Being Digitally Educated, Dewey, Technology, and Distance Learning

Michael Brint
Associate Professor and Director, Integrated Program in Humane Studies
Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio

I. The Experience of Education in Digital Life

In his 1995 book, Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte signals what many believe to be a paradigm shift from “atoms” to “bits”–from an “atomic” orientation to the world consumed by material interactions to an orientation unburdened by such impediments as space, time and atomic weight. Racing unfettered at blinding speed over vast distances of space, the bit, the smallest unit in the “DNA of information,” [1] has done more than help usher in the post-industrial age of information. According to Negroponte, it has become the basic commodity of interaction in the post-information age–an age in which the possibility of digital living has become increasingly viable:

The industrial age, very much an age of atoms, gave us the concept of mass production, with the economies that come from manufacturing with uniform and repetitious methods in any one given space and time. The information age, the age of computers, showed us the same economies of scale, but with less regard for space and time… [By contrast,] in the post-information age, we often have an audience the size of one. Everything is made to order and information is extremely personalized… The post-information age is about machines’ understanding individuals with the same degree of subtlety (or more than) we can expect from other human beings.Such customized digital living entails more asynchronistic communications (like e-mail), billions of bits of information on demand (in such forms as TV programs, videos, music, and news), and less and less dependence on being in a specific place at a specific time. [2]

In examining the educational implications of living digitally, Negroponte captures many of the central pedagogical points now being advanced by prominent policy analysts urging the development of distance learning opportunities. [3] In most instances, such approaches consist in the creation of highly individualized asynchronistic learning programs accessible on demand. This form of delivery is said to particularly aid the growing numbers of non-traditional students whose lives require that learning be less and less dependent on one’s ability to be in a specific place at a specific time.

Whether delivered to a classroom, laboratory, workplace or home, learning digitally as an experience is said to be one of individual exploration, experimentation, and expression. Emphasizing the benefits of computers as learning tools, Negroponte notes that

While a significant part of learning certainly comes from teaching–but good teaching and by good teachers–a major measure comes from exploration, from reinventing the wheel and finding out for oneself. Until the computer the technology for teaching was limited to audiovisual devices and distance learning by television, which simply amplified the activity of teachers and the passivity of children. The computer changed this balance radically. All of a sudden, learning by doing became the rule rather than the exception. Since computer simulation of just about anything is now possible, one need not learn about a frog by dissecting it. Instead, children can be asked to design frogs, to build an animal with frog-like behavior, to modify that behavior, to simulate the muscles, to play with the frog. By playing with information, especially abstract subjects, the material assumes more meaning. […] Anecdotal evidence and careful testing results reveal that this constructivist approach is an extraordinarily rich means of learning, across a wide range of cognitive and behavioral styles.[4]

“Learning by doing,” “finding out for oneself,” “playing with information,”–Negroponte’s orientation sounds a lot like an updated version of John Dewey’s educational approach. Stressing similar ideas, Carol Twigg, a senior analyst for EDUCOM and one of the leading advocates of distance learning, claims that “what we know about high-quality learning, cooperative learning, and discovery learning-implies a learning-by-doing model rather than the passive, classroom-based model that typifies the teaching infrastructure.”[5] Against such passive learning, Dewey notoriously stressed the importance of experience as an active process. “To ‘learn from experience’ is to make a backward and forward connection between what we do to things and what we enjoy or suffer from things in consequences. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it is like; the undergoing becomes instruction–discovery of the connection of things.” [6]

In a similar vein, discovery labs for physics and other natural sciences (like the CUPLE program developed at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) stress the experience of discovery through exploration and experimentation. By using a studio approach to learning, computer simulations allow students to discover scientific principles through their own active engagement. Jack M. Wilson, Director of the Anderson Center for Innovation in Undergraduate Education, explains the basic premise underlying such initiatives: “The focus is on student problem solving and projects,” he tells us, “and not on presentation of materials. The emphasis is on learning rather than teaching.” [7]

While the CUPLE program uses multimedia tools authored by experts for student use in the discovery, experimentation and exploration of science, multimedia offers new domains of student expression as well. “We are entering an era when expression can be more participatory and alive,” Negroponte tells us. “We have the opportunity to distribute and experience rich sensory signals in ways that are different from looking at the page of a book and more accessible than traveling to the Louvre.” [8] Rather than simply interacting with a designed exercise, students can become their own authors–designing and architecting multimedia projects that integrate both different disciplines and media.

CITYSCAPES at Kenyon College is just one example of a course developed to focus on the student as the creative agent of learning.[9]From a literary walk through the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires to an analysis of the role of women in the agricultural economy of Nairobi, students in this course become authors of multimedia projects that focus on specific themes related to particular cities or regions of the world. In addition to the Internet and library resources, these projects, currently produced as a CD-ROM, combine videos, photographs, recordings, interviews, and journals made by the students themselves. As authors guided by both local scholars and distant experts in various fields related to their study, students become increasingly fluid in coherently drawing together and creatively comingling function and form, method and subject, narrative and design.

Along with their expressive and experiential potentials, many see the greatest advantage of computer learning environments in terms of their potential for customization. Course materials can be delivered to fit the different learning styles of students and developed to help students realize their unique potentials and capacities. According to Massy and Zemsky, the two most fundamental advantages of information technology are the new “economies of scale” it offers and its ability to provide what they term, “mass customization.” “Technology allows faculty to accommodate individual differences in student goals, learning styles, and abilities, while providing improved convenience for both students and faculty on an ‘any time, any place’ basis.”[10]

In the post-information age, most surmise, the advent of sophisticated and customized simulations across the curriculum will increasingly provide the basis of experience for engaged learning. Many who are helping to lay the foundation for the future of information technology and education advocate the creation of a National Learning Infrastructure that could deliver these sophisticated simulations “anytime, anywhere, to anyone.”[11] If these trends continue, the experience of education in digital life may well be one of more convenient asynchronistic communication, customized educational services on demand, and less and less dependence on being at a specific place at a specific time. Yet, for all of the Deweyean-sounding practices that are supposed to accompany these educational delivery services–learning by doing, exploration and experimentation, play and discovery–I doubt it is time to begin celebrating the realization of Dewey’s educational philosophy in the post-information age.

II. Learning as a Social Environment

If many proponents of distance learning follow Dewey’s lead in emphasizing experiential and constructivist models of education, few follow his views regarding the inexorably social and relational nature of learning. Most of their accounts portray distance learning (at least at the level of higher education) as a highly individualized process of self-development, driven by the student’s own initiative toward the successful acquisition of specifiable skills.[12]

For Dewey, no matter how individualized or customized the material that is being explored, learning is not an isolated enterprise that takes place within the self or between the individual’s mind and the material it confronts, but a social activity that takes place within the context of a social environment. “As matter of fact,” Dewey tells us,

every individual has grown up, and always must grow up, in a social medium. His responses grow intelligent, or gain meaning, simply because he lives and acts in a medium of accepted meanings and values. Through social intercourse, through sharing in the activities embodying beliefs, individuals gradually acquires a mind of their own. The conception of mind as a purely isolated possession of the self is at the very antipodes of the truth. The self achieves mind in the degree in which knowledge of things is incarnate in the life about him; the self is not a separate mind building up knowledge anew on its own account. [13]

From Dewey’s point of view, even the ideal of education as self-development must be understood as a social process achieved through interaction and relation with others. Rather than fostering this ideal, advocates of distance learning, particularly those who stress self-paced, independent study, tend to reinforce individual isolation. “The effort at isolated intellectual learning contradicts it own aim,” Dewey claimed, for it “precludes the social sense which comes from sharing in an activity of common concern and value.” [14] In examining the economic efficiencies gained by computer innovations, Massy and Zemsky tellingly report that without a supportive social environment, “the students who would most benefit from self-paced learning have the least motivation to do so.”[15]

