Updates of this document may be found at: http://somerset.qld.edu.au/somonweb.html
I thought that the computer's niche in the information revolution would be as an information source and retrieval tool, the creative tools (word processors etc) were the devices whereby students would manipulate the information. I determined that my priority for the use of computers in education was Information access and then, information manipulation. This priority seemed to be the reverse of a practical implementation of the laptop scenario. I resolved to find an economic alternative which matched my priorities.
As an adjunct to direct dialling of the school, I manage accounts for our students on the Nexus system, which added access to the Internet to its services in late 1994. Nexus has its own information and mail system, as well as cooperative projects for students. The advantage and drawback of Nexus is that it allows only text terminal access, this means that a cheaper modem and computer are adequate, but that navigation is more difficult, especially on the internet.
HomeLink seems in retrospect to have been an obvious step to take, probably its main achievement has been to raise the consciousness and experience of our school community in regard to the information age. They are slightly better informed and equipped to enable them to cope with the impact of the information revolution on society. Extending HomeLink to include Internet, and specifically WWW access seems to be the next "obvious" step.
Early in 1995, a Local Internet service provider "OntheNet" started operations on the Gold Coast. This has enabled us to introduce World Wide Web Access from campus according to our own requirements and therefore faster than through a coordinated effort with others. A local provider also makes internet connectivity more economical for families. Subsequently two other commercial providers have opened and another is about to.
My initial WWW priority was to establish a connection to the internet for as many computers on our networks as I could, this proved more involved than I had anticipated and there were two false starts.
The third priority was to establish the technical capability to access the Web via HomeLink. Although it would be preferable if families had their own accounts a, dial through (our router and later our server) the school to the internet is also possible for families who have Farallon's Timbuktu software on their Macintosh or Nortons PCAnywhere on their IBM compatible. A direct PPP connection to the internet via our router is also possible. We are not permitting interent access for HomeLink users via either of these systems yet, pending policy on providing such access and negotiations with our service provider. The main reason that the capability was developed was "because it was possible", the second reason is to permit staff access from their homes.
There is a philosophical reason for considering NOT providing dial through service to the internet for families in general. Our school is in the business preparing students for the wider world, they are gradually given more responsibility and eventually are entirely responsible for themselves, notably after that fateful night at the end of year 12. From a "marketing" perspective the success of our operation depends on the perception of the community of the satisfaction of the customers who all eventually leave us, and not on keeping customers dependent on us as is the case with many other businesses. Paralleling this ethos in spirit if not chronology:
I attended Ausweb95 (the only representative from any educational institution in the range K-12!). This was an eye opener to the extensive level of current and proposed Web usage by business, tertiary education, government and councils and very valuable for contacts. Next year, Ausweb96 will be held at Jupiter's Casino on the Gold Coast, our school will be providing pre conference tutorial sessions and there will be a K-12 thread. This opportunity should not be missed by K-12 educators.
The fourth priority has been much coloured by these experiences and my wish to fund increasingly sophisticated internet capabilities. We have completed the first session of WWW training courses, developed and presented by me.
The internet is too pervasive and too general to be identified as a province for the computing subject area, indeed it makes cross curricula studies within subjects much easier. For example, our first course project for the use of the internet is from the Mathematics department, where they are seeking information and statistics on health implications of smoking.
Students have been using the world wide web along with our internal networked information sources for personal research for some time, now the worth of this access is beginning to be reflected in its inclusion in specific course material.
It is my experience that adults will often only try to adopt a new process if they can see an advantage in it. Children are less harried by and more familiar with confronting new concepts and change, because they normally interact with novelty in all spheres of their lives every day, the process is called "growing up".
"Cold" inservicing for staff is usually ineffective and always inefficient, for it has no relevance. Developing a general consciousness of the medium is a far better starting point, inservice only provides confidence and expertise when the area of skills, in this case use of digital information sources, is already in the service of the individuals concerned. In most endeavours there is little choice but to use the "cold" inservice approach, the community has no mania for Patrick White or Pythagoras theorem. With the internet specifically and digitised information in general this is far from the case, every radio station every television channel, every newspaper resonates with a rising chatter about the information revolution.
