My Story — A Brief History — “My Adventures in Computing”

“Once upon a time”,isn’t that how all good stories start out? Well this is a true story about my journey into applied technology and a brief projection about where the story will go next.

In my final year in High School, the 1965-1966 school year, I was approached in the fall of that year by a good friend who was a member of the school’s computer club. I had no real interest in computers at the time, I was busy trying to decide where I wanted to go to college the next year, and trying to do really well in my Advanced Placement History course so I could pick up some additional college credits to add to those I had earned in my Junior year. My friend, Gary, asked if I would like to help the computer club with a special project they were working on. Gary knew I was a good typist, having learned how to touch type when I was 11; so he felt I would be a good “data entry” asset to the club. As I said, I wasn’t really interested in computers until he told me that the club’s project for that year was a computer dating dance in the spring. He told me that I would be entering data that would help match participating students for the dance. In addition he told me that the principal had required that all of the school cheerleaders, and majorettes, and the girls pep squad were mandatory participants to encourage others in the school to participate. That’s all he had to say really, because I had a huge crush on one of the cheerleaders who I knew from Junior High School, and I was hoping I could learn enough about how the computer would process the data so I could ensure that she would be “my” date for the evening. Not a very noble reason for agreeing to assist the computer club, but definitely one that would enable me to endure long hours of entering punch card data into the computer. So I learned a little bit about how a main frame computer worked, how to use the punch card machine, and a little bit about COBOL programming that year. I learned enough to achieve my goal and my date for the dance was in fact the cheerleader I wanted to go with. I never told her that I rigged the results. She didn’t seem to mind at all and we had a great evening. Somewhere about halfway into the evening I realized she was wearing a rather attractive ring on her left ring finger. When I asked her about it, she said that it was her engagement ring and that she and a young man I knew who had graduated two years previously were going to be married at the end of June right after graduation. He was in the Navy but would be getting leave time for the wedding and honeymoon. I was devastated, but remained cool and finished the evening with a friendly handshake as we parted ways.

Upon entering college I did my best to avoid using computers. I was a wiz with an electric typewriter and had a rather healthy business in typing up papers for my fellow students for the four years I was in undergraduate school. When I entered graduate school in the Fall of 1970 I had no idea that just a year later I would be faced with dealing with mainframe computers again. During my second year in graduate school for my Master’s Thesis project I had collected a huge amount of biometric polygraph data on my research study subjects that needed to be compiled and analyzed to complete the thesis. Since I was no master at the computer, I called on my next oldest brother who was an Applied Mathematics major at Rutgers University to assist me with the task. He arranged for a time-share on the University’s PDP-11 Mainframe computer and I had the pleasure of spending hours entering data into the massive machine and having it churn out reams of paper results for me to pour over for the next several months. My only real solid memory of the experience was when I first went to log in to the system and I typed the password incorrectly three times and the system impolitely asked me “What are you doing stupid?” Following that experience I vowed I would never work with such an insulting device again in my life.

Well, as they say in the proverbial fiction stories, “Little did he know”, so as I entered my first professional job as a rehabilitation counselor in September of 1972 I had no thoughts of ever having to work with a computer again. In the early spring of 1973 I was assigned to work with a severely physically injured young man who had been injured in an automobile accident. He had no clear speech and had multiple physical impairments from a brain stem injury suffered in the accident. Due to the fact that he was scheduled to testify in a federal trial, they had asked me to see if I could find a way for him to communicate effectively in the trial. As I did some research I discovered that some work was being done with very early personal computers on a sort of augmented speech where the computer would say in rather robotic terms some simple words typed on a computer keyboard. I didn’t understand all the technical aspects of that process, but the early work was being done on Radio Shack Model 1 computer systems. At the same time this was happening an engineer from St. Luke’s Hospital came to our facility and indicated that he was working on several projects to assist spinal cord injured patients with the use of personal computers. That engineer talked with me and the department director about several of the projects he was working on and then we discussed the young man I was working with. The engineer suggested we try using his Southwest Instruments Micro-computer to see if I could teach my client how to enter simple response phrases to the computer and have the computer print out the responses. Since I had never used a personal computer the engineer had to teach me first before I could teach my client. Once I started I got very curious about other personal computers on the market and what they could do. The assistant administrator at the rehabilitation hospital where I was working was into personal computers and had actually introduced Radio Shack Model 1 and 2 computers into the hospital administrative offices. He also used the Radio Shack computers to manage his music play-list and help with his midi instruments that he used in his jazz band. He took the time to acquaint me with the Radio Shack computers and that peaked my interest even more. I finally indulged myself and bought a $99 Timex-Sinclair computer that was just a little smaller than a modern netbook and had a 16 megabyte RAM expansion pack, used a TV screen for a monitor, had an early version of a touch pad style keyboard, and use a cassette tape player for data storage. You had to type computer “BASIC” programming instructions to get the computer to do anything, and since you were using a cassette tape all data storage was sequential and took forever to locate and load into the RAM memory. I was never really great at programming, although I did master the basics. After two years of working with this young man our department set up a computer laboratory using Apple II computers, and some Radio Shack portable systems. We even added one of the first Compaq laptops on the market. I was assigned to train all the clients we had coming into the lab to use the computers and teach them the application software like word processing and spreadsheets, and teach them some “BASIC” programming as well. Our lab was always full and we were exploring new ways in which we could use computers to assist persons with disabilities. Along the way I had the privilege of working with a team of engineers from Bell Laboratories at the AT&T plant in Allentown, who designed the first truly portable speech synthesis system using a Radio Shack hand-held computer system for the young client I mentioned previously. With that device he was able to testify in Federal Court and help put away a group of very powerful drug traffickers who had cut the brakes on his car and caused the crash hoping to kill him to prevent his testimony. The device won a national engineering competition and led to the expansion of our lab to include IBM computer systems, more laptops, and even robots.

