Computers as Tutors: Solving the Crisis in Education
Sarasota, Fla.: Faben, Inc., 1999.
cloth, 232 p., ISBN 0-966-95836-5, $US25.00
Log onto any news site or portal these days and you will be guaranteed to find reports about new technological advancements brought about by computers. Indeed, no day passes without this or that company developing revolutionary ways of carrying out traditional tasks, from auctioning items to purchasing music sheets or fresh vegetables. Personal computers and the Internet, it seems, have pervaded literally every aspect of human life. Or have they?
Frederick Bennett's study on the state of education in the U.S. gives a different perspective on the ability of technology to solve some of the most urgent problems education is facing today.
I found the book interesting for two reasons: firstly, it provided me (a European reader) with some insight into the state of education in the United States; secondly, it highlighted how much more could be done with the new information technology, but also how much more needs to be done on that very same technology to make it really useful and reliable where it counts.
According to Bennett, the educational system in the U.S. should be put at the very top of the list of social aspects to reform. That he is serious about it can be perceived by a poignant statement he makes: "The present system absolutely does not and cannot educate students." In fact, such position is used by the author throughout the book to present his solution to the problem. The assumption that the existing way of educating pupils plainly does not work is Bennett's salient point.
From a content point of view, Computers as Tutors was biased in favour of computerised education without, however, including more critical arguments with respect to the problems which virtual tutors would realistically present. Thus, it is certainly true and valuable that computerised education could improve the learning experience for disabled pupils and provide a more 'private' learning situation, removing unnecessary negative peer pressure. For Bennett, the pivotal advantage of computers as tutors is that they would be absolutely individual: each pupil would have his or her own curriculum, perfectly adapted to his or her needs. Boredom, frustration, or disruption in the classroom would be a thing of the past.
However, too often have we demonstrated in the software industry that what we claim to be reliable and ground-breaking innovations, need, in fact, a lot more refinement, in order to serve their purpose without unwanted and unpredictable side effects. To illustrate this, here are some specific points.
- Bennett's confidence in a perfectly secure computerised system appears to me to be quite far in the future, as yet. Although a comparison is being made with banking on the Internet, I personally found it to be flawed in many respects, not least because the risks involved in this case have more serious and far-reaching consequences.
- Upgrading computer software is not as trivial as the author seems to imply. Today we are struggling with document control and file management procedures in both public and private sectors, even when this involves only a small number of end users or software developers. How would we cope with something which gets distributed to literally hundreds of thousands of computer terminals? How would version numbers, revisions, updates, upgrades be monitored? Are we able to carry this out without a single glitch?
- It is difficult to foresee accurately who will assume responsibility for the content and presentation of the teaching software. While it is assuring to think that commercial software houses will remain impartial in terms of influencing what goes in and what stays out, it is certainly not unthinkable that, in the end, some form of commercialization could become part of the equation. Of course, I could even predict the worst case, in which clickable ads will appear during computerised lessons ... but perhaps I am being too pessimistic. Nevertheless, it is all food for thought.
- While reading the book, I could not avoid wondering what would happen to our educational system if we relied so exclusively on computers, with their dependency on electricity. Nothing about preventive measures in schools were discussed by the author. How far would pupils go if there were a major disruption of power supply? There is so much more to computers than just software. The whole infrastructure needs to be adapted and modified if we are safely to make use of machines for such tasks as educating our future generations.
- The question of how advanced we are in the area of artificial intelligence would have added a more factual section to the book. Reading phrases like the following without any deeper discussion gave the impression of mere wishful thinking: "Computers will read a student's answer and compare it with what is in its memory. Students will not have to write exactly what is stored but the computer will scan their answers for keywords and phrases. By that, the machines can help guide pupils toward the crucial responses that accompany higher order thinking." Notice how everything is just very vague. Everybody would, no doubt, want software able to do that in a reliable and efficient manner; however, is this something we can realistically produce and distribute on a large scale? And how well have we tested something like this? After all, we do not want to use 'real-life' pupils as guinea pigs for educational experiments.
- One of the more glaring omissions was a discussion of the pros and cons of reading and learning through the medium of a computer screen. Perhaps monitors are not dangerous to the eyesight, however, when it comes to longer period of concentrated reading, eyestrain has been reported and it is not uncommon. Bennett dismisses the issue by saying: "it does not seem to be any more dangerous to eyesight than reading from books." What is certain is that today the technology is not advanced enough to offer a viable alternative to paper and books. Whatever we are told by industry experts, no monitor can reproduce resolutions of 1270 or 2540 dpi; the text appears coarse and jagged, and it is more difficult to read. Recent advancement made by some leading manufacturers are still prohibitively expensive.
