From Now On - The Educational Technology Journal
Vol 5|No 6|May|1996
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot
The Web can be a wasteland (glossary)
At times it seems more like a yard sale or an unjuried craft sale than an information system (glossary). We are plagued by growing mountains of files. Info-Glut! (glossary)
There is precious little quality control. Anyone with a few bucks can publish or pontificate. We are awash in Info-Garbage! (glossary)
For several years now I have been guiding teams of teachers and students through online investigations with growing frustration as the volume of information and Web sites has expanded rapidly without a corresponding investment in quality.
When researching essential questions (glossary), the searches all too often lead to inadequate, flimsy and unreliable sources. Many teachers have questioned the value of the Internet as a source of information unless they know of a good site in advance.
To address the quality issue, some districts and some agencies have created "curriculum pages" which direct classes to excellent sites such as the U.S. Census (see September '95 issue of From Now On: "Cutting to the Chase: Leading Teachers to the Right Stuff."
These measures are only partially successful because there is still too little quality available. Clifford Stoll explains in Silicon Snake Oil that the vast majority of careful written books created during human history have never been digitized and placed upon the Internet. Because publishers still seek profit as a reward, the migration of wisdom from print to Internet has been slowed by disappointing profit figures reported for groups like GNN and the NY Times.
Imagine the dangers of confining your searches to only the latest Internet offerings! The best paid thinkers and researchers are still seeking traditional book and magazine publishers - since they wish to feed their families.
Even though Internet search engines have been improving, they still turn up far too many irrelevant "hits" and force the researcher to waste many hours opening and closing sites and documents which often provide more flash than illumination.
Fortunately, new developments and services on the Internet may eventually provide both relief and hope . . .
Pay-for-Service Information Providers
Electric Library --- IBM's infoMarket
Pay-for-Service Curriculum Providers
Ligature Gateway Academy --- CCCNet --- Info-Treasure
You get what you pay for!
Charley Brown (?)
The Electric Library
When seeking quality information, it may pay for families, businesses and schools to add pay-for-service to the Internet information mix. Even though it may come as bad news to those who thought their cash outlay would cease once they were driving upon the Electronic Highway, it turns out that there are tolls to be paid if you want the "good stuff." It is a bit like the premium services many add to basic cable subscriptions.
To illustrate the power of such services, consider the following case study . . .
In two different states, two young teenagers' mothers develop breast cancer. Concerned and wanting to understand the risks and the possible treatments, the young men turn to the Internet.
Sam begins with search engines on the "free" Net. Antoine turns to the Electric Library. http://www.elibrary.com
Knowing that some search engines are more powerful than others, Sam begins with Altavista's http://www.altavista.digital.com/ Advanced Search which supports Boolean searches of some precision. He enters the following words:
breast near cancer and treatment
He enters "treatment" as a priority for listing. For dates he limits the search to items since January 1, 1994.
Hundreds of articles come back on more than 20 pages. Within the first 30 "hits" there is quite a mixture.
While some topics would produce almost no quality information, Sam has reasonably good luck on the free Web. Because much cancer research is federally funded, there are some excellent articles, almost all from the National Cancer Institute, a part of the NIH - National Institute for Health. Many of the other hits are "off target," however, dealing with AIDs or other unrelated topics.
He then tries OpenText http://www.opentext.com and Lycos http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu/lycos-form.html. The results are mixed once more. He finds good articles, but they again come primarily from federally funded studies and reports.
Sam spends quite a few hours sorting and sifting through the lists to find and then save and print articles which are worth keeping and reading.
The vein is rich but narrowly confined. Check the table below to compare results from all three of these search engines with Antoine's results using the Electric Library.
Antoine's family has signed up for the Electric Library, a pay-for-service information provider which charges 9.95 each month for unlimited searching of top periodicals and news sources.
The Electric Library employs "natural language" searching which allows the client to type in a question or sentence and not worry about Boolean operators and logic. Antoine types "breast cancer treatment."
The top thirty "hits" are consistently relevant to the question at hand. There are no "throw-aways." They may all be saved and read with interest. The sources for these articles include the same Journal of the National Cancer Institute identified by the search engines, but there are more than a dozen others which greatly broaden and illuminate. We have added mainstream newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and magazines such as Newsday and Mother Jones. We even find the transcript of an interview from NPR.
