New Community Networks

Wired for Change

Addison-Wesley, 1996

Douglas Schuler


Chapter 3



Give people some significant power and they will quickly appreciate the need for knowledge, but foist knowledge on them without giving them responsibility and they will display only indifference.

  Benjamin Barber (1984)

In the future, technology will have eliminated the need for education of any kind.



Education ideally provides perspectives and tools for participating in society, for understanding society, and for shaping society. Education thought of in that way is fundamental to any society — not just Western or literate societies. Education in the general sense is a systematic and rigorous approach towards perceiving and learning in the individual and society, and it has very little to do with the gathering of information, the stockpiling of knowledge, or the institutionalizing of education for its own sake. The broad aim of education should be to help make individuals more competent, thus indirectly benefiting the larger society. It should also instil a social ethic; it should allow us to engage in discourse with others, help us to accept and appreciate different viewpoints, and urge us to take action that benefits society and the natural world.

Note that the above views of education do not explicitly specify the need for teachers, schools, books, classes, or formal education. The widespread availability of electronic networks may propel substantial transformations in education in the near future. However, the need for facilitators of education traditionally called "teachers," educational material ("books"), physical and virtual places where learning is the chief enterprise ("schools"), coordinated events that facilitate learning ("classes"), and courses of studies ("formal education" and "curricula") will remain.

People are beginning to think about how computer-network technology might transform education, and pundits are beginning to make revolutionary pronouncements and extravagant claims about the future of education which, however woolly, may be influential. If citizens are going to play any part in these discussions and important decisions about the future, they will need to begin articulating issues and discussing concerns about possible new modes of learning — how these modes could evolve from today's institutions; how effective could they be; who might reap the rewards; who might be penalized; and how, could, or should the system be paid for.

Society is constantly changing. Modern transportation systems and communication technology accelerate change, as do other upheavals, both social and environmental. For those reasons determining concrete educational goals is an uncertain and ambiguous enterprise: How can we educate for the twenty-first century when we can't realistically expect to know what it will be like? Our approach to education must therefore be flexible and somewhat open-ended. Education should help produce citizens that are just and prudent as well as intelligent and effective. Society can adapt to changing times if its citizens are able to help themselves and others, have strongly developed civic and social ethics, and can intelligently and creatively face challenges. Indeed, education's main role is shaping the world of the future. Unfortunately, current approaches to education often fail in this role.



School reserves instruction to those whose every step in learning fits previously approved measures of social control.

  Ivan Illich (1972)

There are two broad criticisms that can be made against current educational programs in the United States and around the world. For our purposes, the shorthand expressions of "equity" and "empowerment," as expressed by Jonathan Kozol (1991) and by Ivan Illich (1972), respectively, will suffice. While Kozol focuses on the extreme inequity in funding and public investment for education, Illich focuses on the more insidious problem of intellectual straitjacketing, the systematic constraining of thought that occurs in many schools. While children of all income levels are garrisoned in schools for large portions of their lives, the children of higher income families have friendlier surroundings and more expensive diversions.

Perhaps the best way to reconcile the apparently unrelated arguments of Kozol and Illich is to look at them from the point of view of a "job" metaphor. The kids from rich backgrounds get "good jobs," while those without economic means get the "bad jobs." If you had to have a job, you'd probably want a "good one," but perhaps it isn't a job that you're looking for at all. How is education like a job? For one thing, students report to the same boss at the same place every day at the same time. The boss (their teacher) hands them out assignments that are due at some set time. When the whistle blows, the factory gates swing open and the workers — students — are free for the time being. Their services are not required until the next day. If a student does well at this job, then he or she can get a better job (say, an admission to Harvard) and, from there, a still better job, say, a partnership in a big law firm. But the job metaphor is inappropriate for education: Society needs citizens, not wage slaves.

Institutionalized Education Is Intellectually Stultifying

Relying on drills and memorization, teachers, often with too few resources and too many students, often end up lecturing to the mythical average student. This style of teaching rarely addresses the individual student: The lesson is out of reach for some, while being maddeningly obvious and boring to others. The teacher rolls through the lesson until a bell rings and the cycle is repeated with another batch of hapless students.

Added to this assembly-line approach is the imperious "canon" that determines what ought to be taught. The canon is often boring and irrelevant to middle-class whites, and it is alien if not totally meaningless to others. Another way to promote intellectual conformity is to simply declare everything that is "political" to be off-limits. This dictum, implicit and generally unchallenged, helps keep a wide range of issues off the table for public discussion. This approach, along with stringent pigeon-holing into academic disciplines, is often effective in keeping any discussion of the social context or implications out of the sciences, engineering, literature, the arts, and the educational process itself. As African author, Chinua Achebe (Graff, 1992) has pointed out, taking this stance implicitly endorses the status quo: Its hidden lesson is that everything is as it should be. In the United States there is also an effort to maintain a pro-American perspective in all texts that are used in American classrooms. This effectively means that lynchings, repression of organized labor, native American genocide, and other unsavory motifs of American history must be sanitized or excised entirely from the textbooks. Certainly this treatment is dishonest and disrespectful to the learner, but there are even more insidious consequences. A learner who doesn't understand shortcomings or flaws in society is far less likely to grapple positively with social issues than someone who can see the problems as well as the promise.


Institutionalized Education Is Nondemocratic and Coercive

Although American society ostensibly values democracy, our schools seemingly prepare us for a passive and powerless existence. How is this accomplished?

In the first place, the schools provide little exposure to genuine democratic discourse and decision making. People can hardly be expected to participate in public affairs without this grounding. Grappling with complex issues — especially doing so collaboratively — is not reflexive, like eating or breathing. It is a hard-won and difficult-to-master skill that can be honed only through training and practice.

In the second place, students in an institutionalized environment do not govern, they are governed. People unaccustomed to active involvement will habitually shrink back from engagement and action. Unfortunately, people will generally live up (or down) to the general expectation that they are incapable of leadership, thus helping to perpetuate the problem. Moreover, people who make a practice of participation possess a more active control of their life and have a more positive outlook. The democratic theorist Carole Pateman (1970) and others point out that the experience of participation leaves the individual better equipped psychologically for dealing with future events.

In the third place, lessons in such an environment tend to be orthodox and sterile. When a teacher leads students down a preordained path, spontaneity and the joys of new discovery are lost — lively intellectual pursuit can degenerate into dismal and pointless toil. Institutes of higher learning unfortunately offer more of the same: required courses, huge classes, and an assembly-line approach to education that often restricts independence and power still further. The "participatory education" ideas that surfaced in the 1960s and 1970s focused on an equal partnership between students and teachers.

Institutionalized Education Is Like a Prison Sentence

If education consisted of learning a set number of facts and figures, then it would make sense to call an abrupt halt to the learning process at some magical cut-off point (after memorizing the "cultural literacy" books, for example). But education is a process, not a goal, and life-long learning is critical. In order to open up a multitude of other educational possibilities — including adult literacy, peer-to-peer teaching, foreign language immersion, counseling, and discussion groups — society must jettison the idea of education as a jail sentence that one must suffer through before one can attain freedom.

Institutionalized Higher Education Is Divorced from Reality

Benjamin Barber describes two models of the university that many professors and administrators are advancing: "One model is scholastic and calls for refurbishing the ivory tower and reinforcing its splendid monastic isolation, while the other apes the marketplace and calls for tearing down the tower and overcoming isolation by forging new associations with — and a new servitude to — the market's whim and fashions, which pass as its aims and purposes" (1992). Neither of these models — especially when seen against the backdrop of a factory-like "diploma mill" — displays any interest in the community at large, which is seen as lurking irrelevantly outside the ivied walls.

