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[Revolution |Second Renaissance ]


by Allen Hackworth

INTERNET POWER. While you were sleeping last night, the world changed. Once you understand the nature of these changes, your life will never be the same. The changes relate to the Internet. To show how Internet is relevant for you, this document outlines some of its current uses. Although available for many years, Internet offerings have recently grown, and Internet has become increasingly easy to use. The following features are currently available for those who have an Internet connection in their home or office.

INTERNET CHAT. Users may join online chat groups at any time, night or day. Chat groups form around numerous subjects, or one can create his or her own subject. Two useful software tools for this activity are Netscape Chat and MIRC. Chat groups can be used by teachers for class discussions. The participants can communicate in real time from ANY remote location (any place in this wide world). Also, a chat group allows brain storming and problem solving. Students might discuss issues which are related to a class. Issues relating to literature, government, history, etc. can be examined. Of course, chat groups are also for entertainment and socializing.

MOOs. MOOs are similar to chat groups, but there are some differences. MOO is an acronym for multi user dimension object oriented. Some MOOs are sponsored by universities (like MIT) and have strict rules about proper behavior. This means no lewd language or harassment of any kind. Many MOOs are for educational purposes only, that is, for research, for class meetings, for dialogue with other professionals, and for student-faculty interactions.

EMAIL. Some people's vision of the Internet never goes beyond the possibilities of email. Yet, if this were the only justification for the net, this would be enough to warrant its presence. NETSCAPE and SURFING THE NET. One software program used to surf the net is Netscape 2.0. This is a beta version which will need to be replaced after December 15, 1995. Also, Netscape includes an excellent email feature. Surfing the net will leave you in awe because of what is available to view, read, and print. Pick a topic. Search. And read the gleaned information. Once you find your information and click on the print icon, you have new information in your hand. Complete books are available.

FTP. Netscape 2.0 has an FTP utility which works seamlessly within Netscape. FTP is used when one connects to a remote computer, a host, and downloads software to one's home or office computer. Many great FTP sites exist. Also, one can download computer games, pictures, reports, and more software than you could ever have time to review.

NEWS GROUPS. Netscape (and other news group software) provides access to an alphabetical listing of subjects for discussion. (Currently, there are about 18,000 groups.) People, literally from any place in the world, may post a comment or article about a particular topic. You may then read the posting. If you write a response, your comments will be available for the world to see and read.

HOME PAGES. A wonderful aspect of the Internet is home pages. A home page appears on one's computer screen. The document is like a letter in WordPerfect which can be read and printed. Each home page has an address just like you have a home street address. Once you know the address for a particular home page, type in that address and the requested page appears on your screen. One's home page can also include pictures and hyper linked words. If you click your pointer on a hypertext word, the system takes you to a new page which is linked to the word on which you just clicked. Any resource on the Internet can by hyper linked to your home page. For example, my home page will include resources for poetry, literature, shareware software, and LDS culture. I am constantly finding new resources on the net. The net astounds me with its vastness. It astounds me with the volumes of work that people have put into Internet resources. These resources are a massive global effort to make information available at one's finger tips. Although some try to commercialize the net, in many ways it remains free. It is democratic, enlightened, and powerful. And its implications and uses are only now being discovered by many of us.

RENAISSANCE TWO: Second Coming of the Printing Press?

by Jack Crawford

The Internet is the convergence of all forms of electronic media into a "neural net" of shared human consciousness that puts the individual at the center of information and communications at an international level. It's implications as a catalyst for profound change to the foundations of our civilization make it the single most significant development of our lifetime. It is nothing less than the Second Coming of the Printing Press.

Most of the world is going through major reform on all fronts besides those of education. We are in the midst of a period of profound and even gut-wrenching transition between the Industrial and Information Ages. The very foundations of our society are being torn down, transformed and rebuilt as we evolve from a culture based on centralized capital and labor to one of decentralized, shared knowledge. Our societal values-what we deem as right or wrong, the management of our institutions and economy and the way we do things generally are all in a state of significant flux and transformation.

These will be turbulent times, no doubt. The last time we had a major paradigm shift like this, i.e. from an agricultural society to one based on manufacturing, one of the results was the American Civil War. Merely "buckling our seatbelts" is not enough. Impact is imminent and we all need to brace for it. For educators this goes far beyond the carefully planned yet marginally effective, "reform of the month club" programs that well-meaning school administrators are eternally foisting on teachers from within. This is real change from without. Whether this is the "light at the end of the tunnel" is debatable. Whatever it is, however, it is coming straight at us with the speed and momentum of a locomotive at full steam. We can either prepare to jump on board or be mowed down by it.

Ever since computers started showing up in our classrooms fifteen or so years ago, educators have sensed incredible potential for educational application and reform in them. However, in reality, computers have not been a source of any really significant reform but rather, merely an addition to the existing curriculum. The sense of potential is still there but not its fulfillment. In an era so heavily based on technology we have been merely "integrating technology into our curriculum rather than integrating our curriculum into technology" (Thomas Sobol) For the most part all we have really done is used the new technology to "speed up" the old way of doing things rather than to reform it. The computers are not enough. We need something else. A major piece of the puzzle has been missing all these years.

We have all been waiting for the computer application that would wrench our schools from the old (industrial era) way of doing things and catapult them pervasively and effectively into the Information Age. What we need is a neural net that connects the knowledge of millions of individuals into one vast societal consciousness. What we need is a pervasive, self-energizing catalyst for change that is not just another "reform of the month". What we need is a self-perpetuating movement that evolves at the societal level under its own momentum rather than a deliberated "plan" or "program" subject to the inefficien- cies, fallabilities, political games and obsessive micro-management of an individual, a "committee" or, worse yet, bureaucrats or politicians as its designer. What we need is something that is invigorated, motivated and controlled by market forces rather than bureaucrats. What we need is grassroots upheaval. What we need is here, now. What we need has "arrived". What we need is the missing piece. What we need is called networking and, in particular, the Internet.

