3.578 CAI blues and PLATO (72)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Thu, 12 Oct 89 19:57:02 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 578. Thursday, 12 Oct 1989.

Date: Thu, 12 Oct 89 08:58:48 CDT
From: "Norman D. Hinton" <SSUBIT12@UIUCVMD>
Subject: PLATO system: CAI Blues

I'm certain that HUMANIST readers do not want an extended discussion of
PLATO, but I feel constrained to clear up a misconception about the

Nowadays, by "authoring system" we generally mean a 'canned' set of
programs which allow one to use standard multiple-choice, true-false,
fill-in-the-blanks tests, with a few other goodies in some of the more
advanced versions. This is not at all what PLATO is. The term
"PLATo system" (I quote from the official PLATO self-definition) means
"...the central computer...all the terminals connected to it, the
hardware required to connect the terminals to the computer, and the
PLATO software...."

There are some few test packages available on PLATO, programmed by various
authors. But they are not widely used nor is that the kind of material
to which the system is restricted.

PLATO does indeed have its own computer language, TUTOR, a large (some
would say vast) high-level language. You can do the same things in TUTOR
that you can do in Pascal, BASIC, C, etc....I have done many of them. Besides
this, TUTOR has commands specifically designed for answer judging and
response handling. While some of us occasionally curse the q/a routines,
they allow very sophisticated interactions between lesson author and student.

I have used TUTOR to write databases, both flat and relational, for my
own research use and for others, and materials such as an experiment for
a colleague in Communications on the relative readability of serif and
non-serif type fonts, statistical analysis materials, automated versions
of the Osgood Semantic Differential materials (complete with 2-D and
3-D graphing of the results), and a fairly large number of other computer
programs which could not be written by any "authoring package" I have
ever seen.

To "speak as a fool" (St. Paul) for a moment: I have almost 7000 hours of
on-line experience with PLATO over almost 20 years. I know that it is
superior to and hardly resembles any "plug in your question" system .(I
heartily despise such systems). I did indeed have to learn to program
to produce my lesson materials as well as my research tools.
PLATO was once far too expensive for many pocketbooks and was not well
connected to the outside computing world. Now you can dial up PLATO
(and its new incarnation, NovaNet) on PCs, Apples, and Macs....and just
this morning someone wrote a note on PLATO which he sent from his automobile, u
using a NEC Ultralite and a cellular phone ! (I am told that someone else
accessed the system from a phone booth in Kansas somewhaere, using a
Commodore 64...)

What is the "trade-off" for programming CAI for one's courses ? In the case
of my Chaucer class, I now have several weeks more to discuss the literature
rather than the language, since my CAI materials address Chaucer's pronun-
ciation, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and idioms. If better times in the
classroom isn't a trade-off, I don't know what is. I don't begrudge the
time it took me to learn to program and the time it took me to design and
implement the lessons: if our work has no application to learning, what
do we do it for ? (Please don't tell me about publish/perish: I have
done far more research and publishing here where scholarship is NOT
required than I did at "p/p" schools: and my time on PLATO is rewarded
everytime a student successfully learn's Grimm's Law or demonstrates
the ability to read Chaucer, etc.)