Vol 4 . . . No 10 . . . June, 1994
1. Pearling: Internet or CD-ROM 2 by Sue Talley AppleLink: TALLEY.SUE
2. Magic WANs: The Future is Now by Jamie McKenzie
`Pearling' : Internet or CD-ROM?
The Cock and the Pearl
A cock was once strutting up and down the farmyard among the hens when suddenly he espied something shining amid the straw. "Ho! ho! quoth he, "that's for me," and soon rooted it out from beneath the straw. What did it turn out to be but a Pearl that by some chance had been lost in the yard. "You may be a treasure," quoth Master Cock, " to men that prize you, but for me I would rather have a single barley-corn than a peck of pearls."
Precious things are for those that can prize them.
Excerpt from Nysernet Veronica search on the word `pearl'
When talking about the Internet the phrases `pearls of wisdom', `diving in', and `exploring the depths for gems of information' all spring to mind for those of us who have spent until the wee hours learning about this new education phenomenon. As a natural born skeptic who resisted returning to arcane menus and too many reminders of the days of time-sharing computers, these hours of navigation have provided much food for thought.
There are many analogies between the use of the Internet for information gathering and `pearling', that is, diving for natural pearls.
Use of the Internet, like pearling, involves diving, sometimes to great depths, with very unpredictable results.
The pearls of the best quality are found in oceans (of information) and come from net searches that often have to go through many oysters(gophers, menus,...) to find a single one which produces a pearl.
Different colored pearls (cream, rose, black, and white) have the highest value, not the uniformly homogenized cultured pearls of organized information (Internet vs. On-line services).
Pollution (of the Internet) has reduced the production of natural pearls and made it difficult for the people who have used Internet in the past to get to their information sources.
Divers have become unwilling to take the time to do the ocean searching now that the more commercial cultured pearl processes are available because the success rate is more predictable where the production process is organized and `guaranteed'.
Shakespeare Search: "Light and Dark"
As I began `pearling' the Internet, I tried to envision how I might have used this resource when I was a high school English teacher. The question I decided to pose to my mythical students would be something like the following: Compare the use of light and dark in Shakespeare's works. (Actually, in fairness, I couldn't have asked students to do this twenty years ago when I taught because it would have been impossible for them to read and comprehend all of Shakespeare's works while looking for these words-- at least not without my facing the distinct possibility of being threatened with bodily harm in the school's parking lot. My own exploration, though, showed that with today's resources, this assignment is very realistic.)
At the same time that I've been `pearling' the Internet, I've been reviewing the CD-ROMs available for reference use in libraries. So as a further step I thought it might be interesting to compare the use of Creative Multimedia's CD-ROM, Shakespeare: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare , with the use of Shakespeare's works in the Electronic Book part of the Net.
Before looking at some results, think about what you might predict the results of this search on Shakespeare's works will be, based on what you remember. Do you think Shakespeare used the word light or dark more frequently, for example? (An answer will be given later for those of you who just have to know. I've posed this question to adults for the last 6 weeks and their answers are fascinating.)
In each environment the search was entered with the following parameters: "light and dark". In theory, this should have yielded only sections of Shakespeare's works that had the words `light' and `dark' somewhere in that passage if Boolean searching was working properly.
The first thing I discovered when trying to do this is the necessity of patience when using the Internet. I have never been able to use the Search function which is listed at the top menu level of Electronic Books. However, if you choose the Search by Title option, the search by word in all of the books, does work there. And you learn that the Electronic Books section of the Internet is available via several gophers. Bottom line, the result of doing a search on the entire collection of books yielded matches on only five of Shakespeare's works. The resulting passages were quite long to search through to find the occurrence(s) of the search words. And depending on where the search was conducted from, the search words were not always highlighted. Once the appropriate part of the passage was located, printing or saving could be cumbersome. Occasionally I also found that it appeared Boolean searching was not working and I got occurrences of "light or dark", or sometimes I got the Boolean equivalent of searching for "light,and, dark" as separate words.
The story of searching using the CD-ROM is quite a contrast. The searching of all of the works was much faster (granted, I was using dial-up for the Internet and was limited to 2400 baud -- like many schools). In this CD search, 30 matches were found with the Boolean search of "light and dark". Because the Find feature is so easy to use you can jump immediately to the section of the selected passage to see each occurrence of the search word. Printing is particularly great because it allows you to easily print just your highlighted text and it automatically supplies a header which includes the time of the search, the title of the work searched, and the word searched. Finally, the browse function allows a near instant look at the total number of occurrences of the search words in all of the information on the disk.
