.. The end of the beginning. Schools and Internet Content Provision

The initial skirmishes in the electronic information wars have been completed. It now should be apparent to most that internetworking and the internet (TCP/IP) standards have won. Even attempts by giants such as Microsoft and Compuserve to develop and hold proprietary information systems have been lost to the wider internet movement. Now that the internet has established itself in major institutions and in growing numbers in homes, the question whether schools should access and use the internet is moot. The internet is a fact just as newspapers, video, computers, and television.
The question being asked is what will schools get from the internet. With the proliferation of internet, specifically World Wide Web (WWW), sites, there is a large question around the value of the information that is available on the free internet. The term ‘free internet’ was given meaning in a recent presentation by Jamie MacKenzie (http://www.fromnowon.org) where he distinguished between sources that the Bellingham School District paid to access using internet tools and the general WWW. The value of the free internet is minimal in many education situations because of the difficulty for students to easily find relevant information using the search tools generally available. In most case preresearch is necessary so that the internet information can be retrieved expeditiously. This may be done by the student but in many cases this will be job of the teacher. This is a keen problem in schools that have limited bandwidth internet connections. In these cases the limited access has to be shared by many giving little time to develop information by exploration and discovery.
Starting Points
The ability of teachers to develop starting point pages on the internet that their students can go to and have direct access to relevant information is one answer to how to use the internet. By making the starting points part of the internet, students can access it from school or home. In many schools, home internet access is the only place for students to do indepth research. This also frees up the school resource for use by students that don’t have home access. With the initial starting points there will be need for elaboration and guidance. With one very small step, the school and the teacher move from internet users to internet content providers. This aspect of the internet could be more powerful for schools than any of the information currently available on the free internet.
Schools are in a unique position in their communities. In urban areas elementary and secondary school names are the major landmarks of what used to be an autonomous community. In newer areas, the positioning of schools define the community that will grow up round them. This ability of a school to define a community need not be limited to symbology of name. In the development on any aspect of human communications their have been standard bearers that show the potential of the genre. The rhetoric of Plato, the poetry of Keats, the oratory of Churchill, the films of Kapra, or the electronic journalism of Cronkite have served to define the role of the method.
Schools can be the standard bearers of their communities into the information age. For the most part schools operate independent of the profit motivations of business interests and lack the political aspects of governments. Public schools still represent a cross section of interests, biases, economic levels, and political ideas. While no institution can be bias-free, schools have the potential for equal representation.
Schools can bring to the internet aspects of the community from mundane tourist information to profound questions of public interest. The ease of this role is apparent if we consider that this is what we do already. In classrooms everywhere, questions are asked and answered about art, science, geography, economics, and history. The value in the past has only extended to the classroom wall or the fridge door at home. Whether it is the health of the local salmon stream or the history of a local heritage building, the ability to display the work of students and teachers in a broader forum is a valuable information source for our communities. This has to be done with a mind to the privacy and property of the creators of this information but in most cases these are easy to accomplish with the correct level of forethought.
This brings us to the point where schools will not simply use the internet but be major contributors to it. This will happen for four very good reasons. It makes sense for the school because it shows people in a concrete way what happens on a daily basis behind the walls of their local school. It makes sense for the community because it develops interest and gives identity on a large scale. It makes sense for the students because it helps show them and others that what they do has value beyond the mark at the bottom of the page. It makes sense for teachers because it moves them along the road to creating meaning for their students.
So if the first skirmish of the information age is over have no fear, there will be more. The best we can say, in the spirit of past standard bearers of human discourse; “It is not the beginning of the end but it may, in fact, be the end of the beginning”

Bill Kempthorne (billk@chill.org) is the Physics Teacher at Chilliwack Senior Secondary (http://www.chill.org)  in Chilliwack, B.C.

Internet, So What? (responses)

I appreciated your article in computer paper; provides a sound forum on which student/educator/librarian must continue feeding reasoned goals

Internet, So What?

Bill Kempthorne (billk@wimsey.com) was the author of this Opinion in the September 96 The Computer Paper (BC edition). As it asks for rebuttals in his end bio, here is my opinions on the article.

