My analogue program

When, on my teacher training course, I was told I had create a resource to be used in school, I thought it would be fun to devise a programmed learning guide to the economic concepts of absolute and comparative advantages. Unfortunately, that was in 1974. Word processors were not yet ubiquitous, and home computers had not yet been invented. That came a year or two later. In any case, when I finally did get my hands on a word processor, courtesy of a friend of mine on my MA course, it was slo-o-o-o-o-w. You had to run the program from a cassette tape (remember them?), and boy did it take time to  find the right bit.

So my programmed learning guide was hand-written, as you can see from the screenshot.

A couple of (hand-written!) pages from my programmed learning resource

It worked quite well, and it works still. It’s just a bit tedious having to constantly turn to a different page, but that’s nothing compared to the amount of effort and planning it took to create it in the first place.

It is, of course, analogous to the interactive adventure books, which came along some years later.

Creating an interactive resource on paper can be a useful activity, even now – or perhaps especially now. That is because it involves the following skills:

  • Planning. The resource does not work in a linear way. If it did, you could just whiz through it from start to finish without learning anything. I had to plan which pages would go where. You can see that some pages were upside down, because when writing it I used every other page. There were also two books, making over 200 pages in all. All this had to be planned.
  • Understanding and analysis. I had to break down the big picture concepts into lots of smaller ones. I also had to know enough about the subject to work out the best order of presenting the material, and knowing the mistakes people were likely to make – and why.
  • Computational thinking and pseudo-pseudo code. If you think about it, what this page is actually saying can be rendered as:
    • If you think the answer is “France” go to page 17
    • Else if you think the answer is “Britain” go to page 24

Why not get the kids to create a programmed learning guide? Unlike creating an interactive story, they don’t have to be creative in the fiction-writing sense. It need not be as comprehensive and as complex as my one, of course. It could be a simple guide to, say, how to create a picture using their favourite graphics program.

Planning and creating the resource is not only fun, but would also help the pupils see the importance of breaking down an operation into very discrete steps. It would also address an element of digital literacy, in that the “program” should be both accessible and foolproof.

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