Computer-Aided Learning Using the NATAL Language
Charles R. Crawford, a former associate professor of computer science at
York University, is a computer programming and mathematics consultant in
NATAL is a programming language for designing computer-aided instruction programs. This book is a tutorial introduction and a reference manual for NATAL, prefaced by six articles about the history of NATAL, its applications, and comparisons with other computer-aided instruction systems.
The articles are the most interesting part of this book. “NATAL under UNIX” describes how the language was implemented under UNIX, the Bell Laboratories operating system. This new implementation of NATAL was an opportunity to extend the language while at the same time it was necessary to follow the original specification. The article describes specific instances where this conflict was encountered.
Another article describes a combined training and information retrieval system, an example of the frequent requirement for a computer-aided training system that must be a training system to the student, an information retrieval system to the expert, and something in-between for the in-between user.
The authors of the articles are NATAL boosters, and they’re not very critical of the language. The article which compares NATAL to four other computer-aided instruction languages describes several desirable features of languages and suggests these as criteria for comparison. The features, however, range from fundamental (whether the instruction session can be stopped and later restarted) to cosmetic (whether the student’s name is available to the program). It is not clear how to interpret the fact that NATAL scores highest on all features.