After being led to Christ by Hal Lindsey while at UCLA in 1966, Dr. Fred Holtzman obtained a Masters of Theology from Dallas Seminary and then earned an Ed.D. and a MS in Education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Currently Holtzman is the coordinator of WorldWide Web development for network services at UT Knoxville. Holtzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his homepage viewed at http://funnelweb. utcc.utk.edu/~holtzman.
As we approach the 21st century, tremendous advances in information technology are generating a revolution in modern education. The means, methods, content and delivery systems of modern higher education are being radically transformed.
It is a technological upheaval similar in nature to that which occurred near the turn of the 19th century, when natural gas was replaced by electricity as the principal source of lighting.
This revolution is not political but technical and practical in nature. It affects not so much what is sought through education, as the means of pursuit and discovery. It deals with the practical matter of how education is to be done. The greatest educational tools ever conceived will be available to the generation that sees the end of the 20th century.
What will education look like five years into the future? What are the implications of the new technologies? While I lack the credentials of an Old Testament prophet, I can examine trends and be informed by the leaders in the field of information technology.
These trends and their concomitant information base foreshadow several possible futures that may actually permit a bit of augury. It is these insights I will share and then engage in some educated prognostication.
The technology that will be available in five years does not exist yet. Too bold an assertion? Ridiculous speculation? Ten years ago almost no one imagined that fledgling personal computers with all of 16K of RAM, no hard drives, many of which without floppy drives, would ever become the powerful, fast machines with gigabytes of storage capacity that they are today. Who could predict they would become viable challengers to replace mainframes? Well, one among the few who foresaw the future was a nerdy-looking guy from Seattle, Bill Gates.
Gates is one among several technology gurus including Paul Allen (Asymmetrix, Ticketmaster), Craig McCaw (McCaw Cellular), Ray Noorda (Novell), to name but a few, who speak and project the future. They see information technology based in wireless communication, universal and global networks, and fast, powerful, and reliable delivery systems for sound, images, motion, and graphics.
Tomorrow¹s data will consist more and more of sound and motion and less and less of letters and numbers. Today¹s CD-ROM and Laser Discs will be subsumed by universal electronic libraries and online services of every kind available anywhere, anytime.
These innovators predict the merging of three of the great communication mediums of the 20th century: television, telephones and computers. These new devices will be wireless and cellular in composition; no longer be tied to desktops, offices, or buildings; and no longer be big, bulky, hot or heavy. Today¹s desktop computer will yield to tomorrow¹s wrist-top.
We have laptops now that we can carry with us, but the next generation of computers will be even more mobile; they will be anywhere and everywhere people choose to go. Tomorrow¹s computer will no longer be temperamental or unfriendly, and the keyboard and the mouse will yield to the spoken word.
In the new environment, reality will be augmented and commonly replaced by virtual reality. For example, highly technical medical procedures on virtual patients will become ubiquitously available, and libraries filled with books will be augmented and eventually supplanted by virtual libraries. The paradigm of books maintained in stacks will be retained, but individuals will peruse book stacks from library resources throughout the world.
You might have thought making bookmarks on the Web was innovative, but imagine having literal, virtual bookmarks: you would virtually walk between shelves to pick a book, take it down, open it and scan its contents. Those you wish to investigate further, you will copy, or bookmark, to your local area for future access.
There is another major revolution that is taking place and will be completed in the near future that will change the world of education: the use of paper resources will diminish and eventually be displaced by electronic publishing. The acquisition of books made of paper will essentially cease.
From a cost standpoint alone, it makes sense for publishers to provide digitized desk copies for evaluation purposes (on CD-ROM or the like). Instead of making hardcopies, information will be stored and transferred via email-type technologies to the recipient. To verify this vision of the future, consider how quickly printed encyclopedias became dinosaurs. Today, for the price of a set of printed encyclopedias, one can buy a computer and an encyclopedia on cd-rom.
Gone will be the days when students prepare typed papers; they will provide their instructors with copies by email, or Internet links to their papers. No longer will "papers" be limited to the written words and a smattering of graphs or statistical charts. Full color, motion, and sound multimedia presentations will be produced with no more difficulty than today¹s class reports. References will no longer be limited to bibliographies and footnotes but will link to online resources stored anywhere in the world. Tomorrow¹s classroom will be but one more point of access to the world¹s combined resources. Instructors will use the mastery of their discipline to organize these resources and provide direction and continuity to the continued search for knowledge.
