My Online Education World
My Online Education World, 1980-2020
By Morten Flate Paulsen, CEO of NooA – the Nordic open online Academy
Introduction - Posted January 2020
My Online Education World chronicle emerged as an intriguing, but daunting, idea. First at the black-tie dinner hosted by Baroness Martha Lane Fox for the 50th anniversary of the UK Open University. Again when I prepared a keynote on forty years of innovations in online education at the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University‘s 40th anniversary in August 2019.
I gradually realized that I have four decades of online education experiences and many anecdotes that I hopefully have time to share after stepping down as Acting Secretary General of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE). I also realized that My Online Education World has been formed by all the good people I have met and my experiences from ICT and pedagogy in Norway and many other countries.
My ambition is to publish some relevant recollections, year by year. The approach is inspired by Ketil Bjørnstad – the multi-talented Norwegian pianist, composer, journalist and author – who shared personal anecdotes, celebrity encounters and newsworthy moments in his monumental chronicle Verden som var min (The world that was mine). Nearly hundred pages per year, one volume per decade. So far, I have read his observations and views from the sixties and seventies. Now, I dive into his eighties. His world is especially interesting to me since we grew up in the same time, region and cultural setting.
In the same way, I hope that my recollections could be of interest to my dear family and friends as well as the many people I have encountered virtually and face-to-face in My Online Education World.
The 1980s - The Dawn of Online Education - Posted January 2020
«The Computer Age and the Modern Internet: Even though internet-type signals had been transmitted from school to school in decades past, the 1980’s are the birth years of modern internet. Before this era, the internet — and online education with it — were just research experiments. The vision for the internet was primarily based in university computer labs. But online education does finds its earliest entrants in the 1980’s with the first online college courses and online degrees as distance education embraces the idea of online learning. During this era, the internet reaches Europe and Asia. Infrastructure is laid down, providing for faster and more expansive internet operations and effectively opening the door for the total commercial and popular permeation of web use in the decade that would immediately follow». (David Ferrer’s introductions to the 1980s in the The History of Online Education)
Some useful resources:
- Computer History Timeline
- The History of Online Education
- Wikipedia: History of Virtual Learning Environments
1980 - Graduating for Online Education? - Posted January 2020
In 1980, I graduated from the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH, now NTNU) in Trondheim as a shy, introvert, mediocre but diligent student. I remember we were 180 electro students in the class, but only one female. The awkward lecturer who spent two hours on the blackboard not able to solve his own mathematical assignment. The often arrogant, sometimes brilliant and always rabid professor Jens Glad Balchen who many years later was commemorated on the tail wing of a Norwegian Air Shuttle. I saw my first microprocessors and fiber optic cables. We learned Fortran programming in front of a punch card machine. Delivered stacks of cards at the counter for compilation and picked up all the error messages the next morning.
Most students had calculators from Texas Instruments and Hewlett Packard. I had the HP 21 which could be programmed with 49 command lines, just enough for my friend Bjørn Bakken and my younger brother Frode to simulate five dices to play Yahtzee.
Long distance calls to Oslo were expensive and the telephone charges were also higher during work hours. So every Monday at 17.00, my father called me at Fru Hagen’s (my landlord) telelephone.
To add extra income to the student loan, I worked during vacations at the Norwegian state telecom (Televerket) and the minicomputer company Norsk Data. At Televerket we measured how many bits per second (300-4800) we could offer to future customers who would transfer data with modems over ordinary telephone lines. At Norsk Data we worked with the SIBAS database software.