Think of how the Gutenberg printing press affected the world five hundred years ago by making the "great conversation" of the scholars accessible to the common man. Networking and the Internet take this a quantum leap further because they not only constitute a world-wide neural net that puts the individual a the "center" of information but also builds a global culture in which individuals become "publishers" of sharable knowledge regardless of their geographic location or social position. It has been said that "freedom of the press is for those who own one." Networking gives everyone their own printing press. Anyone can now become part of the "great conversation". This is what the "Information Age" is all about. The Second Renaissance is upon us!

In traditional institutions the flow of information is regulated by a formalized hierarchy. A person at point A, who wishes some piece of information from point B, must go through a hierarchy to obtain it. The ability to centrally constrain or manipulate the access to information has always been a substantial source of power and control throughout human history. Centralization has also been the main organizing principle for the storage and distribution of information. This also significantly slows down the flow of that information at a time when, now, more than ever before, the need for increased speed in the exchange of information is an economic imperative. (Did this have something to do with the collapse of the USSR?)

When information becomes available on a neural net such as the Internet or local area network, however, the individual can access information directly and quickly, bypassing the entire hierarchy. In doing so, the centralized control over that information is minimized. The end result is that those who would manage our new world institutions must now do so through excelling in leadership and guidance rather than relying on the use of power or control.

Internet is a catalyst for the democratization of management and source of a pervasive societal attitude which promotes shared decision making based on information sharing. It dethrones those who would sit in positions of absolute power. As Gutenberg's printing press ignited the Renaissance, the Internet and networking in general will have a profound affect on the evolution of the way our institutions are managed from now on. It is no wonder that bureaucracies, governments, the mass media and others are looking for ways to control or discredit the Internet because it threatens the traditional basis of their power and control. The notion of the "individual at the center of information" frightens them. Perhaps, as Toffler suggests, they are "scrambling for the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic." Maybe some of them will find the lifeboats instead and survive by learning how to lead rather than control in an environment of decentralization...

Profound curricular and pedagogical reform is also another inevitability of networking. It will happen whether the schools, as institutions, embrace it or not because kids, teachers and parents will be accessing the Internet from home, at night, outside of the purview of the school. They will, ultimately, influence the direction of the school and its curriculum. If the schools do not embrace the new paradigms (and do it very soon and very pervasively), society will begin to regard them as ineffective and seek other alternatives to education, possibly finding them in the Internet itself.

What we will see is a major shift in the way we teach as a direct result of the Internet. Rather than "opening up a kid's head and pouring in a lot of informa- tion" as we have since the dawn of public education, the new emphasis will be on "kids as creators of information". Do not mistake this for a "reform of the month". This is because the networking culture that will find its way into all schools (if they are to survive) requires participants to be more than just consumers of information and knowledge. They must also become contributors, as well. We will see, for example, a new tradition develop in which school classes will synthesize what they have learned to be passed on to the same class next year. Networking is, by it's very nature, a publishing medium. The business sector is already using this to their advantage and will soon demand that the kids they hire have these "publishing" skills.

Our schools will have to (really and truly) learn how to teach our kids to read, write and present information a lot more effectively than they have in the past. The ability to effectively research through vast arrays of multimedia information sources and apply credibility tests to what is found will be very critical skills to be learned. Schools will also need to start teaching the tools and skills of network publishing (e.g. conference moderating techniques, hypertext authoring tools such as HTML encoding, graphic operations and layout, etc.) on a grand scale.

Teaching the "art" of web publishing will probably become a real priority soon. Our kids will become actively involved in research, synthesis and presentation of knowledge rather than passive observers of it. Those schools and students who cannot learn to this will become "Information Age drop outs". Voucher-based education systems and alternative learning methodologies will be the outcome if the traditional schools cannot effectively make the necessary changes and do it very soon. The whole concept of "education" will be massively reinvented to accommodate the 21st Century.

Networking and the Internet are not a panacea, however. Undoubtedly they will create as many new problems as they solve. However, networking is a very significant catalyst for changing an old system which clearly does not work any more. Perhaps the phoenix that will rise from the ashes of the old one will be an improvement. Maybe it won't. One thing is clear: we cannot have "business as usual" any more. Change is both inevitable and necessary. Those who cannot embrace it will go down with the "Titanic".

We must move forward. We cannot stay in a "businees as usual mode" any longer. Our schools, in poarticular must gear themselves for dramatic, sweeping change or fail miserably in their mission. Those who truly want to "reform the schools" (and in the offing, change government and society as well) may find that the single, most effective and "do-able" way to bring about significant change is to promote the use of Internet and/or networking in your schools and community. Do what you can to make networking readily available to as many people as possible. Become an "Internet Evangelist". If your school board or administrators don't seem receptive to the idea (or balk at the costs, etc.), "bypass the hierarchy" and find someone else who is. (Keep in mind that the vast majority of student and teacher online access is during the evenings from home computers, not from schools.) For example, approach your chamber of commerce, Rotary club or anyone else that can help you make Internet cheaply and readily available in your community. Team up with commercial vendors to "make it happen". Even local BBS operators are making a surprising amount of Internet capabilities available, usually for free.

The important thing is to get people online! If you can't get educators and kids online then target the parents. Once they become "believers", they will also become promoters. Eventually your school will take the hint, become part of the Itnernet and start on the road to real reform.

Let Renaissance Two begin!

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