Shortly after completing that project, I became a member of the National Service Robotics Association and continued with my work on using a variety of stationary and mobile robots to assist severely disabled persons with daily living activities and vocational activities. I had to learn how to program in both Forth and FORTRAN when working with the Robots and also had the opportunity to learn the LISP and Logo languages as well. In addition to the computers and robots we were given the opportunity to work with NASA on one of the first applications of speech recognition on a Texas Instruments Personal computer in our lab. When the rehabilitation hospital I worked at hired a rehabilitation engineer from Mexico our lab expanded further to include projects on wheelchair automation and other independent living projects. Our lab also served as a summer camp enrichment program for physically disabled children and youth, and we expanded our operations to help setup a school program for grades Pre-Kindergarten through High School at the hospital.  This school applied computer technology to the instructional process and facilitated student engagement in the classroom. All of this took place between 1973 and 1988 when I left the rehabilitation hospital and went into private rehabilitation training and consulting and agency management for the next two years.

During my time at the rehabilitation hospital I had the privilege of speaking on two occasions at the Applefest– Apple Computing in Education Conferences in Minneapolis Minnesota showcasing the work we did in our lab with Apple computers. I also had the opportunity to be on PBS programs involving the application of both computer and robotics technology in health care settings, and had many other opportunities to share with parents and students with physical and mental challenges how this technology could impact their lives. All the time I continued to learn as much as I could through formal classes, seminars, conferences, and voracious reading on the subject. I consider myself very privileged to be able to have experienced 18 years of service to adults and children who were facing many serious obstacles in their lives and watching them learn how to use a piece of technology to overcome and master some of those challenges.

When I entered the career path of teaching, I had already had a significant amount of teaching and training experience having spent 18 years training individuals how to use computer technology in a wide variety of settings. I taught my first formal college classes in 1988, 1989, and 1990 at East Stroudsburg University and Kutztown State University. At East Stroudsburg I taught in the Upward Bound Program and at Kutztown I taught in the Special Education program. In 1990 I also began teaching computer skills for the Quakertown Area School District’s Community Education Program, and in August of that same year I began teaching in the Adult Literacy Program at Northampton County Community College. I taught for a special program called the SPOC (Single Point of Contact) Data Entry Literacy Training Program, teaching single women heads of households on welfare how to use the computer to obtain clerical jobs and be able to become independent wage earners supporting their families. It was a very rewarding experience and also provided my first opportunities to do curriculum design and “classroom Action Research projects”. I continued to teach for Quakertown Area School District for the next five years and also expanded my teaching at the Community College to include teaching classes for the Credit side of the college, the Center for Business and Industry and the Youth Programs Division. I also continued my own learning with “Computers in Education classes at DeSales University. During my time at Northampton Community College I also had the privilege of speaking twice at the Pennsylvania Adult Literacy Conferences in Hershey, PA about special applications for teaching adults using computers.

In April of 1998 I left Northampton Community College for an opportunity to become a computer trainer at the Lucent Technology Plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania.   I worked for the Enhanced Training Opportunities Program, a joint management and labor skills training program within Lucent. In addition to teaching computer classes I also was assigned to work as the network administrator for the training network. During my eight years at Lucent I took additional course work in WEB design, earned my A+ computer technician’s certification, became the WEB master for the training site as well as the WEB master for a special alternative energy WEB site and continued to design and deliver a wide range of computer skills courses many of which were accepted by the American Council on Education as college credit courses. I also took a wide range of course work through Regent University in New York, and Hewlett Packard Online Education Center, as well as other local college courses. At Lucent I also developed special training for the entire corporation for an email system implementation, and created and taught six online courses for clerical staff scattered throughout the Lucent plants nationwide. I also had the privilege of speaking at the Adult Literacy Conference in Pennsylvania on using Podcasting as a remote education tool for adults in Rural settings. While at Lucent, in 2003 I was given responsibility for managing the ETOP training facilities at the Breinigsville and Reading plant locations as well. Also in 2003 I began my teaching career at Lehigh Carbon Community College, teaching in the Community Services Division of the college. I continue to teach at Lehigh Carbon Community College in that division today. I teach primarily computer operating systems, cloud based applications, computer foundations, and WEB design courses for the college.

