My Online Education World
My Online Education World, 1980-2020
By Morten Flate Paulsen
My Online Education World chronicle emerged as an intriguing, but daunting, idea during 2019. First when I attended 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 enabled by an unprecedented technological development, formed by all the good people I have met and evolved with my growing 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 next four volumes starting with the eighties.
Bjørnstad’s world is especially interesting to me since we grew up in the same time, region and cultural setting. In the same way, I hope my recollections could be of interest to online educators around the world, to my dear family and friends as well as the countless people I have encountered virtually and face-to-face in My Online Education World.
From the start, my ambition was to finish my recollections of the 1980s by the end of 2020. Then, focus on one decade per year and finish the project by the end of 2023.
The 1990s: Early Adaptors of Online Education
The posts will be available during 2021.
1990 - Embracing opportunities
Big changes in Europe. The Nobel Peace Prize 1990 was awarded to Mikhail Gorbachev for his leading role in the radical changes in East-West relations. Glastnost and perestroika. Russia declares independence with Boris Jeltsin as president. Ukraine, Belarus, Bosnia Hercegovina and Armenia follow suit. Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa are elected presidents in Czechoslovakia and Poland. John Major takes over as Prime Minister in the UK after Margaret Thatcher.
Tim Berners-Lee published the first web site, which described the project itself, in December.
In Norway, SOFF (Sentralorganet for fleksibel læring) was established to support flexible education initiatives in Norwegian higher education. Jan Atle Toska was director. Gro Harlem Bruntland becomes Prime Minister for the third time after Jan P. Syse in November. The Scandinavian Star ferry boat was set on fire in April 1990 on its way from Oslo to Fredrikshavn in Denmark. 159 people died in the tragedy. Norway`s largest unsolved murder case in modern times was later documented in a 2020 NRK-TV series.
INDC-90 in Lillehammer
Lillehammer, March 26 – 29. The 3rd International Conference on Information Network and Data Communication (INDC-90). Organized by the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) and hosted by the Norwegian Computer Society (DND). As a member of the program committee chaired by Frank Eliassen, I checked in early at the hotel. Got the key, left my suitcase in the room and went to the conference venue. After a full day of conference preparation, I had a few minutes to brush my teeth and change clothes before the informal get together. As soon as I saw the fashionable female garments in my cupboard, I realized that the toothbrush in my hand was red. The reception apologized for having moved me to another room. But I still wonder who I shared the first room and toothbrush with.
The Third Guelph Symposium on Computer Mediated Communication
Celebrated May 17th, the Norwegian Constitution day, in Canada with my Norwegian colleagues Torstein Rekkedal and Morten Søby. Maybe the three foremost proponents of online education in Scandinavia at the time. Travelled via Boston and Toronto to Guelph. Went all the way up the acrophobic glass elevator in CN Tower.
University of Guelph, home of Cosy. My conference presentation was titled «Organizing an electronic college». Morten Søby, who headed the NKS Electronic College project in Norway, focused on «The Postmodern Condition and Distance Education Computer Conferencing and Communicative Competence». My Danish colleagues Hanne Shapiro and Mette Ringsted gave a presentation with Starr Roxanne Hiltz on «Collaborative Teaching in a Virtual Classroom». Other prominent presenters I recall were Lynne Schrum, Norman Coombs, Robin Mason, Trevor Owen, Robert J. McQeen, Terry Anderson, Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz, Elain K. McCreary and Barbara Florini.
My generation Norwegians grew up in an environment much influenced by the US and the English language. The Apollo program, Hollywood, Rock Music, Levi’s 501 jeans and NATO bases. An opportunity to experience the American way of life allured me to apply The Royal Norwegian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (NTNF) for a grant to enrol in a doctoral program abroad.
I considered applying to Penn State and Carnegie Mellon. So, I visited Pittsburgh to see if there were openings for me in Carnegie Mellon’s Andrew Project on computer-aided instruction in distributed computing environment. Returned to Penn State the day Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island February 11. There, I decided that my best choice was to accept Michel G. Moore’s kind invitation to choose Penn State and the American Center for the Study of Distance Education.
I soon realized that I needed to improve my English and pass the TOEFL and GRE tests. So, I subscribed to the two weekly magazines Time and Newsweek and bought the amazing new electronic gadgets from Franklin with speaking dictionaries and thesauruses. Used the gadgets to look up all unknown words to be familiar with every single word in a complete Magazine. My English writing skills improved considerably when I systematically started to use PC software to check spelling, grammar and readability. These tools were extremely useful for a computer geek with limited proficiency in the English language.
My hardest decision was whether I could afford to leave a full-time job in Norway and finance a family of three as a student in the US. We decided that the NTNF grant was enough as a start. Hoped to find additional income later. Looking back, I had no need to worry. Renting out our house, reduced taxes and some support from my employer in Norway. Reduced tuition fees and monthly payments as a graduate assistant in the US.
What I learned? Embrace opportunities that come your way.
We arrived at University Park Airport with six suitcases. Babs and Diane welcomed us and shuttled us to Nittany Lion In.
An airport owned by the University in a town named State College. 36 000 students and 12 000 employees out of a 60 000 population. Beaver Football Stadium with 96 000 packed seats whenever Nittany Lions played home matches. Surrounded by farmland. A substantial presence of Amish farms, people, horses and carriages. Devastating to read in the local Centre Daily News about several Amish barn arsons. Amazing to see the collective Amish efforts to rebuild the barns.
The town hierarchy was clear. Three men on the podium. Bronze medal to the Mayor. Silver to the University President. Gold to JoePa. The legendary football coach featured in the TV drama Paterno with Al Pacino as Joe Paterno. A long and impressive career until his disturbing dismissal following the university’s child sex abuse scandal in 2011.
Could only afford to live a week at Nittany Lion Inn. One week to find a place to live, a day care for the three-year-old, wheels and new friends. In totally new environment without internet and mobile phones. We ended up with Heritage Oaks, First Impressions Day Care, a Jeep Cherokee and a lot of good friends from many countries.
I spent nearly $ 3000 on a Compaq LTE notebook computer. Every day I carried it to the university in my backpack. Still based on DOS, it was among the first to include both a built-in hard disk and a 3.5-inch floppy drive. A 4800 bit per second Hayes compatible modem with a built-in fax connected me to the university e-mail and some offices in Norway.
Practicing and Preaching
My first memory of being a student at Penn State was from Professor Kyle Peck’s introductory course in instructional design. He entered the classroom with the unexpected question: What is fun?
To my surprise, the query stirred a very interesting two-hour discussion. My important take away was that American students and teachers were much more engaged in discussion and interaction than I was used to from Norwegian education. I started to ponder: How can we emulate this in online education?
The instructional design course also introduced us to the Apple Macintosh with its revolutionary graphic interface Finder and HyperCard. My first stack used hyperlinks to demonstrate the functionality of the EKKO LMS.
Once a week we had class in the video studio connected to video studios at the Altoona, Eire and Harrisburg Campuses. There, Professor Jovita Ross-Gordon taught an introductory course on adult education with impressive video conferencing skills and technology.
