The best in interactive on-line learning
by MICHAEL CIRAOLO
Antic Staff Writer
There is one major source for Atari users who want on-line educational
resources. The Plato Services Network can now be accessed with Atari's
Learning Phone Cartridge ($49.95).
For $7.75 per hour of evening-weekend connect time, the first home computer access to Plato lets you choose from over 430 lessons-from preschool to the graduate level-in subjects from aviation to zoology. Unlike other information services, Plato's lessons deliver computer assisted instruction. The computer asks you questions, waits for the proper answer, corrects wrong responses, usually gives you several options and levels of instruction to choose from and almost always has Help available.
First-time users are confronted with a lengthy menu that includes options to program graphics, edit text, run Plato programs and check notes and electronic mail, among others.
Diana Ristenpart of Plato suggests that new users go to the electronic mail feature first, where they can participate in note files, which is what Plato calls its bulletin boards. There are special-interest files for Atari, microcomputers, Plato games, educators, and dozens of other areas.
"This is an excellent way to meet people and become familiar with the system," Ristenpart said.
When you are ready to sample Plato's educational offerings, there are several alternatives. You can go directly to the main menu option to Run Plato Programs, which will show you an alphabetical listing of subjects and files. If you know you are interested in biology, you can type it in and see the page of the index that includes all programs related to the biological sciences.
If you are interested in a particular program, you can simply type the file name after selecting "Run Plato Program."
PLATO'S TOP TEN
If you are curious to know what others are sampling, and what the popular programs are, you can run a program called "Topten," a listing of the previous month's ten most used programs.
So far this year, two games (Moria and Empire) lead all programs used. The most popular category of education programs is "Elementary Math," followed by "English," "Computer Science," "Aviation," "Ages 4-7," "Biology," and 'Astronomy." The onscreen menu will tell you what to press to see the actual file names instead of category headings, and you can discover what experienced Plato users already know.
One popular elementary math game is Darts, which teaches the concept of relative number sizes. A vertical line spans your screen, with various numbers at regular intervals-let's say the numbers 0, 1 and 2. Fastened to the left side of the line are a series of balloons shaped like clown's heads. Plato asks you to input a number with a decimal point, or a fraction, that will tell the computer where to fire a dart. For a balloon resting on the line near 1.3 you could fire a dart at 1.28 and probably hit the balloon. The game requires a perception of fractions or decimals, and teaches by allowing children to continue to shoot at balloons until they succeed.
"All kids have trouble at some point with math," said Plato Learning Phone manager Nancy Vernon. "These programs are fun to look at and have good graphics."
When young children outgrow Darts, they can move on to a host of other instructional math games. Games give way to straightforward programs that teach subjects as advanced as calculus, differential equations and Fourier transforms,
Unlike other on-line services, Plato offers pictures and graphics, Vernon said. "People like graphics. They like to see things move."
This graphics potential is used not only for young children, but for drawings and diagrams in more advanced lessons, in the same way a high school or college instructor might draw something on the blackboard.
GRAMMAR AND FLYING
When adults get tired of playing Plato's games (which many consider to be some of the best computer games available), they turn to the education programs, particularly English and computer science curricula. The most popular English programs give you access to nearly 100 word and usage lessons.
"I think most adults are brushing up on their grammar and English usage," said Vernon. Older students are also fond of Plato's planetarium and flight simulators.
For some teachers, Plato's games offer unique tools of instruction. For example, the multiplayer, interactive dungeon game Moria is used in several classrooms nationwide to teach strategy and offbeat problem solving.
Other on-line databases, including the Bibliographic Reference Service, DIALOG, CompuServe and the Source, have indices and references for educators, but otherwise provide only marginal educational services. CompuServe, for example, provides a news service for educators, a database to help deaf people move into mainstream society, bulletin boards for disabled users and educators to share information and experience, a guide to colleges and financial aid from the College Board, and a few word-search indices for education-related topics. The Source and CompuServe also have a few sundry question-and-answer programs that could be called "educational" but are more like trivia games.
DIALOG, the Bibliographic Reference Service (BRS) and its sibling BRS After Dark offer a wide variety of databases that may be of help to educators. Like CompuServe, these information services include word search indices, references to colleges and high schools, and specialized information on topics such as the disabled, technical and vocational education. However, none of these services offer computer assisted instruction. For more general information regarding on-fine databases, please see "Antic Pix Online Services" in the July, 1984 Antic. In the same issue you will find an introduction to Plato entitled "Plato Rising."
ANTIC on PLATO
Welcome, Plato users, to "ANTIC Magazine on PLATO," a Plato notes file specifically for the readers of Antic magazine.
The file is easy to get to. From the main menu, select "electronic mail." Then select "read or write general notes." Plato will ask you "What file?" Type in "antic" and you will see the current list of notes. From there, use the HELP function to learn your way around the files.
This notes file is frequented by Atari users, Antic staff, Vincent Wu (creator of the Atari Plato cartridge) and various Plato regulars. It's the place to share ideas, get questions answered, make suggestions and comments about the magazine, and more. Drop us a line-and expect some fast feedback!