With few exceptions, the modern university has partitioned knowledge into a bewildering number of departments, schools, institutes, and the like. The result of this is an uneasy pluralism that lacks interdisciplinary degrees, interdepartmental cooperation, or common vocabularies. Like animals that cannot breed, academic institutions that cannot engage in intellectual discourse beyond their own discipline are sterile.

Institutionalized Education Is Inequitable

Education is key to economic survival. On the individual level, economic success is strongly tied to formal higher education. College graduates in the United States earn substantially more than high school graduates. Political participation is also largely determined by the amount of formal education, as is the ability to obtain information about health or other important concerns, and the ability to communicate with others. On a national or international level, education or lack of it may help or hinder our ability to make peace with our neighbors and with our environment.

Students from upper-class backgrounds have access to a wide array of educational resources and, in general, far more options open to them than do those of more modest means. Those students are less likely to be subjected to repetitive drill and practice and are much more likely to be encouraged to be entrepreneurial (stage their own plays or design their own curriculum and lesson plans, for example), have modern technology available to them (computers connected to the Internet, for example), or participate in civic activities outside the classroom.

As in other important aspects of modern life, educational opportunity is heavily weighted in favor of the economically advantaged and the disparity is growing. Jonathan Kozol writing in Savage Inequalities (1991), provides numerous examples from the United States. Students in East Saint Louis, Missouri; Camden, New Jersey; and the South Bronx, New York (among countless other locations) face a daily grind of overheated or underheated classrooms; bathrooms with no toilet paper; overcrowded classes; damaged, outdated, and inadequate supplies of books and other materials; no theater, music, sports, computers, or other "frills"; broken glass, poor ventilation, unlit stairs, and general violence. At Goudy Senior High School in Chicago, for example, Kozol reports that "Slow readers in an eighth grade history class are taught from 15-year-old textbooks in which Richard Nixon is still president. There are no science labs, no art or music teachers. Soap, paper towels, and toilet paper are in short supply. There are two working bathrooms for some 700 children." Highland Park High School in a wealthy suburb of Dallas, by way of contrast, has a planetarium, indoor swimming pool, and a closed-circuit television studio for its students. While education offers the best opportunities for economic advancement, the environment provided for poor children in the United States is a cruel travesty.

Kozol is concerned about inequities and he lays them before us in grim and devastating detail. This testament, however, is not his only issue. He also discusses how many of us deny, explain away, or otherwise disassociate ourselves from the problem. There is, for example, one popular rationalization that states money by itself cannot solve the problem. Although there may be a germ of truth in this view, it is difficult to imagine a solution to this problem in which money cannot help. Money, in simple terms, can't guarantee excellence — it can only improve the chances. Kozol makes this point in concrete terms:

If the New York City schools were funded, for example, at the level of the highest-spending suburbs of Long Island, a fourth grade class of 36 children such as those I visited in District 10 would have had $200,000 more invested in their education during 1987. Although a portion of this extra money would have gone into administrative costs, the remainder would have been enough to hire two extraordinary teachers at enticing salaries of $50,000 each, divide the class into two classes of some 18 children each, provide them with computers, carpets, air conditioning, new texts and reference books and learning games — indeed, with everything available today in the most affluent school districts — and also pay the costs of extra counseling to help those children cope with the dilemmas they face at home. Even the most skeptical detractor of "the worth of spending further money in the public schools" would hesitate, I think, to face a grade-school principal in the South Bronx and try to tell her that this "wouldn't make much of a difference."

However glaring these inadequacies may be, the harsh realities seem to elude many Americans. The lesson for community-network developers is that any community network that is intended to support the community must help address the crisis in equity and access in education. While computer technology has much to offer in educational realms, much of the current evidence suggests that computer technology has helped exacerbate the problems of inequality. Community-network developers risk becoming part of the problem if they focus on the technology or if they believe that computer-network technology is a substitute for adequate funding.



... everyone can learn at every age and ability, and there are many ways to help everyone to do so.

  Dee Dickinson (1988)


We need to create an educational system to help every individual develop intellectual independence and a sense of empowerment. Its purpose must be to help form active, awake, and questioning citizens who can participate fully in society. If education helps the individual, it helps, by extension, the community, industry, and government

Respect for the Student

An educational environment that respects the student means a more effective educational environment. For one thing, respect for the student implies that there is a relatively high ratio of teachers to students. If there are too many students, the teacher cannot provide adequate individual attention, and the student will participate less and skip class more (Lindsay, 1982; Ornstein, 1991). Along the same lines, there should be continuity of teachers to allow genuine personal relationships to develop. Learning can occur more naturally when trust exists and suitable role models are present. Unfortunately, some classes in poorer school districts are presided over by a succession of substitutes, temporaries, or administrators, sometimes numbering 15 or more in a given school year, according to Kozol.

Just as bedside manner may be the most important aspect of medical care, a "hands-on" teacher may be the most important element in education. People need the "human touch," direct contact with teachers and fellow students. This is particularly true in cases where home life is dysfunctional, through abuse, lack of security or love, or when the caregiver is working and must leave the child alone in the house. In some cases, the teacher may be the only dependable and caring adult in a student's life and may offer the only hope for the student's success at school. This need for human contact seriously challenges the idea that electronic delivery of education through teaching machines, television, or computer networks can replace the in-person student-teacher setting.

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Beyond

The traditional 3-Rs of education are cornerstones for learning. One must read and write and be able to respond using various media including speech. Reading might mean listening and writing might mean speaking. One must be able to communicate with fellow human beings directly and indirectly, sometimes in conversations that span thousands of miles and years. Arithmetic provides another language, a language of abstractions and algorithms, which complements the "natural" language modes of speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Using these fundamental skills allows people to sample and employ a wide range of disciplines, or perspectives, including philosophy, anthropology, economics, political science, physics, and biology, among many others. When a student reads the literature within the perspective — reviews the data, evidence, and theoretical propositions — he or she shares a body of cooperatively developed knowledge and thinking and can contribute to the ongoing growth of that perspective.

As if to complement the perspectives listed above, humankind has also developed a wide range of other modes of expression — like dance, music, and the visual arts — that are also essential to education. These expressive languages provide meaning and raise issues that may be inexpressible in words or numbers alone. Unfortunately, since it's difficult to directly link these skills to commercial achievement or technological development, conventional wisdom often portrays them as inessential, especially in poorer communities. In affluent communities, on the other hand, not offering these "frills" would, of course, be unthinkable.

However valuable these traditional perspectives are, we need to be aware of their confining as well as their enabling nature, for a perspective can be a straitjacket of the mind: All major scientific advances, for example, have come from rejection of the conventional perspectives of the time. Educational policy and educational processes-especially with support from communication technology-must be fluid enough to encourage the exploration and development of new syntheses, paradigms, and perspectives. Arriving at a new interpretation using a fresh perspective is often very valuable. Brenda Laurel, for example, uses metaphors from the world of the theater to create new conceptualizations of the computer "user interface" (1991), while the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, uses coordinated studies to encourage educational exploration from multiple perspectives. One such coordinated study, for example, entitled "Harmony in the Universe," combined the perspectives of art and music with those of physics and astronomy.

