The other part of his work for the University is with the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE), an R&D group with several lines of research. The oldest of these is Computer Based Study Strategies. CBSS are a set of techniques and heuristics for using generic software, particularly outline and concept mapping software, to accomplish day-to-day learning tasks. Things like learning vocabulary, taking textbook notes, synthesizing information for report writing, etc. More information about CBSS can be found at http://cbss.uoregon.edu.
My own work at CATE involves the study of digital text. I'm interested in the general questions of what it like to read text (notice I didn't say "books") from a computer, and why would you want to? A good deal of this work right now involves creating digital texts and exploring what features these texts might have that are different than printed texts.
A small example of questions I ask is about page numbers. When you're reading in a hypertext environment, like on the web, like you're doing right now, what's the number of the page you're reading? It likely doesn't have one. On the web, we don't generally use page numbers to designate sections of text. We give them names instead. Why?
Another difference is the vagueness in digital texts about how much text appears on any one page. In printed books this is fairly standardized within a certain range. On the web, we could put all of Tolstoy's War and Peace in a single scrolling field if we wanted. Do we? Furthermore, it's possible for readers to control how much text they see on any one page. In this case, there can be several different "pages," all with rightful claims to being "Page 12," and the pages 12 can be different for every reader. So, just what IS a page?
We forget that the printed book is an invention. It's a technology. All of its parts (like page numbers) had to be conceived, debated, operationalized, and refined. We're now doing the same thing in the process of inventing Hypertext.
Interestingly enough, everyone has thought that books, or texts, or even writing, are good ideas. Socrates for instance, was proudly illiterate. In the dialogue Phaedrus, Plato has him saying:
"I cannot help feeling that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer...
Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than this? I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself and knows when to speak and when to be silent." (Jowett, trans, 1952, The Dialogues of Plato)
To investigate such questions we at CATE have created several digital texts, which can be read from these websites:
Web de Anza is a collection of journals written during the Spanish colonial expeditions that let to the founding of San Francisco in 1776.
The Intersect Digital Library contains a small collection of digital texts: The Diary of Opal Whiteley, written by a young girl growing up in rural Oregon a hundred years ago; On the Run, a novel about a boy caught up in the juvenal justice system; and, Your Genes, Your Choices: Human Cloning is a short explanation of the biology and ethics of cloning.
Our newest work is different in that we're attempting to use a collection of photographs as the main content, rather than text. This is the Tsanchiifin Walk Field Guide, which concerns a set of wetlands in Eugene, Oregon.
So, what does all this have to do with Tapped In?
I've actually known about Tapped In for some time, but until recently never actually participated in any way other than to repeatedly ask for a new password. This changed last summer when some colleagues and I decided to use TI to operate a book club. There are six of us, spread out across New York, Virginia, Utah, Nevada, and Oregon, and we normally only see one another once a year at a conference. TI is a perfect base for our deliberations. We read, hold debates on the discussion board, duke it out in chats, and archive everything in our group room. Our first effort was Larry Cuban's book on educational technology, Oversold and Under Used and we're now working on An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Educational Research.
Of course, we've been greatly aided in learning our way around TI by BJ Berquist, The Maven of Reception.
After our first Book Club experiences, I'm forming some opinions about how to best use the tools TI offers. In particular I'm thinking that our main discussions are best held on the discussion board and that chats are best for making decisions, like about what book to read next, or what themes from a book ought to be discussed at length. The operational distinction between discussing and deciding I think, is that discussing requires longer and more detailed pieces of text; text that holds still on the screen so it can be carefully digested. Deciding requires a more fluid interaction, a continuous give and take, a process that often suffers from the loss of momentum so common in group email exchanges.
This fall, I'm planning to introduce a TI unit into my course for pre-service secondary teachers. I want them to understand that what we can teach them at the University will only get them through the first year or two of their career. After that, they'll need to find a larger community of colleagues from which to learn, a need perhaps Tapped In can fill.
I'm also interested in how Tapped In functions as a digital text. In my obscure academic cant, TI is a multi-track, multimedia, constructive hypertext, with good provisions for managing supplementary, referential and notational resources, but no specialized mechanisms for translational or illustrative resources; its strongest feature being pervasive machinery for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.
It's that collaborative piece that's interesting. Perhaps in the future, the part of reading that's done with hypertext will become a collaborative process, rather than the more solitary pleasure it is with print. And, perhaps in this collaboration there will be some answer for Socrates.