Rare opportunity to see early Open University computers at The National Museum of Computing

To mark the 50th anniversary of The Open University (OU), a new display celebrating its early technology is open to visitors to The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park until 31 December 2019.

As pioneers in distance learning education, before personal computers were the norm and the internet became commonplace, the OU developed several innovative methods to enable its students to study on computers in their own homes. The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see six of these machines It also presents an OU timeline, a video about the OU’s early computing and micro-electronics courses and an array of historic photographs of the OU’s computing since its foundation in 1969.

Launch talk at 2 pm on Friday, 27 September 2019

Twenty years of teaching computing and microelectronics at the Open University

John Naughton

Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology, Open University, and journalist at The Observer

Tickets (free as part of museum entry)


Roger Moore, who worked on the OU Home Computing Policy Unit in the 1980s and in various OU educational software roles until 2015, highlights the significance of the OU’s computing education: “In 1972, Vice-Chancellor, Walter Perry, noted that the OU had turned out 2,000 students capable of writing non-trivial BASIC programmes. Now, 50 years on, there are probably more than one million OU graduates who have gone on to advance the development of computing and IT in this country.”

The display has been curated by Roger Moore, a TNMOC volunteer, with OU colleagues past and present. They have researched and brought together six of the early OU machines, including the Logic Tutor, MICRO 1, HEKTOR, OPUS and DESMOND, with some of the course software. Restoration of a HEKTOR is underway with the aim of giving visitors an opportunity for hands-on access to the early days of OU computing, and to program in Assembler or BASIC.

With three national computer centres – in Milton Keynes, London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne – the OU grew to have up to 275 study centres across the country with computer access to the centres. The HEKTORs also enabled some students access to the computer centres from home.

By the late 1980s, the computing landscape had been transformed by the affordability and wide availability of consumer desktop computers.