Finally, there is the inescapable fact that many cultures inhabit the globe and a monocultural planet is neither likely nor desirable. However strong one's belief in their own cultural superiority may be, one cannot reject the usefulness of broad multicultural respect and understanding. Beyond just getting along, people need to have some understanding in order to communicate — and to do business — with people from other cultures. At a deeper level, multicultural perspectives provide alternative ways of seeing and understanding the world. As people from different cultures come together to address common concerns, elements or viewpoints from various cultures will fuse together in new patterns that help establish new habits and techniques for working together.

Critical Thinking

Our intellectual history is a chronicle of the anguish and suffering of men who tried to help their contemporaries see that some part of their fondest beliefs were misconceptions, faulty assumptions, superstitions and outright lies."

  Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner (1969)

Traditional education stresses the importance of finding the right and final answer — not an incomplete, flawed, or provisional answer. Yet moving forward, learning, and expanding one's understanding requires a constant questioning of the status quo, the conventional viewpoint, and the traditional answers. This freedom of thought gives rise to technological invention, paradigm shifts in science, and new directions in the arts. It ensures intellectual vitality and prevents stagnation. Questioning — or penetrating beyond what appears on the surface — is fundamental to science and, indeed, to all learning. This skill need not be limited to scientists, scholars, and artists. It can be practiced on the more prosaic plane of daily life as well.

Sometimes the misleading messages that we receive are the result of a conscious effort or campaign to color our perception, shift our attention, or to simply deceive us. Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, writing in Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969), call the ability to spot these propagandizing efforts "crap detection." Effective "crap-detectors" can detect and dissect why and how consciously or subconsciously constructed messages deviate from the truth or how they color or pollute the intellectual landscape.

Although we will be looking into media issues more extensively in Chapter 6, it is important to realize that a solid media education is critical if students are to become clear and critical thinkers. The mass media as the primary creator and purveyor of images and ideas in modern society is an excellent place to start. One can start with an observation, then focus by asking probing questions. Why do the people in beer commercials wear cowboy hats? Don't accountants, engineers, or barbers drink beer? Where were the bodies of dead Iraqi soldiers in all the Gulf War footage? There were plenty of bodies to be seen in the coverage of the Vietnam war. Why might a commercial for a convenience store use the American flag so prominently? Are war dead buried there? Why might Time or Newsweek run a photo of a smiling Ronald Reagan or a tired Jimmy Carter? Was only one photo available? Why is government fraud news and corporate fraud not? Who's making these decisions and at what level?

Unfortunately, as Postman suggests in his book (1969), critical thinkers and other active "crap-detectors" run the risk of being shunned by others, those more obeisant to the sanctity of the status quo: "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man would be killed." Of course, children from the upper and upper-middle classes are relatively free to criticize (within bounds), while children from the lower economic classes often do not gain these skills or are encouraged not to complain too vocally. Our society needs to offer children tools with which to develop critical perspectives, the courage to do so, and an environment where it is acceptable to articulate them.



Technology is available to develop either independence and learning or bureaucracy and teaching.

  Ivan Illich (1972)

Computer networks offer two basic capabilities to education. The first is that information can be disseminated over a distance and to select or diffuse groups of people easily. The second is that new forms of collaboration are now possible. This area is being explored in depth in many places (e.g., Soloway, 1993), so only a few examples are described in this section.

The Exploratorium and the ExploraNet

The Exploratorium, located in the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina district of San Francisco, is one of the world's premiere hands-on science museums, featuring a rich assortment of over 650 interactive exhibits that illustrate principles and concepts of anatomy, hearing, sound, electricity, genetics, vision, astronomy, and motion to name a few. Each year, more than 660,000 people visit the Exploratorium and over 500 teachers train there each year.

The Exploratorium is currently extending their place-based approach into cyberspace through The Learning Studio, an experimental multimedia and communications lab. For one thing, they have on-site terminals that are equipped with a wide variety of Internet access software as well as CU-SeeMe video-conferencing software. They have also made much of the information about their programs available on the Web. There are also pointers to other science-based Web sites (Fig. 3.1) and several "on-line exhibits" on their Web site that deliver some of the Exploratorium's exhibits, including "Mutant Fruit Flies" (showing altered shapes and colors in fruit flies), "Vocal Vowels" (where "hollow plastic models of the human vocal tract turn the squawk of a duck into vowel sounds") and several optical illusions that produce nonexistent colors, disappearing dots, and perceptual peculiarities with an upside-down image of the Mona Lisa. (The Mona Lisa on-line exhibit also offers a "Mona Movie," which is an MPEG format "movie that Web-browsing software downloads. It displays the rotating images similar to the way it's done at the nonvirtual—i.e., the actual physical—Exploratorium). ExploraNet is a program that is exploring a wide range of on-line resources to support science education. These include "virtual field trips" to the Exploratorium in San Francisco by students in Chicago High Schools using videoconferencing. Students at remote sites can also experience exhibits that would be very difficult or unpleasant to experience directly, such as being in the eye of a hurricane!


The Learning Studio's Top Ten Web Sites

Check out the Learning Studio's favorite sites to visit this month. Remember to check back next month to see 10 more!

Figure 3.1


The Exploratorium is enmeshed in several educational communities including science educators worldwide, other science education organizations, projects through the Science Learning Network (SLN), and activities with teachers and schools nationwide as well as in the San Francisco region. One of these projects, the Science Learning Network, is a collaborative alliance between six U.S. science education participants: Franklin Institute, Philadelphia; Miami Museum of Science; the Museum of Science, Boston; the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry; the Science Museum of Minnesota; and the Unisys Corporation, which together support teacher development in science education. The Exploratorium also works with the San Francisco United School District (SFUSD) and three Marin County school districts to develop strong hands-on science education in the schools in those districts. The project includes school teachers and principals, Exploratorium staff, and pilot hands-on, discovery-based workshops for students and their families from a local elementary school. The project exemplifies a flexible model focusing on school-based change with multiethnic urban schools, decentralized suburban schools, and a regional public science resource center.


Academy One — A Miscellany of Educational Projects

A wide variety of computer-network-based educational programs are now becoming available to students. Academy One, an international program of the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN), the umbrella organization of "Free-Nets" and other community networks (Delzeit, 1995; NPTN, 1993a) helps make a wide-ranging collection of ongoing projects, special events, programs, and information services available to classrooms all over the world via the Internet.

Currently NPTN Director of Education Linda Delzeit runs the Academy One program from her office in Buena Park, California. In addition to the programs that it develops, Academy One facilitates a steady and straightforward use of existing services. In this case, Academy One helps refine existing services to make them more suitable for network use, provides training for participants, and markets the services. Delzeit initially started by developing programs for her own children and volunteered for three years before taking the Academy One reins as its director. Delzeit's vision is of a values-oriented curriculum-centered approach that strives to include everybody with an interest and stake in KÐ12 education, including students, teachers, parents, community members, businesses, and organizations. The Academy One programs place an emphasis on "student safety" and every posting in an Academy One program is screened prior to distribution to other networks. Academy One uses U.S. Federal CommunicationCommission (FCC) standards as the screening criteria for all its messages, implicitly subscribing to the idea that networks are a type of public broadcast communication medium. While community networks need fewer restrictions on free speech guarantees, the Academy One "safety" measures offer a straightforward way to ensure that the programs remain focused on their objectives. Although the services in some cases consist of static information, most use novel modes of interaction with students and teachers that exploit the medium in creative ways. There are currently over 50 Academy One projects and more than 12,000 students at 70 schools participated in a single project, the TeleOlympics project. Many of these projects are listed below in Fig. 3.2 and two literature projects are described in the sections that follow. (The Day in the Life project was discussed in Chapter 2 and the Co-Laboratory is discussed later in this chapter.)


