems, I came up with specifications for an electronic college designed for distance education. Termed it EKKO. It means echo in Norwegian and is an awkward acronym for EleKtronisk KOmbinertundervisning. The figure shows the metaphor I draw to explain the online college consept.
The very first version of EKKO was developed in the spring of 1986 by Bjørn Mobæk and Lars Hornfeldt who were students at the NKI College of Engineering. They developed EKKO in the programming language Pascal on an HP-3000 computer, as part of their final project in the summer of 1986.
EKKO was first used in addition to ordinary face-to-face teaching by students at Datahøgskolen (the NKI Computer College) in the fall of 1986. I remember I posted the notes from my lectures and the assignments on EKKO’s bulletin boards. Urged the students to discuss the assignments in EKKO’s discussion forums. Asked them to deliver their assignment work via EKKO’s e-mail.
To my delight, it worked and the students were positive to the experiment.
During the developing process, my research revealed two more intriguing projects. The EIES project lead by Murray Turoff and Starr Roxanne Hilz at New Jersey Institute of Technology and the CoSy project at the University of Guelp in Canada.
A 1989 video explanation of EKKO
ERM – the Educational Resistance Movement
Change is not easy. Advocating innovation could be hard. As a pioneer, I have fought relentlessly for decades to convince educators about the benefits of online education. Luckily, challenging fights can result in sweet victories. Monica Johannesen likes to remind me how our ICT educated colleagues first reacted when I suggested that we could communicate by e-mail in EKKO. EMAIL??? No way, our offices are so close!
It took a few years to get acceptance from ICT people. Decades to convince correspondence teachers and classroom teachers.
Summer in Florida and IBM’s Boca Raton Factory
Summer vacation in Florida. Disney World. Fourth of July in Fort Lauderdale. Driving down to Key West. Cruise from Miami to Bahamas with Scandinavian Sun. A party boat with young Americans having Bloody Mary drinks for breakfast. Swimming pool competitions. How many ping-pong balls could the girls keep in their bikinis? Scarily similar to its sister ship Scandinavian Star. The ship that was set on fire in 1990 on its way from Oslo to Fredrikshavn in Denmark. 159 people died in the Scandinavian tragedy.
I was eager to visit the IBM factory that produced the new IBM PC AT. It was however harder than expected becase of the many IBM PC clones that had appeared. IBM would not share their secrets with foreigners. I was however granted access after several telephone calls and arguments that I would write an article for PC World Norway.
I appreciated the opportunity to visit the factory, but must admit that it was much more low tech than I expected. Just a few people assembling standard components. I realized why there were so many successful IBM clones. Strange enough, I still remember how the workers were wired with cords to not damage the computer circuits with electric sparks.
TeleTension in Budapest
From October 17th to 27th, I attended TeleTeaching 86 in Budapest with my colleague Andreas Quale. This was my first visit to an Eastern European country and the situation felt tens when people gathered in the streets 30 years after the Soviet occupation started October 23, 1956.
The conference was organized by the John von Neumann Society for Computing Sciences and sponsored by IFIP TC3. The conference theme was: Remote Education and Informatics», and I remember meeting Fred Mulder from the Open University of the Netherlands and Sylvia Charp – editor of T.H.E Journal.
The conference hosts organized a sightseeing tour to Lake Balaton. Halfway there, the bus driver realized that we would arrive after dark and not see anything of interest. So, he took a highway U-turn and stopped at a local taverna. Good local food was improvised along with plenty to drink. Most of the participants were challenged to sing typical songs from their home countries. I guess we all have fond memories of Lake Balaton.
The Correspondence Student
NKI was one of Norway’s largest correspondence schools and I wanted to build on these experiences in my online teaching. I therefore enrolled in the correspondence course: «Essentials in Distance Education». The course was offered by the European Home Study Council and taught by the internationally renowned expert Börje Holmberg. My excitement was immense when I after a couple of weeks received the snail mail envelope with his feedback to my assignments. My disappointment was huge when I realized that I was not able to read his handwriting.
It was my first and only correspondence course. The course that taught me that distance education was ready for an online paradigm shift.
1987 - Teaching Norway's first distance students online - Posted April 2020
From Correspondence to Distance Education
In January, EADTU was established. The European Association of Distance Teaching Universities. Eleven founding members had an ambition to become a platform for collaboration with the European Commission. The five European Open Universities and several national organisations. Among them were the Norwegian Association of Distance Education (NADE, now Fleksibel utdanning Norge). The founding meeting was organized by the Open University of the Netherlands in Herleen. Erling Ljoså attended as chair of NADE. He elaborates on this in Norwegian in his personal account about international engagements and cooperation.
At the same time became aware of two more institutions that later became important to me. The International Council for Correspondence Education (ICCE) was established in 1938 and changed name to ICDE in 1982. The Association of European Correspondence Schools (AECS) was established in 1985 and changed name in 1999 to EADL – the European Association for Distance Learning.