For all of you who want to know more about the results of the search, the word `light' appears 157 times in Shakespeare's works, according to the Creative Multimedia browse function. The word `dark' occurs 62 times. Surprised? When I asked various audiences the question about light and dark the majority inevitably responded that Shakespeare used the word dark more frequently. Either this is a comment on the way Shakespeare is (was) taught to all of us or perhaps it indicates this is a topic where students need to explore more about the context of the words. More about that later.
For the results in context, we can begin to see that perhaps one of the reasons we think Shakespeare referred more frequently to dark rather than light is his juxtaposition of the two words.
From the CD searchAt my poor house look to behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light:
Romeo and Juliet: Act I, Scene II
From the CD searchAnd yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp:
Macbeth: Act II, Scene IV
From both the CD and the Internet
From both the CD and the Internet
At this point I would have said that to explore this topic, the CD-ROM is the optimal media. Even without the consideration of differences in price and difficulty of use for the Internet, the CD search engine was much more effective -- for this particular task. When I used the CD I didn't have to worry about phone lines and which service to use for access.
However, the Internet search yielded results not just on Shakespeare but on many other great works of literature. To search somewhat equivalent works I would have to go to other CD-ROMs such as Bureau Development's Great Literature. Or you can search Shakespeare's poetry, along with other great works of poetry, on the Internet with a similar word search. To do this with a CD-ROM you would have to add a CD-ROM such as Columbia's Granger Poetry, which might be problematic for schools which have run the other two CDs using Macintoshes. Columbia's CD only runs in DOS while Great Literature and Shakespeare run under both Macintosh OS and DOS.
When Technology Coordinators were asked the question at NECC about whether they would recommend the use of a CD search or an Internet search, given the hypothetical exploration outlined here, they were nearly equally split in their answers about which media to use, assuming that all other questions of access are equal.
At this point it would appear that I lean strongly in favor of using the CDs to do searches of this type. However, there is a final element on the Internet which opened up a new realm. A search which can be done on the Net, for which I know of no equivalent CD, is a search on rock lyrics. Imagine the extensions students could get out of their hypothetical exploration of Shakespeare if they were further invited to contrast Shakespeare's use of light and dark with the use of those words by today's rock lyricists. The following examples were gleaned from the rock lyric section of the gopher server at Sunsite.unc.edu.
Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light now
It's shining on me
Coming out of the dark I know the love that saved me
Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan Jr. and Jon Secada
Coming Out of the Dark
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney
But most interesting of all was my tangential search of Nysernet for references to pearl. The most common item was Pearl Jam!! Buried in one menu item were the lyrics to several of their songs and the following is one excerpt.
Oh tonite began with anything
Shadows, light, a warm breath and a scream
Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard
It is this kind of unexpected discovery of a `pearl' that adds to the intrigue of the Internet. And perhaps the fact that the rock lyrics have no CD equivalent is also telling. The cyberspace of the Internet seems to reflect the culture of today. It is most useful for those items which are current and changing. CDs can more easily tackle items such as Shakespeare's works, which can be sliced and diced and categorized, because they are already complete -- nothing more can be added to the actual body of work.
Messy Information vs. Dewey Decimalization
Despite my frustrations with using the Internet, I found myself intrigued with the notion of constantly moving into tangential pathways from where you expected to go. The information you retrieve might not be what you expected but sometimes it is even better. Having worked in a fast paced industry, I know that our students will experience a world of `messy information'. The answers given usually do not fit easily into the category you want them to fit. Research seldom yields the results you had hoped for. In order to learn something from this research and apply it to your problem, you must be able to deal creatively with non-linear information.
On the other hand, I hear many people asking for the Dewey Decimalization of the Internet. Why can't it be more easily searchable? Shouldn't there be standards? Strictly speaking, for my mythical assignment I would have preferred a better search engine on the Internet. But given the pearls I found because of the lack of organization, in places I wouldn't have searched if things had been more organized, I have to revise the hypothesis I had going in to this experiment. Now I am beginning to understand that as adults we will have great difficulty guiding students in their information exploration because we don't like messy information. We have the Dewey Decimal system so ingrained into our notion of information retrieval that we rebel against retrieval that occurs in a more amorphous form. Given the settings I believe our students will have to deal with when they are our leaders, I think they need to have as many experiences as possible with "messiness" and the frustrations sometimes encountered in dealing with it.
