Interview with Paul Merrill about the History of the IP&T Department
1. How did the BYU IP&T Department begin?
For example, the statistics courses would be offered by the Statistics department and computer science courses would be offered by the Computer Science Department. This practice continued for some time. However, as faculty were added with the appropriate expertise, these courses were offered by the IP&T department. Andy Gibbons was one of the early graduates of the program. He may be able to provide more details on the formation of the department.
2. How has the program progressed?
In the beginning there were only a few faculty members in the department: M. David Merrill, Harvey Black, Grant Von Harrison, and Cecil Clark. At that time there was a University service organization called the McKay Institute which had several full time employees that taught classes and advised students in the department. Adrian Van Mondfrans was the Director of the Institute. Employees of the Institute that were affiliated with the Department included Ed Green, Richard Sudweeks and Dillon Inouye. I was originally hired to work in the McKay Institute. At that time Grant Von Harrison was the Chair of the Department. Within a short time M. David Merrill left the Department and I was given his faculty slot. Russell Osguthore graduated from the program and went to work on the East coast. He was later hired by the McKay Institute.
While M. David Merrill was here, he obtained a large contract to develop a computer based education system called TICCIT. C. Victor Bunderson from the University of Texas was a co-principle investigator on that project. Prior to joining the TICCIT project Dr. Bunderson was the chair of my dissertation committee at the University of Texas. At the completion the TICCIT project, Dr. Bunderson founded a non-profit corporation called Waterford School. Two people who worked with Dr. Bunderson in that corporation who later were hired as faculty in the Department included Andy Gibbons and Olin Campbell. Dr. Bunderson also joined the faculty at a later date.
The department has been housed in several different locations over the years. It was originally housed on lower campus, in the building that now houses the Provo City Library. When I joined the department in 1977, the department and McKay Institute were housed underneath the Football stadium. We enjoyed that location because we had lots of space, lots of parking and could use the track for jogging. We later were moved to the Knight Mangum Hall which was located at the south eastern corner of campus. That building has been subsequently torn down. It was a very interesting location. Originally is was a student dormitory. At one time it housed missionaries from the Language Training Mission. The faculty offices were very large since they were large dormitory rooms. We finally were moved to the McKay building in order for us to become more integrated with the College of Education. When we moved into the McKay building we were located on the south end of the second floor. Grant Harrison was not very happy with the move since we had to downsize significantly. The entire McKay building was later totally renovated and the department was moved to its present location.
I obtained my Ph.D in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. I was interested in computers in education and the University of Texas was one of only a few Universities that had the computer hardware for that purpose. IBM had developed the IBM 1500 computer system designed for that purpose. Stanford, Florida State and Penn State also had IBM 1500 systems. A special purpose programming language called Coursewriter was used to develop computer-based educational applications. On graduating from Texas I joined the faculty at Florida State. While there I had the opportunity to work with Robert Gagne who wrote the very influential book, “Conditions of Learning”. While I was at Florida State, I wrote a grant proposal along with others to obtain funds to purchase a new computer system called Plato that had been developed at the University of Illinois with Control Data Corporation. That system use a large main frame computer with plasma screen terminals. That system was very expensive. It cost over two million dollars and required funding from the grant in addition to a special allocation from the state legislature.
I bring this up to contrast it to my experience at BYU. When I joined BYU in 1977, desktop microcomputers were just being introduced: Commodore Pet, Radio Shack, Atari, and the Apple I and II. I was able to obtain permission from my Department Chair, Grant Harrison to purchase what I believe was the first Apple II microcomputer on campus and began offering a class in computers in Education. In contrast with the $2,000,000 cost of the Plato system, the Apple II cost between $1500 and $2000. As part of that class I taught the computer language “Applesoft Basic.” Later we purchased a few more Apple II computers along with a circuit board which allowed us to run the computer language “Pascal.” The original Apple II did not have a disk drive. We had to save our programs on a cassette tape. When we were able to add a disk drive, we were very excited.
The disk drive opened a whole new world of possibilities.
At that time I was called to serve as a ward clerk in my ward. I found that keeping track of our ward members, generating an up-to-date ward list of members and keeping track of who had what calling was an enormous task. I decided to take upon myself the task of developing a ward database management system on the Apple II computer that could help with my ward clerk duties. There were no database management programs available at that time so I had to develop the system from scratch. At that time I was also the President of the BYU Apple User Group on campus. As I developed the software, I made it available to other members of the User Group. The Vice President of the Group was also serving as a Ward Clerk in his ward. He served as a beta tester for my software. He provided a lot of useful feedback and I essentially tailored the program to meet his needs.
The Ward Database Program was quite powerful. It was able to generate up-to-date Ward Lists in multiple formats: a complete list with parents, children, address, phone number and birthdates; a summary one page list with husband and wife name, address and phone number. It could also generate a list of individuals with their callings and a list of callings with the names of those who held the callings. It also could generate organization and age group lists, such as a Relief Society list and High Priest list. It could generate home teaching and visiting teaching lists.
I never advertised the program but I made it available free of charge to anyone that was interested. It started to be used in many wards around the Church.