The prevailing attitude toward teaching is also particularly telling on this point. In Twigg’s words: “Because of the widespread availability of self-paced learning materials, direct faculty intervention throughout the learning process will lessen.”[16] Like a small country being invaded by a foreign power, the idea of faculty interaction is not said to be condemned simply because of the enormous costs of the labor involved (although one suspects that this is the most significant issue). Rather advocates of information technology assume a notion of independent learners at the center of the enterprise who simply do not depend on faculty as the primary source of their learning. While Dewey was among those to argue against a teaching-centered model of education, he would certainly reject the radically asocial dimension of distance learning as it is currently being discussed. [17]

Once again, Dewey’s position is that the social environment–the interdependence and engagement of individuals in the performative acts of learning–is a necessary condition for developing the unique capacities of individuals. Even if such a model as the National Learning Infrastructure could develop an individual’s dispositions for distance learning; in its current direction toward individualization, it would be difficult to account for the experience of sharing in a common activity that is central to Dewey’s understanding of both the social environment of learning and the social aims of democracy.

In contrast to Dewey’s concentration on the social functions of education, the individual ends of distance learning are most frequently described in terms of the acquisition of definable skills. “It seems to me,” Carol Twigg writes,

that our definition of learning is changing in a number of ways… Increasingly, viewing a college education as mastery of a body of knowledge is becoming outmoded. Instead we recognize that graduates need to have acquired skills… along with such abilities as finding needed information and working well with others.[18]

With this emphasis on acquired skills, we are also beginning to see more stress placed on educational outcomes. “Because of its capacity to focus on individual assessment,” Massy and Zemsky note, information technology “will make the teaching and learning enterprise much more outcome-oriented.”[19] In large measure this growing emphasis on skills and outcomes is related to a greater consumer orientation to education. Increasingly students are looking “for increased competition between higher education providers to work to their advantage as consumers.”[20]

While Dewey too understood the importance of acquiring skills, he would no doubt be disturbed by the instrumental and pecuniary ends of distance learning. In his essay, Individualism, Old and New, he claimed that “the development of a civilization that is outwardly corporate–or rapidly becoming so–has been accompanied by the prevailing mentality of the ‘business mind'” and the prevailing standards of value derived from pecuniary success alone.[21] On the educational front, the ability to buy economic success is understood in terms of the acquisition of skills of technical mastery sold at the best price. Yet paradoxically, Dewey argued, even if these skills are quite broad and fluid, such narrowly conceived individualist attempts to find economic security in an increasingly insecure economic world produces the conditions under which individuals become increasingly lost, unable to “find support and contentment in the fact that they are sustaining and sustained members of a social whole.”[22]

For Dewey, a highly individualistic or libertarian model of learning severely narrows and restricts the meaning and practical effects of education’s social function. In his view, the purposes of education in a democracy are necessarily both individual and collective in nature. They consist in developing individuals’ natural capacities and acquisition of skills in concert with their preparation for the activities of engaged citizenship and reflective thought. Indeed, without pathological effect, the growth of the individual–the unique development of the individual’s talents and skills– cannot be separated from the social environment of shared activities, values and common interests within which the individual is sustained and grows.

Although information technology has the potential “to increase learning productivity in the areas of codified knowledge and algorithmic skills,”[23] it may not serve these larger social purposes. Indeed, even if one could argue that sharing in common activities that are primarily non-algorithmic can take place within the social environment of distance learning, Dewey would strongly criticize the disembodied nature of such a “social” environment.

For Dewey, learning digitally may well push Cartesian dualism to new heights as minds connect over vast distances without the inconveniences of time, place and body. In his view, the separation of body and mind culminates “in a sharp demarcation of individual minds from the world, and hence from one another… [This] dualistic philosophy of mind and the world implies an erroneous conception of the relationship between knowledge and social interests, and between individuality or freedom and social control and authority.”[24] In educational practice, it often assumes the form of a body of knowledge distinct from its social purposes and a mind free from its social context and physical constraints. As Sidney Hook explains, a dualistic theory of mind and body, according to Dewey, “converts functional distinctions in the ‘moving unities of experience’ into separations of existence. Thus mind is considered separate from the body, whose activity is viewed as an alien influence on how the mind learns and the self is divided from its environing physical and social world.”[25]

Even as a real time-interactive-talking heads-model, being digitally educated decontextualizes the experience of learning and realizes in practice what Descartes only separated philosophically: Minds communicate through bits, bodies move through atoms. The most elemental dualism of the post-information age is thoroughly Cartesian. Detached from the motion of our bodies and disengaged from our local physical and social surroundings, education in the post-information age does not connect, but separates the self from the world, and thus from others. Rather than fulfilling its promise, learning digitally seems only to compromise the most significant elements of Dewey’s educational philosophy.

III. Learn Locally, Think Globally

Although information technology, like the printing press, opens up radically new options for education, Dewey would remind us that computers are, after all, tools. And, like all other tools, they provide ways of getting around and fulfilling one’s purposes in one’s environment. The question is how can we best use the tools of information technology for our educational purposes and aims?

In terms of delivery, advocates of digital learning often argue that information technology provides a better option than the traditional university. With its relatively fixed economy of scale and centralized location, the university has become a legacy of the industrial age. In Twigg’s words: “Our institutions of higher education are reminiscent of other kinds of industrial age organizations such as the factory and the department store–characterized by size and centralization–in contrast to the distributed, networked organization and mail-order shopping services of the 1990s.”[26] Twigg predicts that the ability to transmit through networked organization high quality learning tools customized for the individual student will begin to replace the traditional (teacher-centered) functions of the university. While there will still be a role for faculty and institutions of higher education in terms of certification, student services, and some collaborative experiences, she suggests, its centrality in the process of learning will significantly change as students become more independent and self-reliant and as physical contact becomes “less important to them.”[27]

Although Twigg may well be correct in arguing that the industrial designed university no longer provides the best option for educational delivery, her vision of the future predicated on independent learning, as we have seen, is not without its serious defects. In analyzing the profound implications of the printing press in America, Dewey noted that localism with its infinite variations and specific contexts tends to become stronger as the world (or at least information about it and our connection to it) grows closer.[28] And just as industry and politics are witnessing a tendency toward both decentralization and globalization, the best option for educational delivery may well be the more local community and small college system with new neighborhood and workplace learning centers further developed to meet the educational needs of both traditional and non-traditional students. Within these small colleges and decentralized institutions, the physical proximity of students and faculty would help to embody learning and knowledge as a social process.

To learn locally and think globally, students must have access to the tools of technology. Information retrieval, communication systems, and independent and collaborative learning tools are now necessary and even elemental parts of learning. But they are not sufficient. They must be contextualized within a learning environment. As most agree, learning tools can “stand in” for a physical and social environment, but they cannot replace it. One simply cannot replace the direct and palpable gravity of social interaction that is intrinsic to the atomic weight of learning with weightless bits traveling at blinding speed through thin fine fibers of glass.

As global communication systems eviscerate time and space, digital learning may transform the mode of educational production and delivery. It may even make the traditional university and large state institution obsolete. But as our access to the tools of technology become less dependent on space and time, as distance learning increases, the proximity of social interaction in the process of learning should increase proportionally: The more distant the means of delivery, the more proximate the learning experience should be in terms of the intensity, relation, and quality (if not quantity) of interactions between faculty and students. Rather than becoming less so, the physical and social environment may become more important as distant learning tools become more available. As in the case of localism and globalism, physical proximity and intensive social interaction may both compliment and counterbalance distance in learning. Although learning digitally may promise to make us less dependent on time and space, it is only within a social environment of learning that we can begin to celebrate the experimentation, exploration, and expression–the idea of learning by doing–central to the spirit of John Dewey.

