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Salzburg Seminarians ponder the impact of Information Technology on the Future of Education
Conference report by David Forster
The baroque splendour of Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg was the venue for a seminar on Information Technology and the Future of Education in October last year. It was organised by the American Studies Centre at the Salzburg Seminar and I was privileged to be invited to attend.
The faculty consisted of experts in the field of the educational use of Information and Communication technology from the United States and Europe, and the 24 fellows (participants) came from around the globe.
|Is the Internet truly international?||
Among the subjects discussed in depths was whether the Internet was a truly international institution, or merely another arm of Western, particularly American, cultural dominance. On the one hand, the Internet can recreate the medieval ideal of an international community of scholars, undivided by language and bridging barriers of distance and isolation. It provides a huge resource of scholarly information through the web, available 24 hours per day throughout the year, as well as formal and informal discussion forums through e-mail, list servers and newsgroups. On the other hand, it favours those countries which can afford the technology, and have the reliable communications infrastructure and power supply to make it work. It thus does not go as far as it could in reducing the enormous inequalities that exist in access to printed information between the information rich and the information poor.
Although it was conceded that the vast majority of the content of the Internet was in English, much of that originating from the US, it was pointed out that the Web could also allow minority communities to have access to international forums. Minority languages were well represented, and there were even pages for speakers of Catalan in New York. Writers of web material should, however, be aware of cultural sensitivities, and respect the culture, religion and politics of all their potential users.
|Enhancing the educational experience||
The conference also examined the ways in which the Web could enhance a whole range of educational experiences. For example, it could facilitate the study of literary an historical documents by publishing multiple variants of original texts. An interesting example of this was the WWW project in collective writing at the University of Groningen, where all the editions of the Outline of American History from the USIS were available on-line, and it became possible to trace the way in which changes in political culture over the years influenced the content and emphasis of the text.
We also discovered how a whole range of multi-media applications could be made available through the web. A particularly outstanding example was the Oyez Project at the University of Chicago, which placed the proceedings of the US Supreme Court on line. In many cases, audio as well as written transcripts of cases were available, which enabled users to take into account the intonation of the delivery as well as the actual text of the various pleadings.
We made acquaintance with a number of very valuable on-line communities for teaching, learning and discussion in a wide range of disciplines. Among them was H-Net, an interdisciplinary organization of scholars dedicated to developing the enormous educational potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web. EOE (Educational Object Economy) is a global community for producing and disseminating web-based learning tools in Java.
In additional to the theoretical sessions, there was also a range of practical sessions where participants had the opportunity to learn to evaluate and produce web sites and multimedia presentations. We all became familiar with Dreamweaver, PhotoShop and PowerPoint, and learnt useful tricks to make our presentations more effective.
In addition to the formal sessions, we were able to forge lasting friendships in the informal sessions in the Bierstübe, where George, the Professor from Holland, proved himself to be no mean hand at the guitar, his extensive repertoire reminding us that it was not just the Internet that re-inforced the dominance of American language and culture.
The week was over all too soon, but we went away to apply the lessons we had learnt, not least by keeping up the discussions on the Seminar's list server, sharing one another's joys and sorrows and discussing a wide range of issues from the electoral success of the far right in Austria to how to interest more women and girls in technical education. Altogether, it was a most stimulating and fascinating week, and we were all very grateful to the Faculty (See below), and to the ASC Director, Marty Gecek, who organised it all so faultlessly. We shall never forget the white umbrellas lined up outside the Schloss doors to ward off Salzburg's notoriously unpredictable weather.
Germuska, Programmer, JG Sullivan Interactive,
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