Finally, there are some other sociological issues that would need to be dealt with in greater detail.
- How to integrate what has been discussed in workshops back into the computer programs. The level of synchronisation between the various learning components would be extremely delicate and sophisticated. What mechanisms would be used to ensure that everything works as it should?
- The important question of language. Bennett mentions that, due to the high costs of software localisation, the use of a major language would be used to teach pupils from less developed parts of the world, or where they are part of a multilingual environment (for example, Africa and India). This, however, raises the problem of dialect extinction and there needs to be a deeper discussion about the cultural consequences of language utilization. Moreover, the dominance of English in the context of a worldwide communication thorough the Internet is already causing some problems, especially when it comes to spelling and grammatical standards.
- Bennett states that remedial education is costing industries a conspicuous amount of money. He consequently argues that the money saved thanks to improved education would, instead, be invested by such industries in the students' budget. What the discussion does not consider is that the extra cash could also end up merely increasing the company's profits. Against this overly pessimistic view, consider the author's excessively optimistic stance.
- The acceptance of computers varies throughout the world. Compare online shopping: in Europe it is not as widespread as in the U.S. and not simply because Europeans are backwards or behind the times. There are cultural reasons behind the phenomenon. If Bennett's study has to apply (even to a small extent) to the rest of the world, he needs to address how computers are perceived outside North America.
But perhaps my main gripe with Computers as Tutors is that it lacks any specifics about the actual teaching software. How will it look like? What will its capabilities and limitations be? Considering that this is the primary tenet on which Bennett's arguments is based, the author does not give any precise idea about the programs' design, apart from stating that, in the future, there will be a lot of new advancements in the area of software and hardware development. Is this really enough? The IT industry does not have such a good track record when it comes to producing infallible software applications. One only needs to think about the hundreds of problems plaguing Internet browsers, including security holes, exploitation possibilities, and so on. Before placing the education of our children in the 'hands' of computers, we need to have first the (still young) information technology grow up accordingly.
Having said that, Computers as Tutors does represent an important contribution to a wide-ranging discussion which should take place more often. Bennett raises many good points in favour of computers as tutors, but the way he discusses the advantages of machines over humans is too idealistic and lacks scientific rigour in its presentation. For a book which tries to convince the academic community and policy makers, it does not quite deliver those indisputable truths (technical and not) that are needed to change radically the future of education. - Paolo G. Cordone.
Handbook of Business Data Communications: A Managerial Perspective
San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 2000.
cloth, 520 p., ISBN 0-12-095976-3, $115.00
Academic Press: http://www.academicpress.com
If you thought it was impossible to condense into one volume all information related to our electronic communication age, think again, because this latest book by Hossein Bidgoli has come closer to it than anything else so far. Although the work is described as a "handbook", in light of the wealth of information that it contains it would seem more appropriate to term it an encyclopedia of everything related to business applications, the Internet and other computer-based software and hardware.
The author has divided the book into four separate parts covering, in turn, the Internet and the basics of data communications, all popular types of networks, the design, implementation and management issues in a network environment as well as the various applications of data communications and of the Internet itself, with each of these parts being sub-divided into chapters, describing in more detail a particular subject.
The amount of information presented in a clear, concise way is simply astounding. In just over 500 pages, the professor of management information systems at California State University manages to cover topics such as modems, Internet services, netiquette, domain names, transfer protocols, search engines, e-commerce, coaxial cables, error detection, LANs, WANs, network hubs, online banking, backup devices, routers, gateways, NT and Novell NOPs, Linux, database software, wireless networks, security issues, encryption, firewalls, intranets and extranets, office automation, even copyright and privacy issues: all without giving too much unnecessary technical information, yet making each section appropriately useful for an understanding of the particular technology or aspect of data exchange.
Each chapter is introduced by an industry profile of a leading data communications and networking company, providing the reader with a real-world perspective to the text that follows. Moreover, information boxes, tables, and relevant illustrations complement the material presented. One very interesting feature of the book is the inclusion, at the end of every chapter, of review questions as well as projects to carry out (visiting a particular company's Web site, for example, or experimenting with different types of email addresses), in order to consolidate one's understanding of the products and services offered, to gain a more direct knowledge of the various communications technologies and techniques employed, and to entice thought-provoking discussions on many topical events.A handy acronym glossary nicely rounds up the book.
