Taking Back the Net
Part 3 - Monday
© 1999 Gary S. Stager
In a recent online article,Technology in Schools: To Support the System or Render it Obsolete, Seymour
Papert states the following
imagine a teacher saying:
dreams are fine. I'm sure that will happen someday. So will vacations
on Mars! Meantime, what do I do Monday? I have a class of kids
not technologically fluent, who don't have free access to computers and
whose parents (and our school superintendent and our President)
that they compete with the kids from Korea on passing tests that measure
knowledge of fractions. So I'll do the best I can with the few
I've got to improve their scores, give them some fun on the web and make
sure they know how to use Microsoft Office."
My answer is that if you have a
vision of Someday you can use this to guide what you do Monday. But if
your vision of where it is going is doing the same old stuff a bit (or
a lot) better your efforts will be bypassed by history.
But using the Someday vision to
guide Monday might mean you have to stand the usual criterion for judging
progress in education on its head: you have to stop trying to improve
the functioning of the old system. Instead lay down the seeds for something
new. Maybe this will result in decreased performance according to the
traditional measures. Remember that the first airplanes were not so good
as stagecoaches as means for getting around. But they were destined to
revolutionize transportation. (Seymour Papert)
The conclusion of the "Taking Back the Net" trilogy
is concerned with how schools actually use the net to benefit teaching and learning
for Monday and for Someday. Educators may look at Internet use on a
continuum from enhancing the existing curriculum to revolutionizing schooling.
by thinking about how the net may be used to enhance and expand the study of
traditional school subjects.
Lets first be sure we understand
the necessary communication tools.
Virtual Community Infrastructure
A variety of software tools and modes of communication are
required to ensure the greates quality of interaction between the greatest number
of learners. These tools allow for either asynchronous or synchronous communication.
Synchronous communication occurs at the same time. All users
must be online simultaneously.
Asynchronous communication occurs at different times. Your
contribution to a discussion waits for others to respond at their own convenience.
Schools typically provide one or two asynchronous experiences, but few offer
synchronous communications as well.
Since some peoples individual
personalities and learning style favour one form over another, schools
would be well-advised to offer synchronous
and asynchronous opportunities.
There appears to be a taxonomy of social interactions found
Talking to one another via email or chat is the simplest
form of online interaction and constructing something together requires the
most sophistication. However, each step of this ladder may support the development
of an online community of practice.
Whether schools maintain their own network infrastructure
or take advantage of outside resources, asynchronous and synchronous communication
should be part of the social mix.
What lurks in the mind of schools?
Whenever I discuss the opportunities afforded by online
learning with P-12 schools. The same questions are raised.
Q. We should start scanning stuff right?
A. Schools are preoccupied with the
expose and cover or the bulimic curriculum binge and purge. The future
of education should be concerned less with covering a mountain of material
more with a focus on learning powerful ideas in a personally meaningful context.
Schools should think less of digitizing lectures and beaming them to passive
participants and think about ways to use the net to increase social interaction
and extend the democratic process of learning within a lively community.
Q. How do we give a test?
A. Its easy to give a test electronically.
The real question is why would you want to? I am optimistic that the digital
students based on their portfolios of work, rather than high-stakes testing.
Q. What if a kid takes a class without
paying for it? Shouldnt we protect our intellectual property?
A. Let me get this straight. Your concerned
that your advanced physics class is so compelling that kids will be sneaking
into class to learn?
This is a problem? Remember, nobody gets credit or a diploma without being
enrolled in your school. As long as someone isnt disruptive, you
should welcome their participation in your learning community.
Schools are obsessed with control and
ownership while the net thrives on democracy and sharing. Information wants
to be free. Schools
should err on the side of publicly available information unless there is some
reason to keep that data secure. Common sense dicates that school records
financial information should not be on the same network as the kids work.
Everything from student work to tuck shop menus and sport schedules should be
on the Internet, not Intranet, so others may have access to it. If youre
in school the sport schedule is of little use because you can ask someone who
knows. A parent at work might want to know what time to pick their daughter
up after sport and would benefit from this information being available outside
the perimeters of the school. One could imagine children collecting lunch menus
from schools around the world in order to analyze global dietary habits. This
is only possible if information is set free.
Trivial questions about preserving the cursive handwriting
industry and preparing kids to sit written exams are not worthy of discussion.
Email (one to one or one to many)
Email is the "killer app" of
the Internet yet many schools are reluctant, for a variety of reasons discussed
in previous chapters,
to make it available to all students and teachers. Email allows kids access
to their teachers, peers and experts all over the world.
Free web-based email allows students
to manage their own email resources and have access regardless of where
they happen to be at school or in the world.
An extensive, yet far from exhaustive, list of sources of
free email services may be found at http://www.stager.org/free.html.
Listservs (one to many)
A listserv allows subscribed members
of a community to receive an email message written by one member and intended
for all others to receive.
A listserv member sends and email to a particular email address and every subscriber
to that list gets the message. Listservs are cheap to maintain, but suffer
not being archived (searchable in the future) and they dont handle mixed
media (web pages, graphics, sound) particularly well.
You can either program a good email client like Emailer,
Eudora Pro or Outlook to behave like a listserv or look for free ones on the
web. One source of free listservs can be found at http://www.websitegarage.com.
Newsgroups (many to many)
Like listservs, newsgroups allow lots of people to communicate
with one another. The newsgroup has the extra advantage of being archived, threaded
and capable of displaying web pages. This means that you can search a newsgroup
for old messages, follow the development of a discussion and share actual web
resources with fellow members of your community.
A browser or newsreader software may be used to participate
Check out the ways in which Pepperdine University uses class
newsgroups for collaborative learning and communication. http://moon.pepperdine.edu/server/html-bin/news.html.