Sonnet-Writing Contest

Marge Cargo, a librarian and media specialist from Troy High School in Fullerton, California, launched a sonnet-writing contest a few years ago under the auspices of the Academy One program. Cargo chose the sonnet because she wanted to give students the challenge of writing using structured form and to keep the number of entries to a manageable level. Even so, she received nearly 300 entries last year, including those from the United States, Canada, and Czechoslovakia. Judges publish the winning sonnets in the "Student Author" newsgroup at NPTN sites as well as in a hard-copy booklet (a 1994 honorably mentioned sonnet is shown in Fig. 3.3). A panel of teachers judges all sonnets and some cash prizes are awarded to the winners. The quality of some of the entries has been rewarding to Cargo; she's also pleased with the personal contacts she's made during the project. In fact, she corresponds regularly with the student who submitted the first sonnet via e-mail in the first contest.

Some Academy One Offerings



Sonnet-Writing Contest Star


Trek RPG





Space Mission


Forest Day


Structures: Technology and Science for Young Children

Art and Culture


A Day in the Life


International Holiday Exchange


Project Ecology Art Exchange


Student Artist


Jewish Education Project



TeleOlympics (A "virtual track meet")


Space Simulation

Democracy, Civics, and Current Events


Project Common Ground


Institute for Democracy in Education

The Environment


Save the Beaches



Teacher Education


Parent Discussion

Figure 3.2


Why Do I Write Sonnets?

Perhaps I merely feel the inner need

To write in stricter forms of late, you see,

It gives me inner pleasure, quenches greed

To write in sonnets, for when I'm less free

To overuse the words with which I write,

I find more meaning in the ones

I use. When writing sonnets, I must often fight

To make words fit, but when I finally choose

The perfect word, it's great. Perhaps I'm wrong

To be so strict, to limit my own form

When I could write Haiku, quatrain, or song,

Or make up styles which violate the norm

Of poetry and prose, but I'm no lamb.

My motto's this: I think, therefore iamb.

Honorable Mention

Nate Barksdale

Grade 12

Sunny Hills High School

Fullerton, CA

Figure 3.3


Star Trek RPG — Commanding Star Ships from Willoughby Hills

Steven Prest, a 14-year-old from Willoughby Hills, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio is an unlikely Star Ship commander. Yet he commands the (virtual) Star Ship Olympus in the cyberspace world of the Star Trek RPG ("Role Playing Game") that he created and has made available through Academy One. Approximately 50 others (including other teenagers, several adults, and a fifth grader who's being coached along) take part in the various imaginary missions (to distribute vaccine to a planet beset with disease or to help repel an enemy attack on a friendly outpost, for example) in roles of characters that they've created and described according to rules and procedures devised by Prest and described in detail in a comprehensive on-line guide.

When a person first signs on as a participant in the Star Trek RPG, they must create their character's biography, which is then distributed to all the other participants on the ship (approximately 10), added to a forum, and placed on their Web site. They must also undergo the necessary "training" in order to participate in the upcoming missions. The participants on the ship take turns fulfilling the objectives of the mission, writing down what they think happens next.

Why is this an educational endeavor? The primary reason is that all participants are involved in a writing process, in this case the writing of a fictional account of a mission in space. Each participant tells the story from his or her own point-of-view, at the same time trying to keep other people's personalities and behavior consistent with the written biography and the story as it has thus far developed. This task is no different from other types of fiction writing where the author must juggle a cast of characters. Steven has noted definite improvements in the writing of the Star Trek RPG participants. He's noticed, for example, that he gives more thought to his writing, particularly to how it's structured. He also noticed that his spelling has improved as has the spelling of many other participants. Since it is now much more fun, and since it is important to communicate effectively to the other participants, Steven and the others are approaching the act of writing with more enthusiasm and care. These are exactly the characteristics a teacher strives to instill in young writers.



And if little learning is taking place in American schools and colleges, it may be because there is too much solitude among the learners (and teachers, too).

  Benjamin Barber (1992)

Although Steven probably would not use this exact verbage, it is clear that the Star Trek RPG helps promote a "community of learning." The concept of a community of learning is a powerful one that contains at least two important ideas for the development of new communities. The first is that education and communities need to be interlinked into one community, where the community helps support education (through information, tours, volunteering, and financial support, for example) and the educational system helps the community (through civic action, job training, and resource sharing, for example). The second idea is that classrooms — virtual or otherwise — need to become communities (of learning) where students and teachers alike work cooperatively to ensure that everybody's educational experience is as useful and rewarding as it can be.

In the next two sections, ways in which classrooms can become communities of learning are discussed. Those sections are followed by descriptions of some on-line systems that have begun to address some of these issues.

Diverse and Conflicting Viewpoints

Dealing with conflicting and diverse viewpoints is no longer optional — it has become a survival skill of the individual and society and will probably become even more critical in the future. Conflict, as Harvard Negotiation Project researcher Roger Fisher has noted, "is a growth industry." Indeed, conflict is something we experience as individuals, families, clans, geographical groupings, economic classes, communities, nations, political parties, races, religions, or as members of an almost infinite number of groupings in which human beings place themselves. What is the best way to address conflict? Can or should it be forbidden, or should it simply be ignored in the vague hope that it will go away? Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we cannot explicitly or implicitly banish conflict from the human arena. Should we ignore conflicts — including what has become known as the culture wars in higher education in which multiculturalism advocates are pitted against advocates of "the canon"? Or should we follow the advice of Gerald Graff, who advances the case that conflict can help enrich, engage, and extend education? In other words, Graff believes that educational practice should naturally embrace conflict as a vehicle for understanding or resolving issues. Not only would this be powerful and relevant to students, but it would help equip students for conflict and help instill an appreciation of the importance of conflict in discourse. Beyond the need for engaging in reasoned debate and the importance of training in debate, dialogue, and discussion, arguing over timely issues can be a very good way to inject relevance into the educational process (Graff, 1992). As Patricia Bizzel (1982) states:

Students often complain that they have nothing to say, whereas "real-world" writers almost never do, precisely because real-world writers are writing for discourse communities in which they know their work can matter, whereas students can see little purpose for their own attempts . . . other than to get a grade.

Note Bizzel's focus on the concept of "community of discourse," which reformulates the idea of writing into an extended discussion containing many voices. The "conversation" becomes a single collaborative unity. If students are writing for others — in addition to the teacher — writing becomes more meaningful. Electronic community networks can provide a natural medium for collaborative writing as well as for providing a backdrop for communities of discourse.

Cooperative Learning — Working with Other People

While virtually every conceivable post-school occupation involves working with other people to achieve some objective, schools are remarkably deficient in the area of cooperative group work. Classrooms rely heavily on the "broadcast mode" of teaching, conspiring — along with the mass media — to produce an "audience" of passive consumers.

The standard model of the classroom dictates that students must work alone — not in groups — and they are admonished not to "share their work," a euphemism for cheating. When students are aware of each other, it is often in the context of trying to outperform one another. According to Roger and David Johnson (1988), "The research indicates that a vast majority of students in the United States view school as a competitive enterprise where you try to do better than the other students." Ironically, this attitude is not even useful in most business situations. Although competition is a much-heralded hallmark of capitalism, too much competition within a company makes work less productive and less enjoyable for everybody.