Should We Use It Because It Is There?
Some final thoughts. When I posed my hypothetical exploration to Stephen Marcus of the California Writing Project he looked puzzled for a bit and then started asking about how I would deal with things like stage directions and lighting in Shakespeare's works, which also affect your perception of light and dark. This reminded me that just because the CD-ROM or the Internet can spit back an answer quickly, it doesn't mean we should create lessons around that capability. Is a word search the best / only way to approach exploring the question I posed for Shakespeare's works? While browse and find may be wonderful inventions, the `spreadsheets' of literature for the computer, students need to look further at the context of the surrounding passage to comprehend deeper meanings. Maybe Shakespeare really does give the impression of darkness, more than light, if we look at the context of these words in his work!!
I started off wanting to disagree with some of Jamie's more glowing references to Info-Heaven in Grazing the Net. CD-ROMs are absolutely an important part of any school's information collection. There is no reason to go on-line to collect information that can be searched more easily (and inexpensively) off-line. But for the joy of `pearling', check out the Internet.
Magic WANs: The Future is Now
Classrooms as we know them are about to be replaced by new learning environments dramatically changed and electrically charged. WANs (wide area networks) will work revolutionary shifts in schooling. Outside schools, commercially available information networks and products will spur major adjustments in the ways this society raises its young.
Here in Bellingham, Washington, cable is being run this summer throughout all 18 of our schools which will link every classroom with every other classroom, with powerful CD-ROM information resources and with the Internet. A student - previously isolated in restrictive learning environments called "classrooms" - will be able to download Georgia O'Keefe paintings from the Dallas Museum of Art, files of innoculation rates for African nations from the World Health Organization and electronic mail from research partners in Chile, Japan and Russia. A teacher - previously isolated in restrictive working environments called "classrooms" - will be able to download great lessons from colleagues across the nation, files of data for students to crunch and explore as well as electronic mail informing them of breaking developments and leading edge opportunities.
The days of isolated, routine practice are numbered. The days of wide open exploration and discovery are upon us. While it may seem bombastic to some, the promises of WAN-based learning call up thoughts of gold rushes during the previous century.
We are on the verge of a new era in education which will make the tinkering of the past decade (usually referred to as educational reform or restructuring) seem minimalistic. While restructuring played around within the constraints of existing practice and structures, we now face a change in the "playing field" itself. Schooling as warehousing or training for tedious factory jobs will be left behind as classrooms open electronically to the world and the confines of brick walls tumble. This is not, as Pink Floyd once sang, "Just another brick in the Wall." The walls which supported the "teacher as expert and authority" will crumble as the teacher of this next century will be more like a ski or surfing instructor, modeling and showing how students can solve problems, make meaning, gain insight and acquire their own expertise.
Benefits for a Democratic Society
The health of democracy in these United States has always been undercut, to some extent, by the society's desire for a smokestack workforce - compliant, docile and uncomplaining. The literature on social studies and citizenship education has long lamented the prevailing, teacher-dominated practices which undercut democratic norms, substituting a "hidden curriculum" which exalted authority and tradition. The teacher lectured. The student took notes. The teacher assigned textbook passages. The student took notes and answered chapter review questions. The teacher tested. The student regurgitated. Independent thinking and problem-solving was the exception. (Barr, Barth & Shermis, 1977; Morrisset, 1980).
The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has called for a different kind of classroom better suited for the development of active democratic citizens. In Charting a Course: Social Studies for the 21st Century, the curriculum statement adopted and published in 1989, NCSS describes the following:
First, content knowledge from the social studies should not be treated merely as received knowledge to be accepted and memorized but as the means through which open and vital questions may be explored and confronted. Students must be made aware that just as contemporary events have been shaped by actions taken by people in the past, they may themselves have the capacity to shape the future. (NCSS, 1989, p. 3)
The smokestack classroom tended to focus mainly on the past, with students expected to learn the lessons of the past, the rules, the expectations and the traditions which had made the country great. This approach was classified as "transmission" of culture by Barr, Barth & Shermis.
A focus on the past was partially a result of very poor information transfer from the real world to the schools, as in the case of students studying states in books which were published twenty years earlier but still resident in school libraries. It was difficult to conduct "real time" research with "real time" issues. But the technology alone did not explain why so few U.S. History classes ever made it into the 20th Century.