Throughout the volume, I found very few inaccuracies or incomplete information which, considering the scope of the book, is not a small feat! For example, the author mentions that Netscape Navigator is available for both the Windows and Macintosh platforms, but fails to mention that Netscape always invested considerable resources in porting its software to an incredibly large range of operating systems, including half a dozen flavours of UNIX. The other pitfall of books dealing with the computer industry is the difficulty in keeping the information up-to-date up to the very moment the title is actually published. Thus, when mentioning FirstClass, Bigdoli still refers to it as software owned by SoftArc, when recently the Toronto-based company merged with an educational provider to form Centrinity. Moreover, the large quantity of URLs provided means that it is more than likely that at least some of them will have become invalid by the time the reader holds the handbook in his or her hands. However, these are really just minor faults with which arguably every single technology book has to live. The hope is that the author will keep revising and updating the content as new technologies emerge.
Overall, Handbook of Business Data Communications makes a perfect companion not only for the manager who wishes to become more informed about the various technologies, but also for the seasoned expert who wants to have a concise reference book in which to find a quick answer to a nagging questions (such as what EBCDIC stands for). More importantly, however, for the interested layman this could finally be THE book to read, in order to become more acquainted with the many facets of our electronic world and to become more conscious of what the digital revolution is really about. - Paolo G. Cordone.
Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech.
New York: Public Affairs Books, 2000. cloth, 256 p., ISBN 1-891-62078-9, US$24.00.
Public Affairs Books: http://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/
Earlier this year Dutch media activists organized a conference entitled "Tulipomania" in Amsterdam. It was meant to be a critique of the so-called "new economy" which CEOs, such as John Chambers of Cisco, say is a matter of survival for any business (or perhaps any country) that wants to be around in 2010. There were economists, venture capitalists, anarchists, activists, artists, cultural critics, and community organizers taking part in this event. During the planning I suggested to the secret cabal of organizers that Paulina Borsook would be a good addition to the program. Borsook had written a number of pieces for Wired, knew the industry, and had strong views on the kind of society that was emerging in this Mecca of high tech entrepreneurship where she and I live - if you count Santa Cruz as an extension of Silicon Valley. She has written extensively on a variety of technical topics in her long career that started out with a degree in psycholinguistics from University of California, Berkeley, and like "most liberal arts flakes" (including me) wound up working with computers.
Borsook was unable to attend the "Tulipomania" conference because she was on a book tour for Cyberselfish, so I tried to fill in and present a personal view of the problems in Silicon Valley - which regions hoping to duplicate the growth and wealth might not realize. In short, income disparity, dwindling middle class, expensive housing, and growing traffic problems were just a few of the issues I covered. When I returned home I found a copy of the book waiting for me. Her thesis is that a philosophy and belief system is causing some of the problems.
I took her book with me on a trip around the world that included Ecuador, Mexico, Japan, Hong Kong, South Africa, and Boston as places far from Silicon Valley but certainly touched by the technology, the ideas, and investments, and the aura of this part of the United States. These places have enormous problems of their own, some of which may be solved with the help of information technology, but many of the problems are about government and governance: how groups of people make decisions and act to benefit (theoretically) a whole country. Unless they have migrated back home, you don't find many technolibertarians in other high-tech areas of the world.
Borsook says that Silicon Valley's high-tech community is a "hotbed of libertarian political activism" which is characterized by a distrust of government, a love of laissez-faire free-market economics, social Darwinism, a lack of philanthropy (in spite of all the new wealth), and sort of rebel on the frontier mentality that cannot empathize with the needs of others (or even their point of view).
Borsook writes well, with a revealing amount of detail about the cultural and intellectual descriptors that define her targets. It is very much a book about the San Francisco Bay Area and the influential and mostly male sector of high tech society. So many of the references are particular to heavy Internet users that it seems her editor sent the text back with suggestions for footnotes (or better yet, a glossary) so that readers might not get lost. This includes items such as "The Borg", "open source", "self-organization", "beta" testing, and "EFF." The editors seemed to have missed quite a few typos. I found three in the first 25 pages. They also might have reined in Borsook's frequent use of long hyphenated phrases such as the following:"But most programmers I know are of the just-give-me-a-few-more-hours/days/
The chapters cover the various technolibertarian sects and movements. She spends more than 40 pages on the Bionomics conferences she attended from 1993 to 1996. This belief system was one responsible for the rapid diffusion of technolibertarian beliefs throughout nerd-dom. Bionomics compares ideal capitalism to a rain forest which flourishes most when left alone. Economic activity is evolutionary, rather than like a machine which can be tuned and tinkered with for maximum performance. It also tends to treat those who do not succeed in a narrow realm of technological competence and financial reward as defective. As befits an area where technology projects begin with a t-shirt design, Borsook mentions one that says, "In this era of digital Darwinism, some of us are ones. You're a zero." She goes after a number of personalities and celebrities including Kevin Kelly, John Perry Barlow, and especially George Gilder, the Reagan policy guy who has made fast networks (fiber to the Big Guy in the Sky) into a part of the Christian cosmology (TeraBeam me to the heaven, o Lord). Her characterizations are wickedly pointed, and perhaps this is because of her love-hate relationship with Wired, for which all those men wrote and still write.