If students do not learn how to work together, they will be deprived of valuable learning experiences, and will not make use of a valuable untapped resource for teaching in the classroom — other students. Roger and David Johnson define cooperative learning situations as having positive goal interdependence with individual accountability. In other words, each student must gain mastery or perform at a certain level but obtain additional rewards if the group does well. Thus students don't just work in groups — they work cooperatively in groups toward shared goals. Johnson and Johnson draw the following four conclusions about cooperative interaction from data from over 500 studies:

1. Students achieve more.

2. Students are more positive about school, subject areas, and teachers or professors.

3. Students are more positive about each other.

4. Students are more effective interpersonally.

Johnson and Johnson offer several pieces of advice on setting up tasks that help ensure successful outcomes in cooperative learning situations, including advice on choosing the task, explaining the task and the cooperative goal structure to the students, dividing students into groups and monitoring tasks. They sum up the indispensable nature of cooperative learning as follows, "Being able to perform technical skills such as reading, speaking, listening, writing, computing, problem solving, etc. are valuable but of little use if the person cannot apply those skills in cooperative fashion with other people in career, family, and community settings."

As seen in the projects described below, computer networks can be used advantageously in a wide variety of collaborative education programs. "Student Author" projects, for example, encourage students to post poems, short stories, and other works to the rest of the subscribers, and community networks are natural hosts for "progressive stories" in which each chapter is written by a different author or group of authors.

The Co-Laboratory

Academy One also offers several science-oriented projects that build on collaboration and participation. The Co-Laboratory, a "school-owned experiment and database" project developed by Lakewood (Ohio) High School science teacher James Meinke, invites schools to describe an experiment and to solicit other schools to perform the experiment and to contribute their results to a shared repository. As more schools perform the experiment, the larger the database grows and the more data that is available for analysis. Previous collaboratory projects have included information gathering on dating practices and on ozone levels across the United States. In one Co-Laboratory experiment (Meinke, 1995) students measured the length of the shadows that were cast at the solar noon in order to calculate the circumference of Earth just as the Greek geographer Eratosthenes did in the second century b.c. Meinke's on-line solicitation is shown in Figs. 3.4 and 3.5. Students from a variety of locations participated in the experiment to calculate Earth's circumference including schools in Kent, Washington; Lakewood, Ohio; Dripping Springs, Texas; Paradise, California; Kendall, Florida; and Delta Junction, Alaska; as well as schools in Finland, Germany, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Bahrain, Romania, and Slovenia.

Meinke is a fount of ideas for these types of experiments, having created 77 courses and events that fostered global awareness, including meteor-shower observation and analysis, mapping the earth's magnetic field, and many other experiments.

Equitable Access

[poor] Children, of course, don't understand at first that they are being cheated. They come to school with a degree of faith of optimism and they often seem to thrive during the first few years. It is sometimes not until the third grade that their teachers start to see warning signs of failure. By the fourth grade many children see it too.

  Jonathan Kozol (1991)

As we discussed earlier in this chapter, traditional education — which has changed little in the last 100 years — has its share of problems. That is not to say that some of its offerings are not valuable; in some cases it is the method of providing the offerings that is wanting. While improving the traditional model, we also need to simultaneously improve access to existing processes and knowledge (which, as Jonathan Kozol has eloquently shown, is profoundly unbalanced). To do otherwise would be like denying food to a starving person because it was poor in quality.


Eratosthenes Experiment



Eratosthenes, a Greek geographer (about 276 to 194 B.C.), made a surprisingly accurate estimate of the earth's circumference. In the great library in Alexandria he read that a deep vertical well near Syene, in southern Egypt, was entirely lit up by the sun at noon once a year. Eratosthenes reasoned that at this time sun must be directly overhead, with its rays shining directly into the well. In Alexandria, almost due north of Syene, he knew that the sun was not directly overhead at noon on the same day because a vertical object cast a shadow. Eratosthenes could now measure the circumference of the earth (sorry Columbus) by making two assumptions — that the earth is round and that the sun's rays are essentially parallel. He set up a vertical post at Alexandria and measured the angle of its shadow when the well at Syene was completely sunlit. Eratosthenes knew from geometry that the size of the measured angle equaled the size of the angle at the earth's center between Syene an

The formula Eratosthenes used is: D/d = A/a


d= distance between Syene and Alexandria

A= 360 degrees assumpition of round earth

a= shadow angle of vertical stick

D= to be determined(circumfernece)


Figure 3.4


Are you interested in participating?

All you need to do is place a vertical stick (shaft) into the ground at your school and when the sun reaches its highest vertical ascent for the day (solar noon — therefore, the shadow length will be the shortest), measure the angle of the shadow of the stick (a).


                   - \

           stick-> -  \

                   - a \ a = shadow angle

                   -    \

                   -     \

ground ____________-______\shadow_________

By doing this experiment on the equinox we all know that the vertical rays of the sun are directly over the equator, like the well at Syene. By using a globe or an atlas, the distance between your location and the equator (d in equation) can be determined and the circumference can be calculated.


But how about sharing your shadow angle measurement with others around the real globe?


Send your measurement of the shadow angle_________


Send your location city __________________________

Send your location country _______________________

Send your latitude _______________________________

Send your longitude ______________________________

To: Lakewood High School

We will compile all the data and send you a copy to use in your classroom to compare the various locations and angles.

If you're interested, send us your data. We will compile and return it to you by March 31, 1995. Chances are your lesson plans will not be able to fit this in on Tuesday, (?) March 21, l995 (the equinox). Most any day plus or minus 2 days of the equinox will give fairly good data (like Monday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday).

Jim Meinke — Lakewood High School bd765@cleveland. Learning Link

Figure 3.5


The question of access to education and educational technology is complex. Access can be understood somewhat as a chain that reaches from learner to an appropriate educational resource. If any link in the chain is missing or broken, the opportunity is lost. In the next section we explore ways in which new links can be forged by use of communication technologies.

Telephone Homework Assistance

In a report entitled "Using Computer-Based, Telecommunications Services to Serve Educational Purposes at Home," Jay P. Sivin-Kachala and Ellen R. Bialo (1992) discuss the use of telephone homework hotlines. Although telephone-based, these hotlines could serve as a model for similar services on community networks. Using the telephone allows immediate feedback and the opportunity for a more interactive Socratic-style dialogue between teacher and learner than asynchronous approaches such as e-mail. In fact, the telephone to a large degree offers a more natural interface than a community network whose sole interface generally is a keyboard. On the other hand, text-based community networks offer the ability for both learner and teacher to see the question being asked, the issue being posed, or the writing being analyzed. In other words, a text-based system is extremely well-suited for text-based homework. Homework that relies on maps, figures, drawings, photographs, mathematical symbols, or other graphical information will be underserved on either network or telephone-based services — at least until technology is readily available that handles this information more easily.

Sivin-Kachala and Bialo's report provides useful information on many basic issues of homework hotlines based on in-depth analyses of services in Baton Rouge, LA; Bridgeport, CT; Indianapolis, IN; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Rochester, MN (serving the entire state of Minnesota); and Trumbull-Shelton-Stratford, CT. Five of the services fielded phone calls from elementary, middle (junior high), and senior high schools, while two services concentrated on elementary and middle school students. The services typically operated three to four hours per day within the after-school time slot. Interestingly, more than half of the phone calls were on math questions, and a high percentage of the math questions involved the notorious "story problem," in which the problem was described in words rather than mathematical symbols.