(1) One point in the article raises the issue of Bill’s cat having his own WWW page, and in that anyone can be sort of a producer of material on the Internet. Isn’t the ability for example of a small business to have a WWW page like a big corporation one of the good points? And with the ability for anyone to be a producer of material without owning a TV network or printing press while still reaching a large market.

(2) I also find that for a person fearing the hype of the Internet would fall into the “hype” of even suggesting the Internet is the Information Highway is amusing.

(3) Another point brought up in the article is that you are just dropped into the Internet and only get information by accident. While that might be true in some sense… I think that there are several facilities available for people to either get help and search out information specifically.

(4) The mention of “the fax is a more robost medium than the Internet” is unnerving. It mentions the ability of a fax to carry pictures and signatures. I’m not sure if he is referring to some sort of electronic signature, but I’ll assume it’s the old John Hancock. Anyways.. if I told him that you could send the things listed above on the Internet, would it still be more of a robust medium?

(5) I also find that the order in quality of writing to be Letter->Fax->Internet is wrong. When the letter doesn’t have a 47 cent stamp does it somehow lose value?

(6) I really like the “reliability” issue raised once again in the “Internet as Television” section. I find it a ridiculous arguement to hold producers of information on the Internet to some high standard… There is some thought to using your own brain and cross-referencing to ensure the information is correct. Just because there is some graffiti on the wall of some building, doesn’t mean I think it’s legitimate. The talk about how when someone mails from a university or company e-mail address that it makes it “tough to distinguish the organizational information from the individual opinion” is beyond me. The site address can be equated to letterhead… for example, I can go fake a copy of some big company and write a letter.. would you think, “OH, it’s GM’s position that Quebec should leave..” And whether this means people should have two seperate accounts, that’s not a bad idea. Company stationary, personal stationary.

(7) “The people on the fringes -university and high school students or some kid using his parent’s account…” I always thought mass media was stereotyping younger people… but all this time it’s the damn teachers.

(8) A point is raised in that you wouldn’t want talk shows or prime time real life dramas in the school classroom. While I agree that schools should take a look at their approach in respect to the Internet… this point is like saying you can’t have a telephone in the school because someone could possibly call a phone sex line. And you know anyone can get a telephone… well you say you can block out the 1-900 lines.. what if someone offered a free service from a local number? Well at least we have Net Nanny (bahaha) that can intercept specific words… to my knowledge nothing has been mass marketed to intercept specific words for a phone line.

I don’t have time to finish my little analysis… but anyhow, as a fringe of society I better not waste anymore bandwith. =)

I’ve posted my letter to can.infohighway to generate more discussion as I would like to become more informed on the subject… and hear other people’s opinions.

+——————————-+—————————————–+ | Lawrence D. Lee | Support the US citizens protesting CDA |
| lalee@freenet.vancouver.bc.ca | and make sure it doesn’t happen here! | | Full Time CST BCIT (Sept ’95) | One resource: read comp.org.eff.talk | | Vancouver FreeNet Volunteer +—————————————–+ | Vancouver, BC CANADA | #*# Oh Canada! Our home and native land |
This senior high school English teacher thoroughly enjoyed your article.

The question of whether the Internet should be used in the classroom reminds me of the question some decades ago about using TV in the classroom. TV has never been comfortable in the traditional classroom, mainly because its content refused the neat containment that books offered for centuries. TV not only made traditional book reading an unsatisfying experience for many, it challenged the very physical nature of what we call ‘classroom’. If TV had a psyche, it would be completely stressed out like so many teachers. We have yet to really come to create relevant space for education in the TV age. And now the internet. What has to happen to prod us into dealing seriously with the questions you raised in your article? There are many other points I’d love to make, but for now, suffice to say Many Thanks.
mrcCongratulations on your Computer Paper article on the intenet. It should be required reading for all B.C. teachers. I am asking my wife, who is a Surrey elementary teacher, to post it in her staff room. Please let me know when and where to find your upcoming publication that was cited in CP.
I am co-chair of the NDP Education Policy Committee and am on constant alert for people (especially teachers) who might be interested in participating. Should you ever be interested in such a possibility, please post me a note.