US Road Trip
Leaving Trondheim, I never ever imagined that I would return as a professor. I had few plans for the future. So, I embarked on a summer journey with my childhood friend and 1975-76 Interrail companion Atle Gunnari. Three countries in two months: USA, Graceland and Disneyland. We travelled from New York via Dallas, Las Vegas, Tijuana and Hawaii to Seattle when Jimmy Carter was President. We met Ana and Paula and spent some days in a Santa Cruz collective. Do they remember the Volkswagen hippie van excursion that culminated as a bamboo and coconut concert up in a redwood tree? Later, on the Greyhound bus, we realized that we needed to find San Francisco’s cheapest hotel room. It turned out to be in a gay hotel on Market street. I wanted to visit Silicon Valley, but to my astonishment none of the locals had heard about it.
Returning home, I bought a NOK 35 000 one-room apartment at Ammerud in Oslo. There, I applied to have a landline telephone and was lucky enough to get one after a few months. I bought Pink Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall and played We don’t need no education repeatedly on my gramophone. In the fall, I started working with my master thesis at the microcomputer company Mycron. It was headed by the serial entrepreneur Lars Monrad Krohn who I interviewed for educational TV in 1989.
As part of my thesis work, I designed and built a central processing unit (CPU) for a microcomputer with the Intel 8086 microprocessor and 8087 co-processor. The thesis was written with the very early word processor Mytekst (developed for Mycron by Haakon Wiig) and stored on an eight inch floppy disk.
Among many successful colleagues in Mycron were Terje Tinglum and Ingar Rune Steinsland who developed CPM 86 together with Gary Kildall. We all expected it would be the operating system for the planned IBM PC. Arild Haraldsen wrote about this in his Norwegian article Den sanne historien om PCens historie (The true history of the PC).
1981 - Working with Microcomputers - Posted January 2020
After finishing my master thesis at Mycron, I continued to work there for six months as a hardware engineer. The company’s future looked bright, so unfortunately, I bought the company shares we were offered as employees. How could I foresee the impact of MS-DOS and the 1981 introduction of the Osborne 1 portable computer and the IBM PC? It was the same year I bought my first home computer. I considered the Sinclair ZX80, but chose the Commodore VIC 20 which foreshadowed the very successful Commodore 64. I later added a cassette tape recorder to store programs and learned to program in Basic.
Analyses and acquisition of shares are often more successful in hindsight as this short clip from my 1989 interview with Bill Gates indicates:
Looking back, I realize that many of Norway’s most talented ICT personalities started their careers in Mycron. Just to mention a few I remember working with: Vigleik Eide, Monica Nøkleby and Ivar Andersen. Stein Bergsmark has been active in the clima debate and Gro Jørgensen cofounded Tiki Data for the school market and started CyberBook – a company that provides online learning resources.
In the Navy
In the summer, I was called to do my military service in the Norwegian Navy. It started with three weeks boot camp at Madla in Stavanger. Fortunately, I was soon transferred to SMK (Sjømilitære korps) – the Navy’s vocational boarding school in Horten. There, I spent one of my best years as a quartermaster and teacher along with my university classmates Olav Stokke, Bjørn Hopland, Christopher Lund and John Harald Bergheim. Brynjulf Freberg was a frequent visitor at the old military villa we shared at Karljohansvern. As quartermasters we had privileged access to house cleaning maids, windsurf boards and sailing boats. But we worked bloody hard as teachers and duty officers.
As duty officers during weekends, we were responsible for the nearly 200 students at the military boarding school. This was especially tough when they returned from the local discos and pubs. Often hard to wake them up the morning after they received their monthly payment. But we learned that they respected and cared about us – because we cared about them.
I fondly remember my 24th birthday. When I showed up in the classroom, it was decorated with petunia flowers in five half-litre beer mugs. Respectively stolen from the school’s flower bed and the local pub. At lunch, about 200 male and 10 female students sang happy birthday in the cafeteria.
With no teaching experiences, I was thrown into teaching mathematics, chemistry and electronics. The students were nearly my age and not very motivated to learn theory. So, I soon realized that we needed some action in class. Chemistry became more interesting with explosive demonstrations and electronic lab sessions were more fun when we grilled hotdogs at 230 volts, injecting electric cords in each end. We learned that the sausages were very well done when the fuses cut. It probably went too far when I ignited a leftover military thunderflash in the teacher room during lunch break.