Hands-on experimentation within the sciences such as chemistry or biology will take on entirely new nuances. Through electronic devices, access to experiments, dissections and microscopic analysis will be readily available. Already, recorded images of chemical reactions throughout the periodic table are available. Soon there will be virtual dissections of frogs and the like. Can the virtual microscopic biomass be far behind? Great works of art and architecture, and early texts of ancient writings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Epic of Gilgamesh are digitized online today. The next step will be the availability of classic works of literature online for access and downloading at any time. Film libraries of great historical events and individuals will also be readily accessible.
Even the atmosphere of the classroom will change. It will be standard for each class to be equipped with ethernet, fiber optics and telecommunications capabilities. Classroom instruction will change then with electronic projection technologies replacing the obligatory chalkboards and white-boards. The chalk of the future will be the electronic wand, while the chalkboard will be holographic images. Professors¹ notes will be transformed to hyperlinked presentations stored and transmitted on the network.
According to Gates, the network will allow teachers to share lessons and materials as never before. Greater customization of content and individualized learning modules will be available. Students will require skills in the acquisition and assimilation of information and materials already online. Renewed emphasis will be placed on organizational, critical thinking, analysis and integration skills so students can make the most of their work on the information highway.
With the advent of the personal computer, computing began to move away from mainframes and dumb terminals. As the PC became more and more powerful, reliance upon them for research, retention of information and communication increased. Eventually the sharing of information and resources became essential from a cost and productivity standpoint.
The PC's were connected together in small local area networks (LAN). These LANs were then linked together into wide area networks (WAN). The Internet consists of all participating individuals (rather, their computers) linked together electronically, in one global network of computers. The Internet allows even the novice to take digital journeys on this international network.
In its rudimentary stages, the Internet has been around since the 1960's. It offered advanced communications, engineering and research options to hard science, government and the military investigators and workers. In the last few years, with the tremendous increase in capability and a drastic drop in price, extremely powerful desktop computers became readily accessible to "average" users. At the same time, there was the creation and explosion in popularity of the WorldWide Web.
The WWW offers a graphical user interface through readily available browsers that provide simultaneous data, voice, sound, images, motion and graphics. At the end of 1995, it was estimated that the size and use of the Web was doubling every 53 days. Now the Internet and the WWW are often used interchangeably. The Internet in its present form may be considered the pubescent form of the information highway to come. It is the Internet and its progeny that will make the above-mentioned prognostications future realities.
From the outset, we should view the Internet as our ally, rather than our foe. It is not difficult to master the skills required to make use of this resource. You probably already possess them. The same skills used with Macintosh or Windows, are all that is needed to begin surfing the Web. To get on the Net or Web, all that is needed is a powerful desktop, 486 or better is recommended, and a point of access. Access is obtained through various online providers such as Compuserve, Prodigy, America Online or through computer facilities available from a university or college.
To begin, all you need is a WWW browser loaded on your local machine. These are available from computer stores, online. Some are free, and some not. Once you have access and a browser, it is simply a matter of using a mouse to point and click. I would divide educational use of the Internet into five parts: email and information transfer; access for research and development; building academic assignments around information found by employing Internet resources; creation of actual instruction modules that are run off the Internet (multimedia); and virtual colleges and universities.
The utilization of email is growing at an exponential rate. To communicate all you need is an identity: a pseudonym or your real name. "Chat groups," open discussion groups and the like are only a few clicks away. To receive and send email, an address is required, usually obtained through your access provider.
The use of email has been facilitated by widely held standards for email communication. The movement of files is somewhat problematic. This is due in no small part to a lack of standardization for file transfers and email attachments. This too will soon change. The content or nature of "files" will evolve from simple data to graphics, video, voice and sound. Real-time interactive video and voice communication would be but one example.
The Internet has been employed for research and scientific development from the outset. With the modern browsers such as Netscape, research has become available to the average student. What used to be confined to local library searches has now been expanded to the world. More and more libraries, museums, and knowledge storehouses will be digitized and made accessible. The downside is the information accessed is unfiltered; superfluous data is accessed and made available alongside excellent resources. No filters are yet available. The results of research may be published and made available to others in days and weeks, rather than months and years.
Many professors have begun to require the perusal of Internet resources to fulfill academic assignments. Former assignments that forced students into the library stacks or to make ERIC searches by phone (often at great expense), now can be done through the Internet at little or no expense.