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Endnotes

[1] Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, (New York: Borzoi-Knopf, 1995), 14.

[2] Ibid., 163-65.

[3] For example, see William F. Massy and Robert Zemsky, “Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity” 4.

[4] Ibid., 199f. Return to text

[5] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure” 5.

[6] Dewey, Democracy and Education, in John Dewey, The Middle Works, 1899-1924, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980), 147.

[7] Jack M. Wilson, “The CUPLE Physics Studio,” The Physics Teacher.

[8] Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, 224.

[9] A description of CITYSCAPES can be found in “Strengthening Teaching and Learning in the First Two Years,” PEW Charitable Trusts (Number 9, January 1996), 4.

[10] Massy and Zemsky, Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity,” 2. (www.educause.edu/ir/library/abstracts/nli0004.html)

[11] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure.”

[12] Although one of these skills may involve collaboration, it is nevertheless described as a kind of “pull yourself up by your own boot straps” social environment of independent learning.

[13] Hook, “Introduction to Democracy and Education,” 304.

[14] Hook, “Introduction to Democracy and Education,” 44.

[15] Massy and Zemsky, “Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity,” 4.

[16] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure,” 8.

[17] On the role of the teacher and the social purposes of education, see Dewey’s The School and Society in The Middle Works, vol. 1.

[18] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Infrastructure,” 1. See also, Jeremy Shapiro and Shelley Hughes, “Information Technology as a Liberal Art,” Educom Review (March/April):31-35.

[19] Massy and Zemsky, “Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity,” 3.

[20] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Infrastructure,” 4. Return to text

[21] Individualism, Old and New in John Dewey: The Later Works, vol 5, p. 67f. Return to text

[22] Ibid. Return to text

[23] Massy and Zemsky, “Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity,” 2.

[24] Hook, “Introduction to Democracy and Education,” 300.

[25] Hook, “Introduction to Democracy and Education,” x.

[26] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure,” 5.

[27] Ibid., 8.

[28] See “Americanism and Localism” in John Dewey: The Middle Works, vol. 12, p.12-16.

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Women: Lost in Cyberspace?

Laurie Finke
Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
Date of publication: 1997

The Culture of Virtual Communities

In one passage from A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf’s fictional narrator finds herself walking across the grounds of an Oxbridge college deep in thought, contemplating an essay by Charles Lamb on Milton’s “Lycidas.” She remembers that the manuscript of that famous poem that Lamb cites in his essay is housed in the library of the very college whose grounds she walks. She imagines herself literally retracing Lamb’s footsteps “across the quadrangle to that famous library where the treasure is kept.” Finding herself at the door of the library,

I must have opened it, for instantly there issued, like a guardian angel, barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction. (Woolf 7-8; emphasis in original)

The narrator’s response shows how quickly alienation follows from exclusion, how quickly intellectual curiosity can become indifference: “Venerable and calm, with all its treasures safe and locked within its breast, it [the library] sleeps complacently and will, so far as I am concerned, so sleep forever” (Woolf 8).

I found myself returning to this scene again and again when I was asked to think about the consequences of emerging information technologies for the teaching that I do in a Women’s and Gender Studies program, particularly in relation to the kind of student-centered pedagogy that we, for the purposes of this project, are calling “proximity learning,” and opposing to the “distance learning” so often extolled as information technology’s future (Twigg, Alley). Surely such scenes of exclusion as Woolf describes in 1928 could not be repeated in an American university at the end of the twentieth century? No student of ours–female or male– would be turned away at the doors of our colleges’ libraries by kindly silver-haired librarians guarding the doors and rebuffing the unwelcome. Yet the refrain heard constantly among cyber-touts these days is that the locus of the library is rapidly changing. Soon the “treasures” about which Woolf writes so eloquently will reside not in atoms–in weighty volumes stored on scores of shelves in monumental stone buildings–but in ethereal bits, floating around in a non-place we’ve come to call “cyberspace,” capable of being disassembled and reassembled at our merest whim in any format we desire (Negroponte). Knowledge–or at least information– will no longer be “locked away” and apportioned out by the gatekeepers of culture, but will be available anywhere, anytime at the press of a button or the click of a mouse.

This enthusiastic assessment of the democratizing potential of information technologies, however, merits closer scrutiny. What will the effects of this dematerialization–this transformation of information from atoms to bits–be? In particular, we ought to pay close attention to the rhetoric of the sales pitch through which the benefits of cyberspace are being promoted. While the term is often used rather loosely to refer to everything from computer games to the World Wide Web, “as though each computer screen were a portal to a shadow universe of infinite, electronically accessible space” (Markley 2), it is worth noting how the experts talk about the concept. Michael Benedikt defines cyberspace as “a globally networked, computer-sustained, computer-accessed, and computer-generated, multidimensional, artificial, or virtual’ reality” (Benedikt 122). Marcos Novak characterizes it as “a completely spatialized visualization of all information in global information processing systems, along pathways provided by present and future communication networks, enabling full copresence and interaction of multiple users, allowing input and output from and to the full human sensorium, permitting simulations of real and virtual realities, remote data collection and control through telepresence, and total integration and intercommunication with a full range of intelligent products and environments in real space” (Novak 225,226). What both definitions have in common is their thorough erasure of human agency in the transition from a material to a virtual reality [1]. In both definitions machines are remarkably lively and intelligent. They “network,” “sustain,” and “generate.” They provide access; they “enable”interaction, “allow” input and output to circulate, and “permit” simulations. Humans, on the other hand, have almost entirely disappeared or are completely passive. Indeed we no longer have people attached to computers at all, but “human sensorium.” People have become little more than inert receptacles for “input” and “output.” As Donna Haraway writes, “Our machines are disturbingly lively and we ourselves frighteningly inert” (Haraway 152). This way of talking about computer technology is not limited only to VR visionaries. Most educators writing about the benefits of information technology use the very same rhetoric:

  • IT will change teaching and learning profoundly, no matter what the response of traditional higher education institutions. (Massy and Zemsky 2)
  • IT enables students to work at their own pace with continuous assessment, in contrast to the traditional post-secondary education method which can be described as batch-processing with episodic assessment. (Massy and Zemsky 4).
  • For not only will information technology accelerate the move toward a process focus and collaborative learning, it may change the fundamental relationships and understandings we’ve developed during the era when most information was stored on paper. (Batson and Bass 44)

In the first sentence, information technology is characterized as having the power to transform higher education in spite of whatever paltry resistance its institutions might mount (notice it isn’t educators, but only institutions that resist). Human agency can amount to little more than a pallid and ineffective imitation of computer efficacy (“batch-processing with episodic assessment”). In fact, in the technological determinism that marks most writing of this kind, human actors appear only as obstacles to the electronic transformation of higher education. Faculty and administrators who resist the inevitable digitalization of the university are seen as the problem to be solved: “faculty will have little interest in IT’s capacities to boost academic productivity to the extent that they lack an appropriate vision of learning productivity” (Massy and Zemsky 6). Sentiments like this are so common nowadays that they fly by unnoticed. But their consequences for how we think about information technologies and for the problems we gloss over are profound.