The key element in the quotation above is the focus upon student as active citizen and the use of knowledge to gain insight regarding current issues and questions. NCSS asks that the open exploration of vital questions be central to classroom life. And here is where the WAN takes on a magical influence in setting free the democratic citizen, for access to the broad world of information is no longer bounded by the bricks of the school building. The student can exchange thoughts with leading experts, can mine their writing, and can test ideas with students from every conceivable nation and political viewpoint or experience. When the Iron Curtain fell in East Germany, it signalled the end to an era of mind control.
The efforts of many adults to restrict student access to the Internet in the guise of concern about pornography and other potentially offensive materials echoes longstanding anti-democratic initiatives which would limit access by all citizens to certain ideas, philosophies and writings which are viewed as subversive or un-American. Some of these people are much more comfortable with the sanitized exposure to the world offered by textbooks which have passed through careful screening by state textbook committees before final printing so that well organized groups may use their clout to complain of offending passages.
Not so long ago any pro-labor writings might be smeared with red paint. And only the most cooperative of black leaders might appear in a textbook. Argumentative and contentious folk were simply eliminated, just as certain embarrassing events like broken treaties, massacres, lynchings and bombings were left out or down-played.
The NCSS document goes on to identify the kinds of classroom activities which would support the development of active, independent citizens:
(NCSS, 1989, p. 3)
The WAN provides the raw material to support such debating, analysis and critical thinking. While simulations have been available for decades, the quality and realism of simulations and debates will advance dramatically with the information available over the NET and the growing sophistication of computerized simulations such as SIM-CITY. In addition, the statistical data available from the NET in mammoth databases makes it relatively easy to study complex issues from a data-driven point of view, crunching those databases into compelling visuals and statistics, exploring the power of relationships between variables with packages which make the crunching easy.
The next point in the NCSS document stresses a rich mix of material and the importance of learning to check the reliability of information:
Third, learning materials must incorporate a rich mix of written matter, including original sources, literature, and expository writing; a variety of audiovisual materials, including films, television, and interactive media; a collection of items of material
culture, including artifacts, photographs, census records, and historical maps; and computer programs for writing and analyzing social, economic, and geographic data. Social studies course work should teach students to evaluate the reliability of all such sources of information and to be aware of the ways in which various media select, shape, and constrain information.
(NCSS, 1989, p. 3)
In the April, 1994 issue of From Now On, in an article entitled, "Rubber Rooms, User-Friendly Gateways and Robust Learning," I warned about software gateways to the Internet which might subtly but powerfully restrict user access and user control. Textbooks and smokestack classrooms have acted somewhat as "rubber rooms" protecting students from the messiness and controversy of real world learning (and living.) The WAN offers release from the confines of such narrow views of curriculum and learning. Properly implemented a WAN can end decades of virtual reality in schools and give students a taste of "real time" learning.
The WAN may allow this nation finally to achieve the dreams of citizen Tom Paine, who saw long ago the power of the printing press to elevate the station of the average person and reduce the iron-fisted control of the elites. With new technologies and market forces reducing the number of daily papers and competing ideas, with the homogenization which accompanies conglomerate acquisition of media, the Internet (for now) offers a richness and independence which is very welcome.
Threats to a Democratic Society
It is quite clear that the vision outlined above only becomes a reality if all children in all schools in all states have reasonable access to computers, WANs and the electronic highway. Today this is certainly not the case, and it is unclear how we might achieve that dream without substantial investment in electronic infrastructure funded by some high level of government, probably Federal, which could deliver the services independent of local funding patterns and resources.
At present the possibility of developing a district WAN tied to the Internet is far too dependent upon the wealth and location of each school district. Very few school districts are likely to pass a $6 million dollar technology bond for 10,000 students and 18 schools similar to the one which was voted by the citizens of this community in February, yet it takes that kind of investment to make the WAN come to life. In addition to the matter of funding, convenient access to the Internet is also a result of state leadership in Washington which has been laying an educational "backbone" across the state called "WEDNET" which saves us from negotiating with commercial interests for Internet access at high cost.
If we rely upon local funding and regional preferences, we will wake up ten years from now with an even greater gap between the economically disadvantaged districts and regions on the one hand and the advantaged districts on the other hand. Instead of providing a great leveling force to provide all citizens with great access to information, we will see a nation divided into information-haves and information-have-nots. As Toffler notes in Powershift (1990), such a division is intolerable in a democratic society when information power is central to influence and satisfaction.