I went to the coming out party for Wired, oh so many Internet years ago. I was surprised that everyone (except Kevin Kelly) wore black, and they weren't Amish, Hasidic, or undertakers. I even wrote a couple of short pieces but then became disenchanted with their style, content, and point-of-view. Only after reading Borsook did I fully understand why I felt so uncomfortable thumbing through an issue after 1995. Borsook describes how the libertarian politics of Wired came from the guidance of its founders, especially Louis Rosetto. I was a fan of Rosetto's failed Electric Word that predated Wired, but I found the lack of any critical stance about technology to be one of the shortcomings of Wired. Borsook analyzes many of the issues in the first two years to explain the tunneled vision Wired had of what it was successfully selling to the public.
Borsook has a wonderful phrase for Wired and its imitators which now, under new management, it is imitating: business porn. I can never look at another copy of ASAP, Fast Company, or Business 2.0 without thinking of this term - whether it's a fair charaterization or not. Her most personal wounds seem to be over the old boys clubishness of Wired and its ignorance of the role of women in the high tech revolution or just the data processing blast furnaces of IT departments around the nation. She says of the women at Wired, "We were feeling something like the woman who enters into a passionate relationship with a charismatic man, only to discover with horror that our concerns were not his concerns and that who we were and what we had to say weren't valued."
Another chapter targets the cypherpunks, cryptography, and digital cash. As an attendee of the early Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conferences where crypto devotees (both three-letter-agency guys and their opponents in cyberspace) gathered, I think she paints an accurate picture, but like the Bionomics story, this seems a bit old. It is not that we should not look back and search for the vectors and hot spots which caused a disease to spread, but this would have seemed fresher had it appeared in mid-1998 instead of two years later. Perhaps the queue for the printer at Public Affairs Press slowed down the publication. Or perhaps it is because I myself tired of CFP after a few of the conferences and that I had already read some of Borsook's rants online in places such as David Hudson's now discontinued Rewired (www.rewired.com).
I did enjoy the chapter on cybergenerous, part of which had been published in the new San Jose Mercury News style supplement, S.V., earlier this year. "Cybergenerous" refers to the philanthropic efforts of high tech companies and individuals. As a former director of one such program, Apple Library of Tomorrow, at Apple Computer from 1988 to 1997, I was interested in her criticisms of the kinds of donations that are most common in Silicon Valley: software that cost little to reproduce but affording the donating company (Microsoft, Apple, Adobe) massive tax writeoffs for full value of the product, and of course hardware.
Here's one example of the company driven aid programs from my own experience: Sun Microsystems wanted to donate a Sun server to my son's elementary school in San Jose in 1995, but the school district did not even have a full time LAN manager, let alone a Unix expert. The Sun donors also wanted the school to scrap its dedicated 56 kb line and upgrade to a T1 (1.56 Mb/sec) if they were going to plunk a big powerful box in the school office. This would have been an enormous expense at that time. Luckily, the school did not get the box and all the attendant problems. Borsook correctly details how most tech donors think their tools will solve most of the problems that society encounters, but that more intractable social problems are ignored. Just look at the reaction of the G8 leaders who met in Japan recently. They endorsed a program from the World Economic Forum which proposed "closing the digital divide" instead of a timely reduction in debt.
Borsook makes a few comments about the colossus to the North, Bill Gates. She describes the problems of United Way, an umbrella charity here in Santa Clara County which, because of mismanagement was broke a while ago. A local new wealth guy, Steve Kirsh of Infoseek, put up some money to bail out the charity and then Bill Gates made a huge donation. The idea that Gates would make the local rich look miserly prompted others to cough up the rest. She does not mention the massive campaign of giving that the Gates Foundation has undertaken in programs like library connectivity but also research into the unprofitable diseases that affect the world's poor. Whatever you may think of Gates or his company, his foundation is undertaking some significant projects unrelated to computers and networks as well as many that are.