Professor Michael G. Moore’s course International and Comparative Adult Education was a real eye opener. He taught each class from a different campus. Every week students in the four campuses were hooked up with an international expert in a telephone conference. There we had one hour to ask the international guru of the week about their work and the articles they faxed us prior to the conference. Eight guest experts from England, Eastern Germany, Finland, Canada, China, India and Spain. A real motivation to engage in global online education.
Professor Peter S. Cookson was very encouraging and supportive as he prepared for a sabbatical year at the University for Peace in Costa Rica. A year we were fortunate to rent his very nice house in Crabapple Court. A house large enough to sublet rooms downstairs. Wei Runfang stayed there a short while and I still have her 2008 comparative study of China’s Radio and TV Universities and The British Open University. Later we shared the house with my good friend Phil Pinder from Spanish Wells, Bahamas.
The picture presents some reflections about this period when I was featured as alumni in the 2011 issue of Penn State Education Alumni Magazine.
DEOS – The Distance Education Online Symposium
Starting at Penn State in August, I soon got a graduate assistantship at the American Journal of Distance Education. Appreciated to share offices with Margareth Koble and Melody Thompson. The editor, Michael G. Moore, introduced me to the colourful Toni Garcia and challenged us to establish communication services to support the printed journal.
We sat up and tested a CompuServe account (Compuserve: 76436,350) because it was the major commercial online service provider around. However, we soon realized that academics in our field were hard to reach via CompuServe.
Our supportive professor Peter Cookson recommended us to check the automated mailing list management application Listserve developed by Éric Thomas. An appealing freeware managed completely via e-mail messages. Its potential as an online journal dawned on me as I got my first personal e-mail address (MFP101@PSUVM.PSU.EDU) along with all students and employees at Penn State. I soon realized that free e-mail services would revolutionize international communication among academics.
So, we started to develop DEOS – the Distance Education Online Symposium. Much more interactive than printed journals. With more frequent publications. Free of charge since we had no printing and shipping cost. Promoting the printed journal and increasing the number of subscriptions.
We approached authors of good contributions that we could not include in the printed journal. Most of them pleased to be published in DEOS. Asked international scholars and pioneers to contribute and received a lot of positive feedback and support.
Wow, I became editor of DEOSNEWS – one of the world’s first online journals. The first issue was published in April 91. A year later, one of the world’s first electronic journals that obtained an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN: 1062-9416).
The ICDE World Conference in Venezuela
In November, we drove down to the Norwegian consulate in Philadelphia to obtain my visa for ICDE’s 15th World Conference in Venezuela. Used the opportunity to see two of the most iconic sites in American history: Liberty Bells and Gettysburg.
Michael G. Moore took his graduate students to arrange the American Center’s ICDE preconference workshop on research in distance education. Phil Pinder, Christopher Clark, Toni Garcia and myself in the Caribbean resort town of Macuto on Venezuela’s north coast. Where we met 50 researchers from six continents. Börje Holmberg, Dan Coldeway, Liz Burge, Fabio Chacon. Wow.
From Macuto we left for the main conference in Caracas – the first ICDE World Conference situated in Latin America. 1300 participants from 60 countries attended the conference at the Universidad Nacional Abierta. The book of abstract was edited by Marian Croft who later became ICDE’s first female president in 1992.
Memories that stuck were the abundance of old, gas-guzzling American cars. The reception at the Norwegian embassy with Torstein Rekkedal, Morten Søby and other invited delegates.
Christmas in the US
Drove to New York City for Christmas shopping and to pick up my brother Frode at the airport. Visited a Pittsburgh exhibition on Santa Claus outfits from around the world. Surprised to see that Norwegians allegedly dressed him up in an unrecognizable, blue costume. But really enjoyed the Bellefonte Victorian Christmas Events and the traditional Swedish Christmas food with professor Sverker Persson’s family on December 24.
Christopher Clark invited us to celebrate Christmas Day with his family. Following Norwegian traditions, I dressed up with polished black shoes, red tie, white shirt and a dark suit. Chris welcomed us in the doorway in his t-shirt, Bermuda-shorts and slippers. We had a big laugh, a quick costume realignment and a wonderful Christmas day with his wife and kids. Remembered the episode with a smile every time we received a Christmas card from the Clarcks.
I really enjoyed playing racket ball with Chris. A local version of squash which I’ve played most of my life. Wanted to meet him again as my guide on the Camino de Santiago when I discovered his free 2020 e-book «Blessings for the Backpack of the Soul».
1991 - Tasting the American dream
1991 started dramatically with Soviet soldiers storming the department of defence and the TV-tower in Vilnius to prevent Lithuania’s independence process. Resulting in declarations of independence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia and Slovenia. The Gulf War started January 17 with a massive U.S.-led air offensive known as Operation Desert Storm.
The same day, Norway’s popular «People’s King» Olav V died 87 years old. For several days Norwegians mourned publicly, lighting hundreds of thousands of candles outside the Royal Palace.
It was hard to get news from home. In 1991, King Olav V’s death was the only news about Norway in our local News Paper – the Centre Daily Times. We could hardly afford to call long distance to Norway, even though it was thrilling to walk around the house with our new cordless phone.
Luckily, I found out that Computer World Norway had reasonable subscription fees for over sea subscribers in the US. So, I read ICT news from Norway with great interest every time the weekly newspaper arrived.
When the weather conditions were good, we could tune in on short wave radio frequencies to listen to Radio Norway International (1938-2003).
Hungary was in many ways in front of the independence process when the Soviet Union broke down. So, ICDE initiated a European meeting in Budapest in the summer of 1990 to facilitate open education activities across the former Iron Curtain. The initiative instigated the European Distance Education Network (EDEN) which formally was established in Prague in 1991.
With the help of Kerry Mann, EDEN’s Executive Secretary in the UK, I was later able to distribute the first issue of the EDEN newsletter in DEOSNEWS.
According to the newsletter, my Norwegian role model Erling Ljoså was the first president of EDEN. Vice Presidents were Armando Rocha Trindade from Universidade Aberta and Tamas Lajos from the Technical University of Budapest. Executive committee members were John Daniel from Open University, Fred Nickolmann from Deutche FernUniversitat and Bernard Loing from Centre National d’Enseignement` Distance. Reidar Roll was observer for ICDE. Kerry Mann and Andras Szucs represented the secretariat in UK and Hungary.
It was far beyond my imagination that I should celebrate EDEN’s 20th anniversary as its elected President. That I should salute EDEN’s founding president Erling Ljoså at the opening of EDEN’s 2013 conference in Oslo. And that he should send me his conference dinner speech along with a picture from the first meeting in EDEN’s Interim Executive Committee in Warszawa in 1991.
In the picture from left to right: Tamás Lajos (Technical University Budapest), Armando Trindade (Universidade Aberta), Alan Tait (representing John Daniel, OU), Erling Ljosa, Depty Minister Tadeusz Diem, Polen and an unidentified participant.
Her is my excerpt from Erling’s speech:
“The first pan-European meeting at the Technical University of Budapest in May 1990 gave all us who were present a strong feeling of witnessing an historic event. I was particularly impressed by the openness and strength of the appeals from Professor Tamàs Lajos and from the Polish Deputy Minister Tadeusz Diem, urging us to open all the bridges and channels of communication so long closed in Europe. This was an invitation which could not be refused. The meeting decided that there should be a follow-up under the name of The Budapest Platform, with a Steering Committee to meet in Milton Keynes, UK, in the autumn.
