Cunningham presents at History of Education Society meeting

Doctoral student Paige Cunningham will speak at the annual meeting of the History of Education Society, an international organization that encourages teaching of and research in the history of education. The group’s 2015 meeting will be held November 5-8 in St. Louis. Cunningham will present her paper titled, “Learning from PLATO: Lessons in Online Community Building” on November 6.

Abstract: PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) is a computer-assisted instruction system, first developed at the University of Illinois in 1960. PLATO was originally a solitary experience in which individuals worked at their lessons on a terminal system, but did not interact electronically with other users. Users soon began to modify their computer-mediated reality, creating ways to talk to each other, leave each other messages, and even play games. A set of official communication tools were subsequently added which allowed users to communicate either directly or through message boards, while other users created their own social programs.

Though there are now many forms of electronic communication available beyond academic software, modern educational learning systems for both on-campus and distance education students have integrated communication tools. Current content/learning management systems have bulletin boards or forums, where class members can leave messages for the whole class. Students can send each other personal messages. Synchronous online classes let participants chat interactively with the whole class, a group, or a single other individual. Other, asynchronous, classes continue to follow the individualized, self-paced learning style that PLATO utilized, but also assume that students will want and use communications technologies. Traditional on-campus students have and use many of the same tools as distance education students, though they are physically in the same location as their instructors and peers and can speak directly to them. As the first students to use PLATO discovered, although online students rarely have the opportunity to interact face-to-face with their peers and instructors, through the use of official and unofficial online communication tools, they can be supported and made to feel just as included as the on-campus students, and may even be the ones to find new ways to create those connections themselves.

Cunningham is a third-year doctoral student whose research interests focus on how information technologies connect people who are spread out in space and time. She explores issues such as how social media and online learning systems connect geographically dispersed peoples, both for community building and educational purposes.

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