She does admit that some companies are donating stock options to charities and organizations like the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley, but mostly she describes the low rate of giving by the tech classes of the area, and she chronicles the failure of a great idea that looked promising, the Lightworks Technology Foundation, which wanted to "provide an efficient tax-deductible means for corporations and individuals to set up endowments and provide technology-related grants." She criticizes many of the philanthropic efforts as only giving in-kind goods or funding for technology projects, but the Noyce Foundation, which she says is not doing much yet, does fund basic education programs in area schools, and these have no technology component - at least in the school where my wife teaches. She also does not seem to realize that giving away money may be harder to do well for some of these people than it was to earn it. They really do care about the performance of their donations, and while some want a good ROI in clear cut measurements, others just don't want to screw up and look stupid. She is right that a lot of non-profits are busy fulfilling some need that used to be met by local, state, or federal government. However, unless the director is a high profile NGO superstar like Daniel Ben-Horin of CompuMentor (which was nicknamed Rent-a-Nerd when it started on The WELL years ago), those causes won't attract much funding, especially from the new rich in the Valley.
Borsook has been keeping a very busy schedule. Her Web site provides a list of the dozens of interviews and lectures she has been giving, as well as excerpts of her book, some of the hilarious comments by readers ("Go to China, you Socialist!"), and pointers to the favorable and unfavorable reviews. I certainly recommend the book, but if you consider yourself a libertarian you will be annoyed at her scrutiny and her conclusions. Others will find much to ponder: how high tech values influence greater society, the role of government in an era of low voter turnout and distrust, and how the flowering of other Silicon Valleys may change the character of your own region or country.. - Steve Cisler.
URLs of interest
www.balie.nl/tulipomania/ : "Tulipomania" conference, a critique of the new economy.
www.sjsu.edu/depts/anthropology/svcp/ : The Silicon Valley Cultures Project at San Jose State University.
www.rewired.com/97/1203.html : David Hudson's encounter with the author.
www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/JA96/borsook.html : "Cyberselfish", the 1996 article from Mother Jones Magazine.
www.cyberselfish.com/ : The book promotion site.
www.transaction.net/people/paulina.html : Borsook's home page.
Fred H. Cate
The Internet and the first amendment: Schools and sexually explicit expression.
Bloomington, Ind.: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1998.
paper, 109 p., NEED ISBN 0-873-67398-0, $12.00
Phi Delta Kappa: http://www.pdkintl.org/
While computers and related technology have been used in many schools in North America to a greater or lesser degree since the 1960s, the advent of schools accessing the Internet has led many educators and segments of the general public to pay considerable attention to it. Known by terms analogous to high-speed roadways, such as the Information Highway, Electronic Highway, or Infobahn, the Internet has grown considerably in a span of less than ten years, and most of that growth has occurred outside the realms of education and government. The rise of e-commerce and firms such as Amazon.com and eBay are prime examples. Nevertheless, governments in both Canada and the United States extol the Internet as a source of information, and as a rapid means of communication within the "global village". Governments in both countries have programs underway to connect every school to the Internet as quickly as possible.
In spite of such developments, concern is expressed in some quarters that much of what is readily available on the Internet is related to the prurient aspects of sexuality. This view is reinforced by many media reports, which focus on the apparent availability and quantity of pornography on the Internet, and especially illegal materials such as child pornography (Vernadakis, 1998). This exposure by the media has led some individuals to assert that the Internet must be regulated in much the same way that the Universal Postal Union regulates the mails. Moreover, it is suggested that teachers may face litigation if they permit students free access to the Internet while in school. The opposing view contends that the Internet is a true manifestation of the principle of free speech, and that attempts to regulate it amount to censorship by the state. It is into this charged and unclear discussion of free speech versus safety for school children and their teachers, that Fred Cate enters. The book is published by Phi Delta Kappa, an educational society that produces practical and accessible materials to help classroom teachers contend with current issues and methods. Cate is well qualified for explaining and exploring the legal issues, as he is a professor of law with a special interest in education.