When Lucent sold its operations to LSI in 2006 and the ETOP centers closed, a friend of mine from Lucent who did his student teaching at St. Theresa School in Hellertown referred me to a job opportunity there and I have been very fortunate to become a wonderful part of that teaching team at St. Theresa School in Hellertown while still continuing my teaching at Lehigh Carbon Community College. Coming to St. Theresa School has proved to be a wonderful opportunity to share what I have learned over the years with my students from Pre-K to Eighth grade, as well as the faculty and parents of the children. It has also provided me with additional training opportunities through Harrisburg University and IU 20 as well as other online courses and WEBinars. All of these have added to the content knowledge and skills that I am able to share in the school environment. I have also been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to start a Tech Wizards program at the school to teach students how to help manage the school’s technology resources and assist both teachers and students in the classroom. We have added three new mobile labs and expanded to two new wireless networks within the school. We added a new lab for our Pre-K classes and expanded our existing lab and converted it into a Linux based laboratory. We’ve added an Apple Lab to Fourth Grade and added tablet computers both Apple and Android to our school’s inventory. We’ve also had the privilege of being one of the first Catholic elementary schools in the state to explore BYOD use in the classroom and our efforts were featured on a locally produced PBS show. We’ve had the opportunity to work globally with schools in Dubai, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Spain, and Russia, as well with other schools in the US and in our local region. This school year (2013-2014) we will be adding a new Chromebook Mobile lab to expand our Cloud Based computing activities and also expanding our distance education opportunities for our students. We also added a 3D printer to our school’s technology base allowing for more STEAM projects with our Arts in Technology activities. In addition we are adding new Interactive whiteboard technology so that all of our classrooms will now have interactive whiteboards and we will be updating all of our school’s wired computer systems to reflect our conversion to the Open Source Platform while continuing our Windows, Apple, and Android platforms as well. All of this would not have been possible without the support of the faculty, administration, parents, students, and the outstanding leadership from the parish priests that have served in the St. Theresa’s parish. I am also deeply indebted to the wonderful Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who serve in our school community and their fantastic prayer support and encouragement for my efforts over the years. I also want to thank the Technology Leadership in the Diocesan Education Office for their strong support of the use and integration of technology into the classrooms and for opening the doors to so many wonderful collaborative exploration programs and tools for our students to use. We are striving to do our best to help raise the bar of success for our students as they prepare for a life of full engagement and participation in post-secondary education and employment in our 21st Century.

While there are hundreds of other individual stories and experiences I could share about my journey into the world of computer and robotics technology, the successes and the failures. I think the most rewarding for me have been within my own family. I began teaching my children how to use a computer when they were able to recognize their letters and numbers on the keyboard and when they could read simple single word commands or instructions.  I started with my boys in 1981 and that was well before there were any Graphical User Interfaces used to control computer systems. Everything had to be typed out if you wanted to do anything on a computer. I introduced my daughters to computers when they were also about three years of age. Each of them now has been using computers for at least 26 years and in some cases 31 years. All four of them use computers in their jobs and all four of them have used them during their education. Both of my daughters have taught college courses with me and my son’s are computer experts in the fields of logistics and computer networking. While all have received some formal training over the years, most of what they learned they learned as I did simply by experimenting hands on and reading voraciously whenever there was a whole in our knowledge or skills. Even my wife who has to use computers in her work as a nurse and who hates the hospital systems, loves her iPad and her smart phone. I can’t really take credit for teaching her, my daughters did that. My youngest daughter completed her entire college education through distance learning and has earned two degrees. My oldest daughter has recently completed her Master’s degree in a blended learning environment both online and in class and will start her doctorate in that environment this fall.

While all of this is most certainly an endorsement for computer technology use in education, it is also a recognition of how our world has changed and how privileged I have been in many ways to have been on the cutting edge of so many of those changes not only in education but also in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation. I can remember my son, Nicholas’ excitement when we both saw in person a young quadriplegic woman walking with the aid of computer connections to an Apple II computer. It blew us away and gave my son his passion for biometric computer design that he still works on today in his spare time. I can remember my first experience with seeing a young amputee use a myoelectric controlled prosthesis on his lower arm and hand, and the joy on his face when he could pick up a comb with that robotic hand and comb his hair again. I can remember the smile on the face of a now too soon departed trainee with severe cerebral palsy after he had mastered programming an industrial robot arm to retrieve a can of beer from a small refrigerator, open the can of beer, and pour it into a class, and then hand him the glass. Moment by moment I have watched our world transformed by these technologies and have been deeply immersed in the midst of them. For me a computer is a tool. A powerful tool that lets us explore areas of creativity and ingenuity that we have only scratched the surface on. I rarely use the computer as an entertainment device, although I know for many that is what it has become. For me a whole world of wonder and exploration exists yet to be discovered using these tools, and I can’t wait to see what my grandchildren can do with these tools since for them they are just another toy in the toy box right now, but one that captures and holds their attention and interest, and one that will most definitely shape and impact their futures.

Thank you for letting me share a bit of myself and my journey. I hope by reading this you will have a better understanding of who I am, where I come from when approaching the implementation and use of this technology in education and where I hope I will be able to continue to influence and grow the use of this technology in the educational environment at least for a few more years to come.

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