by Darius Kazemi, November 9 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

Computer based instruction

RFC-313 is titled “Computer Based Instruction”. It's authored by Tom O'Sullivan of Raytheon, dated March 6, 1972.

The technical content

So here's an RFC that reminds me of RFC-286, in the sense that it touches on an enormous field of study that I am even more out of my depth in than usual.

Computer Based Instruction (CBI) is a general term for any instructional/educational activity involving computer use as a main piece of the instructional process. It's what you'd colloquially call “educational software”. It is an enormous field of development that is as old as computing itself. Perhaps the most famous mid-century CBI system was PLATO, though lots of famous early computing systems could be categorized as CBI, including the computerized simulation devices made for the military in the aftermath of World War II.

The RFC mentions Computer Aided Instruction, which is when the computer is a direct part of the instructional process, and Computer Managed Instruction, which is kind of like today's learning management systems, managing enrollment, course selection, evaluation, etc.

The author identifies four areas where the ARPANET could be helpful to CBI:

  1. The network itself. Users could log into CBI systems at different institutions, evaluate them, and determine which they like best and want to use at their own institutions. Users could pay to occasionally use the service rather than have to maintain their own system (so kind of an early software-as-a-service model). People managing CBI systems could check out what lessons already exist on other systems to avoid duplicating effort.
  2. Centralized data storage. This portion talks about taking advantage of economies of scale to reduce storage costs. For example, if lessons for a CBI at multiple sites were stored in a central location and accessed over the network, you wouldn't have to pay for storage at every site. Further more, for CMI, centralized databases could allow analysis of educational management data across different institutions.
  3. Language processors. I am unclear on the argument the author is making here but I think it's that you could build out a course or similar for your CBI and then use something like the Datacomputer to cross-compile it to another format that a different CBI could use.
  4. Dialogue support systems. This is what we could call “forum software” today. The author stresses the interdisciplinary nature of the CBI field and that it's very important that “theoreticians, developers, and users” be able to talk to one another.

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About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.