In spite of the sustained media coverage of pornography on the Internet, there is comparatively little written on the subject in educational circles. Cate's book is not the first work to investigate objectionable Internet content from this perspective, however. Besides the U.S. Department of Education's general and cursory Parents' guide to the Internet (1997), there are also several articles written concerning Internet hazards for school children (Laughon and Hanson, 1996; Thomas, 1997; Guevara, 1998; Westphal and Towell, 1998). Most of these authors do not possess extensive legal backgrounds, so discussion of legal issues stem from the basis of perceived social or community standards. This basis, Cate contends, is difficult to quantify and to apply nationally or internationally.After a brief introduction describing what the Internet is, and how extensive use of it has become, the author lists the three goals of the book: to present a clear framework of the legalities of Internet access for students and culpability by librarians and educators; to provide practical information regarding control of access; and to identify important issues concerning regulation. Although the book refers to American law and cases almost exclusively, the examples and intent are not irrelevant to the Canadian scene, where similar legislation concerning what can be transmitted via the Internet has been passed, but is being challenged in the courts.
Although Cate acknowledges that pornography is available on the Internet, he states that the quantity has been exaggerated by the media. This view is also shared by Meeks (1997). Moreover, Cate states that most of the images on the Internet are actually copyright violations, primarily scanned from magazines. Whether produced illegally or not, Cate notes that the images are becoming easier to access, since they are no longer found only in text-accessed bulletin boards (BBS), and because current Web browsers decode image files automatically.
Some important points not mentioned, however, are that particular sites on the Internet are often transitory, so an inappropriate site found by a student one week, may no longer be accessible at that location the next week. Moreover, the nature of current Web browsers is that unless one takes careful steps to set their preferences file, once a particular type of site is accessed, then information about that site's subject matter is stored on the user's computer in a file called a "cookie". Additionally, the URL of the file is also stored in the history file of the browser. In consequence of the cookie and history file information, subsequent use of the browser will often result in advertisements for related sites appearing in banners on many screens. Much of this topic-specific advertising is eliminated when the history and cookie files are deleted, a challenging procedure for novice users. Setting a browser not to accept cookies is not always a good approach, since many legitimate sites require a cookie if the user intends to interact with the site.
One of the legal questions that Cate states is almost impossible to answer, is "what is pornography"? It is pointed out that there is no consistent and legally robust definition throughout the United States. Not even the term "obscene" has a consistent legal definition. The situation in Canada is not much different, when one considers that showing females topless is acceptable on Québec television, but such portrayal is considered objectionable in many localities in the rest of Canada. The issue of definition of terms becomes especially thorny when one considers that the Internet transcends national borders, so even if a national definition could be agreed upon, there is little likelihood that all other countries comprising the Internet would also agree. Cate is careful to explain that although there have been precedents of state and international censorship going back to the Papal Index Expurgatorious of 1501, the proliferation of printed books, and later the telegraph and telephone, were comparatively slow, and not nearly as internationally based as the Internet. In other words, it is unlikely that the Internet can be regulated in the manner of older media.
The book also describes various legal initiatives that have been taken to regulate the Internet, but yet have failed miserably. The most celebrated of these is the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA), which was struck down for violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is noted that similar laws to restrict "objectionable" printed works by such authors as Kurt Vonnegut, had also been struck down consistently by state and federal courts. Cate also contends that subsequent initiatives of this sort are also likely to fail for the same reason, a claim borne out by the recent court injunctions against the Child Online Protection Act, also known as the CDA II (Seminerio, 1999).
A considerable portion of the book describes and discusses various blocking and filtering software that is available. Cate lists positive and negative attributes, as well as cautioning that if, "the child is old enough and skilled enough to seek Internet access to sexually explicit expression, there is little that supervisors can realistically do to prevent that" (p. 78). The culpability of the individual classroom teacher is not left in legal limbo by Cate. He notes that unless a teacher or school librarian knowingly permits students unfettered and unsupervised access to the Internet, then there is likely no legal action that can be taken against the teacher or school, should a student come across objectionable materials despite safeguards against this.
According to Cate, the best approach to be taken is to allow Internet access only after instruction on proper use, and then only when under adult supervision, both at school and at home. Moreover, Cate notes that because it is possible for a "younger" person to inadvertently access disturbing pornographic sites, he recommends that they not be permitted Internet access at all. Unfortunately, Cate does not explain what he means by a "younger" learner. Nevertheless, his advice is worthy of consideration, since one may, for example, enter the word "zoo" in a search engine, and then be presented with a list of sites including some concerned with zoophilia.
