Vol 5. . . No 5 . . . January, 1995
----- Monthly Comments ----
"Virtuality" has become a favorite buzz word of the latest Washington power elite. Newt peppers sentences and paragraphs with the term. We need to exercise caution as we consider the potential of virtual museums, virtual schools and virtual realities. How are any of these substitutes for reality different from "the real thing" or "the right stuff?" What do we lose when we trade? When is virtual reality counterfeit? fraudulent? ersatz? plastic? pseudo? adulterated? phony? and false? When Washington offers us virtual lunch, virtual equality, virtual opportunity, virtual art and virtual compassion, what is the price? How about a virtual tax cut? A virtual balanced budget? How about virtual laptops for the poor with virtual tax incentives applied to virtual incomes? How about virtual education for those who live far from the entrance ramp to the Internet?
Whenever we embrace virtual experiences, we must ask whether we have protected the "virtue" (essential nature or quintessence) of that experience.
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The World Wide Web makes possible a powerful new kind of student-centered, constructivist learning by collecting at a single site a phenomenal array of learning resources which can be explored with simple point-and-click skills. Some call these home pages "Virtual Libraries." Because of their highly visual character, I prefer the term "Virtual Museum."
A virtual museum is a collection of electronic artifacts and information resources - virtually anything which can be digitized. The collection may include paintings, drawings, photographs, diagrams, graphs, recordings, video segments, newspaper articles, transcripts of interviews, numerical databases and a host of other items which may be saved on the virtual museum's file server. It may also offer pointers to great resources around the world relevant to the museum's main focus.
Most virtual museums. on the Internet today are professionally constructed. One can visit the Smithsonian, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Louvre. By September of 1995 four science museums will offer virtual museums thanks to a project funded by Unisys and the National Science Teaching Association.
Within the next year, we will begin to see students in many schools creating their own virtual museums. instead of the fairly standard home pages which are now typical of most school WWW sites. In Bellingham, two schools are already working on virtual museums.. One is called Ellis Island: a virtual museum devoted to heritage and origin. Visitors to the museum will be able to explore their ancestry, regardless of which part of the globe they might have started from. Click on the world map where your own ancestors came from and you will enter a wing of the museum devoted to your heritage. The other museum will focus upon Pacific Rim cultures.
Much of the material housed in a virtual museum may be generated and produced by students who conduct research on the topic within their own community and the global community, engaging in an electronic treasure hunt to find great information and electronic artifacts. Because students are actually building meaning as they add to the museum collection, this is, in many respects, a wonderful workshop for constructivist learning.
In addition to contributions by students, families and staff members of the school, visitors to the museum may also submit entries. Children from lands of origin may send current day descriptions and digitized pictures of these former homelands. Children from Pacific Rim nations may send first person accounts of life in their communities. Students in the school housing the virtual museum then serve as curators, reviewing outside submissions and judging their suitability for inclusion.
Besides the locally collected information resources, the virtual museum will also point the visitor to the best related resources that can be found on the Internet. A visitor to the Pacific Rim museum, for example, may be able to click on Korea on a large map of Asia. This action will open a page listing dozens of sites providing weather, tourist guides, economic data, listservs and political news. Click on one of these and the visitor is on a magic carpet ride to a different file server housed, perhaps, in Korea or New York or Boise.
The beauty of a virtual museum is its capacity to connect the visitor with valuable information across the entire globe.
Students and staff, once equipped with HTML programming skills (not much harder than HyperCard), can simply cut and paste the addresses of great sites from the WWW pages created by others. These will then appear as hypertext links on museum pages.
Unlike most school research projects, virtual museums provide persistent, ongoing "change, activity, and progress" (American heritage Dictionary definition of "dynamic"). The collection process is never-ending. Students may continue their work over several years, and even after they leave their elementary school to begin work at the virtual museum housed at the middle school, they can return for visits and note the expanding collection. Multi-age classes may focus upon the same challenge for several years running without fear of repetition. Students can actually see the "fruits" of their inquiry. They become "knowledge builders" rather than mere consumers.
Museums are also fine vehicles for multidisciplinary studies, as the collection may include everything from music and art to science and politics and mathematics. The driving research question for the Asian Rim museum (Which culture would you pick if your family were to live abroad for a year and why?) naturally steers students to look at a broad range of factors which bridge the disciplines. VVirtual museums offer multi-sensory opportunities appealing to a variety of learning styles and multiple intelligences. One can see a Picasso. One can see and hear Tori Amos perform "Cornflake Girl." While it is difficult to touch or taste, the same would be true of a conventional museum. Virtual museums have great advantages over textbooks, bringing vitality, color and motion to student exploration.
We stand at a continental divide as one century and its learning technologies give way to the next. We can just begin to make out the silhouette of a different kind of school - one where students gather information, organize it, create meaning, reach insight, display their findings and then invite an global audience to share the experience.
In the past, schooling has been far too divorced from real life. The study of life through textbooks and teacher lectures was all too often a case of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Few students mistook the lessons as approaching the "real thing."
Virtual museums offer a different kind of learning - one which is fresh and vibrant. Schools can become . . .
"full of sound and fury, signifying . . . "
Signifying! Which means enlighten, open the mind, fill with information, EDUCATE!
by Jamie McKenzie
From Now On hardly ever publishes product reviews, but Multimedia Works with Bookshelf for the Mac provides some break-through tools which could dramatically change the way many of us collect and arrange our ideas. It might very well revolutionize the way our students compose their thoughts. Multimedia Works with Bookshelf is much more than a word processor, database, and spreadsheet connected to some good information. It is an amazing idea generator and processor. It encourages great idea play, invention and illumination.