The Budapest meeting had been initiated and organized by ICDE, whose President at the time was Dr. David Sewart from the Open University in the UK, and with a newly established Secretariat in Oslo. When we discussed the situation in Milton Keynes, it became clear that there were many bridges to build and channels to open up in Western Europe as well. The European Community had quite recently taken up “Open and Distance Learning” as a field of interest, and some programs had been established, particularly concerning new technologies within vocational and continuing education. Countries outside the EU itself were supposed gradually to become involved. However, we had no open and transparent frameworks, mechanisms or organizations in Western Europe which would cover the whole field. The meeting in Budapest thus offered a golden opportunity not only for Central and Eastern Europe, but for all parts of Europe and for all sectors of distance education.
The Chair of the Budapest meeting and Platform was Dr. Gottfried Leibbrandt, founding President of the Dutch Open Universiteit. As a preparation for the next meeting in Prague 1991 he asked me, who was Director of a private correspondence school, and Professor Armando Trindade, Rector of the Portuguese Universidade Aberta, to help drafting a constitution for a new pan-European Network with the euphonious name EDEN. The constitution was adopted and EDEN became real. The new network aimed from the beginning towards being open to all types of institutions, networks, project participants and even individuals, membership driven with a democratic structure».
Spring break in Mexico
My Easter vacations were synonymous with log cabins and skiing in Norwegian mountains. My American spring break was different. At the airport in Philadelphia, we were very distressed to see hundreds of young boys and girls in military uniforms. Troops on their way to fight in the Gulf War. Such a contrast to see American students’ wild parties in Cancún later in the evening. The next day to reflect on the rise and fall of civilizations from the top of a pyramid in the ruins of the old Maya city Chichen Itza.
Constitution Day in Norway
We returned to Oslo to celebrate the Norwegian Constitution Day on May 17th. So many friends to visit in just a few days. So many impressions to share. That the US was not so free and advanced as we thought. That beaches did not open before the lifeguards arrived. That forests closed for visitors by sunset. That we had to pay invoices by sending checks in envelopes through the mail. That we could not pay gasoline with credit cards at the pumps.
June 1991. Drove the Jeep Cherokee to the arch city of Ohio. To attend an international symposium at Ohio State University titled Applications of Computer Conferencing to Teacher Education and Human Resource Development. Among the presentations I appreciated is Teaching by Computer Conferencing by Linda Harasim, Guidelines for constructing Instructional Discussions on a Computer Conference by Mark E. Eisly and Developing a Learning Community in Distance Education by Robin Mason.
Stian liked the opportunity to visit the Columbus zoo and the Sea World of Ohio. We stayed in a motel with a pool and watched TV. The war came so close when mothers and other family members of the soldiers were constantly interviewed on local TV stations. Remarkable to experience that military transport planes were applauded in the streets when they passed over the city with returning soldiers from the Gulf War.
Later in June, we ventured into French speaking Canada. Explored Erie, Niagara Falls, Toronto and Montreal. Continued north along the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City. My school French was rusty, but I was surprised to see how strong the French community wanted its independence.
Santa Barbara, California
August 5-9. The IFIP TC 3 / WG 3.1 Working Conference on impact of Informatics on the Organization of Education. We flew to LA. Rented a car to visit Disneyland and Universal Studios. Drove Highway 1 to Santa Barbara. Went to the windy beach, rented roller skates and visited Santa Barbara Zoo. Spent a day in Solvang, the Danish village located in Hans Christian Andersen Park.
The conference was organized by Brian Samways and Tom J. van Weert. My presentation was titled: A goal-oriented method for establishing an electronic college. Rolf Kristiansen talked about changes in teacher attitudes toward computers in education and Lone Dircknick-Holmfeld discussed how computer conferences affect learning. I remember the pleasure of meeting Betty Collis and Jef Moonen from the University of Twente. Several Scandinavians participated and I vividly remember socialising with the dedicated and energetic Norwegian educator Jan Wibe. After a few drinks, he offered me a tailor-made suit if I would engage in the upcoming TeleTeaching 93 conference in Trondheim.
August 13-16 1991. The Seventh Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. According to Terry Anderson’s review in the American Journal, there were 325 participants at the Holiday Inn hotel. Alone in the elevator for breakfast when it stopped at the 3rd floor. Four enormous men entered and surrounded me. Felt really small when the elevator was packed with muscles looking down at me. So relieved when they invited me to watch them play professional American football in the evening. The Green Bay Packers stayed at the hotel.
The conference included Ports of Entry, a national satellite videoconference about major case studies of distance education. It was introduced by Chere Gibson and confirmed my impression on how advanced US higher education institutions were regarding educational broadcasting and videoconferencing.
Birthday on ice
In October, I rented the local ice-skating hall and invited all our friends to celebrate my 34th birthday. Lucky no one was hurt, but it was hilarious to see my friends from around the world mimicking the Bambi cartoon when they ventured onto the slippery ice. Obviously a first-time experience for my friends from the Caribbean and Latin America.
St. Louis November 1991. ADCIS – The Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instruction of Systems. I was there to present the paper Computer Communication: Four Innovative Projects at Penn State University with Barbara Grabowski, Ellen Taracani, Tim Leso, and David Popp.
We were four students in the car from Penn State. I controlled the cassette player from the front passenger seat. Used the opportunity to play the popular Norwegian group Gitarkammeratene. Surprised to hear the back-seat comment: It is the first time I have listened to a full tape without understanding a single word. It started an interesting discussion on exposure to second languages through schools, popular music and TV-subtitles.
Dedicated to DEOS
DEOS became my passion and dedication. It was thrilling to reach out to distance educators around the world. To include my own articles. To connect with so many dedicated authors and readers. To start and moderate DEOS-L as a global discussion forum for distance educators. A network of committed people that I still relish and benefit from.
Here is the status report I wrote for the editorial in DEOSNEWS Vol. 1 No. 25:
This is the last issue of DEOSNEWS, Volume 1. Since the introduction in April 1991, 25 issues have been published. A list of all these issues is attached at the end of this file. DEOSNEWS now has about 700 subscribers around the world. Although it can be difficult to identify which countries all e-mail addresses correspond to, a review of the subscriber list indicates that DEOSNEWS has subscribers in these 33 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.
Please notify email@example.com if there are any countries missing on this list. DEOS-L, which was announced in DEOSNEWS #17, already has about 300 subscribers. Although it has not found its final form, DEOS-L has proved that it can be a useful information channel for distance education.
This has been a year with impressive achievements for DEOS as a result of hard work and enthusiastic support from subscribers, authors, and the people at the American Center for the Study of Distance Education. A thank you, to you all and a special thank you to Philip W. Pinder, Janet L. Hartranft, Edward Desautels, Margaret Koble, Melody M. Thompson, Toni Garcia, and Michael G. Moore. Without your support, DEOS could not exist.
DEOSNEWS will be back in January 1992. Until then, enjoy many Happy Holidays.
Morten Flate Paulsen
PS. DEOSNEWS would appreciate old-fashioned Holiday Cards from the subscribers.