The effect of this discursive logic that endows machines with agency while erasing human actors is to write out of existence a whole host of material and cultural institutions and practices that create and sustain information technology, but which also determine who is allowed access to this information. Gone from the analysis are the programmers, designers, factory workers, sales workers, service technicians, patent and copyright lawyers, policymakers, executives, college faculty and administrators, as well as the hardware, software, electricity, and raw materials necessary to keep the production line moving. A whole host of technoscientific, economic, social, and cultural practices that regulate both knowledge of and access to information technology simply become invisible. Those who extol the democratizing potential of new information technologies rarely talk, for instance, about the complexities of copyright law, the economic costs of access to this information, or the inevitable pattern of breakdown, repair, and obsolescence involved in maintaining electronic equipment, all material practices that involve human actors who serve as gatekeepers, determining who will have access and who will be denied.

Even the most superficial examination of the material practices that sustain the illusion of “cyberspace” reveal that far from being a cultureless and egalitarian meeting place in which “status, power, and prestige are communicated neither contextually. . .nor dynamically,” in which “charismatic and high-status people may have less influence and group members may participate more equally” (Taylor et al. 18), emergent information technologies, because they are situated in networks of material and cultural practices, institutions, and economies, replicate all of the inequities and hierarchies that currently plague academia and the larger world of which it is a part. As colleges and universities celebrate the
promise of brave new technologies that will fundamentally change the ways in which faculty and students interact, it is important to keep in mind the very real danger that some of our students, because of where they are situated in these networks, may, like Virginia Woolf, find themselves locked out of the technological campuses of the future.

I believe that both faculty and students can use computer mediated communication (CMC) and IT to teach and learn in new ways that are more collaborative, interactive, and ultimately more effective, but I am also wary of the very real possibility that gender, race, and class hierarchies will (and have) all to easily become part of the “circuitry” of the new information technology on our campuses. I worry that these technologies could have unforseen and undesirable consequences for the politics of gender, race, and class in academia. The question I want to pose is, as teachers, how do we responsibly integrate new information technologies into our classrooms without excluding or alienating the very students we want to empower? My answer is that we can do so only when we pay attention to the material and cultural practices that accompany the adoption of new technologies.

The cultural practices that have sprung up around computer mediated communication (CMC) and information technology (IT), far from being gender-neutral, are, if anything, more male than the culture they mirrors. By almost any measure we might choose, men dominate the computer world through sheer numbers. 87% of all doctorates in computer science go to men (and two-thirds of all bachelors degrees); 92% of all computer science faculties are male (and 97% of all tenured faculty) [Shade, Simmons]. These numbers suggest that those who are designing hardware, software, and networks, supporting and servicing them, and teaching about them are most likely to be men. This is not to suggest, however, that women have nothing to do with computers. Women figure heavily in the global production lines of the computer industry (Taylor et al., 15), in data entry, and in secretarial positions. In other words, they cluster disproportionately in those areas of computer technology that are low-paying, repetitive, and routinized, those areas that are least likely to influence decisions about how CMC and IT will be used and who will have access.

On the internet, the heart of the revolution in information technology, depending on how you count, men outnumber women in proportions that range from 2 to 1 to 9 to 1. If you measure access men outnumber women only by two to one. If you measure actual use the disparity can be as high as 10 to 1. A survey conducted in 1994 by the Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Center (GVU) at Georgia Tech showed that male internet users outnumbered female by a ratio of 9 to 1. A year later, the same survey showed that , at least in the U.S, the disparity had begun to shrink; women accounted for 29.3% of users in the 4th Annual GVU Survey. However, to be counted in a survey of this kind a user would have to find the GVU web site and complete the questionnaire. To avoid the potential biases that might result from self-reporting, Matrix Information and Directory Services (MIDS) and Texas Internet Consulting sent electronic surveys to the domains representing organizations on the internet. These surveys counted the numbers of men and women who could send e-mail outside the domain. In 1994, this survey showed only a two to one discrepancy between men and women who had active email accounts (64% to 36%, MIDS Survey). John Quarterman and Smoot Carl-Mitchell suggest that the proliferation of email on college campuses explains the smaller gap between male and female users in this survey. Students have become the largest proportion of internet users and the average university student population is pretty evenly divided between men and women. But the MIDS survey still leaves a 2 to 1 “gender gap” even for relatively simple electronic technology like email. Collectively what these studies suggest is that while men and women are becoming more equal in opportunities for accessing the internet, there are still wide disparities in how men and women use electronic media.

The reasons for this disparity, I believe, are not all that well understood. Much of the research on women and computing, even the feminist research, begins with the assumption that women are disadvantaged and even deficient users of computer technology. Such analyses locate the problem in the resistance of users rather than in the technology they are being asked to use, or better in the network of material and cultural practices that sustain the technology. Women, in this view, are intimidated by the technology and the communicative style of the internet because they communicate differently from men: men are comfortable with the kind of adversarial exchange characteristic of the internet, while women prefer a more supportive communicative style (Herring). Indeed, women’s and men’s communicative strategies are
so different that they inhabit different cultures (Mulvaney). Such views, however, are based as much on stereotype as on any empirical evidence. Michele Evard’s research on fourth and fifth grade children using a netnews-like forum in a classroom setting suggests that, before they encounter the culture of the net, boys and girls act in CMC in almost identical ways: girls speak as often as boys, they give instruction in equal numbers, and they flame just as often as boys (Evard). This study suggests that what ever discrepancies exist between men’s and women’s use of CMC and IT result less from profound psychological differences between men and women than from the practices, values, and institutions that
constitute and are constituted by the virtual communities that have sprung up on the internet.

To understand the discrepancies between male and female computer use and their implications for classroom use of CMC and IT, we must investigate the material practices that discourage women from participating. These include:

  • Economic barriers. Access to information technology requires hardware, software, and, increasingly, internet access, all of which require a significant financial output. Since women on average make less than men, they may be more disadvantaged as buyers of computer services (Shade, Simmons). Cost may have less impact on college students as the cost of some (though certainly not all) of these services are borne by colleges and universities. Nevertheless, as educators we must constantly remember that the increasing dependence of higher education on electronic technology will always work to the benefit of more advantaged students who can afford the cost of cutting edge technologies.
  • Lack of familiarity with computer technology. As children, girls are often have less access to computers than boys. When they do, their use of the computer is almost exactly the same as boys (Evard). The computer game industry, however, is notoriously male-oriented, producing few titles that would appeal to girls.
  • Learning styles. While the literature on infotech frequently promotes the potential of technology to appeal to a variety of learning styles (Negroponte, Batson and Bass, Alley), it is not always clear that training in the use of infotech accommodates a variety of learning styles, especially when the learner in question is resistant to technology or anxious about it. For some users (and here I would include myself), the rapid obsolescence of technologies once learned can be quite daunting and a disincentive to investing the time required to learn still newer technologies every six months.
  • Harassment and pornography. Information resources like the internet are not always friendly places for women. The kind of harassment that often plagues women in face to face communication  has, not surprisingly, become perhaps too frequently a fact of life in CMC (Anderson, Brail, Kendall). The libertarian, anything goes culture of the Web has made it an attractive place to sell and disseminate pornography. Without advocating censorship or indeed any reigning in of the Web’s decentralized (non) organization, I would point out that the climate for women on the web can be chilling; one need not actively look for pornography to find it. Recently I logged onto a popular search engine, looking for information on “women and the internet” for this piece. My query
    yielded some fifty entries, half of which advertised “the hottest women on the internet,” “lingerie lounge,” “Asian playmates,” and “SEX PORN XXX FUCK ADULT GAY WOMEN VIDEO.XXX.COM” repeated over and over in capital letters (the electronic version of shouting). My students have reported similar experiences. Women on the internet are both subjects and sexual objects.
  • Discursive inequalities. Although CMC was supposed to eliminate status markers like race, age, physical appearance and physical abilities, empowering those in low status positions,(Lee Sproull and Sara Kiesler, Taylor et al. 54, Stone), gender seems to be a status marker that persists even in  electronically mediated situations[2]. Recent studies of usenet groups show that, even when the subject matter focused on women’s issues, in mixed sex groups men contributed significantly more posts and that when women’s participation rose above 30%, they were perceived as dominating the discussion (Taylor et al. 17, 55, We). In a study of the relative participation of men and women in usenet groups devoted to women’s issues (where we might expect women’s interest, and hence their participation to be higher than elsewhere), Gladys We reported the following discrepancies between men’s and women’s contributions:
Newsgroup #responses %female %male %unknown
Alt.feminism 303 11% 83% 6%
Soc.women 292 13% 78% 9%
Soc.feminism 47 53% 40% 7%

 

These findings validate the experiences many women have had in internet discussion groups and raise questions about the consequences of their use in a classroom setting.