The school had a number of Swedish ABC 80 microcomputers and we were able to connect them in a local area network (LAN). I expect it was one of the very first LANs in Norwegian schools. On this we developed our very first online education application. A competitive arithmetic game, where the students tried to solve as many assignments as possible in a limited time period. It became very popular and the competition to be on the top ten list was fierce.
If not on duty, I went to Oslo during weekends with my first car, an old Renault 5. We installed a car computer and attached sensors to measure the flow of gas and rotation speed of the wheels so that the computer could show the current and the average gas consumption and speed of the car. Le Renault did not like steep hills, but gave a special feeling of freedom.
Freedom of choice was however not abundant in the Norwegian society. In December, Minister of Culture Lars Roar Langslet announced a list of providers that were accepted for testing local radio and television broadcasting. It ended the Norwegian state broadcasting monopoly.
1982 - Gaining more Educational Experiences - Posted February 2020
1982 – Gaining more Educational Experiences
The SMK officers often met in the large living room of our villa to socialize or watch a VHS video. We served beer from the bar and called the private soldiers on duty when we needed more wood for the fireplace. Frequent discussion topic among the naval officers were Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Falkland war between England and Argentina. It started when Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands in April and ended in June when the Argentine forces surrendered.
It was a special day. King Olav V visited SMK. We were all lined up in navy uniforms and the King took time to inspect and greet everyone. My body hurt from lined up immobility. My soul was pleased with the royal handshake.
The open day for the local community and student families started with the traditional ceremony of hoisting the Norwegian flag. Maybe Thomas was among the students in the parade. At least his parents and handsome older sister were watching.
After two years of schooling, Thomas and the other SMK students continued with two year military training at the Haakonsvern naval base near Bergen. As their teachers, we got a military flight to a guided tour of the base and the submarines. I was not intrigued by travelling anywhere by submarine, but inspired by the opportunity to hop on free empty seats on military flights to northern Norway. Christoffer Lund and I used the opportunity to seek the midnight sun and visited Tromsø and Bodø during summer vacation.
At the end of the school year, my military service as a teacher ended. The students celebrated it traditionally by throwing their teachers, wearing quartermaster uniforms, into the cold Oslo fjord. It changed my interpretation of the word wetsuit.
In the spring, I applied for a position at the Norwegian correspondence school NKI that was announced in Aftenposten as shown in the figure. September 1st, after a successful job interview with Solveig Grepperud, I started as head of a project group which should investigate and develop new educational initiatives related to computer technology.
NKI produced a lot of written course material for their correspondance students and had a typewriter pool of women who typed from dictaphones and handwritten manuscripts.
One of the benefits was that the job came with affordable rent to one of the ten apartments NKI predisposed in Limsteinveien near Bekkestua in the outskirts of Oslo.
The Arab Stunt
NKI had international ambitions through ownership in ISOT – the International School of Technology. One of several ISOT-projects was a training programme in electronics for Syrian and Saudi Arabian engineers. It was part of a development program initiated by the Saudi Presidency of Civil Aviation (PCA) for Saudi technical personnel at the new airport in Jeddah.
As I recall it, Stein Tore Jenssen called me on a Friday to tell that the coming week’s teacher had withdrawn. Could I please step in and teach them PDP 11 assembly programming – in English. He argued that, since I knew some English and some assembly programming and had the whole weekend to prepare, there was no way I could decline. It was tough, but I made it. After a while, I appreciated that Stein Tore dared me to push my limits.
In the summer, NKI bought 400 BBC microcomputers for educational purposes. The BBC Micro was developed by Acorn for the BBC Computer Literacy Project which also included educational TV programs, textbooks and software. NKI’s intention was to use the computers for its computer courses and to get a foothold in the Norwegian school market. This effort was not especially successful since Tiki Data and IBM took over the school market.