DEOS acknowledges and is grateful for the financial support provided by the Annenberg/CPB Project.
To subscribe to DEOSNEWS and DEOS-L (a discussion forum), just post the following commands to LISTSERV@PSUVM or LISTSERV@PSUVM.PSU.EDU:
SUBSCRIBE DEOSNEWS Your Full Name
SUBSCRIBE DEOS-L Your Full Name
The digital revolution and distance and online learning: some personal observations
By Alan Tait
Professor Emeritus of Distance Education and Development
The Open University, UK
I was delighted to be asked by Morten F. Paulsen to contribute some personal observations on living through the last 30 years of the as yet unfinished digital revolution, in particular as to its reworking of how we offer and organise learning and teaching at a distance and online. In my partial retirement it is a topic I have often reflected on, albeit in a relatively unorganised and certainly unscholarly way. So, this invitation is perfect!
The Open University
The core innovations that led to the foundation of the Open University in 1969, along with the political and social changes that enabled them, were essentially a combination of existing technologies but assembled in new ways. These included the industrially organised postal system, high quality colour printing, the invention of new kinds of texts for learning, the use of tv and radio for educational purposes, individualised and student focused tutoring, the use of telephone for group tutorials, all wrapped up together in what was itself an innovation, and can be called educational logistics. These combined to provide what were widely regarded as qualitatively new standards of learning and teaching, even if the goal of changing the understanding of who could go to university was, initially at least, regarded with considerable scepticism.
While early computer supported learning systems were well known, especially in training in industry and the military, these were not adopted at the OU U.K., where an inchoate and implicit form of constructivism defeated the ideas of those who wanted the university to create computer supported learning pathways that made it impossible for students to diverge from the defined learning goal. This might be appropriate, it was successfully argued, for rats trying to find their way out of a maze, but nor for students trying to make sense of their learning.
The digital revolution
So technological innovation, informed by the new or at least newish discipline and practice of educational technology, lay at the heart of my professional world. And that array of technologies whose combination itself represented a technology, remained stable for some 20 years. They strongly influenced the establishment of many open universities around the world and opened access to Higher Education for many millions. There were attempts to introduce other analogue technologies during that period, for example distributing via satellite video lectures to huge territories without access to educational opportunity, with an array of learning centres where students were supposed to gather. But such experiments mostly provided a lesson on how to fail to introduce new technologies, and the generic open university approach remained for the most part unchallenged.
Then in the early 1990’s or so the digital revolution made its challenging entry, for myself first in the form of email and desktop computers for managing text, although elsewhere in the university it began to transform student records and logistics. By that time, the educational radicals of the Open University U.K. were in many cases in their 40’s and 50’s. And it seems to be true that while the technologies we grow up with, and perhaps up to the age of 40, are seen as part of the natural world, those that come later in our lives for some at least intrude as a personal challenge and an unwelcome one at that. I have a relative aged 82 who has never yet sent or received an email. She has just avoided this whole thing for 30 years.
So I remember working in an office of some 60 people in this period when the first desktop, just one, was installed for all of us to queue up and use, with its black screen and winking green text. And I sent the first email in my life, which was as it happens to Terry Evans at Deakin University, Australia. It could hardly have travelled further. And some 5 minutes later I received a reply. I couldn’t believe it. I think literally as well as metaphorically my mouth dropped open. Suddenly the world changed shape, and some dimensions of geographical distance, of time, and of communicating, sharing and working with others, were changed forever. I remember as early as 1989 reading the book ‘Mindweave’, edited by Robin Mason and Tony Kaye, which reported a number of case studies of text based interaction in educational contexts that really opened my eyes as to what was possible in terms of supporting learning. It was not the broadcast version of technology – one to many- but the emergent social constructivist model of meaning making, by many with many.
But those who were armoured against new technological innovations, over and above the ones we had worked with for the last 20 years, represented themselves as weary skeptics in the face of naive tech enthusiasts who had no understanding of ‘real’ communication, ‘real’ relationships’, or ‘real’ learning. And for an innovative technology supported university just 20 or so years old in the 1990’s, there were a surprising number of such conservatives who refused to model continued innovation, and who gradually became more and more forlorn and unhappy voices. Their refusal to acknowledge the far-reaching reality of the digital revolution for the ways in which we organised learning, teaching and services for students as well as so many other things did not finally exhaust itself in a small number of cases until their embittered retirement some 20 or more years later.
Social and economic models
More worthwhile critiques could however have been made. If we paid attention to the major technology revolutions of the last 500 years, selectively the printed book, the industrial factory, the railway, electricity, the internal combustion engine, the oil industry, the airplane etc, we can see a number of characteristics that they have in common. Firstly, they are too often driven by highly talented but egocentric individuals who have little regard for their fellow citizens whose lives their uninvited technologies are transforming, in some cases seriously impoverishing them at the same time as enormously enriching themselves. These same individuals avoid regulation by the state, avoid taxes, and avoid social responsibility at all costs. At least for a while. In the meantime, some at least set up philanthropic foundations to deflect such a critique. And it is also true that the digital revolution was a significant enabler of neo-liberalism, that set of ideas proposed in tandem by US President Ronald Reagan and U.K. Premier Margaret Thatcher as enormously innovative and liberating, but in my eyes representing very old-fashioned as well as ugly social and economic models. And the digital revolution made possible the reinvention of money as an instantly transferable electronic good that hugely reinforced the power of those who had it at the expense of local tax systems and labour forces. In due course this led to the devastating financial crash of 2008, deriving from a combination of incompetence and corruption that affected the living standards of many millions who had no responsibility for it at all. But I hope and believe that regulation and taxes are catching up now with what have become the great innovative tech monopolies. They have done with all the other tech revolutions.
For profit colleges
And if we come back to distance and online learning we have to acknowledge that our field has also had some of the threats and challenges as represented above, as well as the strengths and opportunities that we prefer to talk about. Not least has been the rise and thankfully in part at least the fall of the online for profit college. Especially but by no means only in the USA these colleges have sought out through their marketing the less advantaged sectors in a population, made promises on the spectrum of irresponsible to downright dishonest about the potential to improve earning power, and then seen their students laden by debts taken on to pay tuition fees dropout and fail in very large numbers. You could call such colleges generically ‘Trump University’ – yes there really was such an institution! But once again while the digital revolution has in an innovative way provided the means for such exploitative practices, in fact they take us back to so many – but not all – of the nineteenth and twentieth century correspondence schools who worked in essentially similar ways and for similar pecuniary motives. But the online for profit college phenomenon has now in the USA at least been significantly negatively impacted by lawsuits both individual and governmental, reinforcing my hope that the negative aspects of social behaviour enabled by the digital revolution in my field as well as more widely are now coming under some sort of control.