Jim Johnson
Thank you for writing Internet, So What?

in the September Computer Paper. It’s right-on to my way of thinking. I teach grade 6-8 at Citadel Middle School in Port Coquitlam. I have been in the computer bus/industry since the late 1960’s. I am 43 years old and I think pretty progressive. However I recently commented to our teachers over our district E-mail that there seemed to be a lot of chatter about getting better access to the Internet NOW! NOW! NOW! if not yesterday. My suggestion was that for now, as Crawford Lilian, whom I disagree with for the most part, most often, is quite right when he says in his book “Visions 2020” “there is a tremendous amount of neat stuff out there however there is a mountain of garbage to sift through before you can get to it”.

I mentioned to our teachers-on-line that while I was working again down at Microsoft this summer I noticed one thing about the interest in development for the Internet there. That was, that it is something that will not really be a viable, useful market for at least 24 if not 36 months. My suggestion is, that instead of pumping our tech-monies at better access lines for WWW access, we continue to try to get as many kids exchanging inter-district E-mail ideas and discussions on current curricular topics. I tried to say that the Internet is somewhat faddish but you put it better and I will pass on your article to district staff with the high-lighted quote, “new is better, more is better, also your, TV broadcast analogy.

Thanks once again for this. Lance Read LREAD@schdist43.bc.ca
Great job on the article! In it you say the media is a reasonably reliable source of information! I think that the media is no longer a reliable source of information because they rely to much on advertising for there source revenue and REVENUE is there game today NOT news.
Dear TCP

I have just finished reading Bill Kempthorne’s “Internet, So What?” article. I agree with him about the irresponsibility of many of the people who use the Internet, and thought I would tell of an occurence that I was involved with recently.

I am the president of a national sports organization, the Canadian Powerlifting Union, and recently had the unfortunate duty of informing one of our members, who is a lower leg amputee, that he could no longer participate in “able-bodied” events. As an amputee he had been competing in the Bench Press competitions. Our parent international body had clarified a ruling to us, stating that a prosthesis is not legal equipment, according to the rules of the sport, and that with out it the athlete could not have two “shoes” on the floor, also required. A Catch 22, if you will, and certainly not in keeping with a modern societies wish to allow full access to the disabled. We protested this ruling, indicating that we wanted to see the disabled be allowed to compete on the same level as able bodied athletes, though for the present we knew we were obligated to enforce the ruling.

Now the athlete in question and myself are both subscribers to an Internet email list-serv mailing list, devoted to weightlifting. Similar to a newsgroup, a list-serv is a more direct service where letters are sent in to a central moderator, who assembles them all together and mails them all together back to all of the lists subscribers. The athlete decided to retaliate by posting a letter to the list-serv that was decidedly one-sided, and implied that this decision had been made by myself and the rest of the Canadian executive of the sport. The tone of the letter was that we were a bunch fascists, who cared little for the disabled, and would not lift a finger to help them. The reality, of course was much different. We have always encouraged the participation of the disabled, and all of our provincial groups have assisted disabled groups for many years. I myself have coached a team of blind weightlifters for the past 6 years. He closed this letter by telling everyone to send any comments to my email address.

Well I received many comments, some of them most unfriendly, from around the world. One from Israel indirectly compared me to Hitler, and all were from people “shocked, disgusted, embarrased” and so on by our “racist, discriminatory, and narrow-minded” attitude. A few days afterwards I posted my rebuttal, telling all of our real attitude, and that we were doing everything we could to see this rule changed. My inbox was very quiet. Just a couple of apologies.

But the point to be learned here surely goes back a long way. When people first started to read things in newspapers, they must have reasoned that a newspaper could not print something that was not true. If it is in print it must be true, right? This attitude is still very prevalent today. So does this mean that if it come across your desk on your computer screen rather than hard copy that it must be equally “true”? As Bill Kempthorne says, any one with a minimum of means can access and input information to the Internet, regardless of the value or truth of it, and now seemingly regardless of the potential damage to an individual or organization. I do not know how much of the sport community was able to learn of this, but it cannot have done anything but harm to our until now, unblemished international reputation. In the print and video media there are laws and regulations to prevent slanderous charges being made. Perhaps the time has come when this is also needed for the Internet.