Another example of pay-for-service . . .
Information on 11 Million Companies
IBM's infoMarket offers serious information at quite a price. The list of sources is superb and the results are excellent. A search for "AOL customers" identified 25 documents. They give you a title, a date, a source and . . . a price.
Search results . . .
1.95 - AOL Targets Business Users -- Service for
corporations touted as cheaper, easier
Price:$1.25 USD; Cryptolope
2.95 - AT&T; Jumps Into the Online Fray
Price:$1.25 USD; Cryptolope
3.94 - BATTLE OVER THE NET -- Microsoft, Netscape in turf war
Source:Computer Reseller News
Price:$1.25 USD; Cryptolope
Pay-for-Service Curriculum Sites
The Gateway Academy serves as an excellent model for how schools might connect students with excellent Web resources tied to curriculum issues. It is well worth a visit by any school wondering how to construct Internet units. Having worked for more than a year on the creation of curriculum pages, this is the best model I have found thus far.
Ligature provides at their Web Site "Dynamic Core Curriculum on the Internet." The company has created textbooks for Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt Brace, Macmillan/McGraw Hill, McDougal Littell, Silver Burdett Ginn, and Scott Foresman.
"Now," they announce, "we've turned our energy to creating interdisciplinary modules delivered on the World Wide Web. Our modules cover core concepts and skills, while making smart use of technology. "
"This spring you can try our sample module on the Atlanta Olympics. We call it Go For It! It has geography and history, math and science, even poetry.
This site also "allows students from different schools to communicate and collaborate through the Student Bulletin Board, and allows you to keep in touch with us and other teachers through our online Teachers' Lounge."
These modules are excellent. Visit and test the free Olympics module. They are a model for integrated curriculum pages.
Pricing? Details are available at the site. A full year subscription to 6 Modules is $20 per student. Individual modules cost $5 per student.
While the quality of the Internet experience provided by such modules is very high, the pricing puts them considerably above the cost of textbooks which may last for 5-10 years.
CCC is known as a publisher of curriculum-based educational software. Now they are moving seriously into Web curriculum. Their site - which is now free but will eventually charge a subscription fee - may some day offer valuable services. A sample from their menu . . .
Plague and Pestilence
home to CCC projects past and present.
- SuccessMaker Online
brings you innovative, collaborative projects. Take a digital field trip, visit a virtual museum, or join in a cyberspace scavenger hunt here.
- Teacher Link
connects teachers around the world: keep up to date on news and features of special interest to teachers. Exchange ideas with educators, learn about conferences and upcoming online projects, and more.
is your launching pad on the Web. Find new pointers each week to imaginative, information-rich places, along with just-for-fun quizzes that encourage students to explore and learn.
In a recent review by The Net, CCCNet received high praise for design and content. Two online projects are currently offered: Energy Flow in Amazonia and Shapes Around the World. While there are some good possibilities at this site, I was quite disappointed by my visit.
One especially promising extension, Write-On
offers a "cultural dig" which requires the student to visit a site (supposedly off the CCCNet site) and answer a question. When I visited on May 25, only one site was available and the site was still actually on the CCCNet site as a "mirror" of the real Japanese site. The question was a "fact" question requiring little thought.
"On what occasion is the Sushi oshogatsu eaten?" A number of areas seemed slimly developed - as if the parent company was in a rush to create a Web presence without filling in the content. We would certainly expect to see more care and depth before CCC begins charging for subscriptions.
The point of this article is that "pay-for-service" is an idea whose time has come. We can expect to see more publishing and information companies test the waters. Some will fail to understand the new medium and will attract little attention or revenue. Others will see the potential for a new kind of learning and exploration. They, like the young upstart company, Netscape, may flourish while enriching the Internet.
It is far too early in this new trend to sort out the best prospects. The trend to offer premium services is, nevertheless, apparent, as new services emerge with growing frequency.
Each learning institution, whether it be a school or college or a corporate training facility, must now pay heed to its "information mix." The days of the "free" Internet are numbered. "Surfing" is passe. The world expects more of the Net. As publishers figure out how to profit from those expectations, we can count on seeing an increasingly rich but unfortunately more expensive menu.
Comments for the Editor, Jamie McKenzie?
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