Stanley Chodorow: Thanks very much, Doug. Those of us who are
in the university note that each year the freshmen come in and
replace the previous freshmen in terms of their knowledge and
comfort with the new technologies, and we thought it was important
that we would let a couple of students who in fact aren't freshmen,
but have sustained their interest and their role and have some
experience with what at least is going on here in the use of
technology in education. We'll start with Myra Lotto, who's in
the class of '99. Myra.
Myra Lotto: A few years ago things were quite different.
Webs were still made by spiders, gophers were furry little rodents,
Yahoo was what we yelled while jumping into the swimming pool,
Macintoshes were 99 cents a pound, and viruses would eventually
go away. But now we've got this strange, new information technology
stuff to play with, and this is exactly what's going to make my
college education different from any of yours and different from
the people who graduated just two years before me. Just a few
years ago learning was about class periods and structured papers.
Now students are finding an alternative through things like e-mail,
listservs, and the Web. In the Spring of 1996, the Spring of
my freshman year, I had my first real academic experience with
info-tech in the classroom, an experience I'll never forget.
I took an English class, English 103: The Short Story. It was
a class by a popular Penn professor, Al Filreis, who also happens
to be my academic advisor and the faculty master of my dorm.
Al seemed to gain popularity for his somewhat unorthodox teaching
style. He gives the class a topic for debate, and then he presents
a position. Students then separate themselves into groups in
opposition or support of the position. Class was, to say the
very least, contentious. A bloody massacre would be the more
accurate term. But the twist in this class was that the course
was a college house seminar. Only residents of my dormitory,
Van Pelt College House, were allowed to enroll. This turned your
neighbors into classmates and sometimes enemies.
I should have known receiving several e-mails from the professor
before the semester even started that this class was going to
consume a fair amount of my life. And over four billion texts
later, our 26 person class shattered the Penn record for most
bytes transferred over a single listserv. In four months, we
wrote 2,200 pages of text. There's nothing quite like opening
up your e-mail account every day to see 74 new messages from your
adoring classmates. Discussions never seemed to end. Frantic
e-mailings at 3 a.m. gave way to screaming matches in the hallway.
It was absolutely one of the most exhausting experiences I've
ever had, but it taught me a whole new way of thinking. You see,
class never ended. When we left the classroom, we'd all walk
back to the dorm, we'd walk into our rooms, and we'd log on.
Within ten minutes e-mails would be flying. The topics, the dialogue,
the passion of our learning never stopped.
There's still a huge disagreement as to exactly what we learned
in that class. I think that one thing we could all agree on was
that it brought us together in one writhing mass of impassioned,
angry students who would look back at the experience and always
remember it as a turning point, a truly unique learning experience.
A few weeks before the end of the semester, my nutty professor
looked upon his minions and commanded them to make Web pages.
He said simply, "Do a Web project, and make it good."
Well, what in the world is a Web project? I'm the author of
three of them, and I still don't know what they are. It's all
just too new, and there's no precedent set. And I can only give
you a temporary definition that fits with what I've done and what
I've seen. A Web project is sort of a cross between a Web site
and a term paper. If you visit any of these $10,000 professionally
designed corporate Web sites, you see a nicely structured tree
of information that eventually blurs the different branches into
one nice mass of information. If it's a good Web site, you should
be able to look at this mass of information and know exactly how
to find the answer you're looking for. Now, if you take all this
and give it a thesis and conclusion and add some salt and pepper
and garlic you have a Web project. I promise you these projects
are qualitatively the same as papers. They demand the same analysis
and the same preparation. The medium is the only difference.
A whole new rhetoric is born when you have the freedom to create
hypertext links between pieces of supportive evidence. As with
corporate Web sites, Web projects can eventually grow into a single
mass of information, easily navigated, that produces an overwhelming
sense of convincing argument. Web projects escape linear thought
while maintaining a level of analysis that you'll also find in
the best term papers.
So we are, and we're growing into our techno-savvy shoes at a
furious pace, and we have to remember to provide support for our
new creations. As we grow towards the concept of a 24-hour university
where the learning never stops, I ask you to turn your focus to
Jane Doe who is desperately trying to complete her paper. It
is 11 p.m. the night before the paper is due. Jane has just completed
her first draft, and she runs down the hall to her friend Joe.
Joe is an undergraduate, a writing advisor, paid by the university
to give peer feedback. Joe reads the paper. They spend an hour
discussing ways to improve it, and Jane begins her lengthy revision
process. Jane works diligently, but there is much to be done.
Now it is 5 a.m. Joe is asleep. Jane is panicking. Jane has
reached the procrastination zone. In the procrastination zone,
time seems to slow to half it's speed. In the procrastination
zone, you suddenly lose every writing skill you possess. Suddenly
every sentence is in the passive voice, and your thesis turns
to mush. Jane undergoes a physical transformation. Jane Doe
has disappeared, and in her place stands e-mail woman. E-mail
woman possesses super-hero powers. Quickly she leaps to the keyboard
and copies the weak spots of Jane's paper into an e-mail. In
her infinite wisdom, e-mail woman sends this submission to the
University of Pennsylvania 24 hour writing support line. Slowly,
Jane returns to her original form and passes out on her bed.
In the morning, Jane awakens and leaps to her computer where she
discovers an e-mail from Myra Lotto. Myra, you see, does not
sleep. Myra has elaborated on Joe's comments and added her own
feedback on Jane's newest revisions. It is only 9 a.m.. With
a boost of confidence, Jane can now complete her draft and hand
it in by 11 o'clock when it is due. With the aid of her trusty,
24 hour, electronic advisor, Jane has escaped the procrastination
You may think that Jane's trip to the procrastination zone is
an isolated experience, but this is not the case. It is now 5
a.m. on this very Monday morning and I am desperately trying to
revise this speech while narrowly escaping the procrastination
zone. The fact is there are hundreds of Janes on campus, and
I am one of them. And we're up all nights busting our butts to
write as best we can. The fact is we're already a 24-hour university,
and we're lucky because we can use our technology to create a
24-hour support system for our 24-hour university. A university
that works to accommodate my four hours of sleep is a university
that is in touch with the needs of the student body.
So we've got these tools that produce a continuing dialogue,
and we've got the Web providing an alternative to conventional
paper writing, we've got a support team for a rapidly changing
education. What is it all leading to? It's leading to the flip
side of discipline. The point is it's new, different. It's not
better than the conventional ways and it's not worse. I still
resent my tenth grade English teacher who told me that I'd never
write a truly original paper on the Canterbury Tales because every
thesis, he said, has already been thought of. Well maybe it's
true. It would be sad if this was the case, but maybe it is true.
I'll tell you one thing, though, just two weeks ago when I finished
my Web project on Chaucer's use of the seven deadly sins, I was
sure that it was one of a kind. As someone who has wild dreams
of becoming a writer some day, it's a wonderfully warm feeling
to think that I've actually produced something original in my
Our use of technology doesn't serve to replace the term paper
standard. It just offers a different way of accomplishing new
things. We're starting to look at learning with a freer mind.
We're using our technology to make connections and to continue
dialogues that would have ended or been squelched just a few years
ago. It's so loose that it's a little frightening, even disorganized,
but from the jumble a whole new way of thinking is born. I am
a student at a research university. I want to do something new
that's never been done before. And here it is. This new way
of thinking, learning, and writing: this is my research. Thanks.