The Internet Bandwagon


Adventures, Skid Marks
and Oil Spills
Along the Information Highway

by Jamie McKenzie


Note: This Article is Non-Linear.
You are welcome to jump from section to section or read it in whatever sequence you can discover.

The Internet: Who needs it?
Socrates Surfs the World Wide Web
The Greatest Technology of them all: The Human Question
A Long History of Bandwagons in Education
Computer Technology as Old News
How does the Internet Qualify as a Bandwagon?
Two Great Books: The Gutenberg Elegies and Tolstoy's Dictaphone









The Internet: Who needs it?

There is a sudden, crazy rush of people and schools jumping onto the Internet, but it is hard to find evidence of much careful thought about why.

It is the modern thing to do.
It is fashionable.
It is the Information Age, after all!

There are at least two major problems with this rush . . .

1) A surprising and growing lack of information gold awaiting the prospectors.
2) A dramatic mismatch between traditional school purposes and the kinds of learning made possible by the Net.

 

A lack of reliable information . . .

The World Wide Web may be the biggest yard sale (see the November, 1995, issue of From Now On) of information remnants and curiosities in the history of human culture. (Metaphor first proposed by Jim Loomis - loomis@ithaca.edu - Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, USA on WWWEDU, 14 Mar 1995)

How many antiques or treasures will you find?
Not many. Not likely. Unless you visit the right museums and libraries. Unless someone points you to the right places. (see the September issue of FNO)

The Library of Congress is busily digitizing its collection, for example, and you will find thousands of exceptional photographs and documents there.

For those who enjoy engaging students in "Power Learning," (see "Grazing the Net" for more on Power Learning) I have identified quite a few sites with great information (Data Sources for Power Learning), but before a district or a school hooks up to this highway, they ought to be asking what kinds of driving they intend their students to do?

 

A mismatch between traditional schooling and new information sources . . .

In many schools, information is the special province of teachers. Teachers "stand and deliver." They are supposedly "subject matter experts." They are the "sage on the stage." They digest insight and pass it along like processed cheese to their students. The students, in turn, commit memory.

These schools do not need the Internet. Internet computers in these classrooms will spend their days sleeping as screensavers, not serving (as some of us would hope) as windows to the world.

Unless classrooms are inquiry-based, project-based or problem-based, it may be a waste of money to connect with the Internet. Unless questions and research are central to life in the classroom, the Internet may serve little purpose worth the millions of dollars of infrastructure required to establish a "robust" connection to the Net.

Sure there are treasures on the Web, but you must contend with Info-Glut, Info-Garbage and Info-Tactics in order to find something worthwhile. (see FNO, May, 1996) It is easy to get lost in a land-fill of questionable or mediocre information products.

All too often, those teachers who question the value of independent research, student-centered classrooms and new technologies in the first place will exploit the weaknesses of the information available on the Net to defend their own reluctance to embrace the new opportunities.





Socrates Surfs the World Wide Web

According to one highly reliable Web source, Socrates awoke from centuries of hemlock-induced slumber just the other day and lost no time joining the bandwagon in search of "virtual truth." (see October, 1994 issue of From Now On)

He jumped onto the Web and took advantage of the hottest and fastest and best search engine of the season to see what he could find about TRUTH.

HOTBOT

"This is soooooo much better than the Cave!" he exclaimed, enjoying some fast food while searching for fassssst truth.

(For those of you who have forgotten, Plato did the writing of the Republic, in which the Allergory appears. He employs Socrates as the master asking the questions and leading the dialogue with Glaucon as the student . . . Socrates used the cave as a metaphor for the search for understanding in one of his many dialogues. Go to the Allegory He was eventually executed for the crime of teaching the youth of Athens to ask questions.)

"I have found thousands of 'Hits!'" he enthused, jumping up and down with glee and passion. "This was worth the centuries of sleeping. Rip Van Winkle just woke up too soon."

If you try the same search as Socrates with Hotbot, what do you find?

Searching for all the words: Truth
HotBot Returned 469383 matches.

 

"That's a lot of Truth!" Socrates murmured. "Now all I have to do is open them all, read them, and summarize the salient points?"

Socrates relinquished his grip upon his mouse and pushed his office chair away from his ergonomically correct computer desk.

"Am I surfing yet?" he asked his guide. "Is this what they call 'surfing?'"

Socrates' guide, having learned patience from the great master, himself, pointed to the list of hits on the screen.