Creation of actual Internet content and educational programs require a higher level of skill and dedication. The development of Web pages is at once an art and a technology. At its core, it is not much different from word processing (well, word processing on steroids) or publication design and layout. There is a readily mastered set of codes to learn similar to those employed in WordPerfect or Word. Again, this technology is constantly changing and improving. It becomes simpler and yet more complex simultaneously. Older techniques become easier to employ, but new techniques and capabilities are always being offered.
To publish your own information, Web pages need to be developed and stored. Storage may be on your PC or a larger more powerful computer that provides this service. These procedures are constantly in flux. As new technologies or modalities become available, older techniques are discarded and "the new and improved" embraced.
In 1993, the state of North Carolina put a moratorium on future classroom construction. Instead of classrooms, which require people to come to them for instruction, an information highway would be constructed that allowed information to come to the student. As the state has built roads to all rural locations, so an information highway was to be constructed. This allows for the decentralization of educational resources. People who could never have taken advantage of a college education for financial or family reasons could now be served.
Here is the challenge: to take the best we have and make available to those previously underserved. Instructors who demonstrated excellence and ingenuity in classroom instruction under the old paradigms will also excel in the new. All of the world's resources of information in print, on film, etc., could actually be available for instructional purposes throughout the world.
Many professors have already begun this process. Entire courses are being transferred to Web pages. Assignments are made and returned via email. One-on-one online chats between professor and student provide superior individual contact and communication. Prototypes for real-time interactive video and voice communication via the Web have already proved successful. This metaphor can be extended to group discussions and "distance learning" where distance and physical separation are no longer issues.
Stealing or altering information. A better understanding of how information is delivered, will mollify this concern. The Internet employs a form of client-server technology. The information source machines serve as giant reservoirs of information. Hence they are called servers. Simply stated, an electronic COPY of information, graphics, etc. is transferred to the viewing or requesting machine or client. In the future, not only will content be transferred but also small applets or programs to process it. The original source is left unaltered and is in fact, unalterable by the client. It is protected.
As time goes on, protection techniques will improve, as will techniques to overcome protection. We can anticipate a race between purveyors of information and commerce and the hackers. But considering that capital, commerce, government and the computer industry itself will share exposure as they employ these new technologies, the effort to protect and secure them will be massive and superincumbent.
Communication privacy‹email, voice, video transmission. Just as it is today, this will be the weakest link. US Mail can be intercepted, scanned, stolen or lost. Phones can be tapped, video transmissions intercepted. Cellular phone communication is subject to eavesdropping and outright theft of access codes. Whatever precautions might be necessary using the older modes of communication will probably need to be maintained and even improved with the new technologies. But there are highly advanced and advancing encryption strategies employed. Many dedicated Internet innovators are also privacy buffs. They work very hard at protecting communication. It is like a game for them.
Storming resources, bombarding sites and mailboxes with unwanted and intentionally disruptive and jamming transactions. Such practices are common even now with older technologies such as phone lines, voice mail, answering machines, 800 numbers, radio, radar, etc. Again, countermeasures, strategies, and commerce laws are employed. This should probably be viewed as a nuisance to be reckoned with. It's adapt or die (with apologies to Benjamin Franklin).
The progress and ascendancy of the Internet juggernaut, and its successors, as the purveyor of commerce and information is, I think, beyond question. It is the future. Bill Gates predicts the Internet will do away with "distribution middlemen" and create what he calls "friction-free capitalism." Limited rumination regarding this concept yields the chilling reality that the middlemen of education are the teachers and professors‹even the colleges and universities themselves.
Such an outcome would indeed offer knowledge, but not wisdom; it would offer data and information, but not skills for understanding and living. It is paramount to anticipate these outcomes and prepare for them. It is incumbent upon those who claim the name of Christ as Lord to create proactive measures and strategies. It is no longer a question of "To be Involved or Not to be Involved," but rather "Adapt or Die.""
One of the historic strengths of the body of Christ is that it most often out of phase with the zeitgeist. Yet there is a downside, when beneficial trends, paradigm shifts and advances are missed, ignored or rejected. Rather than being employed for the advancement of the kingdom of God, ground is actually lost. The body is left, often years later, in a reactionary mode‹mopping up the damage and/or trying to catch up with the technology.
In the present circumstances, if Christian educators lag behind, at best we would be deemed outmoded, and at worst we risk becoming irrelevant or even occupationally dislocated.