The National Development Programme in Computer Aided Learning (NDPCAL) was the earliest large-scale education programme in the United Kingdom to explore the use of computers for teaching and learning.
First proposed in 1969 to the Department of Education and Science by the National Council for Educational Technology. it ran from 1973 to 1977 spending £2.5M to support some 35 projects covering a range of subjects.
About half the money was spent on projects in universities and the rest on projects in schools, colleges, industrial and military training. Richard Hooper was appointed its Director and operated with a small central team and the programme was administered by the Council for Educational Technology.
During the 1960s various projects in the US and the UK using mainframe and mini-computers began to develop the field of Computer Aided Learning and there was much debate about its value and effectiveness. The National Council for Educational Technology produced advice to government in 1969 to run a national development programme to explore the value of these approaches.
The Department for Education and Science (DES) announced in 1972 the approval by then Secretary of State Margaret Thatcher of a "national development programme in computer assisted learning." Following the announcement of the programme, the post of director was advertised and Richard Hooper was selected.
NDPCAL's strategy was to work mainly with existing projects in Computer Aided Learning but also to develop feasibility projects with those with good ideas. It required joint funding from the host establishment and stipulated effective evaluation and monitoring processes but allowed a significant degree of autonomy to the projects. The approach of the central team was active and interventionist, working alongside potential projects in their early stages to help develop their design and approach. They required four monthly accounting periods and carefully controlling expenditure.
CET was asked to provide administrative services to the new programme, and the programme's central staff were CET employees but executive control was with a committee made up of civil servants from seven government departments plus a group of co-opted advisers. This programme committee was chaired by the DES and held the final say on proposals from the programme director. It also involved itself in project evaluation, setting up sub-committees of three or so of its members to look in detail at a particular proposal or project. Although each of the thirty projects had its own steering committee national linkage was maintained through a member of the national programme committee sitting on each project steering committee.
From January 1973 to early summer 1973, there was a phase of exploration and consultation and from the summer of 1973 to the end of the year, there was the setting up of the programme's management structure and of the first generation of major projects, notably in the university sector. Hooper was supported by two assistant directors, Gillian Frewin (from ICL) and Roger Miles (from the Army School of Instructional Technology). They were supported by two other executive posts and three secretaries.
The programme formulated two main aims over its lifetime (Hooper, 1975, p17):
Two evaluations were set up, one to consider the educational benefits and one to consider the financial aspects.
This first government funded programme focused on their use for learning subjects other than programming. It supported some 35 projects, seven in schools, a number in higher education but the majority were based on the British armed services’ growing interest in developing more automated and managed approaches to training. The hardware was limited; the computers were large expensive cabinets of complicated electronics accessed mainly by paper tape with Teletype printouts but already the focus was more on the way technology could be used to improve teaching and learning than as a subject in its own right.
NDPCAL funded a wide range of different projects - of different types, covering a range of subjects and age ranges sectors. Some of these, such as Chelsea College's computers in the undergraduate science curriculum, developed into the computers in the curriculum project and Hertfordshire's computer-managed mathematics helped the Advisory Unit for Computer Based Education (AUCBE) at Hatfield develop.
It classified projects into different stages
About half the project funds were spent on projects in universities and polytechnics, about one-sixth of the project funds was spent on schools based projects and the rest on military and industrial training. Some of the projects are listed below.
The Educational Evaluation, UNCAL (Understanding Computer Assisted Learning) was carried out over a period of three years evaluation project and reported findings about CAL in general. Its findings echo many of the later findings of the effectiveness of e-learning :
They calculated the 'national or total cost per student terminal hour' in the range £4-£15 by comparison the cost of conventional teaching was in the range £0.60-£2.50 per student hour.