An effective way to achieve web consciousness in staff is to encourage the enthusiastic telling of anecdotes by students and to encourage individual students to source their material from the World Wide Web. Thus the method spreads amongst the students and from them to their teachers. This approach is slow to start since there are no focused goals, indeed the best initial goal for anyone is something of interest to them, be it the Simpsons or basketball or the skiing conditions. Once the process is familiar and the value of the resource realised in a particular instance, the resource is enthusiastically grasped by the peer group for wider use.
In summary: Let the children play then eventually as students they will submit URL's as references in their assignments, this will tweak the interest in staff, which will eventually result in specific curricula use of the World Wide Web. At Somerset, from a "cold" start this process has taken less than 4 months in one instance, and is on the way to fruition in others. This process is proving to be pervasive and effective as it sponsors, the spread of innovation by enthusiastic staff.
From an operational point of view there is a particular issue, as more staff choose to prepare their own documents: getting them to adhere to a document standard. This is more than just what a document looks like, it also includes how it is produced and stored. This issue is a pressing one in the normal operation of a school (more so at a university), but is of particular importance to me, if others are going to be able to easily publish web pages. I do not suggest that HTML should be the standard. I am suggesting that exclusive use of style sheets be mandatory so as to enable automatic translation to HTML or cross platform formats. I would wish to aim for the SGML standard eventually. In regard to the World Wide Web, the ability for staff to translate and transfer documents to Web pages on the internet is empowering. A document standard will help enable this process.
Given widespread personal technological maturity, we need to manage the responsibilities, in this case associated, with our internet presence: Policy needs to be made (as usual after the technological possibilities are perceived) Relating to:
First world countries are being rapidly wired for broadband access, mostly one way, in the guise of cable TV. The very much two way, egalitarian, internet is also rocketing in popular acceptance in the guise of the World Wide Web. The melding of the web into the multi mega bit broadband system is not far off, and it will be readily available to most city based Australians for an increasingly decreasing price. In 1995, we have computers that can handle television too, they are already in department stores and in the lower end of product ranges. TV capability will become a neo standard feature as have CD players. The idiosyncrasies of modems and ISDN will dissolve into the broadband ether, much as the imperative of understanding the telephone system in order to use it has faded into the technical substrate of society.
With the advent of the World Wide Web, computer education is at a levelling off point and is beginning to diffuse. It started in the 80's as a marginal curiosity, a wonderfully creative tool for logical pursuits, now it is a ubiquitous optional course with similar stature to social sciences. Attitudes are maturing as computer technology is integrated across the curriculum, with the timely side effect of encouraging and facilitating cooperative learning, transgressing subject borders and requiring teachers to be coaches rather than instructors. I believe that even now this innovative role for computer education is changing to a supportive one, playing a temporary bridging role, acting as a source of experience to what will soon be a fundamental expectation of society.
Computer courses are evolving and integrating into non technical courses such as media studies and publishing, the computer seen as both a tool and as a field of study. Indeed the threshold for acceptance of this technology has long since been passed, schools are no longer essential for the sponsoring of computer usage. Particular courses won't need particular computing components, just as they do not need particular components for using videos. Computerised information and communication sources will be as common place in classrooms, the personal possessions of students as a calculator, a phone or television. By the turn of the century I think that this end game will be over, in 2001 you might be buying breakfast cereals to get the free "Windows for Weet-Bix" chip.
Looking back from a hypothetical (Sydney) Olympian view, (well maybe a few years later than that) I think that the major impact of computers on society will be seen as the democratising agent for the information world the nub of the means for getting the information you want rather than receiving the information you have been sent. For education I think the role will be seen as having been a tool of reformation, dissolving subject barriers and facilitating cooperative learning and realistic scenarios. It will have been a rubicon for teachers too. We tell students that it will be the norm for them to change careers 6 to 8 times in their working lives, and that a basic survival tool will be their ability and willingness to retrain themselves... therefore a basic skill for teachers in the future, and that includes teachers that are present, is precisely that same ability.
Somerset is in the forefront of K-12 Web development, at least in Queensland, our lead won't last long. How effective our web services are depends on teachers, students and parents finding it useful and seeking to educate themselves accordingly. The school has a major role in promoting and nurturing this process.
This document was created on 7 May 1995
last modified on 20 August 1995
and is written by firstname.lastname@example.org