"How do we teach today's college generation to thrive in the age of info-glut? How do teachers move beyond boring "computer literacy" programs and help students use computers as creative instruments?" If you are an teacher or school administrator or PTA grappling with these questions, meet Donna Loper: firstname.lastname@example.org. Be careful: her enthusiasm is infectious.
If computer networks of the future are to be more than pipelines for commercial entertainment we need to see what the bards, painters, and poets can do. Professor Loper and the students of Clark College's Project Genesis are a vanguard of the humanities in the silicon-dominated info-era. I suspect that others around the world are trying to bring ethical, aesthetic, and philosophical thinking about technology to the curriculum.Part of the power of the Net is the way it decentralizes creative power and diffuses successful experiments. Because an institution no longer has to be MIT to afford significant computing power, and because every desktop computer connected to the Internet can broadcast innovations to every other node, the most exciting work is emerging everywhere now, not just at a few technology meccas. Clark College is in Vancouver, Washington.
Loper was enlisted by an equally forward-looking college President, Joe Johnson, to help create a special program. She recruited the computer science faculty, Jim and Toni Cowen, then put out a call for students who had shown dedication to excellence in math or computer programming, music, painting, creative writing, or mechanical aptitude.
The year-long program includes information management skills such as knowledge retrieval via the Internet, and hands-on experience converting graphic art, video, and music to computer-readable form. "But the projects themselves are planned by the students around their own interests," Loper told me:"I encourage them to think about the social context of the tools they are using."
Constructing a World Wide Web page forces specialists to learn from each other. "If you know how to draw and you don't know digital imaging, you will have to learn from one of the other students," one student told me. "If you are a programmer and you want to learn how to edit video, you need to partner with someone who understands basic editing," said another.
These students were fired up; they shared an infectious sense of adventure. If you wonder where to find hope for human values in the technology-dominated future, go to Clark College and watch young programmers and musicians and artists, together with a caring teacher, working together to create their own CD-ROMs and World Wide Web home pages, sharing technical knowledge, asking moral questions about the technologies they were using.
We live in a civilization that is increasingly influenced by new technologies. We need more teachers and students to grapple with the deeper questions raised by these tools -- the kinds of questions that are supposed to be discussed in college classes. These kids at Clark are onto something. What attracted my attention wasn't so much the technical merit of their first digital videos or synthesized sound tracks, although they certainly weren't bad. It was the collaborative atmosphere, the joy of creation, the weighing of personal and aesthetic values against technical possibilities, the asking of questions about what is worth doing.
Fortunately, the technology they are mastering enables the students at Clark College to share Project Genesis with the world. Point your Web browser at their site and take a look at how technology and humanities can work together to teach students a critical skill -- going beyond knowing how to use tools to knowing what is worth building.