The services at every site in the report relied on "paid, licensed, practicing teachers" as the homework helpers. Some of the services required additional qualifications for the staff positions, such as a master's degree. All sites required some teacher training, such as how to engage students in thinking through a problem to avoid merely supplying them with an answer. Reference material — including teacher's editions of all relevant textbooks, encyclopedia, dictionary, almanac, maps, contact information, answers to frequently asked questions, and other materials — were furnished at each site.

As with many other on-line services, the telephone homework assistance service has largely depended on adequate funding, although volunteers could certainly play a significant role. The service in small Connecticut towns receives about 35 calls per day, while the service based in New York City receives about 550 calls per day. The staffing ratios vary from 2 to 15 teachers per 100 student calls, while the average is 8 teachers per 100 calls. The report concludes that an average helper costs $7,560 (and varies across regions) for 120 days of 31Ú2 hour sessions. Other costs include costs of computer equipment, telephone lines, reference material, as well as administrator's salary, clerical support, and publicity.

The homework helpers generally worked at a central location. Interestingly, a service in Arizona that routed calls to teachers at home who answered questions on a voluntary basis was shut down after a year due to lack of interest on the part of the teachers. While this probably indicates that the teachers were too busy or too tired to continue their teaching on into the night, it also suggests that a social context for the helpers is important. Whatever the reason, community-network developers will need to seriously consider what the limits and limitations of volunteers will be if they plan to offer homework assistance electronically.

Big Sky Telegraph — Supporting Rural Long-Distance Education

In 1988, Frank Odasz of Western Montana University in Dillon, an ex-dude-ranch operator with a degree in Educational Technology, started the Big Sky Telegraph (BST) community-network system (Odasz, 1991) with the idea that computer technology could help tame the vast distances of the American West (Fig. 3.6). His first task was to electronically link more than 40 one- and two-room schoolhouses and 12 rural libraries across Montana with microcomputers and modems. Linking these schoolrooms provided a low-cost way for teachers to share information such as subject curricula, to ask questions and discuss concerns with other teachers, and to "check out" educational software in order to evaluate it before purchasing it.

Odasz describes Big Sky Telegraph as an "action-oriented rural telecomputing testbed," which is intended to overcome some of the problems of the rural American West associated with its sparse population and the long distances between communities. Big Sky's epicenter, Dillon, has 4000 souls; approximately 10 percent of the households own computers. From this location, Big Sky Telegraph uses "appropriate technology" to demonstrate "low-cost, low-tech, high-imagination, scaleable networking models." Big Sky Telegraph is now replicated in various "Big Skies" and "Little Skies" located across Montana and other Western locations and is in daily use by hundreds of people, many of whom are in rural locations.

Education is the focus, and economic opportunity and individual and regional self-sufficiency are the goals of the Big Sky Telegraph. The system offers 600 KÐ12 lesson plans serving as a "telecurricular clearinghouse" for KÐ12 projects running on networks all over the world. The system also offers on-line courses on how to use network and bulletin-board services (Fig. 3.7). Odasz uses the telegraph as a metaphor for all aspects of BST, reflecting the communication technology of the last century that was influential in the rural American West. As their "Homesteading the Educational Frontier" brochure (BST, 1993) states, "Teachers in rural Montana serving as Circuit Riders, Community Telegraphers, and Teletutors have used modems to overcome time, distance, and economic limitations to empower rural education and community survival through the Big Sky Telegraph network." Although technology is central to the program, Odasz advises us not to lose sight of the real objective, developing "communities of purpose," which address "caring, commitment and cause," and he is quick to point out that he'd prefer 50 pages a week of high-quality material (over a 1200-baud modem) to 500 channels of high-band-width tripe. Odasz is particularly concerned about building an infrastructure that is self-sustaining. For several years Big Sky Telegraph has offered an on-line course in Microcomputer Telecommunications that covers the basics of telecomputing and modem use. Other courses covering free self-study and teacher in-service training for recertification are available, thus supporting self-directed and economical educational opportunities both within and outside of the educational institutions.



Big Sky Telegraphy — Lessons and Essays for the On-line Class





Quick Reference Guide to Getting Started.




Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners.




How to Begin the On-line Class.




The On-line Course Syllabus.




Sending and Receiving Messages.




Capturing and Printing Text.




Conferencing and Sharing Resources.




Word Processing and Telecommunications.




Accessing On-line Library Services.




Calling Other On-line Services.




Receiving On-line Text Files and Using Databases.




Contributing On-line Text Files.




Becoming a Community Telegrapher.




Teleliteracy: Understanding Instruct. Telecom.




Collection of Messages from the Acropolis Conf.




Proficiency Test for the Advanced Class.




Homework Required for Credit.




Tips for Your Community/School Board Demos.




A Discussion on Using and Running BBS's.




A Walking Tour for Unix. Unix Id's Needed.



4Feb 4

WalkingTour for Global AKCS. Unix ID's Required.

Figure 3.7



It is possible to view the "school"... more of a process than as a structure ... the process could be structured around 1) identifying community problems, 2) planning possible solutions on a variety of levels, and 3) carrying out a plan, the objective of which is to produce some immediate and palpable amelioration of problems.

  Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner (1969)

Education is not just a set of skills — education must also impart an outlook or perspective that prepares individuals for the future. When education helps to actually address this need, it becomes an active institution for community development. When education fails in this task, it becomes an impediment, a vestige of days gone by.

Teachers, Students, and the Community

Postman and Weingartner (1969) point out the pervasive nature of pretense within the schools (which are often contrasted with "real life").

Let's pretend that you are not what you are and that this sort of work makes a difference to your lives; let's pretend that what bores you is important and that the more you are bored, the more important it is; let's pretend that there are certain things everyone must know, and that both the questions and answers about them have been fixed for all time; let's pretend that your intellectual competence can be judged on the basis of how well you play Let's Pretend.

Students need to feel that their education has some relevance or value or many will reject it as boring, artificial, and meaningless. Therefore, it is critical that the educational program be useful to individuals, families, and to the community. When students are actively engaged with problems or issues that concern them, a stronger and deeper respect between teacher and students emerges. Solving problems individually and in groups through planning and acting is also indispensable to education. Techniques may include hypothesizing and experimenting, tracking down information, interviewing people, understanding issues through dialogue and argumentation, and developing good work habits and discipline. Becoming fluent with a variety of these approaches and knowing when and how to employ them will remain important no matter how much technology may change.

There is no end to the number of problem-solving projects that are educational as well as being useful and relevant to the community. Some of these include neighborhood mapping, community histories, interest or opinion surveys, or developing catalogs of information, organizations, services, and other "community assets." Many schools from middle school to universities are now requiring or otherwise encouraging students to take part in community activities, often through awarding credits. Rutgers University in New Jersey, for example, has an extensive civic participation program in which students are expected to volunteer for community activities for 12 months. For their part, community members should also be willing to help in the schools. Their role can vary from providing general assistance in the classroom to taking advantage of their individual expertise—by teaching about computers, describing their jobs, or discussing aspects of their places of origin or culture, for example. Community networks can play a role in developing and strengthening projects along these lines.


