Higher Education in the Information Age

The Technological Future

Question and Answer:
Gregory Farrington, Moderator


Gregory Farrington: Don't let Steve escape. He's shown us all the wonderful tools, but not exactly how to turn it into a way of teaching science and engineering and medicine easily in one long weekend. Jim.

Audience Member: Let's take your number that processing speed goes up ten times every three years for the same amount of money, do you have any comparable number for how much it costs to use ten times as much processing speed after three years? Does it require the same back office of programming and support? Does it require more to do the fancy stuff? Is there any curve like that?

Stephen Heibein: That's a great question. Generally what you're going to find is that, I think it's Gate's Law: no matter how fast Intel makes the chips, Bill comes up with more software to take up the available nips. I think that happens in all companies. What we're finding is we're getting more sophisticated software available on there. And if you take it to the scientific applications, whether you're talking computational chemistry, fluid dynamics, those type of applications, what they're doing is they're getting more robust in terms of now somebody who understands the science of computational chemistry doesn't have to understand the programming of computational chemistry, because what they get to do now is do combinant chemistry and be able to try new molecules that they hadn't tried before because they're no longer having to do the programming because the CPU's are that much faster to be able to do more of the work I guess is a good way to put it.

Now, on the other types of things, the desk top applications, that's a whole different thing. You're going to find those keep outdating themselves so quickly, whether it's your talking an Excel, a Word. Just look at the '97 suite of office is so different from '95. I can vouch for that. My whole goal is I would love to see everybody using Web-based tools, which I think people have found to be more intuitive when they start using them. Right now there's only a few suites out there that are in Java that can go across several platforms.

Audience Member: Have you got any results from the effects of the cyber-education courses, because unfortunately the Ed. biz has been full of people claiming first programmed instruction and then CD ROM's, and you know some of the early hyper-text experiments show that they were actually less effective in teaching than traditional printed matter. So we're all sort of looking for somebody who will have an evaluated experiment.

Heibein: No. That's really a problem no-one has. What was mentioned earlier is how little money is spent on research in education. I think too often the budgets being such, things get implemented and are sort of thrown out there and hoped to be, "O.K., let's find out empirically did it work or didn't it work. Do we redo it?" No-one's actually tested or gotten any good data that I'm aware of from any of these. Any other questions? Yes sir.

Audience Member: Could you provide some more examples of the development of your intranet services for your corporation and how it's being used and how far into the organization is it being used?

Heibein: Oh, O.K. In our case, it's quite deep. We have electronic requisition on-line, on Web pages. You want to purchase something? You purchase it. It goes in. It knows who your boss is or what your level of authorization is. It then routes everything automatically. It's all done on the Web. And what we did is we took that and set that-we already had a order processing system, so what we did is we put a Web front end on it. So everybody interacts with the Web front end, but we didn't change our fundamental way we do our business on the other side. We just have it so that users or consumers have a Web look at it. Our vendors have a Web look at it. They have one from outside the firewall. So everybody's coming in that way. And I think that's pretty fundamental.

Things like our expense supports are obviously on-line. Everything we do with HR is not on-line. And what we do is we have everybody was sent a secure password, mailed to their home, outside of electronic format. So this way they got that at home, and so you know to try and maintain security. There's, like I said, it's half a right now half a million URL's we have inside of Silicon Graphics. And you look at that, that's a huge amount. All of our projects are on-line. I can look up any project that is a funded project with Silicon Graphics, check the status on-line, check everybody who belongs to that. Generally there will be a link right to their home page, and I'll be able to do that. My schedule's on-line, so is my on-line calendar. We schedule our conferences on-line. Everything is all part of that Web.

Yes sir.

Audience Member: I just wanted to suggest that the previous question goes past a very important point, which is not just packaged curriculum, but we use Silicon Graphics visualizations programs to radically increase the number of real time experiments that undergraduate students do. Like all of them do them all the time on the ecological territory around our university, doing work for the county, for the state, and for private business. And our faculty is absolutely persuaded that is deepens and quickens the learning by huge factors. And so it isn't all about prepackaged curriculum. It is about the use of this and other similar types of technologies as very, very powerful interactive, real-time learning tools that achieve the very things you're talking about in a business setting. And I think to miss that misses in fact the real power.

Heibein: Yeah. Thank you. I think dry experiments are interesting because now you can try things out in a, you know, dry environment, take a look at it from different points of view. I mean over at UCLA, what they did was, after the riots they wanted to show what it could look like when they rebuilt South Central. And so to be able to have them understand what it would look like, they said, "O.K. Yeah. We can put out plans. We can do little models. Or we can do a virtual walk-through and have the people who live in South Central see what it looks like." And the level, the quality that you can now do today-I mean we can have the drapes look like drapes. We can have the carpet look like carpet. Wood grain look like wood grain. And be able to go through things, 30 frames a second, interactively. And that was really good. And that was very compelling, because even a lot of architects can't read plans and visualize what it is just from blueprints. What you want to do is you want to make sure you can bring this knowledge to everybody, no matter what level of education. Anything else?