2. Fast Food, Fast News, Mind Bites and Fast Info
Until recently, the Internet was a relatively obscure and arcane cruising ground for individuals and non-profit groups who enjoyed sharing ideas and information. Part of its charm and value was its messiness. You could find almost anything on the NET, but it was rarely easy, or maybe it was, but it was rarely predictable. And there were always problems of reliability and quality. Along with the gems and treasures there was babble and there were flames and info-garbage and techno-rot and verbal violence. But despite the craziness, the NET was generally addictive, fun and CHEAP! Information was predictably unhomogenized, unpasteurized and unprocessed. Or it might be propaganda in its extreme.
The commercial world contented itself with corporate and institutional information clients who were willing to pay much money for quality, precision and facile access. Major providers such as DIALOG and BRS built client bases upon professionals willing to spend upwards of $50 to $100 per hour of on-line time researching databases with lists of recent grants or RFPs or databases detailing significant research findings for pharmaceuticals. They devoted little time to the market segment which was cruising and surfing the NET because it was hard to see profit "in them hills."
Well, commercial interest in the NET has suddenly skyrocketed in recent months and we may already have tasted what amounts to a major invasion. With millions of new users surfing the NET worldwide each month, the market potential for commercial services has become evident and the abuses have already started to accumulate as consumers find themselves falsely promised the Internet by some providers (at a cost). The services provided sometimes amount to little more than e-mail access. No surfing! Slick front ends promise the same sort of speed, convenience, familiarity and safety we associate with fast food restaurants. But where do you go when you want a truly great hamburger?
What does this sudden commercial rush mean for a democratic society? If we project the dumbing down of news in the printed newspapers and the media to the commercialization of the NET and if we add to that the homogenization and pasteurization associated with fast food, we could expect greatly expanded services with greatly reduced quality, authenticity and flavor. Fewer germs, less surprise, more uniformity. Sorta like cable TV. Bruce Springsteen's song from the Human Touch album captures the danger well:
SONG: 57 Channels (And Nothin' On)
Today's Internet might disappear as commercial services take away all of the inconveniences and provide smooth sailing, like surfing in a wave pool with waves to order. If the new electronic highway provides few rest stops and exits, if we loose access to the country lanes, the byways and "blue routes" which provide scenic glimpses (as well as autos dumped and rusting in creeks), how well will the new NET support independent thinking or imaginative problem-solving? What if they begin charging for parking (of information) and requiring permits (or approval) before uploading and distributing heretical literature? Will the food along this highway be as bland as that available along our interstates?
And when we arrive at our destination, will it resemble the dozens of American tourist locations such as the seaports in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Baltimore which have become home to nearly identical arrays of chain bookstores, clothing stores, eateries and boutiques? Will the real fishing fleets and their smelly workers and products be moved away so the piers can be cleaned up and made sanitary for the visitors?
And how about the tolls? Will these new services exact tolls in the same league with cable TV? Will a family pay $30 or more a month to travel this streamlined, gleaming info-highway? The consequences of such charges for the health of a democratic society are evident, merely adding to the dangers listed in the previous section on equity.
Fortunately, the battle lines are just now being drawn and we can still act as citizens to organize against undemocratic initiatives, fighting to protect public access and restrict the intrusion of commercial forces in ways that might undermine democratic norms.
WANs promise much, but as is usually true with any new technologies, the promises are accompanied with threats and dangers which require vigilant, thoughtful decision-making and policy-making. WANs offer, on the one hand, enormous information power and access, and yet, on the other hand, they may act to significantly restrict access to information if designed and created in certain ways.
Those who lead the technology efforts of school districts might greet these promises with healthy scepticism and a very strong dose of political action to address the funding and access issues raised in this article. Without such organization by users in the "common cause," powerful interest groups may turn the electronic highway into a science fiction nightmare.
Barr, R., Barth, J., & Shermis, S. (1977). Defining the social studies. Arlington, VA: NCSS.
National Council for the Social Studies. (1989). Charting a Course: Social Studies for the 21st Century. Arlington: NCSS.
Morrisset, I. (1980). "Project SPAN." Social Education, 44, 561-86.
Toffler, A. (1990). Powershift. New York: Bantam.
Credits: The background is from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.
Copyright Policy: Materials published in From Now On may be duplicated in hard copy format if unchanged in format and content for educational, non-profit school district use only. All other uses, transmissions and duplications are prohibited unless permission is granted expressly. Showing these pages remotely through frames is not permitted.
FNO is applying for formal copyright registration for articles.
From Now On Index Page