I chose to profile Don Rawitsch, the creator of the wildly popular educational game Oregon Trail. Oregon Trail is computer-based game based on the history and facts of the American pioneers who traveled across the country in search of better opportunities in the Oregon territories in the 1840s. “The primary objective of this game is to develop decision-making skills in the face of changing and sometimes unforeseen circumstances.” Players are to make the right combination of decisions regarding hunting, food rationing, health care, seasons/weather, and physical danger to ensure that their party makes it to the Oregon territories.
Considered a pioneer in the educational gaming industry, Don Rawitsch, began his career in educational games and technology when he was a student at Carleton College in Minnesota. Don “was looking for a way to use the computer in a history class for which he was the student teacher. In collaborating with his friends, who were both student teachers as well, they created Oregon Trail. In 1974, Don took a job at MECC–or the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium as it was known back then.” (source) Rawitsch has gone on to launch is own consulting firm, Rawitsch Consulting, where he assists small and medium Web-based businesses to improve business processes and client relationships.
I personally remember playing Oregon Trail in 1989 in the computer lab at school while I was in the 1st grade. Because I did not have a computer in my home, like most people in the late 1980′s, this was my first experience with an computer game in the educational setting. I remember having to stop by the general store to buy supplies and to decide which buffalo to kill for dinner and pelts. There were many times when members of my party died due to disease and weather. While this is a difficult concept for young students to grasp, I feel it is important to let students have experience where their decisions impact the lives and well being of others, even if it is only a simulated game. I feel that Don and Oregon Trail are such an integral part of educational technology history because if you ask most people what was the first computer game they played at school, the answer would more than likely be Oregon Trail.