In the late 1960s Bill Adams and I began to experiment with the use of computers in the classroom. By simply boring a small hole in the floor we were able to make a connection with the mainframe computer in the Department of Computing Services which was located on another floor in the same building. To enable the students to view the input and output we had a small camera connected to television monitors. I can remember being chastised for having the hole bored in the floor without obtaining proper authorization. My excuse that it was "only a little hole" was not received too kindly.
In 1975 we found almost enough money in our research grants - we had to beg the last $300 from our Chairman - to purchase the recently announced IBM 5100 minicomputer This was a small computer by the standards of the day, measuring 17.5" by 24" by 8" and weighing forty-eight pounds. The cost including a printer was $18,300. The clock speed was 4.77MHz and there was a 256K memory. It had an attached keyboard, a small screen allowing 16 lines of 64 characters each, a memory of 16K bytes expandable to 64K bytes, a tape unit for permanent storage, and a communications adapter which allowed the output to be displayed on a television monitor. Both BASIC and APL were available, the desired language being selected by a toggle switch. The system fitted conveniently on the top shelf of an audiovisual trolley with the printer on the bottom shelf. The IBM 5100 was used effectively for several years both in the classroom for teaching and in the office for course preparation and research. We had to discontinue its use when classes became too large to be accommodated in the the relatively small classrooms in the General Services Bulding.
The IBM 5100 is shown here in a section of one of the photographs of the Calculator Display which has been mentioned earlier in the paper. (The small calculator on the left is a Marchant SCM dating from the 1940s or 1950s.) Further information on the IBM 5100 may be found here.
I suppose we were doing some pioneering work on the use of computers for instructional purposes at the University of Alberta. However at the time we were just doing what we thought was obvious, and we were having a good time while doing it. We hoped that our students were having a good time too and were also benefiting educationally. We must remark, though, that we were not alone in the early instructional use of computers at the University of Alberta. Extensive use was being made of the IBM 1500 in the Faculty of Education by Steve Hunka and his colleagues.
It might be remarked that all of the arrangements for these very early experiments with the instructional use of computers in the Department of Computing Science were made informally without recourse to any committee work. I can remember being told I had been "very naughty" for arranging for the purchase of the IBM 5100 without authorization from the appropriate committee. How times have changed at the University of Alberta!
The IBM 5100 was followed by the IBM 5150 in 1981 and the IBM 5160 a few years later. These two machines were better known as the IBM PC and the IBM XT. I have used IBM PCs or compatibles almost exclusively since I got my first PC in about 1983, and for many years was one of the few PC users in the Department. The reasons I gave then were that the work I was doing with the Nial language in the 1980s could only be done on a PC and that all of my friends and colleagues in the Faculty of Agriculture were using PCs. I still think these were sound reasons, and I have never regretted my choice of IBM and IBM-compatible computers.