Mike Armstrong
President, Canadian Powerlifting Union

As one who is just trying to get acquainted with the Internet and who is wondering what the hype is about, I found your article in COMPUTER PAPER, Toronto, September 1995, most interesting. I cannot say that I have learned to surf and can give a sound judgment on your opinions because I have not been willing to put in the vast amount of time to go through list upon list, in order to get to some morsel of information. Do you have any suggestions for shortcuts? I am a conservative college professor of English, interested in such mundane things as current events, social issues, health and environmental issues and the like.

Erma Collins

Internet – So What? The road , not the superhighway, ahead.

A cynic, by nature, must take a pessimistic view of events. In the last few articles I have attempted to take such a view of the internet. I do not dislike telecommunications but I do fear the ‘new is better’, ‘more is better’ view that seems to be developed around the internet. It seems to have found a niche in our societal desire for ‘infotainment’ There is nothing particularly wrong with this approach but it does provide some limitations to what we can use the internet for. No one would suggest showing daytime television talk shows, or prime time ‘real life’ dramas in the school classroom. Yet the goal of bringing internet into the schools is accepted with little discussion and no real plan on how to use it.
Those that choose to bring internet into their homes face similar problems. The reliance on it as an information source has some major problems. The use of it as an entertainment source is fine but individually isolating. While we create  a global communtiy through electronic telecommunications are we neglecting our local community. If so, at what cost. If not, then what are we trying to create in our ‘global village’. I profess no answers, and probably more questions than most, but the questions need to be asked.

I think the first field will be the classroom for the answering of these questions. The classroom is where society chooses to inculcate its young in knowledge, tradition, customs, and expectations. The application of the internet in that environment will shape how the future of the internet will shape our society.

Is the internet to be an information source?

Is the information to be a solely commercial domain?

Is the internet to be an entertainment source?

Can the internet be all of these?
In a system where physical seperations do not exist the need to find mental seperators are critical. Without these information, entertainment, and comercial enterprise would merge into a vast blur.
The Plan.
Bill Kempthorne (billk@wimsey.com) is a Math/Physics teacher at Mountain Secondary in Langley, B.C. He has a soon to be published thesis on Computers in the Grade Eight to Ten classroom and a semi-regular contributor to user group newsletters and similar publications. Electronic rebutals are accepted in the manner offered at the above address.

The view expressed here should be treated as the sole opinion of the writer except were specific quotations or references are cited. Permission to reproduce for individual educational use is granted, all other rights reserved WAK&CO ©1995

Internet-Who Cares? Part II, Internet as Television

While the internet is a powerful tool of two way communications. The power can be turned to one-way communications if the sender chooses. This follows a television analogy of broadcast media.
As with regular television, the internet has its share of PBSes and Geraldos. To be a good consumer of television you must be a critical viewer of both the source and the content. Unfortunately, the history of good television consumers is sadly limited. The chance of developing the good skills will be nearly impossible in the hysteria of the internet. This means, as educators, parents, or regular consumers, we must start a process now that asks the questions that need to be asked of information providers.
The need to consider the source of all information on the internet is vital. Established sources such as universities, libraries, and government agencies can be considered reasonably reliable. After that, media sources such as CNN, reuters, and major broadcasters can be considered as reliable as you local paper. Then comes the free-for-all. The major problem is that individuals can write personal opinions or views but because they are part of a big organisation it may be tough to distinguish the organisational information from the individual opinion. It is normally the policy in most large institutions for people, university professors, employees of government, to state clearly that ‘this is a personal opinion and should not be considered the position of …” The people on the fringes, university and high school students or some kid using his parents account, are tougher to distinguish and are less likely to be explicit about their position.
The result is that information on the internet can not be considered wholly reliable. This runs against most peoples tendency to accept electronic reporting, news, TV, radio, as a reasonable facsimile of the truth.
Another major problem is it is almost impossible to distinguish the motivation and the character of those providing the information. This is furthur compounded by our tendency to what to believe first hand information. If we hear a voice or see a picture from Bosnia we accept it as an accurate report going on. On the internet your could be getting direct information from Bosnia or any other hot spot on a real time basis. It is possible that the person may not be in Bosnia at all. Even if they were, are they serb, moslem,or croat? What is their motivation? Are they part of a government propaganda machine? The questions are endless and almost impossible to answer. The internet also has a facility for anonymity. This makes an information judgment almost impossible.
These detrimental factors do not overshadow the shear power of the media. The largest example is in “access to information”. Many governments now have laws that require it to make documents freely available. The internet provides governments with a cheap are reasonably reliable delivery source. This will certainly be cheaper than providing paper copies to anyone that requests it. Unfortunately, this will exclude those with out the ability or means to access this form  of information.