Entrepreneurial Spirit

Although the expression may be somewhat debased from its close association with the unregulated capitalism of the Reagan years and with the American "can-do" boosterism of earlier this century, entrepreneurial spirit, or perhaps what my neighbor Press Winslow calls "social entrepreneurism," needs to become a central element of the educational process. The idea of entrepreneurial spirit could help motivate the whole educational process while breathing new life and meaning into it. When students have an entrepreneurial attitude, they have the confidence to tackle problems by recognizing, diagnosing, and responding to them — rather than ignoring them, explaining them away, or being paralyzed by them.

The development of entrepreneurial spirit comes largely from education and experience. When a person has the ability to perceive the world as being somewhat organized and knowable, and couples that perception with an entrepreneurial spirit, that individual can proactively engage the world. Entrepreneurial spirit requires both ability and a positive psychological outlook; it complements the idea of "empowerment." People without this feeling can only react — not initiate — and participating in the world can only be chaotic, arbitrary, and confused, not developmental, integrative, or learning-directed. The open-ended aspect of the entrepreneurial spirit has helped keep it an unpopular and untried approach within most school systems. It may generate more work for the teacher and more trouble for the administrator. The change in consciousness that is required may be the largest hurdle, however, as students are elevated to the role of co-teacher.

Self-Directed Learning at Virtual High

The Virtual High is a learning center for 14Ð18 year olds in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. Self-directed learning is the overriding philosophy of the Virtual High. Both students and their families are involved in the process of curriculum design. There are no teachers per se — they've been replaced by "learning consultants" whose role is asking students what they want to do and asking students how they — the learning consultant — might help. The students are encouraged to launch ambitious real-world projects, like starting businesses. These projects generally motivate a train of other supporting learning activities such as writing proposals or developing budgets using a spreadsheet in a more natural needs-driven mode, rather than in the usual agenda-driven mode of traditional education.

Virtual High's founders Michael Maser and Brent Cameron are consciously trying to reinvent the institution of schooling from an industrial-age model into one that fosters "social evolution and adaptation in the face of increasing change" (Maser, 1994). Their perspective is similar to the philosophy of the Institute for Learning Technology at Columbia (Reibel, 1994) that acknowledges the superiority of smaller classes, a collaborative relationship between teacher and learner, increased flexibility, and the adoption of more sophisticated communication technology, especially that of the computer. Some of the Virtual High's projects include Blue Fish Magazine, Village Quest, and the Power Smart Game. The Power Smart Game, which uses a model of a "virtual house" (Fig. 3.8) to help students to better understand household energy usage, is an excellent example of the type of project that the Virtual High produces. It was produced by students at the Wondertree Education Society (a precursor to Virtual High) in 1991, has subsequently been distributed throughout British Columbia's public schools, and is currently being sold to utility companies around the world.

Most students at Virtual High have a personal Macintosh PowerBook and connect to each other using the WonderNet Educational Telecommunity computer network system. Clearly computer networks can help facilitate learning between teachers (or "learning consultants") and motivated and technologically literate students (and between fellow students). At the same time it is important to realize that electronic access to each other is not a substitute for face-to-face contact. Also, as we shall learn in the next section, there is still the critical question of "Education for what?" that needs addressing.



All our children ought to be allowed a stake in the enormous richness of America.

  Jonathan Kozol (1991)

Education can give rise to great flights of imagination and creativity. It can be a source of freedom and joy and inspiration while providing meaning to individuals and to communities. Education can actively engage citizens into the broader sphere and thus be an effective integrating force in the future.

For education to be equitable as well as enlightened and humane, society must open opportunities to all its members. Education cannot address these noble goals without commitment from both individuals and institutions. Individuals should be willing to invest something of themselves in order to achieve this goal, and to create proper role models. Schools, government, and business all need to help in this process. Society needs to make the necessary investments of time, thought, and struggle, as well as money.

More than anything else, education offers hope for the future. If it doesn't offer this hope, it offers nothing. Especially for the downtrodden, education must have the potential to liberate intellectually and spiritually as well as tangibly through economic advancement. Ultimately, education needs to have the transformative potential to change society, as the poem by Bertolt Brecht (on the next page) expresses.


Learn the simplest things. For you
whose time has already come
it is never too late!
Learn your A B C's, it is not enough,
but learn them! Do not let it discourage you,
begin! You must know everything!
You must take over the leadership!
Learn, man in the asylum!
Learn, man in prison!
Learn, wife in the kitchen!
Learn, man of sixty!
Seek out the school, you who are homeless!
Sharpen your wits, you who shiver!
Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon.
You must take over the leadership.
Don't be afraid of asking, brother!
Don't be won over,
see for yourself!
What you don't know yourself,
you don't know.
Add up the reckoning.
It's you who must pay it.
Put your finger on each item,
ask: how did this get here?
You must take over the leadership.
Bertolt Brecht



Education activist Herbert Kohl (Karp, 1994) stresses that "the trick is to link effective education with hope and struggle." Students must come away from an educational experience with knowledge and analytical skills, but also with a sense that they can — need — to change the world and that some real possibility exists to do so. Kohl also stresses that education needs to be integrative: Just as education must be part of the community, the community must be part of education. In the same interview Kohl mentions that a "recent innovation is creating educational institutions in partnership with other community institutions" and points to recent partnerships with labor unions. An integration or partnership between community-network organizations and the schools naturally fits well with this approach.

Community Computing-Centers

A community computing-center is an actual place in the community where people can go and feel comfortable. This center, of course, can offer more than access to computers. Besides traditional community-center services, it can serve as a center for a wide range of democratic technological issues. In his article "Democratizing Technology" (1994) Richard Sclove describes similar centers around the world. "Dutch Universities, for example, have evolved a vigorous network of public 'science shops' to respond to the concerns of citizens, trade unions, and community groups about technological issues." He goes on to say that "Each shop's paid staff, student interns, and faculty volunteers answer questions and refer challenging questions to other university faculty members." Sclove cites cases where science shop-oriented programs "have helped workers evaluate the employment consequences of new production processes and helped environmental groups document sources of industrial pollution." Clearly centers of this type are examples of community empowerment where citizens gain skills and knowledge to become researchers and advocates as well as learners.

The organization, Playing to Win (PTW), discussed in the next section, places its focus on supporting a "center" that is an actual physical location in the community equipped with computing facilities. This approach has both social and economic advantages. From the social point of view, a community computing-center promotes conviviality and a community orientation. For a homeless person or a person whose home is abusive, a center can serve as a safe haven. PTW is committed to strengthening communities in a way that often takes the form of empowering individuals. The center can be an example of what Ray Oldenberg calls a "third place," a place in the community where people are welcome to just "hang out" if desired. Moreover, the possibility of co-teaching and collaborative project opportunities is much higher when a physical location as well as a virtual location for such activity exists.

The centers also make sense economically. Although connections of sufficiently high bandwidth may someday reach every home, the cost of wiring the "last mile" may ultimately cost tens of billions of dollars in the United States alone. People in economically disadvantaged and rural areas are especially skeptical of claims that their community will be included in corporate or government plans because they know that the expected return on investment is low in these areas. Thus even those who believe that wiring public places is only an interim step should support the concept of community-based computer centers as a step in the right direction for providing universal access.

Playing to Win — The Learner's Needs Come First

"The community computing-center movement," writes Peter Miller (1993) is "guided by radical democratic principles, resting upon the conviction that basic tools of daily life need to be accessible to everyone." The Playing to Win organization, now at the heart of the community computing-center movement, first opened its operation in the basement of a Harlem housing project in 1981 with 20 Atari 400s. There are now over 50 PTW affiliates in the United States, and there are plans to establish a national, self-sustaining, self-governing network of 300Ð350 centers with support from the National Science Foundation.