What's in the package? You buy a CD-ROM which contains Works and the search software for Bookshelf to be installed on your hard drive. The data for Bookshelf remains on the CD.
The two programs work exceedingly well together (although speed is an issue addressed under weaknesses later in this review). As you are writing along in Works and you come to a place where you want to know more about what Einstein felt about "play," you click on the Bookshelf icon at the top of your page and enter "Einstein and play." You can then select which of BookshelfÕs seven resources you wish to search (or all seven of them, if you wish):
The search generates 4 "hits." Two good ones are reproduced below:
"If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut."
Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born U.S. scientist. Quoted in: Observer (London, 15 Jan. 1950).
Einstein is not . . . merely an artist in his moments of leisure and play, as a great statesman may play golf or a great soldier grow orchids. He retains the same attitude in the whole of his work. He traces science to its roots in emotion, which is exactly where art is also rooted.
Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), British psychologist. The Dance of Life, ch. 3 (1923).
To have seven reference works immediately "at hand" is a great blessing, especially since they are electronic! The fact that the are easily searchable makes them far more valuable than their archaic "hard copy" ancestors, yet the price of the entire package is far less expensive than purchasing the tomes.
tome (tom) noun
The Play is the Thing!
This combination of tools makes it possible to explore ideas for hours at a time. After reading harsh criticism of House Speaker Newt Ginrich in the New Yorker a week ago, I was intrigued by his frequent use of the word "virtuality." Diving into Bookshelf, I spent two hours exploring the relationship between the words listed below:
I scanned lists of associated words from the thesaurus and found that word led to word led to word. I was jumping from one to another like a insect would leap from lily pad to lily pad. Bookshelf immerses us in a wonderful word web. Our comprehension and our appreciation of complex concepts expands geometrically as we race through the web.
Browsing through the quotations on virtue and related words, I tasted the thinking of dozens of artists and writers and politicians and scientists and comedians. It was one great smorgasbord of great (or not so great) ideas.
smorgasbord - noun
I found these words of Samuel Johnson (1709-84) speaking of virtue especially apt:
"Resolve not to be poor: whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult." I found evidence that contemporary issues were on the minds of thinkers hundreds and sometimes thousands of years ago.
How do the poor enjoy virtuality and the virtues of the Information Highway? A tax credit?
And Camus (1913-60) warns us . . . "Virtue cannot separate itself from reality without becoming a principle of evil."
All of these sections are easily copied, pasted, saved and synthesized into the word processor. Even data tables from the almanac proved easy to cut and paste into a spreadsheet without losing format.
This product really pushes your hardware to its limits. In the first place, Works will require 2.5 MB of RAM and Bookshelf requires an additional 2.5 MB of RAM if they are used concurrently. My 9 MB RAM on a IIsi froze since the system file went over 3 MB after this new item was installed. I was forced to purchase RAM DOUBLER - an additional product (a flier for which just happened to be included in the package) - which reorganizes your RAM's use so that your computer thinks you have twice as much as you really have. ItÕs sorta like virtual RAM!!!! The $49 seemed less expensive than buying additional RAM, but it made the original Works price ($85) seem less attractive than I had originally thought.
This product also takes up an enormous amount of hard drive space if you select the full installation.
Bookshelf and Works are very slow on my Mac IIsi and CD-ROM player. This lack of speed is a serious weakness which I have noted in other Microsoft CD products such as Enkarta - which is slow even on a Power Mac. Data transfer from double-speed CD players is one major factor. I look forward to the day when the searches are swift and slick.
While Multimedia Bookshelf and Works may push your hardware to its limits, they offer extraordinary power to the thinker and writer, no matter what the age. We can sit down at a desk and find the "wisdom of the ages" right at our fingertips. This is a startling change in the tools available to the average (computer owning) person. If "knowledge is power" as NewtÕs friend Alvin Toffler reminds us in Powershift, then Newt Ginrich was correct when he suggested that all citizens will need laptops (if we want democracy rather than virtual democracy).
by Jamie McKenzie
Bloated! Hefty! Obese! Slow as molasses!
While the software companies keep racing for new versions which will offer greater help menus, better wizards and countless templates, they are missing out on a very disturbing fact:
Our computers are often crippled by these wonder products, forcing us to shell out hundreds of extra dollars to purchase more RAM, faster CPUs and more hard drive storage space.
Most of us don't need or want CHUNKY software. How about offering two versions. MICRO-LITE AND MICRO-CHUNKY!
MICRO-LITE would offer faster and better but slim. The programmers would cleverly explore how to get lightning speed and slick performance out of a package requiring less RAM and less disk space. If you can buy "virtual RAM" with products such as RAM DOUBLER, why can't the software people build efficient memory management into their products?
Sound good? Don't hold your breath waiting.
The trend is dramatically in the opposite direction. CHUNKY is king! CHUNKY is in. CHUNKY is cool. Especially if you believe in early obsolescence.
It is true that some companies offer the buyer "custom installation" as part of the new versions. If you don't want the business stationery or various tools and wizards, you can omit them from installation. Unfortunately, the average user will tend to equate "custom installation" with danger. Better to install the whole thing and worry about it later!
Why has the obvious marketing opportunity escaped the notice of all the companies? CHUNKY creates a whole market niche for utility programs which act somewhat like girdles or corsets to keep these bulging programs operating. Why can't they just realize that "less is more?" Why can't they see that the trend toward miniaturization which has dominated hardware development for decades should apply equally well to software?
Offer us two versions. LITE offers the essentials with verve, grace and mean-lean speed. CHUNKY offers the software equivalent of carbohydrate-loading. Help me coax one more year of life from this stumbling, stuttering, limping MAC IIsi. Please!
Credits: The background is from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.
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