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Tom Conlon

16 Jan 1954 - 23 Dec 2008

When Tom Conlon passed away on December 23rd, 2008 we lost a friend, colleague and teacher whose life was an inspiration to us all. Tom was one of those rare people able to make an impact in a number of different arenas. He was a teacher trainer, an expert in the use of computing technologies for learning and teaching, a skilled and creative software designer, an entrepreneur and a researcher in the area now known as technology-enhanced learning.

Tom believed strongly that visionary questions relating to the purpose of education and the proper place of technology should be widely and fully discussed and that technological innovation must serve proper educational purposes. Many in Scotland and elsewhere would know him as the enthusiastic and caring teacher educator, full of energy and encouragement. With his Moray House colleagues he loved to banter and debate - anything from educational policy to the best fly to use on the next fishing trip or the advantages of a Honda over a Kawasaki. For Tom was a passionate fly fisher and biker too. He loved to walk in the Lammermuir Hills around Garvald where Tom and I settled in 1992.

Many who find a lecturing position in departments of education find it hard to be practitioners of their original discipline. Tom not only taught teachers about the educational theories underlying the use of computer technologies but he was also a cutting-edge practitioner, building system after system featuring well-grounded ideas about how to help learners learn. Conception, for example, is an elegant system for expressive modelling.

He was an expert on logic programming and with Steve Gregory, the designer of Parlog, he formed a company called PLP, demonstrating that he not only built systems but also that he sought to understand the market for such systems.

Tom not only made significant contributions to Scottish education; he was also interested in the wider world where he was a very active member of several international communities. He was strongly involved with the PEG group and had long been involved with the AI in Education community. More recently, he was very active as a program committee member for the Concept Mapping (CMC) series of conferences.

At the heart of Tom’s thinking was a desire for educators and policy makers to develop a “balanced discourse of reflective scepticism” for innovations involving technology-enhanced learning. Tom was full to overflowing with enthusiasm for technology when it was beneficial, so any scepticism was intended to promote the best possible outcomes for Scotland, society, and the learners found in our schools. If Scotland is to grow up in terms of its uses of educational technology then Tom provides the best of examples to follow. May his spirit go on from strength to strength, and may we all benefit from the realisation of his vision.

Jean Casey, January 2009