Moursund's IT in Education Home Page


Volume 24 1996-1997 Editorial (with Retrospective Comments)

 David Moursund

1. Aug.-Sept. 1996 How Long is a Cyberspace Year?
2. October 1996 How Many Computers Are Enough?
3. November 1996 Are Research Libraries Dying?
4. Dec./Jan. 1996/97 One Trillion: Is This Number Large Enough to Change Education?
5. February 1997 The Emerging Global Library
6. March 1997 Contributing to the Global Library
7. April 1997 Robert Logan's The Fifth Language
8. May 1997 Beyond Amplification

How Long is a Cyberspace Year?

Moursund, D.G. (September 1996). How Long is a Cyberspace Year? Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

When I was a child, I was told that a year in a person's life is like six or seven years in the life of a cat or a dog. What this meant to me was that cats and dogs don't live as long as people.

However, there is a slightly different way of looking at this idea. One can talk about a "cat year" or a "dog year" as being about two human months in length. Cats and dogs grow up faster than. humans. Their "years" pass more quickly.

Recently people have begun to talk about a "cyberspace year" and to ask the question, how long is a cyberspace year? The suggestion is that the rapid change in cyberspace seems to make cyberspace years pass very quickly.

Researching the Cyberspace Question

I decided to do some research on this topic. Mv first research involved seven students in a graduate seminar that I teach. I discussed the idea of a cyberspace year with the students, and I asked each to give an opinion on how many months there are in a cyberspace year. The conclusion was that a cyberspace year is about three months long. That is, things seem to change in cyberspace about four times faster than in ordinary "human space."

I also asked my students for their opinions about the length of a year in "education space." Here, it was made clear that we were talking about change, and how rapidly our education space is changing. The conclusion was that an education-space year is about 36 months in length. That is, while changes in cyberspace are going on perhaps four times faster than changes in human space, changes in education are going on about one-third as fast as in ordinary human space. Therefore, in the opinion of these students, the relative rate of change in cyberspace and education space differs by a factor of 12,

A sample size of seven doesn't make for a very convincing experiment. So, I repeated the experiment with the 50 or so people-mostly school administrators-who were attending a special symposium at a computers-in-education conference. Their opinion was that a cyberspace year is about two months in length, while an education-space year is at least 36 months in length. That is, in their opinion, the rate of change in cyberspace is at least 18 times faster than the rate of change in education space.

Wow! That is a large difference. My two "research" studies suggest that educators feel that things change in cyberspace between 12 and 18 times faster than they change in education space.

You may want to do some of your own research on this. Try out this idea on some of your colleagues and compare their opinions with the data I gathered.

Change in Business and Industry

If cyberspace and education space were totally unrelated, you might ask, "so what?" But, cyberspace has to do with people and machines communicating with each other. It is like a virtual library where information and telecommunication technologies can be used as aids to solving problems and accomplishing tasks. Cyberspace and education are certainly closely related.

It is clear that our education space is making some progress in using the information technologies. We have far more microcomputers. CD-ROM drives, scanners, printers, and Internet connections than we had a few years ago. An increasing number of teachers are learning; how to help their students learn about information technologies,

However, it seems clear that the pace of change in the information technologies is far faster than it is in education. That is, the "state of the art” of the information technologies is pulling awav from our education space. Moreover, the pace of change in the use of information technologies in business and industry exceeds the pace or change in schools. There is an increasing gap between the information technology knowledge and skills that business and industry leaders would like our school graduates to have, and their actual knowledge and skills.

Eventually the pace of change of cyberspace and the information technology will slow. For example, in the semiconductor industry, sales have doubled approximately every 5 years for the past 35 years. At the same time, our purchasing power in the area of technology (i.e., number of components that can be bought on a dollar-for-dollar basis) has doubled in less than two years. This level of growth cannot continue indefinitely.

However, there is good reason to believe that this level of growth may continue for another 10 to 20 years. Thus, unless there is a drastic increase in the pace of change in our education space, the gap between the state of the art of the information technologies and the way they are used in our education space will continue to widen. Graduates from our educational system will be less and less prepared to function effectively in the work world.

Change in Education

It would be nice to close this discussion with a few simple solutions to the problem I have raised. Unfortunately, I don't know any simple solutions. We know that the pace of change in education can be greatly increased, because we can find examples of individual teachers and small groups of teachers who have done so. We know that far more staff development is needed than is currently available. (There is considerable support for the idea that about 30% of the total school budget for information technologies should be allocated to professional development.) We know that there needs to be a substantial increase in the amount of funding that schools have available for information technologies. (An increasing number of states are passing legislation specifically designed to increase funding for information technologies in schools.)

