Hal Abelson

Harold (Hal) Abelson is Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a Fellow of the IEEE. He holds an A.B. degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from MIT. In 1992, Abelson was designated as one of MIT's six inaugural MacVicar Faculty Fellows, in recognition of his significant and sustained contributions to teaching and undergraduate education. Abelson was recipient in 1992 of the Bose Award (MIT's School of Engineering teaching award), winner of the 1995 Taylor L. Booth Education Award given by IEEE Computer Society, cited for his continued contributions to the pedagogy and teaching of introductory computer science, and of the 2012 ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education Award for Outstanding Contribution to Computer Science Education, and winner of the 2011 ACM Karl Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award.

Abelson has played key roles in fostering MIT institutional educational technology initiatives including MIT OpenCourseWare and DSpace, and he has served as co-chair of the MIT Council on Educational Technology, which oversees MIT's strategic educational technology activities and investments. He is a leader in the worldwide movement towards openness and democratization of culture and intellectual resources. He was a founding director of Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and the Free Software Foundation, and a director of the Center for Democracy and Technology — organizations that are devoted to strengthening the global intellectual commons.

Abelson been active since the 1970's in using computation as a conceptual framework in teaching. He directed the first implementation of children's computer language Logo for the Apple Computer, which made the language widely available on personal computers beginning in 1981; and he published a widely selling book on Logo in 1982. His book Turtle Geometry, written with Andy diSessa in 1981, presented a computational approach to geometry was cited as "the first step in a revolutionary change in the entire teaching/learning process."

Abelson leads the development of MIT App Inventor. App Inventor, started by Abelson when he was a visiting faculty member at Google Research, is a Web-based development system aimed at making it easy for young students -- or anyone -- to create original mobile applications.

Abelson is codirector of the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative, which collaborates with policymakers and technologists to improve the trustworthiness and effectiveness of interconnected digital systems like the Internet. More generally, Abelson has a broad interest in information technology and policy, and he developed and teaches The MIT course Foundations of Information Policy. He co-authored the 2008 book Blown to Bits, which describes, in non-technical terms, the cultural and political disruptions caused by the information explosion.

Together with MIT colleague Gerald Sussman, Abelson developed the computer science subject, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, which is organized around the notion that a computer language is primarily a formal medium for expressing ideas about methodology, rather than just a way to get a computer to perform operations. This work, through a popular computer science textbook by Abelson and Gerald and Julie Sussman, videos of their lectures, and the availability on personal computers of the Scheme dialect of Lisp (used in teaching the course), has had a world-wide impact on university computer-science education. This work served as MIT's own introductory computer science subject from 1980 until 2007.

Last modified: April 19 2021, 9:26 AM Hal Abelson