In June 1987, I attended the NordData conference at NTH. The University of Technology in Trondheim. My alma mater. The University of professor Asbjørn Rolstadås. The town of educational innovators like Jan Wibe, Arvid Staupe, Per Borgersen and Thorleif Hjeltnes. People who were instrumental in establishing TISIP in December 1985. Later pivotal in the development of the NITOL network and the Learning Management System Winix.
The title of my presentation could be translated to «A Virtual School – Dream Castle or Real Construct?» It included an international overview of computer conferencing systems and some references to educational use of the systems. In addittion, it presented our educational experiences with the EKKO system.
The conclusion could be translated to: Some institutions work to develop virtual schools based on computer mediated communication systems. There is still need for improved quality of content, pedagogy, administrative and social services. But the work has started. My conclusion is therefore that virtual schools are no longer dream castles, they are becoming real constructs.
Stian Flate Friisvold
Stian was born in April. When the water broke, we immediately saw that it was miscoloured. Marith was rushed away to the operating theatre, I commanded to wait outside. Extremely nervous. Don’t ask how long I waited, but the relieve was enormous when everything was fine with mother and son.
CD-players had been available in Norway since 1983. We bought the first one to entertain Stian. Torbjørn Egner was among our favourites. The Norwegian playwright, songwriter and illustrator known for his narratives for children. But Stius also got his dose of Aha, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Stones and Beatles.
I’m not a singer, but all parents should sing, read and play music for their kids. We did it a lot and enjoyed it tremendously. The kid easily learned more melodies and lyrics than I could imagine – a gift we both appreciate.
Mom used her marathon skills pushing his stroller for hours. As she did with Kjell Inge nearly thirty years earlier. When the Røkke family moved to her neighbourhood in Molde. Dad pulled him in a ski sledge. As a real Norwegian, Stian should learn to enjoy the outdoor life.
A new generation. So many opportunities. His first six months’ bucket list was fuller than my first twelve years’ list. He travelled from Havna to Hagen. One month old, he joined us at the two-day data communication seminar at Havna hotel in May. Took part in the evening boat trip around the beautiful Tjøme archipelago. Six months old in September, he flew with us to Düsseldorf where we rented a car to see the Rihne valley. Köhln, Köngswinter and Baden Baden. Including a visit to Deutsche FernUniversität in Hagen.
One early memory stuck: A sunny summer morning. Father and son playing under the cherry three in front of our house. Sun shining, son smiling. The happiest moment so far in my life.
My epitomic memory of 1987. My new-born son in my father’s wheelchair lap. Joy and sadness. Preparing to become Pater Familias.
On Top of the World Trade Center
In August Torstein Rekkedal, Bjørn Mobæk and I made a study tour to exchange experiences with the pioneers of online education in the US and Canada. We started with a Sunday in New York. Jogging in Central Park in the morning, then suppressing my fear of heights from the roof of the World Trade Center.
Just a couple of months earlier, West German Mathias Rust landed on the Red Square in Moscow with a Cessna aircraft. We were surprised that a foreigner so easily could navigate a plane into the heart of a superpower.
Visiting the Online Education Pioneers
Star struck to meet Starr Roxanne Hiltz and Murray Turoff in their office at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Husband and wife who were known for their ground-breaking work with Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) and the EIES computer conferencing system. Got hold of the 1982 book Starr Roxanne Hiltz wrote with Elaine B. Kerr: Computer-mediated Communication Systems – Status and Evaluation.
We met Peter Haratonic at the Manhattan office of the New School for Social Research. He told us about their experiences with the EIES system. About their collaboration with Paul Levinson and his company ConnectEd.
Angela Richards and Cristine Languth welcomed us at a Long Island institution with the ambitious name American Open University.
Concidered to to visit Andrew Feenberg at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute. They offered the first online college program through its School of Management and Strategic Studies in 1981. But decided to stay on the east coast. So, we rented a car and visited Michael G. More at Pennsylvania State University. A choice that later proved to be very important for me.
We stopped to see Niagara Falls. Drove up to Canada and visited Robert J. McQueen who worked with the CoSy conferencing system at the University of Guelph. The system that the Open University in UK later chose. Got the documentation from the First Guelph Symposium on Computer Mediated Communication.
We also visited Linda Harasim at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) and learned about her pioneer work. Her work with collaborative learning and with online discourse analysis. Her 1986 book: Educational Applications of Computer Networks.
Teaching Distance Students Online
I continued to use EKKO as an online teaching supplement in all the on-campus courses i taught in 1987. Our Interns Ragnar Børsum and Bjørn Myrvold were enthusiastic supporters. In the spring we installed a modem pool to handle dial in connections to EKKO. Suddenly I could use EKKO to communicate from home with my students in their dorms. We were ready for online distance education.
