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From Moonwar to Coursera in 40 years

Louis A. BloomfieldLongtime PLATO gamers may recall the famous big-board multiuser games like Moonwar, written around 1972 by then high-school student Louis A. Bloomfield in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Bloomfield was a serious gamer and game author and all-around PLATOholic during these years, who then went off to college in Amherst, Massachusetts but returned to work on PLATO during the summers. He later went off to Stanford to pursue a Ph.D. in Physics, and ultimately became a professor at the University of Virginia where he continues to work and teach to this day.

And in an interesting twist of history, he's now signed up to offer a class on Coursera, one of the so-called "MOOC" companies (Massive Open Online Courses) that's gotten so much media attention in the last year, to offer one of his longtime courses, "How Things Work", for free over the Internet. He's been offering this class for decades at the University of Virginia (students love him -- check out his great ratings at and in case you don't know, he has a fantastic textbook out also called "How Things Work" (very expensive though!) but also a non-textbook edition which is equally fantastic, called "How Everything Works" (around $18 on Amazon), which explains all sorts of interesting stuff from elevators to washing machines to jet engines. He also has some really interesting physics and science videos on YouTube that are worth digging up, especially if you are a fan of shows like MythBusters.

This may be the first PLATO person to offer a Coursera course. We've come a long way. (Though, and this is an entire other discussion, it's an open question how truly effective Coursera's approach to "online courses" is compared to the best courses on PLATO.) I'm looking forward to hearing how well it does -- I have a hunch it's going to be a big hit.

UPDATE: another bit of news regarding Professor Bloomfield: an invention of his is gaining momentum. Here's a recent news article.


Learn more about the book:

The Friendly Orange Glow: The Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture, by Brian Dear

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