Cal-IT Lecture about Interactive Education

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Presentation to Cal-IT

London, England

October 10th, 1996

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This presentation was made during a State of California-sponsored event in which about 50 companies made presentations to a group of investors, in London, England. We each were given 15 minutes. I have created this transcript from my original notes so some minor modifications from the actual presentation are possible.

After the speech I spoke to a number of people and was invited to visit a local supercomputer center to see what software they might have for me to use in my educational programs. Also I was invited to submit a presentation proposal to a United Nations-sponsored technology conference to be held in Switzerland in 1997 about getting high-quality Internet educational material to third-world countries. I will know some time early next year if my proposal will be accepted. If so, I will then give the details of when and where the talk will be.

Presentation: Writing Quality Educational Software

First, I would like to thank the State of California's CAL-IT group, and in particular Jennifer Stanley of that office, and all of you in the audience, for allowing me the opportunity to speak to you this morning.

I heard recently that Tupperware is available in 87 countries. In only about six months, since we started tracking it, we have had visitors to our web site from more than 75 countries. That illustrates the incredible power of the web as a method of communication.

We are the oldest company to work with America Online as a Industry Connection Content Provider Company, and we also have a support area on CompuServe and of course an extensive Internet web site.

Now, before I really begin I want to ask you all a question: How many of you know what a thrust bearing is?

Okay, one person out of about 150 people. Well, what a thrust bearing is, is, let's say you have a boat, and the propeller spins and the blades push the water back, lots and lots of water being pushed back, and the propeller shaft in turn is pushed forward in an equal and opposite manner. Well, how do you get the force pushing the propeller shaft forward transmitted to the rest of the boat--the infrastructure of the boat?

You don't want to put all that force into the motor which is trying to spin the propeller. What you use is a fascinating device called a thrust bearing. And later on in the talk I'll use this as an example.

Right now, there is a catastrophy brewing

Kids aren't learning. Instead they're attacking their teachers and fellow students with knives and guns and disrupting the class, and ruining society. But that's only half the problem.

Because even if they would sit still and listen, we have nothing to teach them with! There are very few good products on the market! Look at all the educational software companies that have gone out of business or downsized. Look at how few products there really are on the market. I'll name them: Dinosaurs, Encyclopedias, Human Body Tutorials, and Automotive Tutorials.

There are five of each of these on the market, and little else besides. We are not fulfilling the promise to education and to society that high tech companies have made for the last 20 years.

I don't do Dinosaurs.

About two years ago, I was at a conference on educational software put on by Microsoft up in Redmond, Washington State. It was the "1st Annual" but there hasn't been another one (it was designed into an already-existing bigger conference instead.) Bill Gates gave the keynote, and I had the opportunity to ask him a question.

I asked him when he thought the hardware and software O/S (operating system) would "settle down" and stop changing every two or three years so that we software developers could create "classic" programs: the modern equivalent of a "GRAY'S ANATOMY". Programs with at least a ten year shelf life so that the developers could make money over a long enough period of time to recoop their investment.

He said he didn't think it was going to happen any time soon, what with voice recognition and whatnot coming out soon.

I chose ten years when I asked him the question because at the time, I already had a product--an interactive, animated software tutorial, on the market for nearly ten years.

Despite going from 8088's to Pentiums, from DOS to Windows, from isolated PC's to the Internet, this product still works. At this time (October, 1996) it is a Pick Of The Week by an Internet software locator service in Australia, and last month CompuServe made it a pick of the Day and over 600 copies were downloaded in that one day. It was favorably reviewed in 1996 by Pumps and Systems magazine. This is a program that has been virtually unchanged since around 1986, except for including higher resolution versions which still use basically the original drawings and animations.

My next major software educational program was called ALL ABOUT PUMPS and was released last year. ALL ABOUT PUMPS animates over 55 different pumps. It has been very well reviewed in half a dozen places and Cole-Parmer Instrument Company now carries it.

You could say that in terms of the amount of artwork (over 3,000 individual frames), it's the 'GRAY'S ANATOMY' of pumps. (Note: This is not to diminish or demean the quality of that incredible tome in any way: Our tutorial is for beginners while GRAY's was written for Doctors, and it is an awesome book.) But I will be distributing ALL ABOUT PUMPS, and it will be some sort of standard in the industry for decades to come.

ALL ABOUT PUMPS is written in the same language that our heart tutorial is written in: a high-level language that could be converted to the Internet--for a few million dollars which I'm hoping someone will give me. But regardless, the point is it can be done. Software can be written with a life expectancy of decades, and it must be done if education is to survive and grow into the next millenium.

Some professor that spent 50 years teaching some pet subject, who has retired and wants to write a book--he needs to be convinced instead to write an Internet application. But with two years being a long life in the software industry, why should he?

And so, all we have, is those four or five main topics I mentioned in the beginning and little else besides. But do you think that McGraw Hill got to be McGraw Hill by selling just four different text books? How can we expect schools and universities to change over to computerized distance-learning when all they can get is four products to put on their computers? There needs to be an investment in niche products, like an animated tutorial on thrust bearings or like my tutorial on pumps, and these products need to be able to stay on the market for decades if they are good enough--so that small companies, and individual professors, can recover the enormous efforts required to produce these products.

Our pump tutorial, for example took at least 3000 hours to create. It has more animations--over 100--than those encyclopedias I mentioned, yet it's just one word in the dictionary!

I dared to invest my time and effort, because I knew I could keep the program on the market for years and years. Animation is the best use of a computer. Our animations are accurate educational products. We are looking for sponsors who want to have their names attached to quality software products with long shelf lives. Instead of sponsoring a race car or a T.V. sitcom, why not sponsor a revolution in education instead?

Ace Hoffman
Owner and Chief Programmer
The Animated Software Co.

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