There are two bright spots that deserve mention. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is a member of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Through ISTE's work, NCATE has instituted some information technology literacy requirements for all preservice teachers in programs that NCATE accredits. In addition, ISTE has just received a planning grant from the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) to begin work on developing national information technology standards for students. As these standards begin to emerge, many schools will use them as guidelines in making modifications to their curricula. The dual approach of preservice standards for teachers and national standards for students will make a significant contribution to improving our educational system.

Dave Moursund, International Society for Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403;

How Many Computers Are Enough?

Moursund, D.G. (October 1996). How many computers are enough? Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

A 1995 report from the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment indicated that K-12 schools in the United States had an average of one microcomputer per nine students. This ratio has been steadily improving; therefore, one microcomputer per eight students might be a good current estimate. (Unfortunately, a large number of these computers are relatively old machines.)

Where are we headed in making computers more available to students? What is an appropriate goal? Many people feel that a good target ratio is one microcomputer for every two students. This ratio would ensure that schools could have a number of computer labs as well as "pods" of machines in each classroom.

A Goal for the Next 10 Years

Personally, I feel that a 1:2 computer-to-student ratio is far too low. Instead, I believe that our goal should be to achieve a ratio of about 1.5 computers per student within the next 10 years, A substantial part of this supply of machines should be portable computers that students could use both at school and at home. These portable machines could be easily connected to networks from home and from locations throughout the school. They would also allow students to have access to powerful personal productivity tools, such as those included in ClarisWorks and Microsoft Works. In addition, all students should have easy access to hand-held calculators.

The essence of the argument for a 1.5 computer-to-student ratio is simple enough. In the past, we have shown willingness to build a large part of the curriculum on the ready availability of certain types of technology, and we will continue to do so in the future. Because technology changes, the curriculum changes.

Mathematics and Technology—An Example

Let's consider the current technology used in mathematics as an example. (Other subject areas could be used just as effectively to make the argument.) Our mathematics curriculum is built on the assumption that students almost always have paper and pencils available for doing mathematics. Although students can do a great deal of mathematics mentally, they often use paper-and-pencil methods to overcome various mental limitations.

For example, although students can mentally learn to estimate the quotient of two large numbers, they usually learn to use a paper-and-pencil algorithm for long division. Very few people have the type of memory and persistence needed to mentally do long division involving large numbers. Therefore, paper-and-pencil technology has become inextricably woven into the long-division aspect of the mathematics curriculum.

The same holds true for solving equations, proving theorems, graphing functions, and analyzing statistical data. Learning how to solve math problems and actually solving them both depend on paper-and-pencil technology. The algorithms and problem-solving processes students learn are based on an appropriate balance between their mental capabilities and the capabilities of the technology. Thus, it is assumed that students have the necessary technology available when they do homework and take tests.

Paper-and-pencil technology is a passive form of technology. This type of technological aid for representing and solving math problems is not very "intelligent." Of course, paper-and-pencil technology becomes less passive if we allow the use of books and student notes in homework and test-taking situations. It is interesting that we allow open books and open notes when students do homework, but typically not when they take tests. Open books and open notes are certainly more authentic in terms of how students solve problems outside of school settings. Contrast the passiveness of paper and pencil with the active "intelligence" of a calculator or computer. An inexpensive calculator "knows" how to do long division or compute a square root. A computer (with appropriate software) "knows" how to solve equations, carry out statistical analyses of data, and graph functions.

Our educational system has made relatively slow progress toward having a mathematics curriculum that assumes all students have a calculator (much less a computer) to use whenever they want. This is despite the fact that hand-held solar calculators have been available for about three dollars for many years.

However, some progress is occurring. Many high school math courses now assume that students have a graphing calculator, The content of the curriculum has been modified to assume such access. Moreover, the power of these calculators is steadily growing. Some calculators have computing power and built-in software that rival the capabilities of the mainframe computers of just 20 years ago.

Using Technology Authentically

The trend of intertwining technology tools into the content of the curriculum is continuing, strongly supported by continuing improvements in computer technology. "Knowing" will increasingly mean that "I and my information technologies know."

On a personal note, it is I and my information-technology support structure that solve problems and accomplish tasks as I work. I cannot function effectively without access to information technologies such as a computer, e-mail, telephone, voice mail, fax, the World Wide Web, a printer, a copier, and so on. Moreover, there is no expectation that I will function without such access to these information technologies. The same can be said for millions of adults,

For education to be authentic, students must have access to information technologies whenever they need them. That is the reason that we should move rapidly toward providing every student with a portable machine. These portables do not need to be state of the art; they should be rugged, reliable, and user friendly. They will need to be supported by more powerful multimedia machines (closer to state of the art), as well as servers for network connectivity. Every teacher will need both a portable machine and access to a more powerful machine. Every classroom will need multimedia presentation stations for students and teachers to use. This is why achieving a 1.5 computer-to-student ratio is essential if we want our students to succeed.