While the focus of the book is on sexually explicit material, Cate does mention that other forms of inappropriate information available on the Internet. A weakness of the book is that the extent and danger of these other areas is not explained in comparison to sexually explicit information. For instance, recent research found that fraud is the most prevalent criminal activity on the Internet. Given Cate's information that pornography comprises less than one percent of Internet traffic, perhaps the recommendations to teachers should be to educate students about more prevalent dangers on the Internet. In spite of this shortcoming, The Internet and the First Amendment. is an informative book that will be of great value to most teachers, administrators and teacher educators. - George H. Buck, Department of Secondary Education, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.
L. Guevara, 199). "Plain or filtered: Considering a filter program? Some notes from a high school curriculum," Educom Review, volume 33, number 2, pp. 4-5.
S. Laughon and W.R. Hanson, 1996. "Potholes on the Infobahn: Hazardous conditions ahead," Multimedia schools, volume 3, number 3, pp. 14-16, 18-20, 22-23.
C.N. Meeks, 1997. "8 programs to porn-proof the Net," CNET at http://cnet.com/Contents/Reviews/Compare/Safesurf/index.html
M. Seminerio, 1999. "Lawmakers lend support to CDA II," ZDNet (19 January).
D.S. Thomas, 1997. "Cyberspace pornography: Problems with enforcement," Internet Research, volume 7, pp. 201-207.
United States Department of Education, 1997. Parent's guide to the Internet. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
G. Vernadakis, 1998. "Web to filter: Do you see what I see?" Inter@ctive Week (23 March), at http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/stories/news/0,4164,297526,00.html
H. Westphal and E. Towell, 1998. "Investigating the future of Internet regulation," Internet Research, volume 8, pp. 26-31.
Jennifer Stone Gonzalez
The 21st-Century Intranet
Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1998.
paper, 472 p. and CD-ROM, ISBN 0-138-42337-7, $US39.95
Prentice Hall: ttp://www.prenhall.com/
At a recent usability seminar in London, Jakob Nielsen made a remark along the lines that intranets were the "third world of the Web"; the comment went largely unnoticed, which inadvertently supported his point. Intranets are very different organisms from Internet Web sites - spawned in corporate cellars, intranets generally remain hidden from public gaze as they quietly first grow and then (often) wither away. Published intranet case studies in the IT press tend to the resolutely upbeat and hyperbolic - when did you ever read of an intranet failure? Maybe it's because some organisations don't recognise that their intranet is a flatliner.
Gonzalez' definition of a successful intranet is one that supports a learning organisation's communication. " ... the key to greater productivity and wealth is not more control or measurement, but rather better communication so that knowledge can surface, become visible and can be put to use". The majority of intranet books have either a technical or hard business focus so it's refreshing to come across a publication that introduces corporate culture into the equation. Although the book is now a couple of years old it's probably still relatively unique in this respect and remains highly relevant. The general philosophy and methodologies presented are essentially human centred - whilst being clearly aimed at the intranet champion, bottom up and collaborative development is emphasised throughout.
Commencing with a history of the Internet, Gonzalez emphasises the Internet's roots as a communication tool for sharing information as opposed to being a medium for commerce. She describes how technical and human skills developed in parallel during five distinct phases of ontogeny and outlines how effective intranet development could follow a similar progression by asking certain questions about the organisation:
- What Networks (computer and human) should be used?
- What Languages (computer and human) should be used?
- What test sites and tools are available, how will learning be shared?
- How can you develop your own Web culture?
- What technologies and people skills will be required to sustain a gradual transformation?
The evolutionary theme continues with a discussion of four models of intranet design, progressing from a publication platform through to a "high value applications environment":
- Publication Model: one way static communication - "I publish, you read"
- Asymmetrical Interaction Model: two-way, time delayed didactic - "I ask, you respond" or "You ask, I respond"
- Symmetrical Interaction Model: multi-directional communication, numerous feedback loops - "We all have a chance to talk and listen, ask and respond"
- Synchronous Virtual Environment Model: real-time, dynamic, multi-directional communication to support key business processes - "This is the way we work"
From this theoretical basis, the majority of the text comprises practical, knowledgeable guidance for developing an effective intranet while simultaneously nurturing a sense of community and facilitating organisational change. Amply illustrated with relevant case studies, it includes numerous techniques/tools, the most unusual of which is an outline, "your name printed here" speech to "Persuade Management to Fund Intranet Development".
Highly readable, this isn't an academic book per se (nor does it set out to be) but is very competently researched, incorporating a comprehensive and useful set of paper and web based references. Sadly, it's also replete with typos, but fortunately they don't obscure the meaning. It's also possibly overlong and slightly repetitive; again, this doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment and interest. Another reviewer described the book as " ... the definitive handbook for IT professionals ... ." I think it unlikely that many technical professionals would read this publication, which is unfortunate since there's a lot to be learnt from it. Which brings me to one item that's missing from this worthwhile book - we may be able to sell the concept of human-centred systems development to higher management but how on earth do we persuade the IT Department? - Jenny Le Peuple, London Guildhall University.
