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Issue 478, 4 March 2002


Professor John Self

John Self graduated in natural sciences at the University of Cambridge in 1964, was awarded an MSc (with distinction) in electronic computation at the University of Leeds in 1969, followed by a PhD in computational science (natural language analysis) conferred by the University of Leeds in 1973.

John began his academic career in 1971 when appointed lecturer in computer studies at the University of Leeds, and his research interests quickly focused on the development of artificial intelligence techniques applied to learning systems - a domain in which he quickly gained an international reputation. At this time computer technology was primitive, Artificial intelligence was under critical review in the Lighthill report, and the application of computers to learning systems and to education was controversial. John's response, which he continued and developed throughout his research career, was to produce conceptual frameworks and formalisms for knowledge development, and to show how these could result in beneficial and innovative learning programs. In particular, John focused on developing student models within interactive systems which were wide-ranging, encompassing concept acquisition, metacognitive reflection, and collaborative learning. This work was influential, particularly as many computer-assisted learning systems developed pragmatically and without adequate rationale. His numerous papers and presentations, analytic and written in John's excellent style, fashioned the research and development of intelligent tutoring systems. His book (with Professor Tim O'Shea) on Learning and Teaching with Computers, first published in 1983 and translated into four languages, became a standard text. In brief, John's scholarship and intellectual authority stimulated and developed this area of research on a world-wide basis.

After a three-year period at Melbourne University, John returned to the UK as lecturer in computing at the University of Lancaster, and was promoted to reader in 1986. It was here that John directed a series of important projects funded by the SERC/Alvey initiative and by the Joint Research Councils, in which the University of Leeds was also an active partner. These were followed by various EU-funded initiatives which enabled research on student modelling to be linked to a range of teaching/learning applications across Europe. These multidisciplinary aspects of computer-assisted learning were brought together more closely at Lancaster when John became director of the centre for research in computers and learning. He had also become a formative influence on the activities of the international artificial intelligence in education society, and was elected its first president in 1992: for ten years he was the editor of its influential journal which has become the major publication in this domain.

In 1996 John was appointed professor of knowledge based systems at the University of Leeds where he continued to foster a multidisciplinary approach to research in Computer Assisted Learning. He was a stimulating influence on research students, many coming from overseas and attracted to Leeds through his influence and reputation.

John Self started his academic career at the University of Leeds and returned thirty years later when appointed to his chair. Throughout this period John has shown commitment and resolution in his work, and has made an outstanding contribution to research in knowledge based systems related to learning. The same personal attributes were present in his running - few academics can achieve a two-hour/thirty-two minute London marathon! Although he has now formally left the University, we hope and expect he will continue his research interests, and our best wishes go to him and to Ruth for a very happy and active retirement.

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