David Moursund, International Society for Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403;

Are Research libraries Dying?

Moursund, D.G. (November 1996). Are research libraries dying? Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

In the past, one of the resources that differentiated research universities from colleges and K-12 schools was the research library. Research universities had extensive (and expensive) research libraries, supported by acquisitions budgets that were often in excess of a million dollars a year.

The Internet is contributing to a massive change in information access that will empower K-12 schools and colleges. However, it may decrease the preeminence of research universities.

A Case Study

The University of Oregon (one of my employers) is a high quality research university with a large graduate program, a faculty that is highly successful in obtaining grants, and many departments that have high national rankings. It has a very large research library.

The University of Oregon recently completed a multimillion-dollar addition to its library facility. The fundraisers argued that the need was obvious and that the building project was long overdue. The "old" space was full to overflowing. Where would all of the new books and journals go? When you spend nearly $3.7 million a year for research journals, research monographs, and books, you quickly fill up a lot of shelf space!

However, as the building project was beginning, the library was in the process of cutting $350,000 a year from its periodicals budget and was continuing a slow but steady decrease in its book budget. Now, just a few years later, the University of Oregon is beginning a three-year effort to cut an additional $500,000 from its annual budget for periodicals. The book budget continues to decline.

The argument for the necessity of these cuts is both interesting and informative. At the time I was writing this editorial, a detailed analysis entitled "Series Cancellations and Library Budget Information" was available online at the UO Library Web site.

The analysis included a listing of all of the proposed periodicals to be cut in the first year of the three-year cutback process. The Web page also discussed the fact that many other universities are making similar cuts. Finally, it contained pointers to a number of learned discussions about online publishing of research journals and other scholarly publications.

From a financial point of view, the arguments are that the costs of research periodicals have continued to increase far more rapidly than the cost of living. In addition, public colleges and universities have not been very well funded in recent years, and there is every reason to believe that this will continue. Thus, there is a need to decrease the number of periodicals being purchased, both because their prices are going up and because many other demands exist for the money available. For example, it could be used for online services, CD-ROMs, computers, or faculty salaries.

As I read the analysis, I could not help but recall the statement by Marshall McLuhan that "The medium is the message." The Web-based presentation of the arguments for the budget cuts and the underlying discussion of the research librarians changing world were presented in a mode that clearly showed the power of the medium. Technology is making research information available far more rapidly and in a far less costly manner than it is in traditional paper periodicals.

Research Articles on the Web

After I made my way through the arguments for the cuts, I began to browse some of the articles that discussed online research journals and other aspects of the changes that are occurring. You may enjoy checking out the New Horizons in Scholarly Communication Web site at

With minimal time and effort, I browsed the titles of dozens of carefully selected articles and read several of them. They varied in age-the oldest was Vannevar Bush's 1945 article that is often cited as laying the scholarly foundations for the beginnings of hypermedia.

Several of the articles were updated versions of presentations that had been given before scholarly organizations in the current year. One that I found particularly interesting was "Evaluating Quality on the Net," a 1996 presentation by Hope N. Tillman, Director of Libraries at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts. In this presentation, she discusses three general types of Web publications that might attract a person who uses a research library.

  1. Vanity press literature. This is just like the self-publishing that used to be done either individually or with the aid of a "vanity press." Tillman says that the typical home page created by students falls in this category.
  2. Gray literature. This includes pamphlets, preprints, technical reports, and other materials that have the appearance of scholarly literature but have not gone through a refereeing process.
  3. Very scholarly literature. This category includes respected, refereed journals.

From a research librarian's point of view, items in the first category are very suspect, those in the second category are somewhat suspect, and those in the third category are viewed favorably.

A research librarian learns to distinguish among these three general categories of information. Tillman's article contains a detailed example of the type of analysis that a research librarian might use. Her main point is that we should use common sense in analyzing Web publications.

That is easy enough to say when you are a highly educated research librarian. The challenge to our educational system is to help students at all grade levels develop a similar type of common sense. Such common sense comes from a great deal of education, substantial practice analyzing multiple sources of information, and feedback from a person who has learned to think like a research librarian.

The "physical" research library is dying, and the "cyberspace" research library is emerging. Eventually the cyberspace research library will surpass and replace the traditional research library. All students need to learn how to be self-sufficient research librarians in cyberspace. Curriculum needs to change to reflect the growing access of information available to of all students.

