Ahead of Its Time

In the late 1980s, learning programs designed to teach students via computers didn’t appear on the educational landscape. Learning online, the Internet and interactive student participation were not yet common. So when Bob Ross ’48, a professor at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and three of his associates took six months off and wrote a computer program for Western Civilization they didn’t receive a warm response. Their project, called Culture 1.0, was considered an experiment in distance learning that was “way ahead of its time.” The project was shelved, and Bob thought it was dismissed as a failure.

Imagine his surprise 10 years later when he received a phone call from the project coordinator saying the program had been updated to Culture 4.0 and was doing quite well as a CD-ROM. The New York Times reviewed it favorably, noting, “Culture 4.0 is an ambitious Western civilization study guide for the Internet age, for adults as well as students. The program is rich in ideas and content, which is where it really counts.” It offers users more than 25,000 links to related sources and information on the Web.

Ross says he is “blown away” by the success of the program. “Frankly, I had dismissed it as a nice effort, but not successful. Wrong. The education community had to catch up,” he explains. The multimedia guide to Western civilization and the Web organizes over 3,800 years of Western culture. The project is the result of three decades of research by Walter Reinhold of New York University. Martin Rosenberg from New York University, Stuart White from Crawford College of Art in Ireland and Edward Bever from Drew University joined Ross as contributing scholars to the project. More information is available on the Web site for the program: www.culturalresources.com.

Much of Bob’s personal success was similarly difficult to predict. After graduating, he and his wife, Betty Langeloh Ross ’45, planned on going to the mission field, and they applied to three schools. “But God had other plans,” he says. Accepted only at Claremont, Bob had to take a three-hour examination to enter, and he was certain he had failed it. Yet three weeks later he was accepted to the Claremont graduate program, the first Westmont graduate to be admitted. When he was offered a teaching position at Biola a year later, he found himself in front of his first class of 306 students teaching world history — not on the mission field. As he walked out of the classroom after that first day, he leaned against a wall and heard God’s calling that the classroom would be his mission field for life.

He answered that call by teaching for the next 53 years. Even now, as a retired professor and American studies scholar, Bob teaches Bible studies at a local church and at a home for the elderly. He is best known for his book, “So it was True” the first study on the Holocaust using entirely American documents. Originally published in 1980, it recently went into its second publication. While he joined the Culture 1.0 project as an expert generalist in philosophy and religion, his knowledge in several fields made him a valued and pivotal member of the group. He credits Westmont for instilling in him “the challenge to a life of the mind” and a great desire to learn and study.

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