Important Events in the History of Digital Higher Education: CALCampus, Synchronous Learning, & Early Use of “OER”

by Heather Walker, Program Coordinator, DigiTex

Around the same time that Project Athena and the Andrew Project were first getting off the ground, a woman named Margaret Morabito was dreaming of an affordable, consumer-oriented approach to education that incorporated the use of computers to reach non-traditional students (Morabito, 1986). Having worked previously as an English professor, director of a United States Army computer center, and instructor of English in the Navy (Millman, 1988), Morabito had much experience to draw on when she founded the Computer Assisted Learning Center (CALC) in Rindge, New Hampshire, in 1982. Initially CALC was an offline tutoring center for adults. However, Morabito had much bigger plans for her new center.

Beginning in 1983, Morabito started researching the ways in which telecommunications were being used to facilitate education, and as a result of her research she began to see the potential of computers to serve as instructional aids. Following this realization, she developed a plan to reinvent CALC “as an exclusively online learning center for the purpose of providing instruction to individual learners from diverse locations through the use of computer telecommunications” (Morabito, 2020). The Learning Center continued to operate as a small offline facility for several more years. Then in 1985, the QuantumLink telecommunications network opened, offering the chance to take CALC online. Morabito presented a proposal for her new online Learning Center, and in 1986 the CALC Tutoring Center first opened “on the QuantumLink network inside the Q-Link Learning Center” (Morabito, 2020). Not long after the Tutoring Center became a reality, Morabito’s brainchild grew again to include QuantumLink Community College, which provided instruction in non-credit courses through live groups (what we would, today, call synchronous learning).

The instructors, known as QTutors, would hold hour-long sessions in virtual “classrooms,” providing both lesson content and question and answer sessions for their students. Between class times, message boards were provided for each department of study. In the event that they missed an instructional session or simply thought of a question for the instructor, students could use these message boards to contact their teachers for clarification. Among the subjects taught were English, mythology, mathematics, BASIC programming, and science (Morabito, 1986; Millman, 1988).

Today’s instructors who adopt Open Educational Resources (OER) for their classes will be impressed by the resourcefulness of Morabito and her team in providing texts for these classes. Since the students of CALC came from all walks of life, some arrived for tutoring with their own textbooks as references, while others did not. Of course, providing textbooks for those without them was a challenge, but the instructors at CALC overcame this hurdle by providing free resources to their students. According to Morabito, public domain materials were both created by the instructors at CALC and donated by other instructors who did not work at CALC but supported online education nonetheless. These materials were then loaded to the departmental databases, where students were free to download them as needed (1986). In other words, the tutors were using openly licensed resources before the term “Open Educational Resources” had even been coined!

From 1986 through 1995, CALC continued to grow its operations to include service on multiple communications channels including AppleLink, PC-Link, Delphi, AOL, GEnie, and CompuServe. By 1995 the internet was becoming much more widely available to the general public through smaller, local internet providers. With widely available internet, CALC had the means to reach a much broader audience. Although Morabito continued to operate the separate campuses on the various communications channels, CALC also went officially online as we would understand it today. With its new internet campus came an official domain: Of course the new domain necessitated a name change, and so in 1995 CALC Online Campus became CALCampus (Morabito, 2020). 

As of 2007, CALCampus has been fully accredited (Morabito, 2020) and is currently subdivided into the High School and Postsecondary divisions. Both divisions are accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC), the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI). Students in the High School division may take courses toward the completion of their high school diplomas, while students in the Postsecondary division may take courses for college credit. CALCampus has chosen not to offer financial aid nor receive Title IV funding, so it also does not grant degrees. However, students who complete one of the institution’s programs may receive a certificate of completion. They may also request official transcripts with full records of courses completed and grades earned (CALCampus, 2020).

Based upon her own research, Morabito claims that CALCampus is the first distance education model to offer “a totally online-based school through which administration, real-time classroom instruction, and materials were provided” (Morabito, 2020). CALCampus was truly a revolution in the field of distance education. No longer did the term “distance learning” mean self-led study sessions and complete isolation from the instructor and students. Additionally, instructor use of what we would call Open Educational Resources set an early example for those who would follow. In a testament to the strength and ingenuity of its founder, Margaret Morabito, and to her vision, CALCampus is still operational today and is reaching students around the world (Morabito, 2020).


CALCampus. (2020). About CALCampus. 

Millman, H. (1988, October). Margaret Morabito. Commodore Magazine 

Morabito, M. (1986, November). Tutoring the Online Way. Link-Up Magazine. 

Morabito, M. (2020). Origins of CALCampus. CALCampus.