Education as an application

Byron Davies
Wed, 8 Apr 1998 19:44:49 -0700

I have become very interested in education as an application domain.  I've
been doing extensive volunteer work with the Arizona Learning Technology
Partnership, an organization whose goal is to foster the use of "learning
technology" (computers, software, telecommunications) to improve the
quality of education in Arizona K-12 schools.

Learning technology is now becoming a major area for federally supported
R&D (e.g.,,
and, with money coming from both
NIST and DOD.  It's possible that there's still too much technical R&D left
to do in this area to begin a volunteer effort, but maybe not.  If
intelligent tutoring requires solving the "AI problem", then we're in
trouble.  But many successful systems seem to be emerging, without the need
for heavy-duty AI capabilities.

With Lisp and Linux on my mind, I'm thinking about ways to accelerate the
development of educational software in parallel with existing R&D efforts.
There's already an IEEE standards effort (P1484) underway at, developing an ontology and a reference
architecture for learning technology.  But even with a set of standards,
developing a complete K-12 curriculum suite is a massive undertaking.
People are struggling to find a business model by which industry will focus
on K-12 software in a major way.  Most of the money is going into software
for remedial education once graduates reach industry and into DOD-supported
computer-based training efforts.

What about setting up a Linux-like effort for educational software?  I can
imagine some months of hacking by a number of people, just replicating the
behavior of existing educational software and creating a free library of
classes and user interfaces that would feed into the standards efforts and
provide the basis for a rapidly evolving body of learning software.
Someone could focus on Math Blaster etc., someone else on Pierian Springs
software, others on DOD-supported computer-aided instruction, and others on
published university research.  I envision the effort being based on Lisp,
CLIM, and CL-HTTP -- and other Lisp-based tools -- to get the biggest
productivity boost.

Once it gets started, I can imagine a host of people -- not just
programmers but also curriculum developers and teachers -- donating their
ideas and talents to create a net-based educational utility.

Any interest?  Is someone already doing this?  Are there enough Lisp
programmers with interest in educational software to get this off the
ground?  Or would a commercial, proprietary effort be a better way to
exploit the power of Lisp for educational software?