Recently (Spring ‘95), with little fanfare, the largest part of the internet were handed over to commercial interests. The internet, which was originally a education and research network for academics and government, had been created in the US by the National Science Foundation after taking over the basics from the Department of Defence. This was an attempt by the government to divest itself of the physical management of the wires that make the internet possible. While there is nothing particularly wrong with this, and many taxpayers would claim several things right, it does mark a fundamental shift in the internet as a structure. Not long ago, there were rules forbidding “for profit” activity on the internet. Now, a significant minority if not a majority of the traffic is commercial in nature. This should change our view of the internet. It is not a public utility or even a commercial utility. There are no rules about what can or can not go on the internet. A legal standards are almost impossible to enforce on a global link such as this.
As a user you need to ask; why is this information here? what is the motivation of those that are providing it? and what are the implications of using it. The best analogy is; how would you feel about television if any of your neighbours could put up a transmitter and broadcast whatever they want.
Bill Kempthorne (billk@wimsey.com) is a Math/Physics teacher at Mountain Secondary in Langley, B.C. He has a soon to be published thesis on Computers in the Grade Eight to Ten classroom and a semi-regular contributor to user group newsletters and similar publications. Electronic rebutals are accepted in the manner offered at the above address.
The view expressed here should be treated as the sole opinion of the writer except were specific quotations or references are cited. Permission to reproduce for individual educational use is granted, all other rights reserved WAK&CO ©1995

Internet – So What? Part I Internet as Telephone.

In my last musing on this topic I discussed the uses of the internet in the most general sense. In this and subsequent articles I want to bring out individual uses and the appropriateness and their pitfalls. On the way, I hope to raise questions in your mind and my own about how we can use this resource.
The internet as a technology allows for the exchange of information across vast distances and disparate computer systems. This is only useful to the extent that it connects people. This is probably the most appropriate use of the internet. It is usually overshadowed by more glitzy applications with graphics, sound and video.
The internet at it heart is just a stream of text travelling down a wire. While that type of information can be rather limiting, it covers a vast array of the most common types of communications. It is in effect a format of a letter with the immediacy of the telephone. A fax is the closest comparison but a fax can carry pictures and signatures. This makes a fax a more robust medium than the internet.
The internet does have some unique features. The speed of transmission, or perceived immediacy, cause people who use the internet to type like they talk rather than type like they write. The implications for the English language should be of concern to all. If dashing off a fax replaced composing a letter, then what will slapping together a email do? This runs against the normal conclusion that more written work should improve language. You have to question the direction and quality of language under such circumstances.
The overall advantage is the spread of ideas, information, and thoughts between people that would not otherwise correspond. The result is a free flow of ideas with little moderation or control. The problem is that all ideas are presented as roughly equal merit until the writer themselves prove otherwise. This is a valuable and necessary condition for a mass medium that all people should be able to access. The problems with this are already starting to arise. In the frontier world of the internet the bandits are as rampant as they ever were in the old west. As an educator that would like to see students have access to the internet this is of great concern to me.
The other result is volume. The shear number of messages flashing across the internet is incomprehensible. This is interesting because the volume and tone of many discussions make it possible for political and social movements to be born and developed outside the view of a large portion of the population. Those without access to the internet could be excluded from important cultural discussions.
This should be a concern to all of us. While the solutions are complicated and sometimes nebulous, a concerted effort must be made to find them. Ideal like Freenets and publicly sponsored internet access, through libraries and schools, are a large step toward this goal.
The ability of the internet to connect people is powerful and pervasive but it is not universal.
Bill Kempthorne (billk@wimsey.com) is a Math/Physics teacher at Mountain Secondary in Langley, B.C. He has a soon to be published thesis on Computers in the Grade Eight to Ten classroom and a semi-regular contributor to user group newsletters and similar publications. Electronic rebutals are accepted in the manner offered at the above address.
The view expressed here should be treated as the sole opinion of the writer except were specific quotations or references are cited. Permission to reproduce for individual educational use is granted, all other rights reserved WAK&CO ©1995

Internet – So What?