I was however fortunate to use the BBC micro and the additional resources for personal learning and some classroom ICT courses that I developed and taught for banks and insurance companies. I learned assembly programming with the computers popular microprocessor 6502 and published a compendium with program examples and exercises.
1983 - Establishing Norway's first private ICT College - Posted February 2020
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 training for next year’s Oslo Marathon and attended the first out of three Oslo Carnivals. Unfortunately, the cheerful but unrestrained carnival crowds did too much damage to establish a sustainable carnival tradition in Norway.
In the spring, I initiated EDB Sommerskole. It was a series of weeklong courses for youth who wanted to learn programming in BASIC with the BBC microcomputers. I engaged my brother Frode to help me. We filled a Ford Transit with computers and monitors to arrange courses in Oslo, Dombås and Grimstad. We had much fun with barbecues, bonfires and windsurfing. But I will never again agree to have 24/7 responsibility for teaching and social activities for youth on vacation away from their parents.
NKI Datahøgskolen – Norway’s first private ICT College
NKI Distance Education decided to establish NKI Datahøgskolen as a private ICT college in 1983. The first three employees were Bjørn Kristiansen, Oddvar Bentsen and me who already worked at NKI. We found a factory building at Grenseveien 107 in Oslo which we transformed into a school building with auditoriums, class rooms and 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 128 students enrolled in September, the college was still partly a construction site. We had employed Einar Sandvik and Mona Sætrang in the administration and a number of part time teachers with experience from the ICT-field. Agnar Nilsen was engaged as ICT Manager to take care of the HP 3000 computer system which was used for COBOL programming and word processing with HP SLATE which the students often called HP LATE.
The students were motivated, challenging and nearly my age. We were a young team with much more enthusiasm than experience. We learned how hard and rewarding it was to be entrepreneurs. And how difficult it was to establish a private college that challenged the public college system. However, without this enthusiastic team, the college would not exist.
The toughest shock came when the Ministry of Culture and Science declined our application to join the scheme for public student loans. When the news broke, I remember welcoming the TV news reporter Audgunn Oltedal from NRK Dagsrevyen. She retorted «I’m not here to be nice». However, Tore Krogdahl argued well on behalf of NKI on Dagsrevyen – the most watched News program on Norwegian television. Aftenposten, the leading Norwegian newspaper, broke the negative news on November 24, 1983.
We called an open meeting for all students who expected to receive student loans. Standing in front of more than 100 hostile students in a stuffed auditorium was not pleasant, but we negotiated an agreement with bank that offered our students loans on similar terms as they would get in public colleges. The tension abated and I still have many fond memories of the first students at Datahøgskolen.
1984 - Changing Perspectives - Posted February 2020
Our dear mother, Else Rigmor Paulsen (born Bådstøe), died in February of cancer at the age of 52. She was a mild tempered and careful mother and wife. She met father when they both worked at the Osram office at Drammensveien 35 in Oslo. They married in 1956 and moved to an apartment in Eiksveien in Bærum. When I was about one year 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 Kringkastingsorkesteret, listened to Roger Whittaker on her casette player and decorated our mountain cabin near Gålå with rosemaling.
Her world was different than ours. It was without computers. She was abroad only once – to attend her sister Lill’s wedding with Uncle Arne in Copenhagen. Altogether, her radio and TV-channel options were four.
In various ways, «Mutter’n» preserved raspberries, red currants, blackberries and gooseberries in the summer. Cherries, apples, pears and plums in the fall. It was incredible how much fruit, berries and flowers we got from the tiny garden colony lot at Sogn Hagekoloni. It was established around 1920 by Fire Chief Ole Paulsen at Hegdehaugen Fire Station. He was «Fattern’s» father and the garden colony provided welcome food resources when Oslo was occupied during the second world war.
The picture shows Dad, aunt Marit and grandma Hilda Sofie, Sogn Hagekoloni ca. 1925.
