In 2009, I began researching learning and instructional theories for the two different masters programs I was enrolled in at the time.
One program was a Master of Science in Career and Technical Education at California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB) and
the other was a Master of Science program in Instructional Design and Technology at California State University Fullerton (CSUF).
After two years my research culminated,
at the end of my spring 2011 semester, in the completion of a thesis titled
Effective Use of Multimedia in Instructional Design and a project named
After a year off from school I re-enrolled, this time in a PhD program
titled instructional design for online learning (IDOL). The text I have
written for The Art of Instruction compiles much of what I have
learned about learning and instruction in the last five years and my most
recent attempts to make sense of
How I Got Here
There are two key moments which most influenced the directions I've taken and
the decisions I've made throughout my adult life. The first would be Christmas day 1985 when I opened a gift
from my brother Tom. It was a book published by Que titled dBase III Handbook, written by George Chou. It was that book which ignited my love for writing computer programming.
The second event was a telephone message left on my answering machine by my mother in 1994.
My mom's phone message came at a time in my life when I was transitioning jobs.
The message she left was to inform me of a new company opening up in
Riverside who were looking to hire instructors to teach people about how to
use computers. The name of the company to which she was referring was New Horizons Computer Learning Center,
and it was there that I began my teaching career.
Over the course of
30 years there have been numerous events that have helped shape my life, helped me to progress through an amazing journey, and which helped inspire my love of digital technologies as well as my zeal to share what I learn with others, but it was those two events which had the greatest impact on the path I have followed for the last three decades.
Not a Programmer by Nature
I would not consider myself a computer programmer by any means. In fact, I have never had any formal training in any of the computer sciences.
My computer learning experiences have come mostly from purchasing numerous books
about dBase which were published by Que and other publishers. Que was my
favorite publisher when I was learning about dBase and dBase inspired me to write a couple of computer programs in the late 80's to early 90's. One of those programs was a point-of-purchase program
called VBase, which I wrote for Video Place, a video rental store owned by my brother and me. The second
program I wrote was a retail contract printing program for a boat manufacturer in Perris, Ca.
I'm getting ahead of myself; let's back up a few months to the purchase of my first business computer which was an IBM clone PC that I purchased for the video store. It wasn't actually a whole computer like you purchase today, completely built and ready to plug in right out-of-the-box. It was actually a bunch of parts totaling about $500 at a time when IBM PCs where selling for $2,500. Our video store was earning my brother and I about $1,000 per month in profits, but this was nowhere near enough to warrant the purchase of an actual IBM PC. Especially when neither of us had any expertise or experience even using a PC of any kind.
It was actually quite happenstance how the events unraveled towards our gaining ownership of that first IBM clone PC. The fellow who had helped us start the video store was named John and he owned his own video store, Middle Earth Video. In fact we were renters at his store and that's how we came up with the idea to start our own video rental operation. It was another renter at John's video store, Hank, an inventor of sorts who developed several patents in shrink wrap packing technologies, who took me along to an Anaheim computer store one day.
Hank showed me what parts to purchase and how to put them together. It was an amazing thing to me how simple it was to obtain and build your own computer. The next thing I had to learn was what to do with it.
A friend of my brother was enrolled in a computer science program at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and was learning about a database program that he said we could use to catalog our video store inventory and track the videos we were renting out to customers. David Green was that student's name and for whatever reason Dave's offer to write us that dBase program never came to fruition. That Christmas, in 1984, my brother Tom presented the Que book on dBase he had bought for me as a gift and on that day my journey of learning to write the code for what would become VBase (short for Video Base) began.
Writing VBase was an invaluable experience exposing me to and saturating me with in-depth knowledge of the world of relational databases. I was unaware of it at the time but I was learning processes and gaining
understandings of technologies that I would continue drawing upon for the rest of my life. Without even knowing it I was researching and learning about one of the cornerstones of computer science. One of the problems with dBase was getting it compiled, at least it was difficult for me and required skills and an understanding of computers well beyond my scope of knowledge at the time. Since I couldn't compile my programs, in order to run them, dBase, a relatively expensive software product, needed to be installed on any computer where I wanted the program to operate. Essentially this meant that the programs I was writing weren't commercially viable.
After writing those first two programs, keeping up with the changes occurring in the world of programming became too much for me,
in time, in understanding, and in cost. It wouldn't be until around 1997, when I inadvertently stumbled across Tim Berners-Lee's HyperText Markup language (HTML),
until I was inspired to write any kind of viable computer code again.
Entrepreneur in Spirit
In addition to operating the video rental store with my brother Tom, I worked with my dad operating a graphic design firm and publishing company we called Bennett Company. Bennett Company was a side business to my dad's weekly newspaper business called the Riverside County Record and West Side Shopping News. I also owned and ran a print shop called Bizzare Productions. I know, Bizarre is spelled wrong, but I liked the way it looked on my business cards. It may seem like we had a lot of businesses going at the time, but in the small town of Rubidoux, all of these businesses operated in one small building by three individuals, me, my dad, and my brother Tom, and we were just filling in our down-time from one business with the spill-over activity for another.
