NRU Screens

A rather surprising email floated through the box yesterday:

I’m a librarian at a college in Pennsylvania, and I’m trying to track down a current link to Negative Reinforcement University. One of our Animal Science professors has shared the resource with his students in the past. He speaks very highly of the site and would love to use it again, so I’m contacting you on his behalf. I know that you helped Bernie Combs and his students to create NRU when you worked at Maricopa. Is the resource still available somewhere, either on the web or as a CD-ROM? Do you have any suggestions for current access? We would greatly appreciate any help that you’d be willing to provide!

The site she speaks of was created in 1996.


This was in the hey day of multimedia, when I was tinkering at the Maricopa Community Colleges, and the zenith of my chops of scripting Lingo in Macromedia Director. And actually, the site should work, except the IT folks at Maricopa have apparently mothballed all of my old crap that resided at I spoke to Colen, whom I hired as a student programmer in the late 19902, and now is the tech chop at MCLI. He said the old server was hammered rather hard by bots and had a bazillion security holes. I am not surprised.

NRU was one of my all time favorite projects. It came out of an experiment of working with faculty to dream up these kind fo projects. We came up with a scenaria of rather than just working with a faculty member, we would also work with a team of students to devise a technology project (that I would end up building). It was under the guise of them being a production team working for Studio 1151 (do the roman numerals).

One of the faculty members I worked with on this was Bernie Combs, who then taught psychology ay Scottsdale Community College. At the project brainstorming sessions, his students suggested looking at topics his entry level PSY students did poorly on on the final, and negative reinforcement was one that came up. Bernie actually had another project he wanted to do, but it was up to a vote. The students came up with this idea of a virtual place that was experiential, more like a computer game, a University dedicated to Negative Reinforcement. I stole the navigation means directly from Myst, and we put in a few puzzles that needed to be solved, including a angry professor who would send the player to a dungeon, where they had to avoid negative consequences to get out.

The original project was done in 1995 as a CD-ROM, but with the advent of Macromedia Shockwave, I endeavored to make a web version, which, not in its low res graphics, looks clunky, but you have to remember we were on dialup speeds back then.

I’d like to help out this school, so when I get home to where my source files are, I will see about hoisting a version of NRU to my domain. I might need to code tinker, incase there any hard coded URLs (for sure there was a perl script at the end that generated a diploma).

Just as a kick, I looked it up in the Internet Archive, and you can actually do the experience from the archived bits. That is a rather neat discovery- that means they archived all of the shockwave files (.dcr). I just navigated through and the functionality seemed to me all there.

NRU is even listed in MERLOT and I guess it has become a [semi-] official acronym.

Not to be all self back patting here, but the idea that some clunky multimedia I made in 1996 is potentially still fo use? Can you say more about the value of the web as an archive of our (recent) past? Do you have software from the mid 1990s you can use today on your computer?

The web is a living thing, so think about the the next time you consider ripping out some bits because you think it is not of use any more. Do not break the fabric of the web, and more, make new fabric.

Don’t just be on the web./ Don;t just be looking at stuff on the web. Make the web. Now

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I love these edtech history posts, and what a genius idea. You really need to go to Maricopa and get this stuff off the servers lest they lost it all. Such amazing work.

      1. Any way to get the file so I can always have it? It disappeared for a while. I find it to be a great critical thinking exercise! Thanks!

  2. I used Studio 1151 and NRU as the core of a multimedia class from 1996-2005. Recently, I repurposed the class as a prerequisite for mentees entering a Udacity MOOC on How To Build A Startup. NRU’s strength is its ability to accommodate a wide range of learning styles, making it ideal for a generalized model of how to build or use a MOOC.

    A good student project would be to refresh the tools and update it.


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