Data Mining Your Website
Boston: Digital Press, 1999.
paper, 368 p., ISBN 1-555-58222-2, $US39.95
Digital Press: ttp://www.bh.com/digitalpress/
The author, Chief Executive Officer of WebMiner (http://www.webminer.com/) - a data mining consulting firm - recently penned a well-written treatise on the method and value of extracting information about transactions on Web sites. While Mena's company's Web site leaves much to the imagination, the book does not.
Mena introduces the woes of Mine2.com (http://www.mine2.com/), a portal, in order to outline the concept of mining data; he uses clear terms that are understandable, even to novice data miners. In framing the reasons for businesses to study their Web transactions, Mena points out how the effort answers several important business questions, such as "What will visitors buy?" and "How much will they spend?" If readers are looking for justification to initiate data mining, the first chapter presents several good arguments that can be used to strengthen a business case study.
Readers will appreciate the author's easy definition of data mining; that it is the tools of pattern recognition (p. 41) rather than log file analysis (p. 57) which help marketing and business departments answer questions about trends in visitors' behavior and the characteristics of loyal Web customers. The author lists several well-known data mining tools and log file analysis tools in his explanations, as well.
The remaining chapters give background to concepts such as neural networks and CART, then present the ten steps to mining data. Data mining tools have a chapter devoted to them, as do data components to be mined and helpful external information resources (i.e., marketing and other data providers). There is also a chapter about the relationship of data mining and electronic business transactions ("e-tailing"). Plenty of diagrams, charts, and pictures help make sense of these concepts. Jesus Mena also mentions vendors, providers, software, and tools by name with objective descriptions of services.
Throughout the book, but especially in the final chapter about putting all the parts together, Mena's advice inserted between instruction is practical, appropriate, and obviously based on experience. For example, on page 307 where the author discusses using third-party information providers to match mailing addresses with other types of information, he suggests: "It is recommended that you do some comparison shopping ... Ask for specific statistics on their information content and their percent of file coverage."
A minor complaint: I would have liked to see an appendix with links to online references. (WebMiner does offer free excerpts from the book, though.) In the book, there is an appendix with listings of privacy consortia, standards, and legislation - this is where the online references would have been helpful since timely information about legislation would be of high interest. There is also a glossary with selected terms.
In short, the book is highly recommended, without reservation. Pay special attention to chapters 1, 2, and 9. The remainder will be there as a reference when you are in the throes of data mining.- Beth Archibald Tang.
Boston: Digital Press, 1999.
paper, 422 p. and CD-ROM, ISBN 1-555-58210-9, $US34.95
Digital Press: ttp://www.bh.com/digitalpress/
The Internet and hackers seem to have dominated the media recently with an e-mail virus and a recent spate of denial of services attacks against e-commerce sites. This book attempts to show the reader how to protect a site against these sorts of attacks.
The first chapter reveals what an insecure place the Internet is and gives plenty of examples of sites that have been hacked; however, it fails to mention why these sites were so susceptible to attack. The book only deals with Microsoft operating systems and the author describes how UNIX is insecure because of the demons it runs. Disabling them is a trivial task, and it would have been nice to have seen this fact mentioned in the book. An interesting section of Web Security introduces and covers SSL and e-commerce with a part on protecting servers which would probably only be of interest to users of Microsoft products, i.e. NT IIS.
The book has an excellent chapter on digital certificates and securing transactions explaining how to get and implement digital signatures. The chapter on client side security covers both MS Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator as well as going through the security settings on both browsers and advising on their configurations. Java and the danger of using plug-ins are then discussed in a separate chapter. Finally, the author provide an insight into electronic money and looks at various systems that could be used on the Internet, concluding with a discussion on doing effective backups and keeping down time to a minimum after a security incident.
Overall, Web Security is an ideal introduction to web security for a Windows system administrator looking to implement a Web server or a non-technical manger who needs to understand the security issues involved in using the Internet. The CD-ROM that comes with the book is disappointing, though, as most of the software is for limited trial use or requires a serial number which is not provided (and no explanation on how to acquire one is given), making the software of limited use. Incidentally, mention is also made of a companion Web site for which, however, no URL seems to be provided anywhere in the book. - Richard Gale.
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