Anyway, one of our clients was Western Athletic Supply. Western Athletic Supply was a mail order baseball equipment company started by two brothers Jack and George Lenertz who owned and operated the local Ace hardware store. They didn't start the company in their garage like many of the entrepreneurs of the 80's and 90's, but they did literally start Western Athletic Supply out of the back of their hardware store. It started with them buying inventory that they sold out of the hardware store. At first selling mostly to the local
Little League teams, it then blossomed into a mail order catalog business when George brought the idea to my dad and asked him what it would take to produce a catalog and distribute it through the mail. That event took place about 1983 and from then on until 2007, Bennett Company, which became Bennett Media after my father passed away, created and published the Western Athletic Supply baseball equipment catalog. It started out as an annual catalog
and then turned quarterly as Western Athletic Supply grew; at one time they
were the largest distributor of baseball equipment in America. The downturn in the economy and several changes in industry policies implemented by the baseball equipment manufacturers like the imposition of manufacturer advertised pricing (MAP) caused Western Athletic Supply to close their doors in May of 2007.
The point of these first couple of paragraphs are twofold a) to give you some background on the entrepreneurial spirit that was occurring in the little town of Rubidoux in the 80's and 90's and
b) to give you some understanding of how Western Athletic Supply operated up until about 1997 when the Internet came on the scene. Before the Internet, mail order catalogs were how businesses sold their goods outside of their brick and mortar operations. Almost overnight businesses were jumping on the Internet bandwagon and wanting Web sites developed, Western Athletic Supply included. After doing a little research I found a product from Adobe whose Photoshop software I had been using to
edit the Western Athletic Supply catalog images along with Aldus' PageMaker on the second PC I had built.
Notice I said it was a PC I used and not a Mac. I'll never forget the time one of my printing clients who operated a successful night club in town, called Club Metro, enthusiastically showed off his new Apple Lisa computer to me and bragged about his $10,000 dollar hard drive he purchased as a peripheral device. The size of the hard drive was a whopping 300 megabytes. In his and Apple's defense this was at a time when hard drives of the same size used in mini-frame computers were being sold for much more. The reality for me was that I could not afford to purchase Apple's high-priced computers and peripherals and so I stuck with building and upgrading my clone PCs to do everything my competitors were paying ten times as much for in Apple equipment and software.
As it turned out this was very much to my benefit because it forced me to spend a lot of time researching computer components and understanding the specifications used to identify the capabilities of each component as well as searching out the best components for the price. If it wasn't for this computer hardware and software experience I don't think I would have been New Horizon's number one computer instructor hire in 1994. In fact I was awarded the title Instructor of the Year by the owners at the 1994 Christmas party. It was quite a charge for me to walk into reception at
New Horizons each day and see my name on the plaque with the words "Instructor of the Year" underneath.
The Wonderment of the World Wide Web
But I digress, the Internet was happening and I started learning how to use Adobe's PageMill software to build Web pages for Western Athletic Supply. The whole experience for me was a nightmare. I couldn't get PageMill to layout pages the way I had become accustomed to while using Aldus PageMaker. Little did I know that Web page design was a whole different paradigm then I was used to. Up until then my entire page layout experience had been in the
print publishing arena, I was used to being able to position any and every element on the page exactly where I wanted it. Even with dBase I could create screens where I was able to precisely position each and every visual element. I felt that in order to be able to customize my Web pages the way I wanted I was going to need to learn the underlying code, HTML.
I started by opening pages I had built in PageMill in a Microsoft Windows text editor called Notepad. My spirit sunk and my stomach churned as I viewed my first PageMill file in its native HTML format.
“What have I gotten myself into” was my immediate reaction. I had no idea what all of those strange codes embedded in the text were, and at the time I wasn't very confident that I would ever figure it out. Well I did finally figure out the basics, but with my limited programming knowledge and skills all I could build were static pages and there was no way with my work schedule at New Horizons that I could even think about taking it to the next step and learn the additional programming languages needed to be able to build a full-blown e-commerce Web site.
Much to my dismay Western Athletic Supply decided to purchase an expensive high-end canned software package designed for retail businesses to sell their wares over the Internet. Despite the setback at Western Athletic Supply, I built a few Web sites at the time for friends and one for my father-in-law who had developed some patented water purification components and started a company called Payne Manufacturing. Payne Manufacturing wanted to expand their reach beyond their existing clientele to the Internet. If you're interested, you can still view the original Payne Manufacturing Web site. For the most part I
have stuck to building Web sites for myself and my own enjoyment while I continue to learn all that there was to learn about
learning, instruction, cognition, computers, the Internet and the World Wide Web.