"The computer saves you the trouble of opening all those files," he smiled. "An artificial intelligence program ranks the hits from most valuable to least valuable. In that way you can just concentrate on the first ten or so."

Socrates seized the mouse again and CLICKED.

"What a great idea!" he exclaimed. "Artificial intelligence? I wish they had that back when I was the Bill Gates of my time. It sure would have cut short a whole bunch of those dialogues . . . all that wandering around and wondering."

"Top of the list is . . . Chipper's Home Page. Is he some Twentieth Century philosopher or management Guru like Bill Gates? (For Bill Gate's view of "The Road Ahead")

You be the judge. How close do these pages bring you to the Truth?

After an hour of exploration, Socrates gave up the mouse once again, sighing deeply.

"With all due respect to your new technologies, I am not finding much Truth in these pages. I have found some interesting poetry from a travel magazine along with what appear to be song lyrics from a band called Brutal Truth."

"Even in my wildest days, I never threatened young people with the Brutal Truth! This all seems so extreme."

"I'm beginning to think my CAVE idea was pretty hip. Perhaps I can sell the idea (the image) to Bill Gates (for more about Bill Gates, including parodies) and he can create a new search engine called

The CAVE.

HotCAVE?"

"Out of curiosity, I used HotBot to test how well my name and my writings have endured over the centuries. I was pleased to discover 28,650 matches searching for the name: Socrates. But when I looked for Bill Gates, it returned 49,982 matches. Searching for the name: Madonna, HotBot returned 57,633 matches. Who is this Madonna person? A philosopher?"

Go to Madonna's Philosophical Haven!

"It is quite evident to me that I need to hire a publicist and open my own Web site."

"The New (Returned 5,090,040 matches) seems to be replacing the Old (Returned 2,806,260 matches)."

Standing up and stretching to his full height, Socrates let the screen saver take over his computer.

"I've had enough for now, thank you. I can see why they call it Artificial Intelligence. I am going back to the steps of the temple where I can seek the TRUTH without any electricity."

He smiled at his young friend. "If I have any luck, I'll contact that band and see if they want to produce the record . . .

"We could call it . . . Socrates Unplugged





The Greatest Technology of them all: The Human Question

The ability to construct meaning from a confusing and rapidly changing world depends upon one's questioning skills. If technology is "tools" of one kind or another invented by humankind to solve problems, it would be hard to identify a more powerful tool than the well considered question.

Unfortunately, schools have tended to assign questions and questioning to teachers rather than students. Research by Ron Hyman of Rutgers on classroom questions returns the dismal finding that there are 38 teacher questions for every one student question in the typical American classroom.

This research along with various national reports describing a lack of practice by students at the top of Bloom's Taxonomy, calls "into question" the readiness of our students for the challenge of making meaning from the vast, rich and often badly organized information landscape we call the Internet.

In working with students and teachers to determine the value of research on the Net, I keep seeing the importance of questions and questioning. Staff development programs for the Internet should pay more attention to questions than Netscape functions or bookmarks.

The question is the answer!

For specific suggestions on how to elevate the importance of student questioning, check out these articles . . .

Using Essential Questions as the Basis for Student Investigations
This is an excerpt from a series of articles originally published in Technology Connection.

Classroom Strategies to Engender Student Questioning
These are teacher-designed strategies to increase the frequency of student questions.

Parenting for an Age of Information
This electronic book offers a very hearty chapter on developing questioning strategies. Though written with parents and families in mind, many of the strategies work well for teachers.







How does the Internet Qualify as a Bandwagon?

Bandwagons are fast-moving fads and trends which sweep along crowds of fans who climb aboard because of the fanfare and the excitement. Often the participants have taken little time to explore the substance behind the hype and the publicity.

Roget's Thesaurus offers the following related terms . . .

go with the crowd
swim with the stream
go with the flow
float with the current
join in the chorus
follow the band or fashion or trend
run with the pack
jump on the bandwagon
CONFORM

In those cases where school districts have established a clear plan to make use of new information resources in relationship to their curricula and courses of study and where there are staff development programs in place to make student-centered research central to schooling, the Internet is NOT a bandwagon.

In those cases where there is no real plan or connection to the learning goals of the school, the Internet IS a bandwagon. Parents and taxpayers will have reason to question the value of their investment

How many districts, in their rush to adopt AUPs (Acceptable Use Policies), concentrate on rules for student behavior but remain silent on the meaning of these new resources for the curriculum and teaching? (See article on Board Internet Policies in FNO, May, 1995)

How many districts ask the curriculum and learning questions before they run their cable?







