Triton College: Visicalc Class 1983

This is part of the Triton College Teaching Work Series.

I started teaching Adult Education computer classes at Triton College in River Grove, IL in September 1983. It was a lot of fun and helped me in my budding computer consulting/software programming business. The experiences helped shape my teaching skills that would be useful years later as my computer career improved.

My first class occurred when I was called by the college to deliver the Visicalc course on Apple II computers with only two days notice! Apparantly the scheduled teacher for the 5-week course had an appendicitis attack and was unable to teach. They were anxious to find a replacement and I got the call. I said I could teach the class and the deal was struck.

I had about a year’s experience with Visicalc at that time. I learned it as a tool when I was Omega Microware’s Customer Support Manager in downtown Chicago, IL. Being an analytical person, I used Visicalc a lot for all kinds of calculations at home. I was well-prepared to teach this class.

The class would last 5 weeks, one night a week and was comprised of about 20 adults most of which were older than I was at the time. Each student had an Apple II computer connected to the network. I was also connected to the network and could project my transparent slides onto a screen in front of the classroom. None of the students had much computer experience so I needed to incorporate a few fundamentals into the first session in ad-hoc fashion.

In looking over the original course objectives as created by the recovering teacher I decided to change the direction my class would take and make it a practical life-experience example. The class would build a model of a widgets manufacturing company and sell its products through: direct; distributor; and retail sales channels.

It would be a challenging course but give real-life examples of making mistakes and introduce creative ways to model.

At the time I was providing consulting services as an Apple Developer and had access to two Apple Lisa Computers and printers in that arrangement. I used Lisa Calc, Lisa Graph, and Lisa Draw in my class documents. Some of the following class documents contain some of that output.

The Visicalc Commands Chart was the first document I handed out to the class. As you can see, Visicalc was a comprehensive application, although by today’s standards limited in scope. As a side note, almost every Apple II sold before the first IBM PC came out, was sold with a copy of Visicalc. A great many departmental managers wanted Visicalc to streamline their segment of the company’s business. It also led to corporate data islands, but that is another story. 🙂

Over the five weeks I introduced each next step in building the model, answered questions, and strove to provide inspiration to use what they learned on their home or work computers. As in every class, some students laged behind and required extra assistance. Some students excelled and willingly helped the other students.

I always encouraged class camaraderie to make their limited time together more enjoyable.

Here are the other class materials I used:

In addition to the handouts I had copies of each step of the Visicalc files on diskette to be ready to help the lagging student bring them up to speed. The biggest drawback for the men was they couldn’t type. The women could type much faster.
I encouraged both men women to learn as much as they could about computer technology to give them a better path in their careers.

At the end of the five weeks I had learned some new lessons on teaching and had to adapt my style through adjustments. My students were surveyed and I received good marks on most of my areas, some feedback helped me find better ways to teach.

I went on to teach more classes over the next two years. Another blog post will cover those in the near future.

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About Don Larson

Using computer technology since June 1980.
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