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), and 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. He is co-chair of the MIT Council on Educational Technology, which oversees MIT's strategic educational technology activities and investments. In this capacity, he played key roles in fostering MIT institutional educational technology initiatives such MIT OpenCourseWare and DSpace.
Abelson is a leader in the worldwide movement towards openness and democratization of culture and intellectual resources. He is 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." He is currently engaged in work in this area on sabbatical at Google during 2009, where he is exploring the educational potential of mobile computing.
Abelson collaborates in directing the Decentralized Information Group at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where he is investigating privacy on the World Wide Web and developing a new approach to privacy based upon information transparency and accountability rather than access control More generally, Abelson has a broad interest in information technology and policy, and he developed and teaches The MIT course Ethics and Law on the Electronic Frontier. 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, when it was changed as part of a comprehensive curriculum revision, and Abelson is currently working on the revision as well as the successor introductory subject.