Monday, December 25, 2000

Happy Xmas

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Friday, December 01, 2000

The Myth of LD

(originally presented at the 1998 annual Special
Education Conference in Oshkosh, WI)

I. Introduction

II. Paradigms vis a vis Perspective

III.The Animal School

IV.Hypertext: Or  What has this got to do
with the internet?

V.Technological Perspectives

VI.The World Wide Web in Education

VII.The Role of the Web in Curricular Reform

VIII.What Next for the Web and Education?

IX.Final Thoughts

I was an impressionable youth (as opposed to an impressionable adult) I had
this dream of playing the saxophone. I don't meant playing in the sense of
the established notes of the school concert band. No… I mean playing
the saxophone -- emoting a sound from the keys that enveloped like a muse
- making that horn wail and jump and sing and moan… I wanted to join
the school band so that I would be able to learn how to master this ideal.
But I was not allowed to join, I did not have any music theory background,
nor did I know the first thing about playing notes, much less combined notes
with fellow musicians.

Hence I was destined to be average after all …

But getting back to that impressionable part, one day I heard this song it
was a good song, especially for an impressionable youth. It is a song by
the group Steely Dan, the song is "Deacon Blues". In this song the singer

I'm gonna learn to work the saxophone I, I'm going to play just what I feel

And it dawned on me at that early age that I could play the saxophone, not
because I wanted to be a musician but because I wanted to play. Because I
wanted to feel the music. It didn't matter if I was good as long as I enjoyed
what I was doing.

And most importantly I could stop myself from doing things simply because
I was not good at them.

vis a vis Perspective

At an early age I encountered what we popularly call the "paradigm shift"
(I always just called it 'looking at something from another person's view'
- but technological advances make us restate the obvious … don't you
think?) . This is the concept of trying to see more than one point of view.
I use this example when I discuss what it means to have a learning disability:
I ask my students to visualize a world where everything is backwards to their
own strengths. (Simply stated: if you are right handed now the world is left.
And if you are left handed now the world is …wait a minute the world
is right handed!) I ask them how they would feel about having to use a different
hand or leg for basic needs like opening a door, pulling up a zipper, trying
to cut with a scissors, writing in a notebook, answering the phone, using
a mouse etc etc etc. Another personal aside: I also wanted to play the guitar
and taught myself how by actually learning notes and chords. But I had the
misfortune of being left handed and I switched the strings around so that
I could play left handed. I say misfortune because now I have to carry my
guitar with me in order to play, I cannot simply go over to a friend's and
pick up theirs. Thereby I limited myself.

The idea I am trying to make is that we are not "physically disabled" simply
because we favor one hand over another. Instead us "lefties" have to discover
a method or strategy to adapt to our surroundings. For instance we could
carry about left handed scissors, and notebooks, and switch our mice to be
left handed … or we could learn to use our right hands to do these functions
and not worry about carrying this excess baggage.

I also use this short story to further illustrate my point:

        The Animal School By R.H.

Once upon a time, the animals decided they must do something heroic to
meet the problems of a "New World", so they organized a school. They adopted
an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming, and flying.
To make it easier to administer, all animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming, better in fact than his instructor,
and made excellent grades in flying, but he was very poor in running. Since
he was low in running he had to stay after school and also drop swimming
to practice running. This was kept up until his web feet were badly worn
and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school,
so nobody worried about that except the duck

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running, but had a nervous
breakdown because of so much makeup in swimming

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustrations
in the flying class where his teacher made him start form the ground up instead
of from the tree-top down. He also developed charley-horses from over-exertion
and he got a C in climbing and a D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and had to be disciplined severely. In climbing
class he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using
his own way of getting there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well
and also could run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because
the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum.
They apprenticed their children to the badger and later joined the groundhogs
and gophers to start a successful private school.