Open versus commercial practice
Of as great interest to me is the reaction to the high levels of commoditisation that the digital revolution has brought – above all of our personal data – as at the same time the push back of anti-commodifying practices in fields such as open software, open publishing and open educational resources. If it is true that every force engenders resistance, nowhere has this been seen so strongly as in the open publishing movement of the last 20 years. And it was the facilitation the production of journals, books and blogs at the same time as their distribution and easy availability through the web that has challenged and continues to challenge major publishing industries. It has been the digital revolution that has laid bare the essential injustice of a model where the public purse pays for research in universities, the results of which are given freely in articles or books that universities and the public then have to pay for to access, often at high prices, from commercial publishers. It is now the publishers who are having compromises forced on them, for example making journal articles freely available after one year. I will be fascinated to see where the next moment of stasis comes in the field of open versus commercial publishing. As for Open Educational Resources I remain wedded to the idea that courses can be more speedily, cheaply and equitably produced if we are able to share and adapt, facilitated by digital systems. But apart from the valuable open source production of some textbooks in North America where textbook prices are very high, I have personally seen less than enough evidence of Open Educational Practice, that is OER’s actually in use in the production of learning resources and courses rather than lying unexamined in unvisited repositories. There is some evidence, for example in Wawasan Open University in Malaysia. But not enough. I hope to be proved wrong!
On the other hand the use of OER’s for informal learning has had more success, for example with the Open Learn site of the Open University U.K., which makes freely available discontinued courses and fractions of current courses, and is used by millions of informal learners. As well as sites like this there are a million blogs, curated collections of resources on every subject under the sun, and spaces for association and discussion. The digital age has produced an extraordinary creativity based on informal learning and ease of communication. We can see it happening in front of our eyes as people stare at their screens in every sitting room at home, every café, on every bus, train or airplane. Is it here, not only in the study of but the production and curation of resources, that the spirit of innovation in learning might burn most fiercely in the current period? And are educational institutions with their architectures of learning still in analogue form in terms of programmes of study and credit systems still fit for purpose, and able to support the informal learning that is going on all around them, for the most part ignored, unrecognised and unvalued?
Lastly, what of human relationships? How have I experienced the impact of the digital revolution on relationships in educational contexts as well as more widely? If I think back to pre digital teacher-learner relationships I think it is true to say that these were in many cases invested in more in-depth and long term characteristics, with emotional and formative rewards at least as great as the short-term cognitive and assessment functions than is represented in the more constrained nature of online tutoring. But on the other hand, when such relationships did not work so well, they could be, and in some cases definitely were experienced by the learner as oppressive. And this move to lighter more transactional relationships has happened in other sectors such as medicine, banking, insurance, and retail. How many of us now have the long term, local and face to face personal relationships in these fields that underpinned ‘client’ or ‘patient’ cultures of the past? Even more interesting is the question as to how many younger people would even want them? Is the instant access to expertise and the freedom from time and place that digital relationships represent better or worse than the ‘by appointment’ or ‘only in opening hours’ local relationships that the pre-digital age offered? But if long term meaningful affective relationships are pushed back only to the nuclear family and close friends, can they carry the entire burden of human affective need alone? Or is this one element in the commonly reported rise in mental health problems in so many countries? If education is in its best sense driven by compassion and a love for humanity, that is to say a deep commitment to the wellbeing of others, how does such engagement work in the digital age? I am genuinely unsure about this area, and I can see and myself enjoy the advantages of ease of communication with family and friends all around the world as a significant benefit that is only available in the digital age. But if I am right that the digital revolution is by no means over, perhaps the human resilience that has remade and restored value again and again after previous technological revolutions will turn its attention to human relationships, and restore their depth of engagement over time, as well as their sparking in the digitally carried moment. At least I hope so!
The 1980s: The Dawn of Online Education
Pandemic 2020 Reflections on the first decade
My symbolic photography at the Kragerø location Edvard Munch painted his monumental work «The Sun»
The 1980s. The decade that irrevocably hurled me into many unforeseen adult opportunities and challenges. The decade that indeed changed a modest Norway towards a more self-conscious, open, and rich country. Defining technology developments that spurred a paradigm shift in distance education. So remarkable to sum up the decade realizing that a century has passed since my father was born. Reading worrying news about the pandemic, US developments and brexit at the end of 2020. The warmest year on record in Norway. A year that certainly will define the years to come.
Transforming distance education
In 1980, distance education was synonymous with correspondence courses, educational radio and television. It was the dawn of the online education era. The eighties totally transformed our perception of distance education. Paradigm shift was a frequently used term. The main driver of the development was new technology: PCs, modems and learning management systems. In retrospect, low capacity technology without graphic and colour interfaces. But a technology upholding Moore’s law by doubling processing and storage capacity every second year foreshadowed the ability to process digital sound and video. The term ICT was introduced for Information and Communication Technology. The Internet infrastructure reached some universities, a few pioneers started to exchange e-mail and the first online courses were introduced.
The second half of the decade introduced a remarkable era for online education in Norway. The first learning management systems and online courses were developed. The World Conference for Distance Education was hosted by the Norwegian Association for Distance Education at the University of Oslo. The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) opened its permanent secretariat in Oslo. Developments that very much defined my online education world.
In the eighties, I was one of many Norwegians who viewed the US as the land of opportunities. The land of technology innovations and ICT entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Scientific excellence, NASA, high tech companies, incredible new software, reliable news, impressive athletics, superb movies and music we loved. A country I toured extensively as a tourist and visited several times to learn more about technology and online education. My homeland for two years as a doctoral student and graduate assistant at the American Center for the Study of Distance Education.
In 2020, it is devastating to see the latest development in the US. School shootings. The opioid crisis. The growing political divide. The echo chambers and conspiracy theories flourishing in social media. Twitter’s and Facebook’s decisions to flag or hide fraudulent and harmful posts from President Trump. His chaotic presidency attacking decency, allies, science, media, elections and the legal system. The frightening mismanagement of the corona pandemic.
Digital and analogue virus
The first time I was approached and quoted by a national daily newspaper (Arbeiderbladet) as an expert was in November 1988. They wanted to know if we could be infected – by computer virus? I had no idea about the dangers that loomed ahead.
The COVID-19 pandemic that defined 2020 and changed most people’s lives. Took nearly two million lives in nine months. Isolated us from family and friends. Thought many to work from home. Shut down businesses, sports and culture activities.
Isolating and working from the island Øya in the small Norwegian town of Kragerø, I enjoyed renovating our old house and researching my online education archives. Realized that print was more durable than my outdated floppy disks from the 1980s. Found it very challenging to meet family and assist next of kin with dire need for help and medical care. Stoped hugging and shaking hands. It was the first year of my adult life I did not travel abroad. The ICDE, EDEN and OEB conferences I used to attend went virtual. The Tokyo summer Olympics was postponed for at least a year.
The only concert I attended was hosted by Kragerø Rotary in the backyard of restaurant Tollboden. A concert with one of the world’s bestselling crime writers. A Norwegian author translated into 50 languages. Vocalist and songwriter for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre. I was not surprised Jo Nesbø is an excellent storyteller. But his stage anecdotes and song lyrics maybe better than his novels. Unfortunately, so hard to appreciate if you don’t speak Norwegian.
But challenging times spur innovations. Performing artists staged virtual events. Bands and orchestras started playing virtually together from several locations. Athletics introduced digital lights (pace setters) instead of human rabbits to chase records. E-sport saw new opportunities. Magnus Carlsen, the incredible Norwegian World Chess Champion transformed chess with his virtual chess tournaments.
