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17958 Hughes, David Ralph 
 Distance Learning
To: Lt. Gen. John H. Cushman, U.S. Army, Ret.
From: George L. Johnston, Ph.D.
Subject: Nomination of David R. Hughes as a Distinguished Graduate, USMA
Date: September 26, 2000

I am told that the Directors of the West Point Society of Annapolis will nominate David Ralph Hughes, USMA 1950, for recognition by the Association of Graduates, USMA, in 2001 as a Distinguished Graduate, USMA. 

As an individual who has known Dave Hughes and participated in some of his projects since the early nineties, I endorse the nomination strongly and without reservation. 

In 1991 I was a Research Scientist in the MIT Plasma Fusion Center engaged in research in theoretical physics applied to particle accelerators and high-power microwave generators. In my work I had access to the Internet, which at that time was devoted exclusively to communications among researchers at universities and government laboratories. I began to think about possible benefits of the computer communications technology available to me to reach students and teachers in primary and secondary education. In order to explore the possibilities, I sought out experts in the field, if any. After some inquiry, I was advised that Dave Hughes was the preeminent pioneer in the use of computer communications for education and community and economic development of rural communities. 

I telephoned Dave at his home office. In short order I had made a commitment to collaborate with him in the development of a high-school level course on the science and mathematics of chaos to be presented by an informal telephone-based system that he would organize to schools and students whose participation he would arrange. As I realized only later, here was a breathtaking demonstration of Dave's vision, his sense for publicity (the MIT connection), his commitment to public service, his energy, and his salesmanship. The course had no formal funding. Dave bore much of the cost and my laboratory management averted their gaze from my part-time efforts in the course. We developed and presented the course to students in high schools in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and California. Two of the students subsequently applied to MIT, were admitted, and matriculated. One of them, a girl, later told me that she wouldn't have dreamed of applying to MIT but for the validating experience of performing well in the course.   

Dave and I collaborated on other efforts to advance distance education by computer communications. We endeavored, without success, to obtain formal Federal funding for our projects. (We did not succeed, apparently because we were not psychologists or cognitive scientists, and we were not "in the loop.") Working with Dr. Gordon Cook, we participated in a Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) workshop on the future of the Internet.  (I recall with particular enjoyment a surreal moment in the workshop when we crossed swords verbally with a National Science Foundation (NSF) bureaucrat seeking to maintain the Internet exclusively for collaboration of university and government scientists by boldly advocating its extension to primary and secondary education!) We advocated to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) the adoption of a graphics file format Dave had identified as appropriate for distance learning. Dave financed and managed the relatively inexpensive development in the former Soviet Union of a software package to achieve convenient communication by means of that graphics file format.  We participated in a variety of conferences in which our primary focus was a continuing quest for software tools to facilitate distance learning.

Through Dave's long experience with computer communications in rural areas, he had become convinced that many essential communications links for schools and communities could not be achieved economically by conventional network service providers, such as telephone utilities. He studied the emergence of alternatives in certain advanced wireless technologies. Most of them do not require operator licensing and therefore, unlike conventional service providers, do not require continuing expenditures beyond maintenance and depreciation for replacement. Most important, these technologies, because of the ongoing revolution in digital processing, were experiencing revolutionary growth in bandwidth and other measures of performance. Dave mastered the assembly, installation, field engineering and operation of many of these advanced systems as they became available, placing them into service with Old Colorado City Communications, the Internet service provider that he operates.  

In 1995 he was asked to submit a proposal to the Networking Division of NSF to conduct wireless field tests to determine the suitability of these advanced wireless technologies in primary and secondary education. He asked me to participate because he wanted to develop a program that would be more than an engineering study of such technical measures of performance as network throughput and bit error rates. He wanted to develop a program that would demonstrate, even if in a limited way, the use of the wireless technologies to assist education in schools. One subsidiary, but important, benefit of this approach would be that school personnel would be more motivated to in general to participate, and in particular to deal conscientiously with issues of achieving and recording technical performance. I suggested that we develop and present a course on selected topics in mathematics and science for participating teachers. Having learned something about the Byzantine institution of primary and secondary education through the chaos course and our subsequent activities over several years, for a variety of reasons I had come to consider professional development of teachers, especially in mathematics and science, a highly leveraged activity. 

The grant was approved and we set to work. The locus of the program was the San Luis Valley in rural Southern Colorado and Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs, the closest approximation in Colorado Springs to an inner city school. Because we were funded, I could go to Colorado before the beginning of the course to meet the teachers who had volunteered to participate. We arranged for teachers who completed the course to receive graduate credit for the course from Colorado University at Colorado Springs. As usual, Dave was deeply involved in the planning, execution, and management of all aspects of the program, from the arcanely technical to the delicately personal and political. There were many and serious challenges across that spectrum, including issues of line-of-sight propagation, which required Dave to climb a tall antenna tower in high winds, and issues of sensitivities of the Hispanic community leadership in the oldest town in Colorado, which was founded two hundred years before Colorado became a state. For reasons largely associated with improved technology available over time and the greater lead time available for planning, the teachers' course probably ran more smoothly than the chaos course, although both were in my opinion, successful experiments and demonstrations of distance learning in primary and secondary education. 

Since the wireless field tests for education, Dave has continued to work with the National Science Foundation on the application of wireless technology to connection of scientific research laboratories in Mongolia and remote sensing for field ecology in an ever increasing variety of remote regions. I am working with a friend and former MIT research colleague on the development of a suite of Web-enabled interactive software for middle school, high school, and remedial college courses in algebra. Dave and I continue to be in touch.

In my opinion, Dave Hughes embodies in the highest sense the motto of the United States Military Academy, "Duty, Honor, Country." In our work together, he has always seemed blithely indifferent to his personal advantage. He has consistently and with Herculean strength and energy pursued his imaginative vision of computer communications technology for education, community development, economic development, and now scientific research. There are many other positive things I could say about Dave, but I suspect others will say many of them. Perhaps the best thing I can say is that knowing and working with Dave Hughes is one of the greatest good fortunes of a generally fortunate life.

George L. Johnston