The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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PLATO IV System Progress Report on Field Testing (Large-scale field test of PLATO computer-assisted instruction system in 1974)

graphic of page

Hard Core CAI

PLATO IV System Progress
Report on Field Testing

by Eric McWilliams
National Science Foundation

Approximately two-and-one-half years ago, the
Computer-based Education Research Laboratory
(CERL) at the University of Illinois at Champaign/
Urbana committed itself to preparing for and
conducting a large-scale field-test of the PLATO
system of computer-assisted instruction (CAI).

Specifically, CERL committed to

> developing and integrating the hardware and
software required to support roughly 1,000
plasma panel consoles;

> installing, operating, and maintaining a network of at least 500 plasma panel
consoles, in
university, community college, and elementary
classrooms; and

> developing and operating CAI lessons (courseware) and educational programs
teacher training, consultation, evaluative
services, etc.) for instruction in elementary
reading and mathematics, community college
accountancy, biology, chemistry, English, and
mathematics, and university physics, chemistry, and foreign languages.

The National Science Foundation committed
$5 M to these activities; the University of Illinois
committed an equivalent amount, to pay for
university lesson development and use on at least
200 of the promised 500 consoles. The field-test,
originally scheduled to begin in September of
1973, will be evaluated by an independent third
party (The Princeton Educational Testing Service),
in order to provide data concerning the processes,
costs, and effects of developing and operating the
PLATO system and courseware.

Much has been accomplished toward meeting
these objectives.

> A sophisticated system of hardware and software (PLATO IV) has been
implemented and
operated to serve several hundred CAI consoles
simultaneously. Performance data indicates
that this system will be capable of serving
about 1,000 operating CAI consoles.

> A plasma panel console capable of providing
extremely clear graphical displays using ordinary telephone lines has been
perfected and
placed into production. A network of roughly
450 such consoles has been installed and

> Lesson designers, programmers, and other CAI
specialists have been organized into teams
responsible for producing the courseware for
the elementary and community college field-test, and many university faculty
members are
developing lessons for use in their own courses.

Plans and commitments have been made to
field-test the PLATO system in elementary
schools and Parkland Community College in
Champaign/Urbana, and in several campuses of
the Chicago City Colleges.

A device for touch-input and a device for
random access audio message output have been
developed and perfected. Each will be available
for the field-test, and for subsequent commercial use.

There have been other, related developments
of some importance as well. For example, even at
this very early stage, almost a dozen major universities have procured and are
operating PLATO
consoles, and an equal number want consoles as
soon as possible. Eight military training centers are
presently developing courseware and plans for their
own field-test of the PLATO system. More than a
dozen major U. S. (and several foreign) corporations are preparing to develop
and market devices
or systems based upon the PLATO technology.

Several organizations are presently implementing
or planning to install PLATO-based CAI systems in
the rather near future. The system has been
demonstrated upon request to hundreds of groups
in more than 50 U. S. cities and more than eight
foreign countries, including live demonstrations
before the U. S. Congress, and before government

High-resolution image on plasma terminal.


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