Schools saved by online education
The pandemic suddenly closed most Norwegian schools and universities and prompted them to substitute traditional teaching with online education. For a while online education was the standard and face to face education the exception. I was privileged to work for NooA, a completely online school with no need for offices and classrooms. Fortunate to receive a fair share of the extraordinary funding to online education that the Norwegian government made available for people who were laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic.
Many institutions and teachers made an impressive effort to go online and even the most ardent antagonists of ICT realised that online education could work. Many noteworthy initiatives promoted and shared resources, experiences, and advice from established online education communities. Many course providers decided to substitute their face to face seminars with free webinars. A fine offer in times of crisis, but hardly a sustainable solution.
Access to PCs and modems was the greatest obstacle for online education in the 1980s. I wonder why access to online education technology does not seem to be an issue in Norway anymore. Is it really so that all kids and adults in Norway now have access to PCs and Internet?
Finally, most of the new online education activities seem to replicate classroom teaching. Teams, Skype and Zoom suddenly became omnipresent communication tools, but too many people started to believe that online education is equivalent with webinars. A perception that disregards decades of experience and so many of the innovative online education developments that are addressed in the first decade of my online education chronicle.
«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 find 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 History of Online Education)
Some useful resources:
- Computer History Timeline
- The History of Online Education
- Wikipedia: History of Virtual Learning Environments
Helge Høivik’s Khrono reflections in Norwegian https://khrono.no/2020-blir-vannskillet-i-norsk-e-laering/472944
1980 - Graduating for Online Education?
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 fibre optic cables. Got a print out of my first digital photograpy. 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 substituted their manual slide rules with 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 my landlord Fru Hagen’s telephone.
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 of online education. 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 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 this epicentre of ICT.
On July 22 we were on the road towards Seattle 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.
My Mycron thesis
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 LP The Wall and played We don’t need no education repeatedly in stereo 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 the depicted 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
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 climate 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
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 correspondence 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.
My 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
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 jogging 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.
ICT Summer Schools
In the spring, I initiated EDB Sommerskole. It was a series of weeklong courses for youth and some adults who wanted to learn programming in BASIC with the BBC microcomputers. This was a newsworthy initiative which was announced in and covered by both national and local newspapers.
Our competitors, EDB skolen, organized their three week Summer Campus in Grimstad. I guess serial entrepreneur Jan Sollid Storehaug regrets that they started one week later than us.
I engaged my brother Frode to help me with the summer school. We filled a Ford Transit with computers and monitors to arrange courses at Panorama Summer Hotel in Oslo, Dombås Youth Hostel and Skagerak Vacation House in 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 Hege Bjarkholm, Lilllian Askautrud, 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
Else Rigmor Paulsen
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 cassette 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.
The HÅG Chair
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 initials. I remember visiting his impressing Røros Mansion and private fishing dam at Rørosvidda. HÅG soon became a cornerstone factory at the Unesco World Heritage mining town of Røros. The town became the shooting venue 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 built a log cabin. 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.
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.
The Norwegian Computer Society
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 NordData 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.
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
1985 - Discovering Modems and Electronic Bulletin Boards
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.
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.
Moving up the road
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 Olympics.
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
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.
Norddata in Stockholm
The first NordData conference was organized in Helsinki in 1968. Every year the conference was passed 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 perceive 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 suggested in February that NKI should start to offer online education. In April, NKI’s board provided funding for the project.
So, I came up with specifications for an electronic college designed for distance education. Termed it EKKO. Meaning echo in Norwegian – an awkward acronym for EleKtronisk KOmbinertundervisning. The figure shows the metaphor I draw to explain the online college concept.
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 because 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. She encouraged me to submit an article to her journal and I was thrilled to see In Search of a Virtual School published in the Dec/Jan 87/88 issue.
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 and former ICDE President 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
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.
NordData 87 in Trondheim
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 addition, 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 as a young girl with the kids in her Molde neighbourhood. 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.
Considered 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.
The Devestating Disease
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 tongue. 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
Studying and Teaching at Connect Ed
In the winter of 87/88, I took part in the online three-credit course Computer Conferencing in Business and Education. One of several courses offered through the EIES conferencing system by Connect Ed. Paul Levinson, the company manager, was teacher. His partner Tina Vozick handled all course administration. The course had eight study units, each scheduled for a week. Each study unit was introduced by Paul. He explained which part of the curriculum the study unit focused on and introduced some topics for discussion. He motivated the students and moderated the discussions. Students who took active part in the discussions and submitted a final course report received a course certificate.
Søren Nipper from Denmark was one of 15 students in my class. One interesting EIES feature was that we could list the names of the students that were on line. I remember feeling part of an important new movement the Saturday night we were only three students online: Muhammad, Jesus and myself.
In the summer semester, Connect Ed offered four online courses. Paul Levinson taught Issues in International Telecommunication. Partly from his home office in New York city and partly from his «electronic cottage» at Cape Cod – with three guests experts: Jerry Glenn, Terrence Wright and me. So, my first international online teaching experience was about telecommunication events and trends in the Scandinavian countries.
More of my experiences from the course is available in this Facebook post.
Free Online Education
In order to gain experience with more students, we decided to offer three online courses for free in the spring. Introduction to computer science, Pascal programming and System analysis. Together these courses were equivalent to the first semester of the part-time study program we offered to on-campus students at Datahøgskolen. Altogether 57 course enrolments and 35 course completions in the spring.
The article in the picture is from NKI-Perspektiv nr. 2, 1988. It shows some of the first online students and their three pioneer teachers: Rolf Ingebrigtsen, me and Lars Eskeland.
The experiences from the spring courses were so positive that NKI offered the same three courses with tuition fees in the fall. We also added the two courses introduction to business administration and Cobol programming. In addition, we continued to develop a conference named E-KRO (Electronic Cafe) as a social meeting place for prospective students, enrolled students, tutors and staff.
The courses were offered with fixed start-up dates and paced progression to establish a community feeling and support communication between students. Several of my colleagues were skeptical. They argued that we should allow students to decide when they wanted to start and how fast they should progress through the course.
We had two public telephone lines for 300 bit per second modems and two for autodetection of 1200 and 2400 bit per seconds. Six Datapak channels allowed students to access EKKO via local nodes that provided cheaper communication.
The experiences from our online education courses are well documented in both Norwegian and English. They became a wonderful source for research, projects, articles, paper presentations, reports and books. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to learn from and work with Torstein Rekkedal in this process. His international contacts and reputation opened a lot of doors for me.
Datakomm 88 in Oslo
In February, DND’s Special Interest Group on data communication arranged the conference Datakomm 88 in Oslo. I was on the planning committee with Lasse Berntsen, Kjell Åge Bringsrud, Knut Smaaland and others. I had a presentation on distance education and data communication. There, I met Bengt Olsen who presented a paper on computer conferencing and PortaCom.
The AECS Conference in Istanbul
In April the Association of European Correspondence Schools (AECS – later EADL) conference was arranged in Istanbul. The most populous city in Europe. A third of the population on the Asian side of the Bosporus. My first intriguing taste of Asia.
