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An introduction

PLATO originated in the early 1960's at the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois. Professor Don Bitzer became interested in using computers for teaching, and with some colleagues founded the Computer-based Education Research Laboratory (CERL). Bitzer, an electrical engineer, collaborated with a few other engineers to design the PLATO hardware. To write the software, he collected a staff of creative eccentrics ranging from university professors to high school students, few of whom had any computer background. Together they built a system that was at least a decade ahead of its time in many ways.

PLATO is a timesharing system. (It was, in fact, one of the first timesharing systems to be operated in public.) Both courseware authors and their students use the same high-resolution graphics display terminals, which are connected to a central mainframe. A special-purpose programming language called TUTOR is used to write educational software.

Throughout the 1960's, PLATO remained a small system, supporting only a single classroom of terminals. About 1972, PLATO began a transition to a new generation of mainframes that would eventually support up to one thousand users simultaneously.

Copyright © 1994 by David R. Woolley

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Copyright (c) 1996 - 2006 Elizabeth Mattijsen
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