The Pedagogies of Virtual Communities

As colleges and universities invest more heavily in information technology and as IT becomes more integral to our teaching, educators need to think about those we may be leaving behind. And yet such discussions seem to me to be precisely what is missing from the literature on information technology’s pedagogical potential. Although much of this literature discusses forms of faculty resistance to classroom uses of IT (Twigg, Massey and Zemsky, Gilbert), rarely does it acknowledge that student resistance will also be a barrier to the successful integration of electronic media into our teaching. In fact, students will show the same diffusion curve in adopting IT that experts predict of faculty; there will be a small group of early users, the majority will only follow once a critical mass is reached, and the resistors are in real danger of being left behind altogether (Green 29). It would be useful to have some information on, for instance, how gender, race, and socioeconomic class affect these categories. Are men really more likely to be among the early adopters of IT? Are economically privileged students with access to the resources required to access cutting edge technology more likely to be represented among early adopters? Are women more likely to resist the change to electronically mediated classrooms? Are there students or even entire institutions who lack the economic resources to participate in the IT revolution? It would be preferable to rely on some empirical data to answer these questions rather than on stereotype. Once patterns of student use have been established, educators have the more difficult task of determining the causes of resistance. As I have tried to suggest above, resistance to IT among women students (and faculty) may result less from deficiencies in the individuals than from their resistance to the culture they are being asked to enter. Overcoming this resistance will require paying attention to the developing cultures of virtual communities.

We must also pay attention to the pedagogies we adopt within these virtual communities, and the assumptions that underlie those pedagogies. Enthusiasts of IT will often point to the shift electronically mediated learning requires from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered one (Twigg, Alley). As Carol A. Twigg quotes Alan H. Leader, dean of the School of Business at Southern Connecticut State University:

The purpose and outcome of our educational enterprise is learning, not teaching.
Teaching is what we do. Colleges do not exist in order for us to teach but so that
students can learn. . . .The focus must be on the student, not the instructor (Twigg 13).

The pedagogical writing about IT and distance learning extols the advantage of student-centered learning, but what is its vision of student-centered learning? Critiques like Twigg’ s of the traditional teacher-centered classroom, in which the scholarly expert, having distilled the truth from the best minds in the field, transmits it to students, identify real problems in traditional teaching methods. But what do they offer in place of what Paolo Freire has described as the “banking method” of teaching in which teachers
make deposits of knowledge in their students’ minds (Freire 1968)?

Even the most sophisticated writing on distance learning and the pedagogical applications of IT, as, for instance, Twigg’s call for a national learning infrastructure, views the primary goal of education as the delivery of information transplanted from the teacher’s brain into the student’s (Freire’s “banking method” of teaching under a slightly different guise–the scholarly expert has been replaced by a
computer). Such transfers, educational analysts like Massey and Zemsky or Twigg claim, may be more efficiently accomplished with greater convenience to students (who may even be able to learn in the comfort of their own homes) by computers in an individualized, asynchronous learning environment, which is an elaborate way of describing a student sitting in front of a computer terminal. (see “Being Digitally Educated: Dewey, Technology, and Distance Learning“) And if this is all education is about, they are undoubtedly correct. Computers can more efficiently convey information than human instructors. They can store, search, sort, transfer, transport, organize, replicate, and compute information much faster than any human can.

But do these enthusiastic claims about information technology confuse knowledge and information, transmitting with educating? Does student-centered learning refer only to students’ passive assimilation of data or does it require more active participation from them, more interaction both with their teachers and with their peers? Perhaps we cannot substitute a computer for the social interactions we claim occur in
proximity learning anymore than we can create a computer program to parent or an electronic therapist. Like parenting or therapy, teaching (and learning) does not involve a simple exchange of information. Information gathering is not the central activity. Like parenting or therapy, education integrates students into particular social networks–in the case of education we call these social networks disciplines. These social networks have customs, rules, procedures, and specialized languages. Some
of these are explicit, but many are unstated, taken for granted by those who have already been integrated into the social network. These rules, procedures, customs, and languages dictate what questions can be asked, what counts as an answer, what counts as evidence or explanation, who may speak at any given time, whose answers count, and how information is gathered. Students learn the customs, rules, and procedures of their chosen social networks or disciplines by acting as participant-observers, by learning the “culture” of their discipline, and not simply by acquiring the discipline’s content. A students become a member of the social network as she learns to create new knowledge, not as she learns to regurgitate information ( Brown and Duguid). The goal of higher education then only partly the transmission of knowledge; it also requires the creation of new knowledge.

Missing, then, from discussions of the technological classroom is a sophisticated analysis of pedagogy that unpacks the social networks students must learn to navigate during their college years. Those pedagogical discussions are, however, available in many other places. Feminist scholars, for instance, have explored these issues and their impact on women for nearly two decades. For two decades they have mounted a challenge to teacher- and information-centered models of education which has been remarkably successful at many institutions. That challenge has gone unnoticed in the literature on classroom uses of IT, this despite a virtual explosion of information on the subject. In the 1970s, feminist teachers, convinced that a female-friendly education required not only a transformation of the content of higher education but of its method of delivery as well, began to explore new teaching approaches. They found useful strategies in many different sources: the consciousness-raising practices of the early women’s movement, the progressive tradition in American education created by John Dewey (see “Being Digitally Educated: Dewey, Technology, and Distance Learning“), and the liberatory teaching promoted by Paulo Freire and others. What makes feminist pedagogy unique, however, has been its attention to the particular needs of women and its grounding in feminist theory as the basis for its multidimensional view of how classroom knowledge is constructed through the formation and maintenance of social networks (Tetreault and Maher). This information is voluminous and readily accessible [3].

Yet, despite this wealth of information, discussions of both feminist pedagogy and information technology’s impact on the women who constitute upwards of 50% of our students are notably missing in most mainstream discussions of the IT revolution, which tend to treat students as largely featureless and interchangeable cogs.

Obviously I believe that IT and CMC can and ultimately must have a place in a feminist classroom. I have use these tools–e-mail, electronic discussion groups, the internet, multimedia programs– on a daily basis in my own classes. And my experience has taught me that these tools, along with the networks of social, cultural, and material practices in which they are imbricated, will change how we teach. But finally it is up to us as teachers (and as members of our own social networks) –and not the technology–to determine the nature and extent of these changes. It is my hope that by understanding the particularities of our students, the nature of the social networks to which they seek access, and the nexus of material and cultural practices that IT both embodies and sustains, that we will not, to paraphrase Anne Fausto-Sterling, create an electronic academy in which cyberspace seems an illegitimate place for women and gender issues seem an inappropriate enterprise for the gatekeepers of infotech.

Bibliography

Albright, Julie M. “Of Mind, Body and Machine: Cyborg Cultural Politics in the Age of Hypertext.”

Alley, Lee R. 1996. An Instructional Epiphany. Change. Mar: 48-54.