David Moursund, International Society/or Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97405-1923;

One Trillion: Is This Number Large Enough to Change Education?

Moursund, D.G. (Dec./Jan. 1996/97). One Trillion: Is This Number Large Enough to Change Education? Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OT: ISTE.

One trillion is a large number. It is one million million. It is 1,000,000,000,000.

Researchers in the telecommunications industry have recently developed fiber optic systems capable of carrying one trillion bits per second on a single fiber. This is 400 times as fast as the fastest commercially available systems currently in use,

The fastest "super computers" now have a speed of far in excess of one trillion computations per second. Current projections are that in less than 10 years we will have super computers with a speed in excess of 10 trillion computations per second.

Fiber Optics

What do these numbers mean? Let's begin with a trillion bit-per-second fiber optic cable. With current compression techniques, a full-length feature movie requires somewhat less than five gigabytes (40 billion bits) of storage. This means that such a movie could be transmitted over a single strand of a fiber optic cable in about 1/25 of a second. Wow!

Of course, there are "small" problems, such as having the movie stored in a digital format in the first place, a computer system that can move data at the rate of one trillion bits per second from a storage device onto a fiber optic cable, a receiving system that can receive data at that rate, and a large enough storage device at the receiving end to store the movie.

All of these difficulties can be overcome with current technology. Thus, if we look far enough into the future, we can predict with confidence that such high-speed data transmission systems will come into common use. High-speed fiber optic connections in our homes and classrooms will become common.

Nicholas Negroponte, Director of the MIT Media Lab, is confident that steady progress in data transmission speeds and improvements in the infrastructure will soon lead to the demise of videotape rental outlets. Why go out to rent a video tape when you can have it sent directly to your home? Furthermore, why would the video rental companies need to have a large inventory of videos at several local sites throughout the country when whatever movie you want to see will always be available at a centralized location, no matter how many other people are also renting it?

Similar conditions hold for the video libraries of schools and school districts. Clearly, improvements in data transmission rates will have a direct impact on education. In the middle of a class discussion, the teacher or students may think of a video or a piece of a video that is particularly relevant to the discussion. A few clicks on the keyboard and viewing can begin,

Mega Megahertz Speed

How about one trillion computations per second? What can be done with such computing power? Perhaps the most obvious answer lies in a number of traditional problems that challenge our fastest computer systems. Weather forecasting, simulation of nuclear weapons, and simulation of new products such as airplanes and cars all provide excellent examples. The importance of such computer modeling and simulation is growing.

For applications closer to education, the field of artificial intelligence (AI) provides good examples. Edward Feigenbaum and Raj Reddy were recipients of the prestigious Association for Computing Machinery's Turing Award ("the Nobel Prize in computing") in 1994. Their Turing lectures are reprinted in the May 1996 issue of the Communications of the ACM.

Raj Reddy notes that there are now thousands of expert systems and intelligent agents in everyday use, and that these numbers are steadily increasing. Perhaps you made use of one of these the last time you prepared your income taxes. Probably your retirement system makes use of an expert system as an aid to making investment decisions. When you take your car in for maintenance, an expert system may be used in diagnosing you car's performance.

Many of the problems being studied by researchers in AI require an immense amount of computing power. You have probably read about the chess tournament between the (human) world chess champion Garry Kasparov and an IBM computer named Deep Blue. Although the computer system could analyze an incredible 200 million board positions per second, the human on the tournament. Perhaps a machine that is 100 times as fast with still more intelligence built into the programming-will able to beat Kasparov. In any event. Deep Blue is still keeping busy-it is also being used in long-range weather forecasting.

Raj Reddy is a world leader in the study of using computers to process natural language. The processing of voice input to a computer requires a great deal of computing power, Accurate translation of one natural language into another requires far more computing power. Needless to say, success in the computer processing of natural languages will have significant educational implications. Initial instruction in reading and writing will certainly change as such tools become available at an affordable price.

One trillion is indeed a large number, and it represents the outer frontiers of data transmission and computer speed. During the next decade we can certainly look forward to our educational system providing many students with billion-bit-per-second access to information and billion-computations-per-second computing power.

There are many possible educational uses of such speed. One of the projects that Raj Reddy reported on in his Turing lecture was a voice input system designed to help young children learn to read aloud. This expert system has many of the characteristics of a human listener/teacher. Research suggests its potential to be an effective aid in education, with many students learning considerably faster than from conventional instruction. A relatively inexpensive billion-computations-per-second machine would make such an educational tool readily available in schools.