So, in the fall we contacted some of the students who enrolled in NKI’s correspondence course Introduction to computer science. Four of them accepted to become our first online students with me as their online teacher.
The first challenge was to help them set up their modems and connect to EKKO. We succeeded together and proved that it was possible to use EKKO for distance education. One student completed all six study units and did well on the final voluntary exam. One completed, but did not enrol for the exam. One completed five of the six study units. One completed only the first study unit.
I concluded that technical support was crucial for online education and that we needed more students to create a social environment on line.
The picture shows an interview with Inger Bergland in the second 1988 issue of Verk og Virke. She was one of the four pioneer students in Norway’s first distance education online course.
Henry Louis Gehrig was a renowned American baseball player who, on his 36th birthday, received a diagnose that many still know as Gehrig’s disease. More known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). A devastating disease that causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles. Gradually reducing muscular strength over muscles we control. Arms, legs, hands, fingers and tounge. The lungs can be attached to a ventilator. The heart continues to beat, since it is not a muscle we control. Brain, ears and eyes are less affected. Advance technology make it possible to communicate through eye movements.
The Swedish TV-journalist Ulla-Carin Lindquist wrote the touching little book «Ro uten årer«. A book about life and death written after she was diagnosed on her 50th anniversary. The Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen struggled with ALS for ten years before he died in 2003.
In November our dear father Jon Flate Paulsen died from ALS at the age of 67.
Jon Flate Paulsen
Dad’s father grew up at the tenant’s farm Flaten near Børsa in Sør-Trøndelag. That’s the origin of the middle name I have passed on to my children. Flate. A name I was not comfortable with as a kid since some people used “Fy Flate” as an acceptable substitute for a harsher curse. A name I first embraced when I started to pursue an academic career.
Dad’s mother’s family was from Harpefoss in the Gudbrandsdalen valley. A tiny place with a beautiful name. Harp Falls – the sound of River Lågen when it passed through the narrow river canyon. The Iversen family guarded the railroad gates and rails when the railroad was prolonged from Eidsvoll to Otta in 1896. According to my father, one of his relatives was killed when he tried to save his dresin from a passing train.
Dad had fond childhood memories from Harpefoss and the mountains in the area. We often visited his cousins and mother’s twin sister there. In 1970 we celebrate his 50th anniversary at the local guesthouse Grøntuva were he happily signed the property contract for the mountain plot «Måsåplassen». The home of our log cabin at Gålå.
Dad was intelligent, but not handy. When the motor of our first car, a white SAAB 96, died in the Majorstukrysset cross road, Mom carefully asked: Why don’t you open the hood and take a look at the engine? He typically retorted: Do you think it helps?
Dad finished the obligatory seven years of education at Majorstua Folkeskole, continued with four years Middelskole at Vestheim and one year office training at the Oslo Kommunale Handelsskole. Then, the second world war started.
He worked most of his life for the Osram light bulb factory. That’s probably why he introduced me to the exciting book about Thomas Alva Edison and his inventions. It probably inspired me to look for innovations and study engineering. One of many books I read as a child about famous people in the series titled «Elite serien».
I remember Dad as a wise, humorous and upright man who smoked South State cigarettes and taught us to be diligent and behave well. He was early grey. I can only recall him as white-haired. In hindsight, I understand that he looked for and supported activities that could improve his oldest son’s low self-esteem. He probably saw a little, shy boy who ran fast when scared. So, Dad wisely steered me into athletics.
For many years, Dad took me to Bislett stadium to watch the yearly international athletics competition. I still recall Terje Pedersen’s javelin flying through the 1964 evening air – – – reaching the incredible 91.72 meters new world record. Ron Clarke’s 28-minute breaking 10 000-meter world record (27.39.4) in 1965. We witnessed many of the two dozen world records at Bislett Stadium. Lots of good memories with Norwegian role models and world stars like Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovet, Steve Cram, Henry Rono, Usain Bolt, Ingrid Kristiansen and Grete Waitz. All announced by the omnipresent speaker Jan Hemsvik. With the same steady voice that numerous times pronounced my name over the loudspeaker when I took part in local competitions for kids at Frogner, Jordal and Bislett stadium.
Dad encouraged me to train athletics. For many years we were permanent fixtures at the athletics season’s closing week competitions at Bislett. Dad as driver and bystander, Hemsvik as Speaker and myself trying all the athletic activities.
My talent was primarily in 60- and 100-meter sprint. I trained with the several capable sprinters in the athletics club Ready. Tom Bysveen, Henrik Gjertsen, Sverre Tysland and Leif Næss. And Knut Marius Stokke who were four-time Norwegian champion in 100- and 200-meter sprint. It was not easy to receive the baton from him when I ran the final leg of the 4×100 meter relay.
1988 - Attending ICDE's World Conference in Oslo - Coming November 2020
1989 - Gaining International Attention - Coming December 2020