Anderson, Judy. 1996. “Not for the Faint of Heart: Contemplation on Usenet.” In Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise, eds. Wired_ Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.

Brail, Stephanie. 1996. “The Price of Admission: Harassment and Free Speech in the Wild, Wild West.” In
Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise, eds. Wired_Women: Gender and the New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle WA: Seal Press.

Brown, John Seely and Paul Duguid. 1996. “Universities in the Digital Age.” Change. July/August: 11-19.

Cherny, Lynn and Elizabeth Reba Weise. 1996. Wired Women:Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle: Seal Press.

Evard, Michele. 1996.”‘So Please Stop, Thank You’: Girls Online.” In Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba
Weise, eds. Wired_Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle WA: Seal Press.

Finke, Laurie A. 1993. “Knowledge as Bait: Voice and the Pedagogical Unconscious.” College English 55:5-25.

Finke, Laurie A. 1994. “Pedagogy of the Depressed: Feminism, Poststructuralism, and Pedagogic Practice.”
Teaching Literary Theory, eds. Dianne Sadoff and William Cain. MLA: 154-168.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Herder and Herder, 1 968

Gilbert, Steven W. 1996. “Making the Most of a Slow Revolution,” Change. March/April: 10-47.

Green, Kenneth C. 1996. “The Coming Ubiquity of Information Technology.” Change. March/April: 24-29.

Grusin, Richard. “What is an Electronic Author? Theory and the Technological Fallacy.” In Robert Markley.
Virtual Realities and Their Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996: 39-54.

Haraway, Donna J. 1991 “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.

Herring, Susan. “Gender Differences In Computer-Mediated Communication: Bringing Familiar Baggage To The New Frontier.”

Kendall, Lori. 1996. “MUDder? I Hardly Know ‘Er!: Adventures of a Feminist MUDder.” In Lynn Cherny and
Elizabeth Reba Weise, eds. Wired_Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle WA: Seal Press.

Kendrick, Michelle. “Cyberspace and the Technological Real.” In Robert Markley. Virtual Realities and Their
Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996:143-160.

Maher, Frances A. and Mary Kay Teatreault. 1994. The Feminist Classroom: An Inside Look at How Professors are Transforming Higher Education for a More Diverse Society. New York. Basic Books.

Markley, Robert. Virtual Realities and Their Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
1996.

“History, Theory, and Virtual Reality.” In Robert Markley. Virtual Realities and Their Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996: 1-10.

Massy, William F.and Robert Zemsky. “Using Information Technology and Smart DNS to Enhance Academic Productivity.”

Milroy, L. 1980. Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Mulvaney, Becky Michele . “Gender Differences in Communication: An Intercultural Experience.”

Neville, Nicholas. 1995. Security and Privacy in a Surveillance Society, London: Ninja Books http://www.changeipaddress.net/

Quarterman, John S. and Smoot Carl-Mitchell. “Is the Internet All Male?”

Shade, Leslie Regan. “Gender Issues in Computer Networking.” ftp://cpsr.org/cpsr/gender/leslie_regan_shade.txt.

Simmons, Susan. “Democracy, Women, and the Internet.”

Stone, Allucquere Rosanne.1991. “Will the Real Body Please Stand Up? Boundary Stories about Virtual Cultures.” In Benedikt, Michael, ed. Cyberspace: First Steps. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.

Taylor, H. Jeanie, Cheris Kramarae, and Maureen Ebben. 1993. Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship
(Taylor et al.). Urbana, Illinois University Press.

Thompson, Graham. 2013. Test Match Special Abroad, Education Levels in Pakistan Cricket Team

Twigg, Carol. “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure.”

We, Gladys. “Cross-Gender Communication in Cyber-Space.”

Woolf, Virginia. 1929. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

Endnotes

[1] I am indebted to Richard Grusin for this point (see Grusin 1996, 40-41).

[2] Though “computer crossdressing” in CMC is by no means unheard of and given the lack of bodily cues, relatively easy to achieve, it is not at all clear whether such behavior has challenged or simply reinforced traditional gender stereotypes, see Stone, 82-85, Kendrick 155-159, and Kendall.

[3] A gopher site maintained by the Women’s Studies librarian at the University of Wisconsin contains a searchable bibliography on women and information technology with seven hundred entries. (gopher://silo.adp.wisc.edu:70/00/.uwlibs/.womenstudies/.infotech/.infofull)

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Do Our Children Actively Conceal Internet Usage

There’s no doubt that the internet now plays a much bigger role in our children’s education. Most of us are familiar with the sight of our children studying at a computer instead of a book. Yet do we know how much time our children do spend looking at these screens, it’s likely we don’t.

Well if a survey in Australia is to believed it is very likely indeed. A report which was produced and released in Canberra found that 70% of Australian children aged between 8-17 said that their parents did not know how much they used the internet.

Perhaps more worryingly, over 50% of the children interviewed said that they would often modify their browser histories in order to hide which sites they had visited. Another 10% had actually gone to the extent of creating fake social media accounts to throw parents of the track. In fact it is probably unlikely that the majority of parents even know how to check a browser’s history or validate their children’s social networking presence.

Combined with these sort of tactics, it seems extremely likely that most parents in Australia have no idea what their children do online. The survey also asked questions about the children’s concern about being online. It might be surprising for parents to hear that the biggest one is that of cyber bullying in the 8 to 12 year age bracket, whilst the teenagers were more concerned about privacy issues and having their accounts hacked.

Again the concern is that some of the issues that our children are worrying about, are probably completely unknown to the majority of parents. How many parents would worry about our kids getting bullied whilst using the computer? In truth, probably not that many as it was simply a concept that didn’t exist when the majority of us where growing up.

For the record Cyber bullying is normally defined as the use of information technology to harass people in a repeated, aggressive and deliberate manner. Finally 80% of the children has some experience of cyber bullying with nearly 40% of them describing themselves as victims. There is every likelihood that these results based on the response of Australian children would be repeated in most Western countries. There are many issues involved with our children using technology that we are simply unaware of. This is made even worse by the wide technology skills gap that often exists between children and parents. How many of the parents are aware of technology like this which is used to bypass content and filter restrictions on line by changing perhaps to a US IP address.

There is technology however available that can pass an element of control back to the parents. Most of the major anti-virus companies now produce internet security products which incorporate parental control components.

These can be used to restrict access to specific sites or categories, also to control the amount of time your children can use the internet on a daily or weekly basis. Obviously the one essential element that is required to enforce parental controls and limits on technology is ensuring some basic knowledge of the technology involved. The internet can be brilliant for kids, after all who would object to the streaming the BBC News, but it should be controlled and monitored especially for impressionable children.

It can be difficult especially in the fast moving world of social networking or proxies and vpns, yet there are simple sites like these which explain this technology if needed.

What Books do Children’s Love?

How often do you see your children reading from a book?  For most of us parents probably not as often as we would prefer.   Of course children still read but mostly off a screen on some electronic device or other.

There’s been a really interesting poll just completed by the UK Government in tandem with YouGov. It’s central idea is to try to encourage reading and to help support the many thousands of vulnerable children in the United Kingdom. It’s basically a list of the top ten children’s book voted for by the participants in the survey. The list is not surprisingly dominated by British authors.

  1. Winnie-the-Pooh – AA Milne (1926)
  2. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll (1865)
  3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle (1969)
  4. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien (1937)
  5. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson (1999)
  6. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl (1964)
  7. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell (1877)
  8. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
  9. The BFG – Roald Dahl (1982)
  10. The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe – CS Lewis (1950)

The campaign is entitled Story Time and the results were published with the help of Peter Capaldi, the new Dr Who. They are keen to encourage reading both by children and through the help of their parents for younger children. One of the charities supported by the project include Dr Barnardo’s who try and provide support for children who’s parents are often unable to provide such an environment.