I recently presented a demonstration on the internet, specifically the World Wide Web, to a group of educators. I was careful to show all the cool and trendy places that get all the ohs and ahs. After a short period of this, the questions got down to the nitty-gritty of what to do with this resource.
This was a group of computer literate educators, mostly members of the local user group, that took a Friday evening and sunny Saturday to attend computer workshops. In short, they are the computer using elite in their schools. These people are keeners for technology and work very hard against shrinking budgetary resources to get technology into the hands of students. Their reaction to the internet as an educational resource is mixed. Whether this was a self-fufilling prophecy or not, it amplified many of my own thoughts.
I am a great believer and a constant user of computer technologies but I must admit to having my confidence shaken by the public hype over internet and like technologies. My fear is that the hype will blur the critical analysis that should accompany teachers, students and parents in school matters, all people in everyday life when making choices about technology. The logical flaw works like this.
The internet is a vast resource  (true)
Schools need resources (true)
Schools need the internet. (false, or at least not provable from the above)

For those of you without direct interest in school issues please substitute ‘people’ for ‘schools’ in the above statements. Despite the fact that everybody seems to be discussing ‘The Internet’ the level of understanding is very low. The internet, at its heart, is a technology not a thing. This technology allows for the combining large and small computers over vast distances. The result is a patchwork that allows information to pass to just about anywhere. No one ‘owns’ the internet and with a few minor exceptions no one ‘manages’ it either.
The result is a frontier not a highway. People that are using it are left to their own devices, both literally and figuratively, and the “kindness of strangers”. As a result most internet activity is a mass jumble of unrelated and sometimes irrelevant events. So as a school or individual the prospect is more of tripping over something that of finding something that your looking for. In such an environment, a level of prudence in both the searching for information and the acceptance of what you find is required. I made a point at my recent presentation of showing my cat’s web page. This I created for a laugh one day when I had nothing better to do. I used it as an example of two things.
First, anyone with a minimum of means can access and input information into the internet. This is powerful and necessary if this technology is to be widely accepted and used. The problem is anybody means ANYBODY whether the information is useful, relevant or even true. This should be a concern to all and something that internet users should be consciously aware of. Second, The clutter of irrelevent or plain useless information only increases the difficulty of locating useful information. Additionally, it is extremely difficult to divine the truthfulness, character, of honesty of those providing the information over an electronic link.
What are our defences in a case like this. Well, the easiest and safest is abstencence. If you don not trust a medium you don’t us it. The domination of television  and cable in homes shows that this is not realistic. Even if it was, it might not be prudent to exclude yourself from a medium that are carrying discussion and decisions that may eventually effect your life. Abstenence does not do justice to the many excellent resources that are available from the internet. The more viable choice is the determined and measured use of the internet that shows you are aware of these pitfalls.

I should say to those that view the internet as a recreational medium that, that approach is fine and you should stop reading here and go back to reading alt.funny.jokes.steinfeld and ignore these rantings.

{are they gone yet? …. good!}

For the rest of us, specifically educators, we need to get out on the internet and be active critical users. We need to assess the merit of individual resources. This will make us ready to be advocates for what our students need rather than gatekeepers of a flood of information.

In future instalments, I would like to discuss the pros and cons of the uses of internet tools. In the process I hope to pose some of the questions that we need to ask of information technology. The answers, I fear, will be a little more nebulous.

Bill Kempthorne (billk@wimsey.com) is a Math/Physics teacher at Mountain Secondary in Langley, B.C. He has a soon to be published thesis on Computers in the Grade Eight to Ten classroom and a semi-regular contributor to user group newsletters and similar publications. Electronic rebutals are accepted in the manner offered at the above address.
The view expressed here should be treated as the sole opinion of the writer except were specific quotations or references are cited. Permission to reproduce for individual educational use is granted, all other rights reserved WAK&CO ©1995

Teacher Talk: What about programming?