Audience Member: Is this practical for real people? Silicon Graphics has lots of money to spend on developing absolutely spectacular educational modules, but Williams College is full of ordinary professors without-extraordinary professors, of course, extraordinary, wonderful professors, but never-the-less professors who are not sitting at Silicon Graphics with enormous budgets for educational development. So, given the tolls, which are spectacular, how does a professor who comes in and thinks he might want to teach physics a different way and have an impact on how his department functions with students actually proceed, or it hopeless?

Heibein: O.K. Well the, to just reiterate the question so you have it on the record there: how can this be done by mere mortals-right?-who need to teach every day and don't have big budgets, etc.? I think it can be done. There are still some tools that are being developed. I'm working on one right now that allows you to go from any-I don't care whether it's Harvard Graphics, Power Point-you name it. If you've got it in any electronic form already, it converts it and actually puts it into that format, puts it in the framework, interactively asks you like, "Do you have any questions?" "Yes" "O.K., what are your questions?" And you just type in the test right there. And it's all done via Web page that creates a Web page. You never type in one bit of html. We've got it working right now in prototype, and it's probably going to be marketed sometime this summer, and going to be a relatively low cost. But it's one of those things to make it so that you do what you do best: develop the curriculum. Somewhere along the line you had to write it down. I don't care what format it is. As long you can print it we're going to have you print it to the Web, and then we'll put the frames and all the cute, all the buttons and the navigation tolls round it for you. So that's where I believe it's going is to make these things so that anybody can do it. My boss can do it. I do it, but mind you that's kind of what I do for a living is technology, so I get into this thing, but we have administrators doing this. So it's everybody within our company, regardless of technology level.

Farrington: I guess the implication is if administrators can do it, anyone can do it. One final question.

Heibein: Yes sir.

Audience Member: I'm a hard-core 3-D graphics technologist, none-the-less I want to rain on your parade a little bit. The question really is about tools and authoring environments, and I think you're reciting the easy part of authoring. Throwing Power Point slides on the Web is not the problem. If you're talking about putting together interesting 3-D simulations and animations, that is an unbelievable amount of work. Putting together a good multi-media presentation is ten times the work than doing an ordinary text book which is itself ten times to a hundred times more work than putting out a set of course notes. I think, as a community, we are still being ridiculously optimistic about the amount of work it's going to take to put a really good curriculum, even an individual course, together using these wonderful new tools. Delivery is not the problem. Authoring is.

Heibein: I agree with you, especially about the 3-D aspect of it. 3-D is not, as you noted, 3-D is not intuitively obvious to the casual user-how's that?-in terms of trying to create something. I think the things that we're finding that are being implemented first are the flatware. Basically someone taking something from Power Point, someone taking things that are in movies already, bringing video on-line. We're finding a lot of people that are doing video on demand. What they'll do is they'll have from a server, especially within a campus community where they can sort of regulate how much bandwidth they have to the classroom from this server, those are the things that have been working real well. Inside corporate walls, like you said, going back to Mariott example, they'll do from their headquarters or from regional headquarters right to individual hotels so they can do training there. Now those are the things that are getting implemented first.

That 3-D is-pretty much what you're going to find is a second and third wave of people who started doing development. Once they get excited, they can do things a little bit more challenging. What I do believe a good way to go though is, when you start looking at things that are for 3-D, is using tools that are doing data mining and data visualization. So you might have something-I might be a sociologist. I might be working with SAS. And to take SAS and to capture the 3-D output of something like that and use that and make that so that people can use a slider bar to move up or move down the graph on that based on being able to go in and just alter it that way. That's probably the best way to go, and actually I have an example of that, but I'm out of time.

Farrington: I think that's a good ending. A very good point, especially because it points up something that I think is absolutely true, and that is, for all the chips in the computers, it's the authoring that is very expensive. And if you're going to give us any tools, and revolutionary tools, make revolutionary tools that makes it possible for a regular professor to have an impact on his class and on his teaching relatively easily in a way that doesn't appear insurmountably difficult or expensive. That's-that's the gap at the moment it seems to me. Thanks very much to both of the first two speakers.

We have a slight schedule change. You'll see it from the schedule that you have in your pack. Originally John Sealy Brown was going to be with us. He telephoned on Friday at 5 o'clock to say he caught a Malaysian bug. I don't know what Malaysian bugs are like, but presumably he's experiencing it, and he's experiencing it in Palo Alto. So instead of John Sealy Brown, unfortunately, we're going to have a break right now until 11:00, and at 11:00 we'll reconvene with what we call "The Future Student". Thank you.



Contact: heia@pobox.upenn.edu
URL: http://www.upenn.edu/heia/proceed/present/techfutureq&a.html
Last modified: 12 January 1998