Most of us will be very familiar with the list, Winnie the Pooh always seems to have a special place in the heart of so many children and even grown ups. Many of the characters in all these books have provided huge inspiration for the movie and film industry. The Hobbit being the last ‘blockbuster’ produced from this particular list.

It would be interesting to see how the list would change in other English Speaking countries perhaps from Australia, North America or New Zealand. There is a surprise that more recent books like Harry Potter didn’t make an appearance which suggests that perhaps it was mainly adults picking their favorite books.

Nowadays of course the internet has changed the way children amuse themselves, the lure of a good book is perhaps not as enticing as it was thirty years ago or to the pre-internet generations. Still that’s not too say that there isn’t lots of quality education stuff available online.

This site shows you how to access some of the great educational programmes from the BBC  even if you’re located outside the UK using a proxy. There is an important point here though with publishing a list of children’s classic stories – it’s not altogether that important what children read, just that they do. Forcing children to read literature that doesn’t interest them is unlikely to have much of a positive effect especially with all the other alternatives available.

Education and Technology Blogger

Further Reading – Buying a US Proxy

Researching Foreign Markets

Some years ago, before the age of the internet – I worked with a company who made specialised rubber hoses for cars and lorries. The company was very successful and had a selection of very lucrative contracts with European car and lorry manufacturers. However these were very fixed and the company was almost wholly reliant on a few customers.  In fact 90% of their business was dependent on just three specific customers.  There were other problems, the product was not really unique, there was quite a bit of competition and worse of all there was only a small barrier to entry.

Everything in this company screamed that it was very vulnerable to outside forces, one well funded competitor could easily put it out of business. Of course it was more than just a business – the company employed lots of people who had worked there for years. The directors knew they were vulnerable and were always looking at moving into different markets. The options were difficult though and identifying new markets always very challenging.

In the end they did move into a new market, but the costs of expanding into Japan and China almost brought the company to it’s knees. The problem was for a small company in North of England – moving into China was extremely difficult to do and very, very expensive. Setting up a satellite office, new staff, new factories and researching all the implications about exports, taxes and regulations etc.

For the modern entrepreneur this is so much easier now with the internet as mentioned in an earlier post. Even the provisional stage of market research can literally be done from the comfort of your own desk and internet connection. There are restrictions on the internet to research the Japanese market properly for instance you’ll need some knowledge of the language and a paid vpn service. This is essential as it gives you access to localised web sites, for an American doing market research in the United Kingdom – he’d need a British IP address’ for example. Most internet entrepreneurs use proxy and VPN servers to allow them to switch their online identity when required.

Business isn’t necessarily easier nowadays but there’s no doubt that there’s lots more potential for expansion now than there ever was. We are increasingly a global market with potential customers anywhere in the world.  Of course, we also have potential competitors also across the globe

Entrepreneurs – The Internet Awaits You

For anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit the internet is a huge opportunity.  For the most part it doesn’t matter where you live, what your circumstances there is an opportunity for you to start a business.  For example one of the most crippling aspects of trying to start up a business in less developed countries is the problems accessing sources of finance.  That’s not to say the the internet solves this particular problem although it does open up more information.  It simply allows businesses to start up without the extensive capital requirements required from traditional businesses.

Check my anonymity online

If you have the idea there is no real obstacle that can’t be overcome with some thought.  If you need a fancy web site but lack the skills and money to buy one,  I can guarantee that if you look hard enough you’ll find someone to help you for perhaps a stake in the business or some profit sharing arrangement.  There are lots of talented web designers eager to show off their talents with a real live business web site – give them the opportunity to enhance their portfolio!

Obviously there are problems in countries with limited infrastructure and there are logistical problems online too.  One of the difficulties is accepting and making payments from certain countries – certainly place like Nigeria with a reputation for internet scammers are often difficult places to operate an online business from.  But it needn’t stop people – you can rent servers anywhere in the world, if you want to operate from somewhere else – invest in proxies to hide your location.  I use a proxy server to allow me to watch region restricted content like the BBC using a VPN here.  There’s no reason why you can’t use the same technology to operate an internet business from Japan, Canada or Europe within reason – obviously with some limitations.

The critical idea is that the barriers to entry for most internet businesses are much smaller.  You won’t be able to create an amazon site overnight from an internet cafe but you could create a small niche online bookstore and build from that.

John Williams, from Polskie Proxy

Learning a New Language Using Online Resources

It’s one of the most valuable skills that a child can learn and something that is usually a priority in many schools across the world.  However because of it’s dominance, the English speaking world usually lags behind in foreign language skills.  It ‘s not uncommon to find students in a European college who are fluent in two or three languages including their own.  However it ‘s certainly the exception in a British, Australian or US college where a second language is quite a rare skill to have. It ‘s entirely understandable of course, the use of English is far and away the most widespread language in the world today.

English speakers are used to conversing in their native language wherever they may end up – from Beijing to Cuba there ‘s always someone around who can speak a little English at least.  However for the Dutch or Norwegian travelling abroad, their own language is very little help at all so they are forced to try and learn another which will inevitably be English.

So if English speaking students are not forced into learning another language out of necessity, how can we encourage them in those early years when learning a language is so much easier.  Most schools of course offer language variants, in the UK you’ll find French or German commonly taught.  However many places now offer other languages like Italian and even Japanese or Chinese.   There are practical difficulties though in simply finding enough qualified teachers for these subjects in British schools.

Now many schools are attempting to utilise digital technology to try and bridge these gaps.  Nowadays there are some incredible language resources available in multimedia formats, many of them are also available online.  There are courses with links into to resources in the native languages, you can get access to a native speaker online to help with pronunciation and specific problems. The growth of online learning is bound to have a huge effect in this area, with Universities across the world offering their language courses to students across the world instead of limiting to those in the classroom.

There are other options for example by using proxies and VPNs you can even access popular TV shows like the Simpsons dubbed into specific languages.  If you connect up via a English proxy server for example you can watch things like the BBC iPlayer from Ireland – http://bbciplayerabroad.co.uk/does-bbc-iplayer-work-in-ireland/, you can watch all your favorite shows online via a British TV channel. The world of education is going to undergo huge changes in the years to come, hopefully language skills and communication will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.

John Collins

Author – http://www.uktv-online.com/entertainment/bbc-iplayer-abroad-2017/

Technology – Wired for Management

An important initiative is several years old now, Intel’s WfM (Wired for Management) main priority was to raise the level of management capabilities for all sorts of platforms including mobile, desktop and servers.  It should be noted that it was actually designed to complement not replace the Microsoft ZAWS (Zero Administration for Windows) initiative which was primarily to help administrators manage applications and operating systems.   Together the two strategies offered a complete environment and structure for deploying, planning and managing complex distributed computing environments.

Intel created WfM to define something that had long been missing for hardware management the creation of a baseline for managing requirements for instrumentation, power management, upgrades and service boot capability.   It enables the ability to centralize system management for things like audits, remote fixes, configuration and diagnostics.  It also meant that lots of these simple but essential tasks could be carried out remotely and importantly out of hours which is a major factor in minimizing downtime.

WfM also includes support for the Desktop Management INterface (DMI) which allows technical staff to diagnose, upgrade or repair a remote computer systems whilst it is being used.    This is a much more efficient method to support remote hardware than using custom remote access systems or even dialing in with residential VPN services such as this.   You can also use the system using something like WSUS to update clients remotely even when they have been powered off for the evening,

Configuration management has becoming increasingly important for a variety of reasons.   One of the most important is that the majority of most corporate networks are now directly connected to the internet.   This means that each client and piece of hardware is potentially a gateway in that network for cyber attacks, hackers and other unwanted connections.  Zero day exploits are often quickly put in to practice and networks frequently find themselves the target of huge automated attacks.