In high school the only provincially recognized curriculum is Computer Studies 11 and Computer Science 12. These curricula are largely dedicated to the development of programming skills. The programming language specified is Pascal with most schools using Turbo Pascal or Think Pascal on a Mac or IBM platform. The problem, as I see it, is “Can you produce a useful product in a 100 hour class?” One hundred hours is the approximate length of a high school class once you account for holidays, exams, and other interruptions. The planned length of a high school class should be between 110 and 135 hours. Talking to several people I know in the commercial computer field, 110 hours is nothing in a programming project.
One person told me that their team can spend 1000 hours on a device driver! I do not suggest that schools should be creating programs like Windows, Excel or Wordperfect but their it little purpose in teaching students to create a program that prints their name 10 times. Such an example used to be the norm in the bad old days of Basic. The result of any curriculum should be to product a learning experience that is useful. If that is an acceptable criteria, what about programming.   Given the time constraints that I have mentioned, it is questionable that you can create a useful experience in Pascal programming. The alternatives are many. First, there are other programming systems that give you more power with roughly the same learning curve. These packages include several Object Oriented packages and their associated libraries, mostly variations of C. These systems are designed to give you the basic tools of programming without having to design all the sub procedures from scratch. They also give the novice programmer the ability to produce windows (Mac or MS) programs that give a presentation that most people are used to. If this is the solution there are a couple of other changes that need to be instituted. Programming has to be dealt with as a class project and emulate a programming team. You design the project, break into sub-groups, and work on your module that will eventually be fitted into the final product. That is logically the way programs are created today. The only problem is that it goes against the nature of the school system.
If all the students in the class produce one product how can you justify giving them different grades. Giving the whole class the same grade would drive most principals up the nearest flag pole. Even if you carried it to the sub-group level there would only be three to five sets of students. The only saving grace of this system would be the use of self- and peer-evaluation. While a valuable tool most parents, principals, and some students would balk at this alternative. In short, if there is to be a continuation of programming with the newer languages there must be a change in the way computer classes work.   The second alternative is to use the many authoring tools that are available. In the Apple environment they are well established in Hypercard, Supercard, and HyperStudio. Similar tools are becoming more accepted in the IBM environment. There must be compatible tools on both major platforms because curriculum has to be platform independent to avoid excluding a large percentage of districts of schools. The use of authoring tools changes the focus of the task. Programming has always been viewed as a nuts and bolts view of the computer. The use of authoring tools removes the students from the nuts and bolts a little too far for most programming purists. This leads me to ask what the underlying reason for doing a “programming” exercise at all. If programming is intended to give students a nuts and bolts look at the machine then clearly authoring tools don’t do this. I would question whether any programming language currently in use would accomplish this. Programming libraries have removed the nuts and bolts from even the professional programmers life.

Teacher Talk: A brush with greatness.

Anyone with a passing interest in physics, a knowledge of bestselling books, or -more important to some- a fanatic devotion to Star Trek: The Next Generation should know who Steve Hawking is. I had the opportunity to attend the lecture he gave on June 29th at the Orpheum. More thrilling for me, I attended the after lecture reception and met Dr Hawking face to face. As both a teacher and a computer connoisseur I think there are several interesting aspects of the lecture. I would like to restrict this discussion to the computer side.
In the field of adaptive computer technology, the common name for computer aided equipment for the disabled, Dr Hawking is an interesting case study. Dr Hawking suffers from ALS the disease most recently made famous by Sue Rodriguez. He communicates with the aid of a Toshiba 386 portable computer and a voice synthesiser. Since he has lost most of his motor control, he creates sentences by clicking a hand paddle that he operates with the one hand that functions well.  When the word he wants scrolls by on a LCD panel in front of him he clicks the paddle. The list that he has to scroll through is basically a dictionary, the same as most people would have with their word processor. Consider having to scroll through thousands of words, waiting for the one you want and you can understand why the system is agonizingly slow. At the end of the presentation, they tried to conduct a question and answer session. The average answer took three to five minutes and was one to three sentences long.
The voice synthesiser is reasonably clear but looses a fair bit of clarity as you get further away. The PA system in the Orpheum also made for a less than optimal presentation. After struggling with a wireless mike that picked up interference from Dr Hawking’s computer equipment for several minutes, the organizers finally had to resort to a basic floor mike. Evidently the voice synthesiser did not have a mike jack. At the same time that they are struggling to hear the words, the sold-out crowd seemed to be transfixed by the message. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Here was someone using rather inadequate technology while dealing with the fundamental nature of the universe.
You would think that if there was better technology available that someone of the stature of Dr. Hawking would be the first person to have it. The technology is amazing in the sense that it make communication possible but as a triumph of technology over a physical handicap it has a long way to go.