Much of the berries we picked were frozen for the winter. At that time, few people had private freezers, so we rented access to a cold storage in the basement of an apartment building at Majorstua. I still remember how creepy it was to go down there to fetch frozen berries, pork or reindeer meat from the dressed carcases the adults sometimes bought from farmers and prepared in our kitchen.
Many of my fond memories of mother is associated with weekend visits to her parents’ apartment near Sagene Church (where I was baptised) and the summer house in Ekornveien at Nesodden.
Mother’s cousin Mary was married to Håkon Granlund who became a good friend of my father. After mother died, he took my father on a European road trip which obviously was a welcome distraction and experience.
Håkon was an energetic and innovative entrepreneur who started HÅG, an office chair company named after his intials. I remember visiting his impressing Røros Mansion and privat fishing dam at Rørosvidda. HÅG soon became a cornerstone factory at the Unesco World Heritage mining town of Røros. The town became the shooting venu of many movie pictures with strong women. Pippi Longstockings, An-Magritt featuring Liv Ullmann and Ibsen’s Dollhouse with Jane Fonda as Nora. Håkon proudly told that Jane rented his Røros mansion as her residence during the filming in 1973.
I also recall several enjoyable days with Håkon, Mary and their children Erik and Nina at their summer house at Lake Tyrifjorden. It was close to the island of Utøya, the location of the July 22 massacre in 2011. Håkon had built a private fishing dam at Rørosvidda were he farmed some trout and build a log cabin there. In 1970, it was dismantled and transported on a huge truck to Gålå where it was rebuilt as our mountain cabin.
Erling S. Andersen
In April, NKI was fortunate to engage Erling S. Andersen as Rector for Datahøgskolen. His challenge was to develop Datahøgskolen into a credible and respected institution. He immediately started to recruit a number of good academic staff members. Dag-Arne Hoberg was probably the first. Later came my good colleagues Johan Havnen, Andreas Quale, Vidar Keul, Tom Sørensen and Knut W. Hansson. The efforts soon payed off and in July we got the news that our students could apply for student loans.
NKI Datahøgskolen is not well known as a brand name anymore, but the impact of our pioneer work can be better understood through the institution’s mergers and name changes:
- 1983 – NKI Datahøgskolen
- 1993 – NHI Datahøgskolen after merging with Norges Høyskole for Informasjonsteknologi NHI when NKI acquired NæringsAkademiet
- 1995 – Den Polytekniske Høgskolen after merging with NKI Ingeniørhøgskolen
- 2002 – Norges Informasjonsteknologiske Høgskole (NITH) as a result of more strategic focus on ICT
- 2014 – Westerdals – Oslo School of Art, Communication and Technology after a merger with Westerdals. Both schools were owned by ABNU.
- 2017 – Campus Kristiania after a it was acquired by Campus Kristiania
Finally, Silicon Valley
In July, Erling took Dag-Arne and me to New York where we dined with Phil Dorn (a regular contributor to the Nordic computer journal Data which Erling edited), the National Computer Conference in Las Vegas and Hewlett Packard’s Palo Alto headquarter in Silicon Valley. I started to realize that Erling was an excellent and very inspirational boss.
Erling was an active member of the Norwegian Computer Society (Den norske dataforening – DND) and became chair of the organization from 1985 to 1987. He encouraged me to join, and I learned much from taking part in the annual Nordata conferences and DND’s working group on data communication. I also enjoyed a vantage point since the long serving Secretary General Kåre Gunnari was father of my best friend and one of the former Chairs, Haakon Branæs, was a close friend of my father.
1985 - Discovering Modems and Electronic Bulletin Boards - Coming May 2020
1986 - Designing the first LMS for distance education - Coming September 2020
1987 - Teaching the first distance students online - Coming October 2020
1988 - Attending ICDE's World Conference in Oslo - Coming November 2020
1989 - Gaining International Attention - Coming December 2020