Updating clients and servers used to be a significant task and one that required a huge amount of resources.  Firstly extensive testing was needed before updates were cleared for deployment and then support staff would have to visit each client to install from a DVD or a network share.   This could take a significant amount of time for each machine and of course another employee was left inactive too whilst this work was taking place particularly if their role relied on the computer.

Further Reading

Educational Control Split in Congress

In the State Board of Education there’s going to be a big change in the balance of power.  However it’s interesting that for the first time in decades, power will not be wielded by one of the two parties, instead the leadership will be split between them.

This state of affairs has resulted from the November election where the Republicans gained two extra seats on the board whilst the Democrats lost two.  Previously there has always been a majority, most recently held by the Democrats who have held the balance of power for years, but now it’s all square on the eight member board.

This of course combined with a new education secretary appointed by Donald Trump will probably make for an interesting new year.

There are problems of course, across the US. Take any state and you’ll find some real issues with education for example Illinois is well known for it’s difficulties in this sector.   There are some real highs and lows in the State particularly in those areas normally linked with money, areas where expenditure is key such as technology.  Funding is probably the core issue here and the commission appointed to reform educational funding in Illinois has sat nearly three times a month for the last few months attempting to find a solution to it’s regressive system.

The state has the biggest gap between low and high income districts and there are similar huge gaps in the educational achievements between these two groups.  The problem is that most of the solutions identified rely on billions more State funding to fill the gap, money that is simply not available.  The commission plans to complete it’s final recommendations by February in order to allow legislation to be passed during the Spring session.

The Expansion of E-Learning

The expanse of the internet onto a myriad of different devices and the huge fall in price of smart phones has meant that learning is no longer strictly limited to a classroom environment.   It’s just one but arguably one of the biggest changes that is happening in the education sector – the e-learning market will bring new opportunities to both learners and educators alike.

BBC iPlayer Free Trial

The figures involved are huge but to just get an idea, one piece of research predicts that the online education market in India will grow by about 20% in the next three years.  Which means that it’s value will hit something approaching $6 billion in that single continent.

These growth figures might sound large but they are realistic, especially for a thriving economy like India.  Traditional education can be extremely expensive and in countries like India where there is huge demand but lower incomes the opportunities are much greater.  Instead of people being disadvantaged  by the lack of a formal education, online study offers the chance for people to break out of their social class and change their lives.

India is expected to have 100 million new people seeking a higher education over the next decade.  Only a proportion of these could afford to go to traditional colleges and Universities, however e-learning opens the doors to millions of other people.  Even without the prohibitive costs, there is simply insufficient physical education facilities to provide for this many new students.

Not only is there a demand for young people, India like  most countries has seen a huge increase in the culture of continuous development where individuals enhance their careers by continuing learning after college.  This creates even more of a demand and indeed commercial opportunity.

For the last few years e-learning has been used only by a few people, often you had to use these anonymous torrenting like this technique to avoid the region locks.  That is people had to hide their actual physical locations to gain access to the ‘free courses’ run by Western educational establishments.   This was presumably to restrict the numbers and trial the solutions, however Universities are now opening up these courses and many in a commercial context.

IT makes sense from both sides, students in less developed countries gain access to high quality and diverse educations. While the Universities and colleges access to lucrative income stream without the financial risks of opening up actual physical colleges as an Indian proxy in these countries.

 

 

Machine Learning Changes Our Perception

Do machines and computers affect our lives?   It would be difficult to believe that they didn’t simply because of the huge part of our lives they play.  It’s not always obvious though of the extent to which we experience our lives through the algorithms of computers.  They now actually shape our lives and enable us to engage and interact with out friends and associates through the programs which control our digital experiences.

Education is an important part of this and the concept is known as deep learning.  The use of computers has of course already made an impact with regards to textual data.   However the same technology can look and search for matches and relevant information in other forms such as music, images, videos and even the data from sensors.

This has started now, and deep learning is slowly creeping into all areas of our lives.   Take for example your mobile phone, now smartphones have virtual assistants which are programmed to understand the spoken word.  It will develop into a more advanced computer vision of face and voice recognition and language processing features.

Build in the potential of drones, robots, self driving cars and the cloud then the ability of computers to recognize and respond to both our actions and the environment will become even more important to our everyday lives.    Yet again, these are simple applications which are only looking at the surface of these possibilities.

Algorithms will drive all this understanding, and with it will eventually become the possibilities of going one step further with the power to construct as well as react.    Those devices which follow our instructions or try to anticipate our needs, have the potential to be much more.  In learning possibilities are exciting to say the least.

Consider the rise of online learning, it’s everywhere and I’m not just talking about the big Universities.  Consider how many people are trying to fix their plumbing, rewire a lap or install something using an online video from somewhere like Youtube.

Online education is empowering and is giving access to people who have previously been excluded by circumstances or location.   It’s development will give opportunities to potentially millions of people across the world.

James Williams

Case for Restorative Justice

The offender has to reestablish the price tag, or offer a type of compensation. For example, if he vandalizes a car, that person must pay for the repairs. Often he is not fully aware of all the damages that have been caused, so this confrontation aims to solve this. Additionally, offenders have to follow victims’ stories and face until the reality of what it is that they have done.

The victim plays a significant role in this procedure and usually receives some kind of restitution from the offender, whether it’s monetary, community assistance, or whatever other services they might be able to provide. He or she may have in mind what an appropriate restitution plan might entail. He or she then described how he and his neighbour had been affected. For example, he or she may provide further information in relation to the background or the impact of the offence. It is necessary to likewise concentrate on analyzing the victims of a crime because they can lead to a thriving arrest. When an actual victim of severe crime is in the room, it may have a major effect on re-offending.

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There are numerous forms of restorative justice. Restorative justice, nevertheless, is no out-of-the-box program. To be certain, restorative justice isn’t a simple fix nevertheless, is grounded in a completely different logic, philosophy, and practice. It stipulates a totally different manner of thinking about crime and victimization. This can sometimes take a significant paradigm shift for everybody involved. Especially as it really empowers students to resolve conflicts by themselves and in little groups, and it’s an increasing practice at schools across the nation.

Restorative Justice is increasing exponentially in the USA. Restorative justice looks like the absolute most efficient way to start rebuilding. Soon restorative justice could possibly be the norm instead of the exception in regards to school discipline. In this manner, it appears to fit much more with the fundamentals of evidence-based practice.

Programs employing restorative principles get the central target of addressing the requirements of victims. Today such justice programs are found around the world and are particularly useful in digital cases where there is rarely a single country’s judicial system involved. Take for existence the hypothetical case of people using a US DNS Netflix system to allow them to bypass the region locks that Netflix operates. Is there a crime? Which law applies and what rights do the customer’s have> There is a multitude of programs and ideas connected with restorative justice.

Regrettably, the feudal system of justice has a severe flaw since it devalues the very individuals who hold the secret to its daily life and regeneration. The criminal justice process is second just to the educational process in the quantity of fads and experiments that temporarily course during the expert ranks. As opposed to the individual harmed who retaliates, it’s our justice system which strikes back on the victim’s behalf.

The retributive the heart of our present system has spawned the greatest absolute and per capita incarceration speeds in the history of earth. In addition, It has been driven by means of an urge to hold offenders truly accountable. From a victims’ perspective, among the reasons the conventional unlawful justice process is inadequate is it doesn’t have authority to call upon the full array of governmental resources necessary to fulfill the requirements of victims. Second, the requirements of victims ought to be adequately addressed. Moreover, it supplies help for the offender to be able to steer clear of future offences.