One day Adrian Van Mondfrans who was the Director of the McKay Institute was called into the University President’s (Dallin Oaks) office and asked what in the world was going on with regard to my DataBase management software. The Presiding Bishop had expressed concern because he didn’t want wards to feel that they needed to purchase computer hardware to run my program. Ironically, that same Presiding Bishop later requested that I allow my software to be pilot tested in several stakes. Based on that pilot test the Church began developing their own system. They decided not use my software because the Church had decided to standardize on IBM microcomputers. Unfortunately, It took years before the Church’s software was able to duplicate the functionality of my database management system. A limited implementation of such a system is available on mobile devices with the app: LDS Tools. I am not sure what is available to leaders but the members version does not yet provide group lists.
3. What major problems did the department face? How were those problems addressed?
From the beginning, the IP&T department seems to have been a step-child of the School of Education. Nobody seems to know where we fit in. The problem is that the department doesn’t prepare students to work in the public schools. The School of Education is seen as a School to prepare, teachers, administrators, or councilors for the public schools. So where do IP&T graduates fit into that mix. It is true that a few IP&T graduates end up in the schools, but the vast majority end up somewhere else. This lack of fit has created some significant challenges. We have often had to defend our existence. Some people have seen us as expendable. When Ralph Smith was Dean, he felt that other departments need more faculty positions. However, few were available. One of the Vice Presidents, suggested that the IP&T faculty positions might be a possible source, since we were not preparing students for the schools. Thus a decision was made to dissolve the department. I guess the assumption was that by dissolving the department the faculty positions would become available to use in other departments. However, they had not addressed the fact that we had students that had been admitted to the program and the faculty were under contract. So although the department was dissolved, the academic program continued and was incorporated into the Educational Psychology Department. None of the students were dismissed, no classes were discontinued and not faculty were released. The only slot that gained was the secretary position. The main negative result was that the faculty were scattered to several different departments. Subsequently, the School tried several different department configurations, until an outside program review committee recommended that the department be reconstituted.
Although the department has not produced a lot of graduates who work in the public schools, we have produced graduates who have had a great impact on the University and the Church. Many of our graduates work in the MTC, the Church Office building, and on campus. The previous Director of BYU Independent Study was a graduate of our program. The Center for Teaching and Learning hires many of our graduates and current students. The previous director of the Center was one of our faculty members. Several of our graduates serve as faculty in other departments on campus. Our graduates also serve on the faculty at many Universities around the country.
Another challenge the department has faced over time is what type of productivity is accepted as scholarly productivity. Publication in scholarly journals has always been seen as scholarly productivity. However, many of our faculty have felt that other types of productivity should count as well. For example, scholarly productivity for a musician or an artist is not necessarily a publication in a journal. Instead, it might be a painting, a composition, or even a performance. What should count as scholarly productivity for an Instructional Designer or an Evaluator. For example, Grant Von Harrison published few journal articles, but he produced numerous instructional materials to help teachers and parents teach children to read. Adrian Van Mondfrans also published few journal articles, but he conducted numerous evaluation studies for the public schools and generated evaluation reports which had great impact. Ed Green developed instructional videos and many other instructional products. In my own case, even thought I published many journal articles, book chapters, and three editions of a text on computers in education, I also developed computer software including the Ward Database Management system described earlier.
Because of my experience learning Spanish as a missionary in Argentina, and serving as a counselor and Branch President at the Missionary Training Center for many years, I became very interested in the possible application of computer technology in learning a second language. I discovered that many missionaries were taught their mission language by returned missionaries rather than native speakers. I felt that exposure to native speakers would be very valuable. With the ability to digitize audio and play any digitized audio file under computer control, I felt that the microcomputer could be a valuable asset in language learning. I worked with the MTC to develop language learning software and developed several language learning applications. One type of application I developed was a diglot Reader. This computer application would display the text of the Book of Luke on the screen. The displayed text would start out in English. However, English words were gradually replaced with Spanish words. Over, time the text included more and more Spanish and less and less English until the text was completely in Spanish. Every Spanish word was recorded by a native speaker and digitized. This allowed a student to click on any Spanish word and hear its pronunciation by a native speaker. They were also able to hear native speakers read complete verses. They could also record their own pronunciation and compare it with that of the native speaker. They could also click on a Spanish word an obtain the English translation.
When we began teaching a computers in education course to prospective teachers, we found that there was not a good text for the course. We therefore decided to try to write our own. Writing that text, “Computers in Education”, turned out to be a very interesting learning experience. I served as the primary author of the text, but I invited a couple of graduate students and other faculty teaching the course to contribute some of the chapters. One of the things that I learned was that many people do not write very well. Inviting others to help, may have turned out to be more work than if I had written it all myself. Some of the contributed chapters required considerable editing, while others required a total rewrite. I also found that writing a technical text was a tremendous amount of work. I had to review a lot of source material. Many of the necessary source materials were not available in our library. I had to include a lot of screen shots of relevant software applications and photographs of various relevant hardware. For each screen shot and photograph, I had to obtain permission to use it in the text. Even if I took the photo or screen shot myself, I had to obtain permission from the company that produced the software or hardware to include the photo in the text. The most difficult part of the process was to identify the appropriate person to contact to request permission. After all of the chapters were written, I also had to produce an index for the book.
We were able to find a good publisher to produce and market the book. The book sold well and were later asked to produce two other editions. Writing another edition turned out to be almost as much work as producing the first edition. Since technology changes so rapidly, many of the chapters had to be totally rewritten. Some chapters were dropped completely and others added. I also learned that to accomplish such a difficult task required that one focus on completing one subtask at a time. It is like the old saying, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
4. What are some significant accomplishments during your tenure as department chair?