Torstein Rekkedal gave a keynote presentation titled Computer Conferencing in the NKI Distance Education System. Together with a number of Norwegian delegates, I was amazed by the Grand Bazaar, the Topkapi Palace and Harem, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
My memories of belly dancing and pictures from the One Thousand and One Nights costumes dinner are precious. Erling Ljoså, Dagny Blom and Morten Søby were colourful representatives from NKS. Tormod Carlsen dressed as a sheik. Berit Johnsen and Tove Kristiansen were princesses. Tony Kaye encouraged me to come to OUUK’s conference on computer conferencing in the fall.
NordData 88 in Helsinki
The annual NordData conference was organized in Helsinki in June. Finland, a Nordic country drawn between east and west. Still in the shadow of the Soviet Union. Urho Kekkonen had been president for my entire life until Mauno Koivisto took over in 1982.
We booked the night train from Oslo to Stockholm. Waiting for the ferry boat to Helsinki, we walked around the old city centre Gamla Stan with Stian in a stroller. The one-year-old boy whimpered more and more, so we went to the emergency reception at Stockholms Akutten.
Mother and son flew back to Oslo with a hernia. Father continued on the ferry boat passing the beautiful archipelagos in Stockholm and Helsinki. To give a presentation titled «Experiences with computermediated communication systems in distance education».
The presentation focused on our work with the EKKO system and concluded: We have experienced that computermediated conferencing (CMC) systems provide new opportunities in distance education. We have discovered challenges that need to be addressed and teaching methods that work. Our work show that CMC systems can offer and administrate pedagogical and social college environments. We believe CMC systems will be central in future distance education.
The visit reminded me of my first trip abroad. In May 1971, a couple of hundred kids from the four Nordic capitals met in Helsinki to take part in the twenty third Competitions in Athletics and Soccer. Travelling by night train from Oslo to Stockholm. With my school mates Anne Søby and Tom Bysveen. Along with Tom Inge Ørner, Torgeir Skogseth and Bjørn Gundersen. Holding my breath during take-off. My very first flight took me from Stockholm to Helsinki.
Fond memories of being hosted by the Öhman family in Kantelevägen. Luckily, they belonged to the Swedish speaking community, since the Scandinavian languages have much more in common with English than Finnish. The only Finnish word I could say to them was kiitos – which is takk in Norwegian and thank you in English.
The ICDE World Conference
In 1988, ICDE – the International Council for Open and Distance Education celebrated its 50th anniversary. And the 14th ICDE World Conference was held at the University of Oslo in August. 700 participants from 60 countries. Arranged by Norsk Forbund for Fjernundervisning – the Norwegian Association for Distance Education. The organization in which Erling Ljoså was president, Reidar Roll and Turid Widerø worked.
I was there, giving a presentation titled Computer Conferencing in Distance Education: Experiences with the implementation of computer conferencing in distance education. More spectacular was our attempt to erect the world largest tower cake at Henie Onstad art centre.
Flipping through the old conference proceeding, I was surprised to see so many familiar names. Scholars whose research I have studied carefully. Colleagues I have enjoyed meeting and exchanging experiences with. Among the them who have influenced my online education world are: ICDE Presidents Börje Holberg, Sir John Daniel and David Sewart. Greville Rumble, Paul Bacsich, Tony Bates, Liz Burge, Fabio Chacon, Keith Harry, Michael G. Moore, David Murphy, Som Naidu, Jason Ohler, Bruce Scriven and Armando Villaroel.
One of the papers caught my attention. Angela Castro’s introduction started: In the last two years, a small silver platter called the CD-ROM which uses optical storage technology, has made inroads into academic libraries, art galleries and museums. This small disk measuring only 12.5 centimeters, and made from heavily coated polycarbonate plastic which renders it extremely hard, is capable of holding information equivalent to the content of 1,500 floppy disks, or 500 average sized books.
I also found the paper I wrote with Torstein Rekkedal in the proceedings. Computer conferencing: A breakthrough in distance learning or just another technological gadget?
Pictures in ICDE’sReport from the Fourteenth World Conference
ICDE settled in Oslo
The Oslo conference was indeed a breakthrough for ICDE. Our late King Olav V was present along with Norway’s Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland who stated that the Norwegian Government would support a permanent ICDE secretariat in Norway.
Just after the conference, the ICDE secretariat was established in Oslo with Reidar Roll as its first secretary general. Among the employees I remember meeting in the early days of ICDE, was Turi Widerøe who is recognized as the first female pilot in a major airline and Trond Waage who later became Ombudsman for Children in Norway. A few years later, I also met Ana Perona who made important contributions as ICDE’s Assistant Secretary General.
An Electronic University in a Medieval Monastery
Jostein Soland invited me to give a presentation about our online learning experiences at a post conference seminar arranged by Electronic University Norway at the 800 years old monastery Utstein kloster. We arrived by boat from Norway’s oil capital Stavanger and slept in the modest chambers that were used by the monks.
I wanted to make a live demonstration of the NKI Online College in the monastery library were the seminar took place. To do so, I needed to connect my PC-modem to the monastery’s only telephone outlet which was in the main office. Luckily, I found a 20-meter electric cord which could work as a telephone cable extension and climbed outside the meter-thick monastery stone walls to connect my modem to the telephone line. It felt like bridging the medieval time with the computer age. It was also a boost to hear the American guests of honour from EUN were envious of some of our LMS features and impressed by my live demonstration of our online courses.
Aftenposten, August 2, 1988
Open University in October
In October, I gave a presentation about my online education experiences at the conference Computer Conferencing in Distance Education at OUUK – the Open University in Milton Keynes. The presentation was titled EKKO – A Virtual School.
At the conference, I learned that OUUK was planning to introduce its first online course based on CoSy in 1989.
It was my first visit to the Open University. Milton Keynes, an impressive university campus. Without students. But plenty of course designers, support staff, esteemed academics and radio and television studios operated in collaboration with BBC. Founded in 1969 by the Labour government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. A model for many of the open universities that later were established around the world.
Incredible that I later had the honour to attend its 50th anniversary gala dinner with prominent Sir John Daniel, Robert Wilson and David Attenborough.
Paulsen, M. F. 1988. Deltidsstudier i New York – via PC. PC World Norge, 1988(4):62-64.
Paulsen, M. F. and T. Rekkedal. 1988. Computer conferencing: A breakthrough in distance learning or just another technological gadget? In Proceedings of The World Conference of the International Council for Distance Education, 362-365. Oslo, Norway: International Council for Distance Education.
1989 - Gaining International Attention
1989 – Gaining International Attention
Ups and downs
On the international scene, it was disturbing to see the huge student led protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. We followed the development from the protests started on April 15 until it was forcibly suppressed on June 4. when the People’s Liberation Army occupied central parts of Beijing.
We were much more excited to see the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall in November. After several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government sent out a press release on November 9. The travel ban for GDR citizens was lifted and all citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. This initiated a wave of optimism for the future of Europe.
Privately, we were really happy as parents and delighted to be pregnant again. Three times in two years. Devastated by three subsequent miscarriages. Uneasy with the prospect that Stian should grow up without siblings.
Online teaching innovations in EKKO
In 1989 the NKI electronic college had nearly 150 course enrolments in six different online courses. The growing number of courses and students made it possible for us to experiment with various teaching approaches as described in the following.