Since newsgroups are archived and public they allow a conversation
to be opened-up to the world. Experts, former students, children in other classes,
parents, other teachers and kids from other classes around the world. Everyone
benefits from having a wider variety of perspectives to consider.
Newsgroups are the most robust of the
asynchronous technologies, but require a server with a newsgroup serving
software loaded. If this is too
difficult or expensive for your school, all sorts of free web-based threaded
discussion "bulletin boards" are available. Check out the free web-based
"Board Room" bulletin board software available at http://www.beseen.com.
In exchange for an add, beeseen, offers all sorts of net tools that dont
require programming or the employment of an MIS department.
Web-based bulletin boards/newsgroups have the following
added advantages over server-base newsgroups:
- Anyone with a web browser can participate in a discussion
- Kids can create their own threaded discussion for their
own collaborative purposes without the necessity of a teacher building the
space for them. Now kids can work on a collaborative project over the weekend
without mum having to drive them across town.
The web provides learners with a historical opportunity
to share their ideas, creativity, work and questions with a global audience.
As a result, the web will quickly become the dominant way of sharing information
and presenting work to a teacher and the world. A small amount of web space
can go along way as children use the web to build a personal portfolio of their
work. The web increases school accountability by making student work public
and may win newfound support for a school due to the increased transparency
of the learning process.
Running an assignment through the spelling checker became
standard procedure for students in the eighties. I now require my students to
check each web page with http://www.websitegarage.com/
before submitting them for assesment. Websitegarage is a free tool that checks
for bad links, spelling errors, good HTML and bloated graphics in a web page.
Again, if a school is unable or unwilling to provide students
with adequate web space, there are plenty of places to turn for free web space.
See http://www.stager.org/free.html for
sources of free web space. The hypertext nature of the web allows you to string
together free web space on multiple servers. 20 mb here
allows for a lot of publishing.
The growing ability to add functionality to web pages through
plug-ins and streaming technology will make the process of publishing on the
web more dynamic, creative and personal.
The brief history of the Internet in schools is riddled
with tales of servers running out of space the weekend CATs are due and over
zealous network administrators changing passwords without notice. Technologically
fluent students are quite comfortable saving their work somewhere on
the web and alerting their teachers as to where they may find it.
As stated earlier, some people like interacting in real-time.
For them synchronous communications technology is especially appealing. Synchronous
goes by names like MUDs, MOOs and MUVEs. These virtual worlds are primarily
text-based, although some use graphics. Recreational MUDs, MOOs and MUVEs often
allow participants to assume aliases and magical powers. Educational spaces
designed for virtual communication, like Tapped-In,
approach the shared "space" from a less whimsical perspective.
Tapped-In (many to many or one to one)
Tapped-In is a virtual school campus dedicated to teacher
professional development. Pepperdine
University owns a virtual building on the Tapped-In
campus. Each student and faculty member may have their own office and decorate
it in any way they wish. There are also traditional spaces such as classrooms,
hallways and footpaths where users may congregate. Although virtual, the recognizable
metaphor of a school campus requires users to make deliberate actions while
in the environment.
Going into even a virtual classroom and sitting at a table
with colleagues feels like going to a meeting in R.L. (real life). The only
people hearing the discussion are at that table or in that particular classroom.
While you may casually bump into others in Tapped-In,
most sessions are scheduled via email and have a particular purpose. Each Tapped-Inclassroom
and office has a white board on which notes may be left for others and virtual
tape recorders may be used to transcribe a session. A teacher may go from table-to-table
or room-to-room to monitor student collaboration. Tapped-In
guides assist users with questions about navigating the environment and you
can type WHO to find out who is on campus at any time. Best of all, students
may meet in environments, such as Tapped-In,
whenever they need to collaborate.
costs nothing to join. Go to the site, log in as a guest and check it out. You
may apply for an account if you find the visit valuable.
Chat Rooms (many to many)
Chat rooms are the bane of most adults existence.
They just hate them (except for the millions on-line chatting). Teenagers
love chatting in R.L. and online. Chatting online is not a particularly evil
recreation, but the informality of the technology makes it less suitable
We should not get too agitated by a
kids desire to
chat. It demonstrates their willingness to use the computer in a highly intimate
personal fashion. However, it may offer little to the formal educational
Rather than banning chat rooms, I would leave students with the burden of proof.
If a discussion about a serious topic is to occur in a chat room, then
should not miss that learning opportunity. Be-seen
allows you to create your own chat rooms as well. Other similar opportunities
exist on the web. Consult your search engine.
Teachers need to be careful in the guiding the creation
and evolution of online communities. Being too authoritarian, talkative or narrowly
focused may have a deleterious affect on the quality of social interaction.
The better the social interaction, the better the learning.
It costs nothing in server costs or
teacher time for students to occasionally stray from the official subject
matter or share personal information
online even gossip. This binds and fortifies the community of practice.
Counting postings as a form of assessment is like grading kids by how many times
they raise their hands. You need to be sensitive to each learners personality
online it may be different from the one they exhibit in R.L.
You should violate a students online privacy only
under the most extreme circumstances. Think of the online world like a professional
conference where all of the participants are respected colleagues. You may interact
with some and not others. If a conversation is boring, you may join another
or grab a snack. Just dont tell others what the experience of learning
online should feel like. The personal construction of such learning metaphors
is critically important and should not be violated. The experience will "feel" differently
to each member of the community.
How can you start using these technologies and modes of
Due to popular demand, Taking Back the Net has been held-over
for one more issue. The lost chapter has been found and will be at HotSource
soon. Tune in next month for the exciting conclusion entitled, Someday!