Another application of such speed is in students developing computer-based models of problems that are important to them and their community. For example, there is an increasing amount of software designed to help students develop simulations of local environmental systems. Such software can facilitate use of student-produced video and data that students gather in their community. The simulations can be used to study the environment and to make recommendations for ways to improve the environment.

David Moursund, International Society for Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923;

The Emerging Global Library

Moursund, D.G. (February 1997). The emerging global library. Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

What information and procedures should you "memorize" and carry around in your head? What should you carry with you, perhaps in your appointment book, wallet, or personal digital assistant (PDA)? What should you have readily available where you work or study, on your personal computer or in your personal library of reference books and CD-ROMs? What should you be able to access through the local and wide area computer networks that connect our emerging Global Library?

As a final question, what is your opinion about the following statements:

  • The answers to the previous questions do vary and should vary with the person providing the answers.
  • Our educational system should accommodate and build on the diversity reflected in the varying information needs and information-processing abilities of individuals.
  • The answers to these questions are changing along with the changes in the information technologies.

Global Library

I read a lot of science fiction. I recently read the Uplift trilogy written by David Brin. In this trilogy, races in five of the galaxies in the universe have been traveling in space for about three billion years. These races gain prestige and power by identifying emerging sentience-races that have the potential to learn space travel technology and to join the other space-traveling races of the galaxies.

A central theme in the trilogy is the Galactic Library-a multibillion-year accumulation of knowledge developed by a huge number of different races. David Brin explores the value of this library and its effects on emerging sentient races. For example, what is it like to be a research scientist or engineer when you are suddenly made aware that the problems you are working on were solved a billion years ago? What is it like to be a "backwater" race and nor be able to afford a full copy of the Galactic Library? What problems should you be attempting to solve without reference to the Galactic Library, and to what extent should your world's technology and science be dependent on the Galactic Library?

These are interesting questions, all of which are essentially the questions we should be asking ourselves as our Global Library emerges.

Declarative and Procedural Knowledge

It is helpful to divide memorized information into two major categories: declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge includes facts or pieces of information, such as the names of the countries of the world and their capital cities. Procedural knowledge tells how to do things. For example, a touch typists mind and body rapidly and accurately carry out the typing process, with little or no conscious thought,

The human mind can memorize or learn a great deal of declarative and procedural knowledge. Computers add a new dimension to declarative and procedural knowledge because they can store virtually unlimited amounts of declarative knowledge, A computer rapidly and accurately carries out a procedure defined by a computer program. The procedure may graph data, solve equations, or browse the Web for information about a particular topic. Examples of computers using procedural knowledge can be seen in robots, automated factories, autopilots in airplanes and space vehicles, and automated equipment in science laboratories. More mundane examples can be seen in the spelling checker in the word processor you use and in math software that can automatically solve a huge range of problems.

Different Levels of Libraries

At the beginning of this editorial, I asked four questions relating to our personal levels of information access. Each of these questions corresponds with one of the following "levels" of libraries:

  1. Internal Personal Library-one's own memory. This includes knowledge about the capabilities, limitations, and contents of the other libraries, as well as the skills necessary to use them.
  2. External Personal Library-the tools we routinely carry with us. The steadily increasing power of portable computers and PDAs is greatly increasing the scope of what we can carry.
  3. Personal Library-the tools we use on a regular basis but cannot easily carry with us, such as a home computer system or a large collection of reference books.
  4. Worldwide Library Networks-local, regional, and global electronic reference sources.

All four levels of libraries are dependent on the memory, knowledge, skills, and intelligence of the user. Computer technology is steadily increasing the power, ease of use, and accessibility of the latter three levels. For example, cellular telephones and portable modems make it possible for us to have ready access to our personal libraries and local, regional, and global library networks. The growing possibilities for wired and wireless connectivity are leading to a gradual merger of people's External Personal Libraries and Personal Libraries with Worldwide Library Networks into a Global Library.

Educational Implications

The challenge to our educational system is two-fold. First, our educational system needs to provide students with appropriate access to the emerging Global Library and instruction in its use. Every student needs to become a competent research librarian. Second, curriculum, instruction, and assessment must be consistent with and supportive of the emerging Global Library. Less emphasis should be placed on tasks that a computer can perform far better than a person, and increased emphasis should be given to the things that a person can do far better than a computer.

Special attention needs to be paid to individual differences- to diversity. People vary tremendously in their abilities to memorize declarative knowledge. People vary tremendously in their abilities to memorize procedures and develop speed and accuracy in carrying them out. Our educational system is committed to accommodating such individual differences for students with certain specified handicapping conditions. A logical next step is to better accommodate such individual differences among all students.