Bill Kempthorne is a high school science and math teacher currently completing a Master’s Degree in Computer Science Education at UBC. Comments are requested by email to kempw@unixg.ubc.ca or on the First Class systems at Apples B.C. or Sunshine

Teacher Talk:Computers in the Secondary Classroom.

The following is part of my current research for my Thesis. Flames, barbs, bouquets, etc. are excepted in the form they are offered.
The curriculum for computers in the high school setting has not changed significantly since the introduction of microcomputers in the late seventies or early eighties. Computer curriculum still follows the pattern  that saw computing as something that was done in a white air conditioned room in the basement. The idea that curriculum is something that changes slowly is nothing new. The fact that new technology takes years to be integrated does not shock anyone anymore. I would like to present the following additional concern for your consideration. The issue is equity.
In recent years equity has become a fashionable topic for discussion. It normally is followed by knowing nods of agreement and mutters of “of course we believe in equality”. Equity can be a term that is thrown out in many instances.  I use equity to address the situation where educational opportunities are available to those that have the technology to access them.
The computer as a tool and a technology is the most powerful to join the educational system in recent years. The question we should be asking ourselves is, now that the initial euphoria has ended, what will computers in schools look like in the next five to ten years. As I mentioned before, the curriculum of computers in high school has followed an industrial model that no longer exists. It comes from a time when most computer users had pocket protectors, multicolour pens, and talked in a language that mixed binary, hexadecimal, and English in roughly equal amounts. Take a look at where the computers are the average school. Computer Rooms are areas  with two locks and only a “computer teacher” will ever access it.  Computer labs are the goal of most administrators and school architects. By segregating the computers within the school you ration their use. If computers are only used for “computer classes” this practice might be acceptable.
Students and teachers use computers in all ways they can be used. Look at  English essays, Social Studies reports, and the Science projects. How many teachers look at the nice laser printed documents and compare them to the handwritten pages?   By limiting the ways in which the computer is used in schools you open a rift between the students that have access to one at home and those that don’t. Before you parents who bought a computer for your children feel too happy think about this; does your son or daughter have access to systems like Dialog, CompuServe, Genie, or America Online? How can you compare the research that can be done on those platforms to  that of your son or daughter who is using an encyclopedia at home? I don’t even mention the vast content of cyberspace available through the Internet. Internet allows me to asks friends in Kentucky and Prince George to proof this article by interconnecting many computer networks. (For those of you that are not familiar with Internet I suggest Michael Scott’s column in the weekend magazine of the Vancouver Sun).
Inequities on the basis of family resources are hardly new. When some parents started buying magazine subscriptions and encyclopedias, their children had an advantage also. The difference between encyclopedias and computers is that the school could easily even the field by stocking the library with dozens of encyclopaedias and hundreds of magazines. The schools do not have the money or the mandate to provide the volume of computer resources that would level this field. This is what I mean when I talk of equity.
I don’t believe that schools can address all the inequities in society but the education system should strive to minimize the results of inequities. We can’t buy computers for every student. The school system should move to have computers as part of the regular course of studies. In the same way that businesses no longer have separate computer departments and only the computer people can use the equipment, schools should use computers as part of all the subjects of study. If English classes have access to computers for typing then the laser printer at home doesn’t matter as much. If the libraries at schools have CD-ROM, and telecommunications facilities then the modem at home doesn’t have as big an effect. The development of multimedia tools and more highly developed network systems could provide the opportunity for schools to take the technological advantage back. Teachers, students, and parents need to look at this problem and make their own judgments.
Bill Kempthorne is a high school science and math teacher currently completing a Master’s Degree in Computer Science Education at UBC. Comments are requested by e-mail to kempw@unixg.ubc.ca or on the First Class Systems at Apples B.C. or Sunshine.