Playing to Win is a technical assistance program that generally focuses on the community computing-center model, in which computers are placed in community centers, such as settlement houses, YMCAs, libraries, museums, or other places (Fig. 3.9). PTW also ensures that related assistance such as training is also available. The focus on actual centers in the community complements the work of other social activists (as well as some commercial vendors) who are striving to bring electronic access to the home.

I spoke with Peter Miller at the United South End settlements community-computing lab after he finished teaching a class to some of Boston's homeless population. Miller's educational philosophy is similar to that of Paolo Freire: The needs of the student must drive the education process, not the needs of the teacher or any other outside force. There are lots of anecdotes supporting this notion. Antonia Stone, PTW's founder, tells the story of a Hispanic woman who came into one of the New York centers just "wanting to look at the computers." She gradually became more fluent with the technology as she used it to meet her own needs. She organized a number of home remedies or nostrums that were used in her community and entered them into the computer. She ultimately printed, bound, and distributed the booklet of home remedies, thus contributing to the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the community.

At the Somerville (Massachusetts) Community Computer Center, low-income residents can obtain access to equipment, training, and technical assistance. Furthermore, neighborhood schools, organizations (such as the Council on Aging, The Mystic Learning Center Teen Program, and the Short Stop Youth Center, for example), and programs (such as Head Start and Early Start) are all beginning to obtain computer equipment, which can accelerate the integration of literacy and computer literacy with other community programs.

Miller reports that when the types of literacy are integrated the task is much less daunting. For example, literacy and computer literacy are integrated while one is preparing resumes on a word processor, improving language skills through on-line chat, or working on collaborative projects involving graphics and desktop publishing. PTW's founder, Antonia Stone, has collected a wide variety of techniques that PTW has developed over the years into a book entitled "Keystrokes to Literacy" (1991). One technique, for example, involves using a word-processing system to remove letters that don't spell words — as in the following example:

cornx xx xbeans xxx xxbaconxx xpizzax xxx xxcake.

Erase the letters that don't belong.

Although there are several PTW models, one approach requests a two-dollar donation to use the facilities, but doesn't turn away anyone for lack of funds. One facility that offers free admission is the Computer Clubhouse at the Boston Computer Museum for low-income 10- to 16-year-olds. The Clubhouse provides an array of special resources for exploring multimedia, virtual reality, robotics, music, desktop publishing, game design, and other computer applications that are often out of reach of low-income people.



Our challenge now is to make this kind of learning more readily available to the hundreds of millions of students who will soon be deciding the fate of the earth. Surely their decisions will be more intelligent, humane and foresighted if they are given better opportunities now to develop as whole people.

  Dee Dickinson (1988)

There is accumulating evidence that many unfortunate trends in education are continuing — often under the banner of the ongoing computer revolution or the impending "information superhighway." For example, many people seem to believe that both lessons and tests can be delivered electronically. This would obviate the need for teachers, who, along with other professional service providers, are seen as increasingly unnecessary in the posthuman future. With this perspective, delivering the multimedia equivalent of a multiple-choice test over the cable television system is heralded as a revolutionary innovation in education when, in fact, it's generally more expensive, more isolating, and less effective than its old-fashioned equivalent.

Although technologically advanced and superficially more engaging, electronic delivery of education is often debased and isolating. One of the reasons for this is that large software companies with little or no appropriate experience or knowledge are busily cranking out "educational" software. Computer programmers and graphic artists rather than educators are often responsible for the software development. While education can be entertaining, software vendors sometimes sacrifice the love and discipline of learning for the enticement and detachment of flashy graphics.

In addition to the short-circuiting of the learning process with poor quality software, commercial involvement in the educational process introduces other dangers. The forecasted reliance on computer technology for the electronic delivery of services also provides an increased opportunity for corporate control and influence of the educational milieu much in the same way that corporations dominate the news that Americans receive daily. The controversy surrounding the Whittle Communication Corporation's development and distribution of news and feature videotapes containing advertisements which are aired to captivate sixth through twelfth graders in over 10,000 U.S. schools illustrates this point. When educational content is merely "window dressing" that surrounds advertisements, the chief source of income for the producer, educational content will suffer (Templeton, 1994). Views, also, that are controversial, nonmainstream, or unsympathetic to corporate interests may be quietly and unceremoniously removed from the curriculum.

As we have seen, computer and communications technology could be applied toward improving educational processes and our educational systems by making them more open, empowering, and equitable. Unfortunately, adopting these technologies may actually increase inequality in many ways. For one thing, school districts with ample resources tend to have more technological resources than those who are lacking in these resources. Also school districts with smaller budgets might spend a larger share of their resources on technology when the money could be better spent on other more basic and important needs. Moreover, there is ample evidence that these technologies—bowing to strong social and economic pressures—may further trivialize education by reducing its transformative potential. This can be done by (1) restricting the field of inquiry, (2) reducing education to entertainment or repetitive drill, and (3) further isolating the learner and decoupling the teacher from the process. Community networks offer alternatives to these trends, but much work will be required to realize those alternatives.

Community networks offer an opportunity for reinventing education by suggesting modifications of older methods and new methods of conducting education (Fig. 3.10). They can promote education in unstructured and structured ways. Providing access to community information and network resources—with no structure imposed—allows people to pursue their own education. More structured approaches involving professional educators, schedules, and guidelines are also possible. MIT professor George Johnston, for example, offered a distance-learning course on chaos theory using the Big Sky Telegraph system that students accessed over the Internet. Lakewood, Ohio, science teacher James Meinke used the Cleveland Free-Net and the Academy One program to coordinate large collaborative science and math experiments with participants who were located all over the world. Other educational hybrids are also possible. A student could set up an agreement or "contract" with a teacher or facilitator to study some topic for some period of time using any methods agreed to by both the learner and the facilitator.


New On-line Educational Modes

Figure 3.10


Community networks can provide a variety of educational material on-line, bringing both the library and the educational archive into the home (see Fig. 3.11). Community networks also offer conversational capabilities that are more significant than providing another way to access static information. The conversational capabilities (in theory) provide an opportunity for all "players" in the educational arena — students, teachers, parents, policymakers, and other community members — to enter into conversations regarding educational policy, consider the rights and responsibilities of each of the players, and to participate in both the content and process of education. Community-network systems can play a part in this metamorphosis toward what educational consultant Edward Fiske calls "learning communities" by providing a living forum for the interplay of these new ideas.


On-line Educational Material

Figure 3.11

Ironically, as Lauren-Glen Davitian, Executive Director of Chittenden Community Television (CCTV), has pointed out, "Education is one of the least democratic institutions in this country."[1] Also education may now have the strongest claim on the title of "most-maligned institution," and many people are wondering how it might be elevated from its abyss. Fortunately, the germs of a democratic educational system do exist. Many teachers and administrators want to expand the dialogue to involve students, their families, and the rest of the community. At the same time, many students, family, and community members also want to enrich and extend and breathe new life into existing educational programs as well as develop new ones. Clearly, we can go farther in the direction of establishing an educational system that is responsive to people's needs: a university that is universal — education for everyone, everywhere.

1 Remarks made in presentation at The Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing (DIAC-94) conference, Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 23, 1994.


D Schuler, NEW COMMUNITY NETWORKS, 1996 Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc.

Chapter 4