Or  What has this got to do with the internet

The key to the Web's success lies in its ability to present information in
a non-linear format. Though a user may begin with a given starting point
(often known as a home page), where to go from there is up to the whim of
that user. Order becomes irrelevant, at least in the tradition sense of reading
a book from one end to another. Because the Web allows you to click and choose
your next subject, you can skip over entire sections of information while
nesting through others in great depth. This ability to "surf the 'Net," exploring
the Internet with no defined end point or order, is known as hypernavigation,
and the form in which it appears on the Web is commonly referred to as hypertext.
Hypertext was first conceived of nearly 50 years ago when futurist and FDR
technology policy advisor Vannevar Bush published his article, "As We May
Think" in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. In the piece, he discussed
how society and technology must cope with the ever-increasing scientific
advances in post-War America. Among other things, he predicted the invention
of a curious device known as a Memex (or Memory Extender), a data storage
device "in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications,
and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed
and flexibility." Electronic "links" would allow the Memex user to connect
different points of information together, so he or she could go from one
page of a book to another, or from one page to an entirely different publication
or subject. There would be no convention of linking subjects together - the
user of the Memex could link together anything at will. According to Bush:

The process of tying two items together is the important thing… When
the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name in his code book,
and taps it out on his keyboard. Before him are the two items to be joined,
projected onto adjacent viewing positions…Thereafter, at any time, when
one of these items is in view, the other can be instantly recalled merely
by tapping a button below the corresponding code space. Moreover, when numerous
items have been thus joined together to form a trail, they can be reviewed
in turn, rapidly or slowly, by deflecting a lever like that used for turning
the pages of a book. It is exactly as though the physical items had been
gathered together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item
can be joined into numerous trails.

Though Bush's prediction of the actual technology involved isn't exactly
as it turned out to be, his concepts of linking previously unassociated
information was an intriguing idea. A Memex user could become the editor
of a customized encyclopaedia, a codex of knowledge presented in an customized

In the years that followed Vannevar Bush's seminal depiction of this non-linear
world to come, Ted Nelson lead the charge into hypertextual exploration using
computers. Ever since he coined the word hypertext in the early 1960s, Nelson
has articulated a vision of a society where on-line, hypertext documents
are as common as books or magazines are today. The advent of digital, high
capacity data storage now allows us to house seemingly infinite amounts of
information; hypertext, according to Nelson, is the key to how we access
and and present that information. As hypertext's non-linear architecture
becomes more popular and mundane in non-scientific circles - as is now becoming
the case with the Web - a whole new cultural attitude will develop in the
worlds of reading, writing publishing. Says Nelson:

First, there would be new documents, a new literary genre, of branching,
non-sequential writings on the computer screen. Second, these branching documents
would constitute a great new literature, but they would subsume the old,
since all words, all literature would go online and extend to a new branching

When Nelson first began to toss around his ideas 30 years ago, his
prognostication of an entirely networked culture seemed far flung at best
- computers were expensive and cumbersome while data capacity and bandwidth
had yet to advance even into their Bronze Age. But with the growth of the
PC market in the late 70s and early 80s, hardware development picked up speed,
as did consumer purchases and software design. With more people buying more
computers and storing more information, the need for a simple, yet efficient
way of accessing that information was obvious. Pioneering the way, among
others, was Apple Computer, with its Hypercard software. Essentially a primitive
form of Nelson's (and Bush's) vision of hypertext, Hypercard allows a user
to create and organize the equivalent of digital 3x5 cards in a computer's
memory. It is easy enough for all ages to use, yet Hypercard offers a handy
way to arrange segmented bits of information and link them together in any
order, even in a continuous loop.Its greatest limitation, though, is its
insular nature - a Hypercard stack can link you to the data on your computer,
but it can't allow you to interact with other computer's data over a network.
And by the mid- to late 1980s it was already clear that international networking
was the next step into the Information Age. The World Wide Web provided the
right solution at the right time - sophisticated hypertext interconnected
by an enormous lattice of computers.

But beyond the World Wide Web's hypertextual architecture, it is the official
standardization of hypertext publishing that has turned the Web into an
international phenomenon. In order for the Web to work, all computers on
the Web must be able to understand everyone else. If two computers each speak
a different language - or more accurately, if a person's Web navigation software
can't understand another computer's hypertext, garbage instead of useful
information appears on the screen. To alleviate this problem of incompatibility,
researchers lead by teams at at CERN and MIT have come up with what is called
astandard generalized markup language for the Web. This standard, known as
HTML (HyperText Markup Language), is abasic set of codes that can be added
to any regular text. By including these codes, any computer on the Web can
interpret thattext as hypertext.


But what has this to do with education and technology? By establishing the
idea that we need to "look at others' points of view" we need to see what
technology can do for us and our children. What I am getting at is a stepping
away from how we have viewed the technological advances of the past and even
present and review the future. For instance: our children have grown up in
a technological rich world which is far more advanced than the technological
rich world we grew up in. (Students entering college today have never know
a world without cable TV; MTV; video stores; these people never cared about
where the beef was; who shot JR; and believe that no you do not have a choice
and cannot get it your way.) (Today's kindergartners have never lived in
a world without www-dot-com!)