A Long History of Bandwagons in Education

We do better with bandwagons than we do with change. It seems there's a new one every two years or so. Those of us who started teaching back in the 1960s look back fondly on innovations such as open classrooms and instructional TV - wonders which promised to reform education and cure all of our ills.

We have learned (some of us) to listen and read with some suspicion and some skepticism as the purveyors of each new miracle make their pitches and promise reform.

Many of these bandwagons were worth while and provided exciting rides while they lasted. As a consultant who is often expected to speak on these trends, I have often felt saddened by their passing.

Not so long ago I was hired by many schools and districts to provide workshops on THINKING and QUESTIONING.

I was excited and eager. Finally! A bandwagon worth joining.

But the euphoria, the publications and the workshops subsided as the educational enterprise shifted to something new. I think it was CURRICULUM ALIGNMENT? Nobody called me to do that workshop.

Then there was a brief time period when the principal was expected to be INSTRUCTIONAL LEADER. WOW! I was in total support of that notion, but it lasted a mere 18 months as site-based decision-making became fashionable and "instructional leader" was replaced by "facilitator."

After watching several dozen bandwagons appear and then vanish, a theory about educational change began to emerge. At times I find myself wondering if all this activity actually matters much to students in classrooms. It is almost as if we specialize in "virtual change."

But I am convinced that the Internet, itself, is not a bandwagon. We are witnessing a radical shift in the way that people will gather their information and learn about their world. There are countless examples of how new communities are gathering and finding support because of this new network - as in the case of the spouses of Alzheimer patients, for example.

What may be a bandwagon is the uncritical manner with which some schools may be connecting to the Internet, the lack of serious attention in many places to the importance of shifting classroom practice from "Sage on the Stage" to "Guide on the Side."

The prospect of opening classrooms to the world . . . of challenging students to make their own meaning . . . that would appeal to Socrates, if well structured and well conceived. Therein lies the challenge.






Computer Technology as Old News

Do you work in a school where there are still some teachers who argue against the "new technology" - by which they mean computers?

Computers are no longer new.

Many teachers began testing them out with children in 1979 and 1980 when the first Apples and TI computers arrived.

As a number of us have been pointing out for some time now (including such speakers and writers as Alan November, David Thornburg and Mike Eisenberg), the real issue before schools is a changing INFORMATION landscape.

The frontier has moved light years beyond mouse skills and computer literacy. We are now talking about

. . . the ability to make meaning from a rich but confusing array of data sources.

The computer is fading into the background as user interfaces become so user-friendly that even the most technophobic adult can point and click their way toward information.

Finding information is easy. Finding valid, reliable information pertinent to the question at hand is very difficult.

How well is technology staff development adjusting to this new reality? this new frontier?

In most places we still see courses in how to work applications like Word or Works or Netscape. What we should be seeing is . . .

courses in how to launch student investigations with new information technologies

courses in search strategies

courses in questioning

courses in info-tecture

courses in global partnerships and networks

 

And what of those who are waiting for the computer bandwagon to pass along with all the others?

Like it or not, the computer has found a nitch in most schools much like chalk. It is here to stay in one form or another.






Two Great Books: The Gutenberg Elegy and Tolstoy's Dictaphone

Sven Birkerts is the author of The Gutenberg Elegies and the editor of Tolstoy's Dictaphone, two books which ask very important questions about the impact of new technologies upon the world of publishing and literature. The Gutenberg Elegy is subtitled, "The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age." In both books we are treated to probing analyses challenging the Bill Gates' neo-prophecies. Along with Silicon Snake Oil, these are must reads for anyone who wishes to look beyond the MTV images and promises to weigh the real impact of these technologies upon the way we think and feel and communicate.

These books are available for online purchase at Amazon.com Books. You can order at their site by selecting the highlighted title below.

The Gutenberg Elegies ISBN 0-449-91009-1
Fawcett Columbine, NY, 1994
Order The Gutenberg Elegies from Amazon.

Tolstoy's Dictaphone ISBN 1-55597-248-9
St. Paul, 1996
Order The Gutenberg Elegies from Amazon.

Silicon Snake Oil ISBN 0-385-41994-5
Anchor Books, NY, 1995
Order Silicon Snake Oil from Amazon.

The Road Ahead ISBN 0-670-77289-5
by Bill Gates - A Viking hardcover book, NY, 1995
Order The Road Ahead from Amazon.




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