9.150 threats to the academy

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Tue, 12 Sep 1995 19:09:36 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 150.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: "Norman N. Holland" <NNH@NERVM.NERDC.UFL.EDU> (26)
Subject: Re: Netscape stock (fwd)

[2] From: Carl Vogel <vogel@ims.uni-stuttgart.de> (26)
Subject: Re: Netscape stock (fwd)

[3] From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca> (61)
Subject: Re: Netscape stock (fwd)

Date: Tue, 12 Sep 95 16:34:10 EDT
From: "Norman N. Holland" <NNH@NERVM.NERDC.UFL.EDU>
Subject: Re: Netscape stock (fwd)

I don't think the roller-coaster performance of Netscape stock poses
a threat, per se. Netscape, like a number of other software companies,
has found that you sell your software, paradoxically, by giving it away.
You give it away but sell it to those companies who want to put pages on
the Web that are Netscape-compliant, and you make it expensive. And then
you can also charge the people you gave it away to for upgrades. I am sure
that will happen.

What seems to me much more threatening than an increase in the cost of
browser is the tendency for Web browsing to replace e-mailing. Home pages
and such, it seems to me, are intrinsically ways in which X transmits
information to Y, and Y doesn't do much more than send in an order form
or registration. To be sure, most home pages have a hyperlink for sending
e-mail commentary, but how many of us ever use them. The Web is more like
television, quite different from e-mail in which X and Y are equal partners
and talk to each other on equal terms.

I fear there may be a Gresham's Law on the Web in which the easier, less
intellectually interesting, takes up the bandwidth. Certainly companies
are now pouring advertising, catalogs, and product information, all one-way
stuff, onto the Web. Very different from what we do here. Can what we do
here survive in the flood of their material? I hope it does.
--Best, Norm

| Norman N. Holland Department of English / P. O. Box 117310 |
| University of Florida Gainesville FL 32611-7310 |
| Tel: (904) 377-0096 Fax: (904) 392-0860 |
| (904) 392-7332 INTERNET: nnh@nervm.nerdc.ufl.edu |

Date: Tue, 12 Sep 1995 13:48:31 +0200
From: Carl Vogel <vogel@ims.uni-stuttgart.de>
Subject: Re: Netscape stock (fwd)


>Recently, at two different conferences, I have heard two keynote speakers
>warn that powerful economic forces are threatening our traditional role as
>purveyors of information and midwives to the genesis of knowledge. Such
>thinking begins with the raw popularity of the Internet. Take, for example,
>the following remarkable bit of news about the success of NetScape:
>If we add to such popularity the possibility of comprehensive online
>instruction, of which there are already some early examples, this threat
>begins to seem quite real. The question is, how do we respond? How do we
>begin to change our institutions in response so that what we most value
>survives? What kind of a virtual world do we want to see?

I suspect something is being overlooked here, even though witnessing
the birth of a new popular mode of expression and culture does have
its frights, and that is the quantity of misinformation which is
made so much more readily accessible by this web than actual
information. That any of `us' ever were midwives to the genesis
of knowledge is a rather optimistic evaluation of what certainly
may be a role that has ended. On the other hand, I don't think the
end of that role will be the end of the job -- someone, after all,
will need to be declared fit juror in the arbitration of which bits
count as information, and which mis. And in this sense, the job
description will be the same as it ever was.


Date: Tue, 12 Sep 1995 13:32:17 -0500
From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca>
Subject: Re: Netscape stock (fwd)

Dear Willard,

>powerful economic forces are threatening our traditional role as
>purveyors of information and midwives to the genesis of knowledge.

I would divide the issue into two parts. The first part is the issue of who
"we" are and is this "we" threatened? The second part is whether direct
face to face education is threatened by information technology.

1. In the case of whether "we" are threatened, I think traditional
academics have some justification for believing that their role in
education is threatened. As governments cut back funds to universities,
alternative teachers who do not cost as much as tenured faculty are being
considered. There cannot be a faculty of humanities out there that is not
wrestling with the balance of part time to full time tenured faculty. You
can get a lot more traditional face to face education for a lot less money
if you use part time staff. (You may also loose a lot when you do not have
full time staff that can provide continuity to a department or sit on all
the committees that have to be sat on.)

2. As to whether the traditional methods of teaching (recitation, lectures,
and seminars) are threatened by technologically mediated methods I suspect
that we need not worry as much. In my limited experience you have to have a
live person with expectations of the students to get them to do much more
than play, whether it is on a computer or not. At some point the student
needs to know there is a person who will praise or critique them.
Technology can supplement the interaction, it can streamline it, it can
extend the reach of a teacher, but it cannot replace the ability of people
to motivate and expect things of each other. Technology without teachers
will only be useful for those who are motivated to learn on their own and
literate enough to find the resources. Those people now buy "how-to" books
that gather the dust of good intentions and will soon buy CD-ROMs for the
same dusting. (Let me tell you about how many programming books I have
bought and not cracked.)

The reason there is economic force behind the fascination with technology
may have more to do with some industry interests than pedagogical research.
We hear of the Internet solving all sorts of social ills from illiteracy to
lack of community, but I suspect that is hype from industry that has not
undergone the salutary test of time. There will always be industry hype; we
must now build up sceptical antibodies so that it does not drive
educational policy. Much as the fascination with video based instruction
has passed, so I think the value of Internet based instruction will be
found limited.

Another possible reason for the economic force behind technological
solutions is that the traditional ones have priced themselves out of the
market. When it costs as much as it does to send a young person to
university you cannot blame people for looking around for more
cost-effective solutions. This gets back to point #1 above. Often the
technological solutions have as many people involved. The people involved,
however, are not expensive, tenured faculty, but a mix of technicians and
part time instructors. The result is that many technological methods are
actually ways of changing who does the teaching and hiding that behind
technology. In the traditional model an expensive faculty member is paid to
do the course development, delivery, and assessment (unless they get TAs.)
In some of the technology models you have programmers, graduate students,
and technicians doing the development, delivery, and assessment. These
people can be hired on demand and you do not have to pay them to do
research. The economic force behind the technological paradigm is the
potential for shifting work to less well paid people without waking up the
local faculty association.

That said, there are still ways that technology can be used appropriately.
Being an optimist I believe they will emerge once we have had time to
reflect on the use of technology and that these uses will extend our
teaching rather than replace us.


Geoffrey Rockwell