In the Fall 1988 Monica Johannesen taught the Information Systems course. In a conference, she presented a case and assigned each student a role. The case described a company planning to invest in a new computer-based office automation system. The students were assigned roles as users, accounting officer, project manager, labour union representative, etc. Over a period of about fourteen days the students were expected to elucidate the different facets of this project, as reflected through the different roles.
Ragnar Børsum taught the Pascal and Cobol programming courses every semester since the Fall of 1988. In the Pascal course, the students programmed in Turbo Pascal on their home PC. The program source code was posted to the instructor or shared with the other students in the conferencing system. In this way the teacher and the students could download the program codes, change them if they desired, and execute them on their local computers. In the Cobol course he experimented with letting the students access the host computer’s Cobol compiler. This was bothersome, but it worked. The important lesson was, however, that distant students could access host computer applications such as compilers, database systems, statistics software, etc.
Henny Lindland used the EKKO online multiple-choice database we developed as a part of the Introduction to Computer Science course, for the first time in the Fall 1989. The students could download multiple-choice questions, spend some time to figure out the answers, and then upload their suggestions and let the database score them.
All children and grandchildren in the family called him Moste. The nick name coming out of my toddler mouth when my parents urged me to say Morfar (mother’s father).
I adored him and missed him a lot when he passed away at the age of 93 in May. He made up scary fairy tales about trolls, showed us the cave they lived in and explained that trolls only appeared at night because they burst in sunshine. A chubby handyman who made bows and arrows from defunct umbrellas and feathered headgear so that we could dress up as Indians. An artist who made furniture and fishing gear with the kids.
As a young electrician, Thoralf Baadstøe worked to connect the houses in the Sørkedalen Valley to the electricity grid. At Grøttumsbråten, he was greeted by Petra Jensine (Pedersdatter) Grøttumsbråten. There, the electric sparks were all around my future grandparents.
As a pensioner, he lived much of the year at the Nesodden summer house. My summer dream. Where I looked up to my older cousins Stein and Dag. Many memories captured in my detailed 1969 drawing. Moste spent hours fishing and smoking his pipe in the tiny rowing boat that fit perfectly around his waist. When the boat capsized, he had to swim ashore with money notes in his pockets – tugging the boat, wearing his cap, looking through his glasses and puffing his pipe.
He gradually lost his hearing and it became more and more difficult to communicate with him. His hearing aids were primitive and uncomfortable. So sad for both of us that SMS messages, e-mail and social media communication was not available in his world.
I thought about Moste when I read Norman Coomb’s 1989 article Using CMC to Overcome Physical Disabilities in Mindweave. About online courses with a blind teacher and hearing-impaired students. I realized I wanted to use ICT to make education more available for people with all kinds of social and physical challenges.
Mindweave and Milton Keynes
Back in the United Kingdom. The cultural empire that influenced my generation of Norwegian teenagers immensly. We identified with Rolling Stones or the Beatles. Loved James Bond and Alistair MacLean movies. Watched countless hours of British TV series on the only TV channel available in Norway. Studied British English (and culture) as our first foreign language. When schools cut down from six to five days a week, we often spent Saturday afternoons watching Premier League as passionate supporters of Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal.
In May, I returned to Milton Keynes to attend the MTED Workshop. Gave the presentation EKKO – Experiences and learned more about OUUK’s first large-scale online course. Using the Canadian computer conferencing system CoSy they enrolled 1400 students in the world’s first large-scale online course Introduction to ICT and social issues.
As a follow up of the conference I attended in Milton Keynes the year before, Robin Mason and Anthony Kaye introduced the very influential book: Mindweave: Communication, Computers and Distance Education which was published by Pergamon Press in 1989.
I contributed with the paper EKKO: a virtual school and read all 31 contributions with great interest.
Among the other prominent pioneers who contributed to Mindweave were Andrew Feenberg, Paul Levinson, Linda Harasim, Søren Nipper, Lynn Davie, Elaine McCreary, Greville Rumble, Annette Lorentsen, Judith Van Duren, Gary Boyd, Paul Bacsich, Stephen Ehrmann and Norman Coombs.
NordData 89 in Copenhagen
Copenhagen. The capital of Denmark. Arguably the most important city throughout Norway’s history. At least between 1380 and 1814 when our two countries were unified. For many years Copenhagen international airport was my gateway to the world.
Joined my older cousin Stein on my first visit in 1973. Lodged in the fashionable apartment of an elderly couple he knew from his upbringing in the city. Shocked that they drank the bitter liquor Gammel Dansk with Sunday breakfast and ended the meal with cigars.
In June, we took the overnight ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen with our two-year-old son. A very recommendable journey along the beautiful Oslo fjord. Passed the narrow strait of Drøbak where two torpedoes from Oscarsborg fortress sank Blücher. The German warship that led a flotilla into the Oslo fjord on the night of April 8th 1940 to seize the Norwegian capital.
Stayed in our friend Sidsel’s Klampenborg apartment just north of Copenhagen. Took the kid to the aquarium and the nice Dyrehavsbakken park nearby. Went to the conference located at the Danish Technical University and enjoyed the jazzparade organized by Leonardo Pedersen’s Jazzkapell on the campus lawn.
Celebrated with a good bottle of wine after I received the Best Presentation Award for Trends in international electronic distance education at the NordData 89 conference. The picture shows the valuable moment when Erik Bruhn, editor of the Nordic journal Data, congratulated me and handed over the prize along with NOK 15.000.
Educational programs on local TV channels
During the 1980s, there was a growing interest in local TV channels distributed via cable TV. More and more households were connected. In 1984, NFL (Norske Fjernsynsselskapers Landsforbund) was established as an association for local TV channels. Most members were local and regional newspapers. Our local channel, ABTV (Asker og Bærum Lokal-TV) was one of the first. Started regular programming around 1986. The channels struggled financially since TV commercials were not allowed in Norway until 1991. They had limited resources to produce in-house content and scarce finances to buy content elsewhere. Many were interested if you could offer free content of general interest.
In this environment, I produced six half-hour TV programmes as supplementary content to NKI’s online course Introduction to ICT. All programs were shown several times on many of the local channels.
The first programme was initiated by a notice I read in Computerworld Norway. Rumours indicated that Bill Gates should join Microsoft’s delegation at an ICT fair at Info-Rama outside Oslo. So, I phoned Microsoft’s Nordic head quarter in Stockholm and asked if I could book an interview with him for educational TV.
In the second program, I introduced telecommunication trends, ISDN and new value-added services. The program also included a video on ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) produced by the Norwegian Telecom and an overview of valueaded services presented by Anders Fongen.
The third video included Torstein Rekkedal, Henny Lindland and myself taking about our online education experiences. The remaining three programs included interviews with Norwegian ICT celebrities.
Helge Seip focused on ICT and privacy issues. He was an influential Norwegian Politician for many years. In 1980 he was appointed as the first director of the Norwegian Data Inspectorate. From 1989 to 1995 he worked as Data Protection Commissioner for the Council of Europe.
Kristen Nygaard concentrated on his work with Ole Johan Dahl when they invented object-oriented programming and developed the programming language Simula in the 1960’s.
Lars Monrad-Krohn talked about microcomputers and his work as a serial ICT entrepreneur. The program also showed Apple’s video Knowledge Navigator which gave an impressive prediction of how personal computing works today.