What we need to do is look at technological prowess not as a specialized
area but as a natural outgrowth of today's existence. And this is the new
perspective the "paradigm shift" we need to get a handle on.

World Wide Web in Education:

Of all the recent developments in advanced computer networking, it is the
World-Wide Web that has truly captured the imagination of millions of
technophiles and information buffs. Since its popularization in 1993, WWW
(also known as W3 and the Web) has caught on like wildfire in business, research
and academia, and many users now tout it as the first real step to the creation
of an "information superhighway." But for all of its profit-making and
curiosity-seeking potential, WWW has largely been ignored as a powerful
educational tool. Scattered throughout cyberspace, one can find occasional
examples of educators, students and researchers experimenting with WWW as
a way to teach and to empower students with newfound creative ability. Yet
as a whole, on-line classrooms are few and far between, with recent reports
suggesting that less that three percent of schools have Internet access.

But you ask: What exactly does the World-Wide Web have to offer

Role of the Web in Curricular Reform

The advent of the World Wide Web comes at an exciting, yet controversial
juncture in American education reform. Though more detailed information on
education reform policy can be found elsewhere, certain basic trends and
terms should be mentioned briefly. Possibly the most important point that
must be addressed is the current emphasis towards interactivity in the learning
process. The term "interactivity" has become somewhat of a buzzword in American
pop culture, teaching and commerce - for example, some educational software
packages attempt to add to their appeal by emphasizing the product's
"interactive" nature. In other words, passive learning doesn't work, yet
interactive learning works wonders.

Beyond all the hype and rhetoric surrounding interactivity in education,
there is a solid backdrop of empirical analysis to support the positive nature
of interactive learning. Simply put, students of all ages learn better when
they are actively engaged in a process, whether that process comes in the
form of a sophisticated multimedia package or a low-tech classroom debate
on current events. Over the years, social scientists and education researchers
have attempted with reasonable success to debunk the traditional notion of
the passive classroom environment. But considering the nature of that notion
- one teacher lecturing to a large class, encouraging informational absorption
and regurgitation, and finally assessing the students by a series of simplistic
standardized tests - it doesn't take a reformer with a Ph.D. in educational
psychology to recognize that the old ways of teaching and learning need some
serious restructuring. In order for today's youth to become competitive in
tomorrow's marketplace, yesterday's pedagogical methodology is no longer

One of the key problems in education reform is that traditional teaching
fails because students have no use or interest in much the material as it
is presented, yet in order to expand their understanding of a given subject,
they must become involved in the entire teaching process. For example, producing
a physics experiment in order to actively discover the results, in addition
to exploring the social context in which the original experiment was performed,
has more educational value than merely hearing a lecture about how some scientist
first attempted the experiment several centuries ago.

Engaging students from a variety of angles and allowing them to feel as if
they are a part of the subject matter will often lead to them becoming more
interested in (or at least more willing to discuss) that subject. Therefore,
they invest more mental energy and thus commit the concept to memory with
a better comprehensive understanding of it. Roger Schank (right) of Northwestern
University's Institute of the Learning Sciences proposes that learning be
attained through the use of goal-based scenarios - the teacher, with a set
of learning goals in hand, allows the students to explore the subject from
their own particular point of view. Students, when encouraged and given the
proper opportunity and medium, can express a wealth of opinions on nearly
any subject. And by giving them the chance to articulate and share their
thoughts, they can grasp the meaning of the subject and thus understand it

Next for the Web and Education?

Although there exists always those technoskeptics and informational Luddites
who suggest that the World Wide Web is only a passing fad, (remember television?
That old forgotten fad?) certain facts would suggest that this is highly
unlikely. The Web has found enormous success word-of-mouth - it is soon expected
to pass file transfer protocol as the highest user of bandwidth on the Internet.
Moreover, commercial developers have recently adopted the Web as their new
pet cybermedium, from the Star Trek: Voyager site to Time/Warner's Pathfinder.
Increasing the profitability of these ventures are the planned integration
of basic Web browsers in the operating systems for both Macintosh and Intel-based
PCs, as well as Prodigy's and America On-Line's recent moves to make the
Web accessible over its commercial subscription services to millions of users.