David Moursund, International Society for Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923;

Contributing to the Global Library

Moursund, D.G. (March 1997). Contributing to the Global Library. Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

In last month's editorial, I talked about the emerging Global Library. The focus was on the accumulated declarative knowledge (facts) and procedural knowledge (how to do things) that can be stored in a networked computer system. This month I focus on how students can learn to use our Global Library and contribute to it.

The Global Library

The emerging Global Library is widely accessible and empowers its users. Users can build on or make use of the declarative and procedural knowledge stored in it. The computer systems that store the information can help process it and carry out a wide range of useful procedures.

But what if some of the "facts" in the Global Library are incorrect or heavily biased? What if some of the procedures contain errors? What if the hardware or software malfunctions? Clearly ,these can cause serious difficulties. These are, of course, difficulties that all users of the Global Library routinely face. Many adults have developed the knowledge and coping skills that are necessary to make effective use of an imperfect system.

The Internet is giving students access to the Global Library. In fact, now they can even contribute to it. It has become common for individual students or groups of students to create Web pages and post them on the Internet, where they can be accessed from throughout the world. This has created an educational challenge for both students and teachers. How do young students learn to make effective use of a Global Library (with all of its flaws) that was primarily designed for use by adults? How do students learn to make appropriate contributions to the Global Library?

Personal Libraries

One way to learn about contributing to and using the Global Library is to learn about our own Personal Libraries. Our Personal Libraries include the declarative and procedural knowledge that we carry in our heads. Other components may include personal documents, personal photographs and videos, books, and so on.

Some interesting aspects of Personal Libraries are how they change over time and how they are attuned to their primary users. Access to, use of, modification of, adding to, and deleting from your own Personal Library are all ongoing activities. Each Personal Library grows and changes as its user and creator grows and changes.

Many people, such as parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, friends, and acquaintances, contribute to this ongoing develop-mental process. Information may come from television, books, or other sources. Thus, our Personal Libraries contain multiple sources of often conflicting information about any particular situation. Through continued use of our Personal Libraries, we can learn which parts are dependable and useful. We make decisions about what to memorize, which procedures to perfect, what to write down and carry as personal notes, and which books and other reference materials to keep near at hand.

Even very young children can think about these ideas. They can think about the multiple and conflicting facts and sources of information they have in their Personal Libraries. They can think about alternate procedures for carrying out a task. As children grow older and more mature, they can take steadily increasing responsibility for both the use and content of their own Personal Libraries.

Contributing to the Global Library

An understanding of how to add to and use our Personal Libraries can be a good starting point for learning to use and add to the Global Library. The Global Library contains multiple sources of information on any given topic. These sources of information may well contradict each other, contain factual errors, or both. The information may be "slanted" to represent a particular point of view. These are all things that each student has already encountered in his or her Personal Library. Thus ,with appropriate education and experience, students can learn to deal with these aspects of the Global Library. This is a gradual learning process that students can pursue year after year.

Making useful contributions to the Global Library requires a shift in perception. There is a difference between adding to your own Personal Library and adding to a library that will be used by others. What knowledge, skills, and insights should you assume the Global Library user has? Is the declarative and procedural knowledge you are adding to the Global Library correct enough that others can effectively use it and build on it? What can you do to help the user assess the correctness, viewpoint ,and potential value of the information? How can the knowledge be represented to best help the users? All of these questions can be addressed in an instructional program. A significant component of this instruction can be students learning from each other and learning to be critics of each other's work.

Final Remarks

It is increasingly common for students to help each other build their Personal Libraries, just as it is increasingly common for children to make contributions to databases that reside on local or wide area networks. Students have a major responsibility to themselves, their peers, and network users when they add to libraries .Learning about this responsibility and how to fulfill it should be thoroughly integrated into our educational system.

David Moursund, International Society for Technology in Education,1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923;

Robert Logan's The Fifth Language

Moursund, D.G. (April 1997). Robert Logan's The Fifth Language: A look as computers as a language, Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

Robert K. Logan's recent book. The Fifth Language: Learning a Living in the Computer Age, brings an interesting new perspective to computers in education. Logan (1995) argues that computers (along with other related information technologies) constitute a language. He sees this language as the fifth in a series of languages that have developed over rime. These languages include speech, writing, mathematics, science, and, now, computers. Logan argues that our educational system needs to be substantially modified to reflect the capabilities of computers as an aid to communication and human thinking.

What Is a Language?

People define the term language in many different ways. However, a generally accepted definition is that given by Vygotsky (1962), who described language as a vehicle for communication and thought.

Speech (natural language) is a powerful aid to communication and thought. Logan presents a carefully reasoned chain of arguments that the four other languages-writing, math, science, and computers-each satisfy the generally accepted definitions of language.

