Unisys ICON

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The ICON was a computer built specifically for use in schools, to fill a standard created by the Ontario Ministry of Education. They were widely used, mostly in high schools in the mid- to late 1980s, but disappeared after that time with the widespread introduction of PCs and Apple Macintoshes. They were also known as the CEMCorp ICON, Burroughs ICON, and finally Unisys ICON when Burroughs and Sperry Corporation merged to form Unisys in 1986. The machine was also nicknamed the bionic beaver.

Contents

History

Origins

In 1981, three years after the first usable microcomputers appeared, the Ontario Ministry of Education sensed that microcomputers could be an important component of education. In June the Minister of Education, Bette Stephenson, announced the need for computer literacy for all students and formed the Advisory Committee on Computers in Education to guide their efforts.[1] She stated that:

It is now clear that one of the major goals that education must add to its list of purposes, is computer literacy. The world of the very near future requires that all of us have some understanding of the processes and uses of computers."[2]

According to several contemporary sources, Stephenson was the driving force behind the project; "whenever there was a problem she appears to have 'moved heaven and earth' to get it back on the tracks."[1]

The Ministry recognized that a small proportion of teachers and other school personnel were already quite involved with microcomputers and that some schools were acquiring first-generation machines. These acquisitions were uneven, varying in brand and model not just between school boards, but among schools within boards and even classroom to classroom.[3] Among the most popular were the Commodore PET which had a strong following in the new computer programming classes due to its tough all-in-one construction and built-in support for Microsoft BASIC, and the Apple II which had a wide variety of educational software, mostly aimed at early education.

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