Assuming that the future of the Web is secure, at least for several years
to come, what steps must be taken in order to further its development as
an educational instrument? Above all else, institutional access to the Internet
must increase dramatically. Though many schools are lucky enough to have
formed partnerships with universities and local business in order to gain
access (and still others have received networking grants or employ persistent
technophiles as educators), the overwhelming majority of schools lack the
hardware needed just to get connected in the first place. And while policymakers
and politicians argue how to best finance schools for technology development,
it is still possible for many schools to get started.

Ideally, more community networks and freenets must begin to offer Web access
at reasonable rates, and more importantly, they must offer schools and classrooms
server accounts so they may publish Web sites of their own. The Web will
only grow if people are willing to commit the time and energy to creative
pursuits, and the first step to this goal will always be through the providing
of easy access. Additionally, members of the community who already have access
and experience should offer their assistance to demonstrating to others what
the Web can do and how simple it is to develop a new site. In the world of
Web development, there are scores of experts who are always willing to donate
their time to each other in order to expand the various offerings already
available over the Web.

Yet because of the communal nature of the Internet, rarely do we see them
venturing out of cyberspace into the real world to provide their knowledge
to those who lack it. This is not to say that there aren't committed individuals
who are doing more than their fair share to enhance the educational community,
but the numbers of volunteers must increase if we ever truly wish to see
the Web expand into education. And as people begin to explore the Web and
publish their own electronic products, the quality and creativity of Web
sites will increase dramatically. Few Web sites ever exist in a vacuum -
as people access it, the publisher is bound to get inundated with suggestions,
criticism, and encouragement, which usually translate into further development
of the site.

What is bound to be most fascinating, though, is the integration of new Internet
technologies into the world of the Web. For instance, Internet Relay Chats
(real-time group discussions) and MUD's (Multiple User Dungeons, essentially
an IRC in an interesting setting) could provide users and designers with
the ability to interact with each other live, instead of having to wait for
a listserv to distribute the information as it is posted via e-mail. Similarly,
webmasters may begin to integrate the user of CUSeeMe into Web sites. CUSeeMe,
a teleconferencing program developed at Cornell, allows users to see and
hear each other by way of a video camera by converting the data into an
Internet-compatible format. Programmers are now experimenting with software
that will allow easy access to these live discussions in a Web environment,
and when combined with the Web's audiovisual capabilities, one could only
begin to imagine the possibilities for on-line education and enhancement.

And what of the next generation of hypermedia tools - is there a protocol
which will be better than the Web? According to some Internauts, there already
is. Hyper-G, a new protocol designed by researchers in Austria, is a cross
between the Web and gopher. Like the Web, Hyper-G is easily hypernavigatable
and can access other Internet tools like FTP and e-mail. But unlike the Web,
Hyper-G can handle enormous amounts of data and automatically process it
into multiple subject areas. It can interpret Postscript files, which saves
time and allows greater flexibility in terms of document layout. Perhaps
most interesting is Hyper-G's ability to assign users access privileges,
so users can get on and add their own documents to certain areas and thus
become telecommuting co-publishers of a site. Fortunately for proponents
of the World Wide Web, Hyper-G is totally compatible with Web browsers and
vice-versa, so as Hyper-G begins to spread throughout the Internet, its high-data
advantages will probably steer it towards certain uses. In the end, it will
not be a matter of Hyper-G versus the Web, more likely is that they will
complement each other as people begin to explore each protocol's potential.

But for now, the World Wide Web will continue as the protocol of choice for
many network users, and its growth as an education tool will doubtfully taper
off any time soon. The Web is accepted internationally because of its relative
ease of use and cross-compatibility, and future changes in HTML standards
(especially in layout design and in the integration of live communication
protocols) will inevitably make it even more powerful. For the educational
community, on-line hypermedia offers a simple way to design interactive lessons
for local and distant use. And as the World Wide Web becomes more accessible
to schools around the country, teachers and students alike will be able to
explore cyberspace and design new resources for a multitude of purposes that
have yet to be realized.


There are many different ways we can use computers or new technologies in
the classroom. But first we need to commit our ideas and more importantly
our actions into developing these ideas. Ideally we all would exist in an
implementation and invention stage of curricula. But we do not. We lack the
technical expertise to keep equipment running, or we lack the educational
know-how on how to "teach" others. Life long learning is another term coined
for the millennium which needs focus. As educators we need to rethink our
roles as a teacher and what that role is. We need to establish what needs
need to be met and how we are going to meet them in this new and exponentially
growing world. We need to develop a mission, a statement of goals and ideas
along with a plan on completing our mission.