A Brief History of Languages

Logan's book also provides an informative summary of the history of the non speech languages. He notes that evidence of memory aids far precedes our earliest records of writing. For example, drawings and paintings on cave walls have been dated from more than 30,000 years ago. Tallies (for example, notches on animal horns) were in use more than 15,000 years ago.

Soon after the agricultural age began about 10,000 years ago in Sumer, a country located in the Middle East, agricultural societies began developing individual, uniquely shaped tokens that represented various agricultural products-a jar of oil, a measure of wheat, or a goat. At first, the number of tokens was small-perhaps 24 or so-but as agriculture grew more complex and cities began to develop, the number of tokens grew to as many as 190.

After about 5,000 years, the increasing size of cities and the complexity of agricultural activities made the use of tokens in the information-processing system impractical. Within the next 250 years, writing and mathematics were developed. These were powerful aids to the representation, processing, and communication of information. Because it takes considerable formal instruction and practice to learn writing and mathematics, schools were developed to teach what we now call "the three R's" to government and business clerks. (It is interesting to note that these schools used classrooms and had class sizes much like those in today's secondary schools.)

It rook another 2,500 years before the methodologies for collecting, storing, processing, and communicating information overwhelmed the capabilities of the languages of speech, writing, and mathematics. This led to the development of science as an organized discipline-and as a language.

Writing, math, and formal science were tools used by a very limited number of people until technologies for the mass production of paper and books were developed by Gutenberg and others in the mid-15th century. These technological developments made it possible for a significant percentage of the population to gain the knowledge, skills, and power of writing, mathematics, and science.

Finally, it rook until the 1930s (about 2,500 years after the development of science as a formal discipline) for the information explosion to overwhelm the languages of speech, writing, mathematics, and science. This information explosion led to the development of computers-the fifth language.

Computers as a Language

Logan bases much of his analysis on the work of Marshall McLuhan, a worldwide leader and visionary in communications. McLuhan coined the term "global village" and the phrase "the medium is the message." McLuhan and others have noted that new languages include their predecessors; they add new powers but lack some of their predecessors' powers. Thus, writing and mathematics did not replace speech, but they certainly empowered their users in ways far beyond the ways speech could.

Similarly, science, including its attendant features-the scientific method; the orderly collection, classification, and analysis of data; and model building-builds on and uses the languages of speech, writing, and mathematics. However, it too provides its users with tools and power far beyond what is provided by these other three languages.

Computers as a fifth language builds upon the power inherent in the four preceding languages. Computers do not obviate the need for speech, writing, mathematics, and science. However, computers have engendered new tools for the acquisition, storage, processing, and communication of information. Interactive hypermedia and the World Wide Web are two obvious examples. Other examples include tools for composing and/or editing sound and video, software for graphic artists, systems for manipulating mathematical symbols, simulations in the sciences and social sciences, and medical imaging systems.

Educational Implications

It takes a lot of learning time and effort to develop a reasonable level of knowledge and skill in a language. For example, the acquisition of speech begins in very early childhood, and formal instruction in speech (rhetoric) often continues far into a person's educational life. Writing, mathematics, and science are part of the required curriculum in K-12 education and on into college.

Eventually it will become clear that learning computers as a language requires a similar amount of study and practice. In the near future, informal instruction in computers as a language will begin before students start school. Formal instruction will be built into the curriculum at every grade level and continue as part of a college education. All teachers will need to work with their students in the use of this new language.

Educators have a long way to go! Fortunately, many teachers now are comfortable enough in using computers that they can learn alongside their students as they implement new ideas in the classroom. To aid in this effort, ISTE-developed and NCATE-approved standards are in place for teacher education, both for classroom teachers and technology specialists. There is now and will continue to be a steadily rising tide of teachers who have knowledge and skills in the use of computers in education.


Logan, Robert K. (1995). The fifth language: Learning a living in the computer ape. Toronto, Canada: Stoddard Publishing Company, Limited.

Vygotsky, Lev S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Beyond Amplification

Moursund, D.G. (May 1997). Beyond Amplification. Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

The use of new technologies tends to follow a common path. First the technology is used to do things that are already being done--but the technology provides an "amplification." The horseless carriage was an amplification of the horse and buggy.

Eventually, a successful new technology moves beyond amplification, to second-order effects. We can all name how cars and trucks have changed the world.

Educational use of Information Technology is following a predictable path. The great majority of current use is still at the first-order (amplification) level. However, many individual teachers are moving their students beyond amplification, into the second-order levels of applications. The ideas in this article are discussed in more detail in Moursund (1997).

