III. Examples of Success

Dr. Bart Thurber & Dr. Jack W. Pope, University of San Diego

It would be unfair to say that institutions of higher education have had no success in weaving computing into the instructional fabric of their institutions. All of us have met both success and failure to one degree or another. Many excellent examples have been documented in the literature. The authors would like to provide two such positive examples based on personal experience.

As a result of a sabbatical spent visiting colleges and universities and their strategies with computing, one of us visited Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Reed College is a small (approximately 1200 students), extremely selective liberal arts college founded in 1909. Reed has committed itself to a “policy of unlimited, ‘total access’ to computing facilities for all members of the Reed community.”1

In the mid 1980s , Reed College committed itself to making computing an integral part of its undergraduate education program. This college did not and still does not have a Computer Science curriculum per se. The goal was to weave computing into the learning process within the existing disciplines of the institution.

In 1984, it became an original member of the Apple Consortium of schools—schools utilizing the Macintosh technology in its infancy to develop instructional course work and instructional techniques aimed at incorporating computing in the curriculum.

Reed has a number of small public access labs distributed across campus as well as a large number of labs specifically designed for instructional pedagogy within specific disciplines. The impetus for creation and design of these labs was appropriately the disciplines themselves, but with the central computer services as a key advocate for design and implementation.

One such lab is an Introductory Psychology lab that provided a marvelous illustration of how computing, integrated into the curriculum at an early stage in the undergraduate career, builds upon itself in subsequent courses and becomes a fundamental part of the psychology program itself.

The student lab consists of several networked computer systems each connected via a black box to an experimental rat cage. Within the cage, an animal, usually a rat or pigeon, is housed and fed (or not fed) subject to various rewarded/punished stimuli. The experiments are standard and well known behavioral response exercises, but data collection before the computer lab was sheer drudgery. The student collected data by hand, leading to many hours of “cage watching” followed by an equal number of hours organizing data and calculating statistics. With the current lab setup, the student sets up the appropriate reward/punishment stimulus and data is collected(according to pecks at a predetermined spot, nibbles, etc.) completely by the computer system. The student then decides upon appropriate statistical routines, available on the computer as well, for analysis of the data. In this way, the key discipline concepts and techniques fall in the hands of the student, while the more mundane tasks of data collection and organization are left to the computer.

What made the tour of the lab fascinating was the impact the lab had on the psychology curriculum itself. The lab was designed for first year psychology majors and the concepts to be learned aimed at that level. In short, the lab course was a basic building block for other courses.

The experience of the students in this lab produced such a high level of understanding not only in of the psychology concepts themselves but also in the appropriate use of technology in the lab that subsequent courses could use much more sophisticated technological techniques and engage the students in exploratory experiments on their own in later psychology courses. Indeed the department also had a much more sophisticated laboratory for measuring human response, and students were well prepared for this experience based on their earlier experimentation. In summary, the first year lab experience utilized computing technology to engage students in simple yet well-defined and non-trivial behavioral experiments. Furthermore, the technology allowed the students to become immediately engaged in the key concepts of the discipline while bypassing routine tasks such as data collection and recording. As a result of the use of the technology the students were better prepared for subsequent psychology course work as well as trained to recognize and use the technology in a more sophisticated setting.

While the laboratory is run by the psychology area, the support for the main maintenance and upkeeps of the systems is a cooperative one with instructional computing. Indeed, the impetus for constructs of such fine labs depends on the mutual cooperation of the support infrastructure of the school as well as on the discipline. Successes like this are primary evidence that “cooperative computing” can result in effective infusion of technology in the disciplinary curriculum itself.

Another example comes from the University of San Diego, where in recent years a group of humanities faculty, together with faculty and administrators from USD’s academic computing services and School of Education, formed the Center for Research in Interactive Technologies (CRIT). Its purpose is to develop interactive courseware for the teaching of critical thinking in Humanities disciplines in colleges and secondary schools, using an authoring instrument developed by Academic Computing in response to humanities faculty input. The instrument, currently known as “NewBook”, is an application of Apple’s Hypercard.

The groups’ current goal is to produce interactive, computer-assisted demonstration course modules on (1 ) the Holocaust and (2) the Civil War. The first module is in fulfillment of a Director’s Discretionary Grant from the Annenberg/CPB Project; the second is in response to a proposed grant from the Secretary of Education’s Fund for Innovation in Education.

It is CRIT’s conviction that the computer’s ability to interact with the user could have important, even massive, effects for the humanities. This ability-changing the output according to the input-is usually taken for granted. Without it there wouldn’t be much reason to have a computer, for anything other than record-keeping functions. But CRIT envisions using this obvious interactive capability in humanities classes-to vary the text according to the reader’s response. This possibility quickly got the group’s attention, especially because academic computing services was able to generate a Hypercard-based application that would allow the production of reader-interactive texts. Faculty could write episodes-books, in a small way-with multiple branching tracks. But readers would, in effect, write another kind of small “book”-they would produce the “hard copy,” the record of their own reading, their own decision-making about what is or is not important. And the reader could do this repeatedly, trying out the consequences of different interpretive strategies, discovering immediately what “works,” given a certain point of view, what doesn’t, and, ultimately, what it means to actually have a point of view.

The group could, in other words, design courses and course modules that would address basic issues currently facing American education. It would allow faculty to:

  • embed the computer naturally within the humanities curriculum, by using it, not simply as an electronic page, or even solely as a means to associatively gather information on related topics, but as a way to record and ratify the reader’s exploration of the text;
  • incorporate the teaching of integrative, evaluative skills in the module design itself, rather than simply in the instructor’s discourse;
  • engage readers in a continuous evaluation of their own thought, by showing that they are clearly involved in and responsible for the intellectual, moral and interpretative choices they make.

These activities-exploring, incorporating, engaging, evaluating-seemed to CRIT (a) the natural consequence of the user’s involvement with the computer, but also, most importantly, (b) the very heart of teaching in the humanities.

What is most relevant about the CRIT project is the cooperative involvement of many components of the university community, from various humanities’ disciplines to computing and media services, in the development of a computing tool that integrates teaching and learning with the new tools of computing. From the beginning of the project, the goal of the group has been to investigate new ways of learning both in the classroom as well as on a personal level. They have already made remarkable progress towards this goal.


  1. Reed College Catalog, 1988-89 pg. 172.