CAUSE/EFFECT

This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 3 1999. Copyright EDUCAUSE. See http://www.educause.edu/copyright for additional copyright information.

Recommended Reading


The Knowledge Web: Learning and Collaborating on the Net

Marc Eisenstadt and Tom Vincent, Editors
Kogan Page Limited, 1998, $49.95, 295 pages
ISBN 0749427264
Reviewed by Shirley Payne

The Knowledge Web, edited by computer-assisted learning experts Marc Eisenstadt and Tom Vincent, is a showcase of research projects under way at the United Kingdom Open University�s Knowledge Media Institute. Although the editors use this book to evangelize a bit about the university�s approach to distance learning, this can easily be overlooked because the material presented is so fascinating and will satisfy a broad range of interests. Educators will be attracted to the book�s descriptions of practical research initiatives that could, in the words of the editors, be �the key not only to education in the next Millennium, but also to many facets of society.� Cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and multimedia technology researchers will find food for thought on possible new directions in these disciplines. Finally, technologists will be drawn in by the book�s treatment of the Web as a �unifying force,� not just a catalyst, for the future of education.

All readers will appreciate the availability of an innovative Web site supporting the projects described in the book. This Web site (http://kmi.open.ac.uk/knowledgeweb/) provides Webcasts, examples, and simulations with which one may experiment to gain a more complete understanding of the topics covered in the book. The editors promise to keep the Web site current by posting research results and other news on the projects. Reader feedback is also collected through the site.

The book is divided into three parts: Learning Media, Collaboration and Presence, and Knowledge Systems on the Web. The first part addresses complexities that arise in designing knowledge media to meet the needs of learners with highly diverse goals, abilities, and interests. In the second part, two projects are discussed that are investigating revolutionary ways of collaborating over the Web that go well beyond the workgroup, document-sharing activities in use today. Projects presented in the final part of the book have to do with formal representation and reuse of knowledge.

Anyone who cares about the enhancement of learning processes through technology should appreciate and benefit from this book�s case studies of innovative research projects and from the ability to experience outcomes of these projects via the book�s Web site.

Shirley Payne ([email protected]) is director of strategic studies and external relations at the University of Virginia.


The Wired Professor: A Guide to Incorporating the World Wide Web in College Instruction
Anne B. Keating and Joseph Hargitai
New York University Press, 1999, $19.50, 200 pages
ISBN 0814747256
Reviewed by Karen L. Smith

The Wired Professor combines a historical overview with lessons and a reference manual that has something for almost every professor who has added or plans to add the Web as an instructional environment. The book is well written and easy to read. It offers a comprehensive analysis that helps readers understand what the Web really is. The clear examples demonstrate to faculty the strategies and tools they can use to take advantage of the Web�s capabilities while avoiding its pitfalls. Each chapter ends with a list of URLs that guide readers as they continue to expand their knowledge of key topics presented in the chapter.

Faculty who are seeking justification for adding the Web as a teaching and learning resource will find Chapter 3 particularly helpful. Examples of what faculty and students have created give a clear idea of the potential of the Web for information access and distribution. The companion Web site provides links to pages created by faculty and graduate students.

For those who are eager to create and customize their own Web sites, Chapter 4 provides a step-by-step guide to using HTML code. The chapter serves as an excellent code resource and clears up the mysteries associated with publishing pages to the Web by clearly explaining file transfer protocols (FTP). Chapter 5 guides readers through the use of multimedia enhancements for Web pages, defining terms that normally confuse faculty and offering examples of appropriate use of sound files, images, and more.

Although the book is a sound reference manual to help faculty start building Web pages, it lacks three major supports that faculty tend to seek when deciding if the Web is actually an appropriate tool for their courses: (1) there is no critique of the WYSIWYG tools that the majority of novice users select for basic Web page creation; (2) pedagogical issues are not explored; and (3) no mention is made of the copyright and intellectual copyright issues that arise when publishing to the Web. Despite this missing information, The Wired Professor will be extremely useful to faculty who are seeking justification for moving to the Web or who are looking for a quick start to using HTML code and other Web tools.

Karen L. Smith ([email protected]) is director of the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Florida.


Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization
Gene I. Rochlin
Princeton University Press, 1998, $18.95, 293 pages
ISBN 0691002479
Reviewed by Jeremy J. Shapiro

We managers of information systems and technology are becoming increasingly aware that what we do has large-scale, unintended, and unpredictable consequences for our institutions. We find ourselves under increasing pressure to computerize things just because they can be rather than because there is a pressing demand or need to do so or because it�s really appropriate. And sometimes we feel like we�re in the cab of a runaway train, as though we�ve unleashed forces that we can�t control or stop. How can we increase our control over the train? How can we increase our ability to make wise technology decisions, not just from the perspective of efficiency or of picking the winning technological horse, but from the perspective of what is humane and improves the quality of life for our institutions, our constituencies, our environments? There is probably no better guide to thinking about this issue than Gene Rochlin�s Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization.

Rochlin and his fellow researchers have noted three problematic and interrelated tendencies. The first is that computerized systems often lock people into a narrow range of options for managing their affairs. The second is that the unique experience, competence, and judgment of individuals are subordinated to the rules of the system and are devalued or discarded. Third, as that experience and judgment are discarded, people themselves become stupider or more limited as they begin to mirror the narrowness and rigidity of the system.

Rochlin, emphasizing the extent to which organizations, as well as individuals, need space and time to respond to the unknown and unpredictable, asserts, �Of particular concern is the degree to which what is destroyed or discarded in the relentless pursuit of technical and operational efficiency is not waste or slop, but �slack,� the human and material buffering capacity that allows organizations and social systems to absorb unpredicted, and often unpredictable, shocks.� While Rochlin does not offer precise solutions to this problem, by identifying it, he opens up the possibility of a new type of information system planning, in which IS managers would collaborate with their administrations and constituencies in designing systems to support and increase �slack� rather than to eradicate it. Making this an explicit focus of technology planning could help design socio-technical systems that are more humane and better adapted to human and organizational needs.

Jeremy J. Shapiro ([email protected]) is senior consultant on academic information projects at the Fielding Institute, where he also conducts research about and teaches about the human and organizational impact of information systems.

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