An Example

Word processing is a common use of computers in schools. Typically, students learn to use a word processor as an amplification of an electric typewriter. A word processor does what an electric typewriter can do, but has storage and editing facilities. Most students learning to use a word processor learn typing rules such as "use a tab at the beginning of a paragraph," and "insert two blank spaces between sentences." (Both of these rules are incorrect in desktop publishing.)

Desktop publishing is a clear example of moving beyond use of a computer as an amplification of the electric typewriter. It includes: design for effective communication; multiple fonts; many aids to composition such as an outliner, spell checker, grammar checker, and style sheets; the ability to include graphics in a document; and aids to publication such as laser printers and color printers. The desktop publishing industry represents moving beyond amplification to achieve second-order effects.

There is a huge amount of knowledge about effective communication via desktop publication. Quite a bit of this can be woven into instruction that students receive as they begin learning word processing. Needless to say, this is a challenge to our instructional system.

Additional Examples

This section lists a number of additional examples of moving beyond amplification to achieve second-order effects. The examples are ones that are occurring in education.

  • The use of a computer to automate flash cards is a first-order effect. Immersion of a learner in a highly realistic and interactive computer simulation designed to facilitate learning is a second-order effect. Students developing such simulations is a second-order effect.
  • The use of a computer to do payroll computations is a first-order effect. The spreadsheet is a second-order effect. The spreadsheet facilitates the development of computer models of a business, and the use of these models to do forecasting and to examine "What if?" types of questions. All modern computerized accounting systems are second-order effects.
  • The use of a computer to do electronic mail is a first-order effect. The World Wide Web is a second-order effect. Teams of people working together via desktop conferencing and groupware are another second-order effect.
  • The use of computers to do simple drawings or to insert simple graphics into a word processed document is a first-order effect. The entire Computer-Assisted Design/Computer-Assisted Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) industry is a second-order effect. The use of a computer to create and/or edit animation, photographs, and sound, and video are all second-order effects. The movie industry is being transformed by these computer capabilities.
  • The use of a computer to do simple mathematical and scientific calculations is a first-order effect. The math packages that use techniques from artificial intelligence to solve a full range of problems up through the levels of several years of college mathematics are a second-order effect.
  • The use of computers to make a linear sequence of pages (a linear multimedia "stack") containing color, text, and sound is a first-order effect. Interactive hypermedia containing sound, graphics, video, text, and color is a second-order effect.
  • The use of a computer to search for a word or phrase in a large database is a first-order effect. The agent technology (a product of research in artificial intelligence) now being used to search databases is a second-order effect.
  • The use of email to facilitate receiving and sending in lessons in a distance education course is a first-order effect. Interactive Web-based distance education courses are a second-order effect.
  • The use of a computer to play simple tunes is a first-order effect. The teaching of musical composition in a computer-generated music environment is a second-order effect. The entire music industry has been changed by computers.
  • The use of computers to implement simple simulation games is a first-order effect. Virtual realities are a second-order effect.
  • Manufacturing, servicing, and selling computers are all new jobs created by the computer industry. These new jobs can be considered as a first-order effect. A second order-effect has been changes at the middle management level of employment. Millions of jobs have been lost. Another second-order effect is that worldwide networking facilitates worldwide competition for an increasing number of jobs. If a job can be accomplished by telecommuting, then perhaps the worker can live 10,000 miles from company headquarters.

Professional Development Challenge

Our educational system has succeeded in bring many of the first-order uses of the Information Technologies into the everyday classroom. This has required considerable investment in facilities, professional development, and curriculum development. Many schools now have the facilities for a broad-based movement beyond amplification. A lack of adequate professional development remains as a major barrier. ISTE members and subscribers are pioneering second-order effects. Learning and Leading With Technology features many articles that move beyond amplification. These grass roots efforts will eventually become mainstream.


Moursund, D.G. (1997). The future of Information Technology in education. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

Retrospective Comments 4/5/02

Five years after this editorial was written, the issues remain much the same. In the business and manufacturing world, we have continued to see major increases in productivity based on second-order effects of IT. We cannot say the same for our educational system.

The word processing versus desktop publication example in the editorial is still an accurate description. Most students now graduating from high school know the rudiments of using a word processor—as an amplification of an electric typewriter. They know very little about desktop publication.

It is interesting to analyze use of the Web. In the Editorial, the Web itself is classified as a second-order effect. We have seen rapid acceptance of the Web, and essentially all students graduating from high school know how to use the Web. However, they use it at an amplification (first-order) level. They have not learned the information retrieval research skills needed to use the Web at a second-order level. Similarly, many students learn to create Websites. However, they do not learn the multimedia document design and other aspects needed for effective communication in this interactive, multimedia environment.