As promised, D-Lib Magazine has returned from the August break with a special issue on digital libraries and education. We first proposed the idea of this issue last spring, in part because one ancestor of the National Information Infrastructure (NII) was the National Research and Education Network, and in part because the implications of computing for education have been a recurrent concern for a fair number of years - and with mixed results at that. So, when I invited writers to contribute to this issue, I asked them a few questions: What makes this generation of technology in the classroom different from earlier efforts? What does education have to contribute to the digital libraries research discussion? And what does education need from digital libraries?
Not surprisingly, the answers are several. To the first question, what differentiates this round of computing in the classroom from earlier efforts, the answer can be summarized as "access" and "interfaces" rather than hardware and software. In a story echoed by the other authors, Bill Tally eloquently describes experiences of teachers in New York City who use the web to find original sources in history, which then become the basis for evaluating evidence and other forms of teaching critical thinking. What is needed, according to Tally, are more curriculum support tools for teachers. Christopher Hoadley and Philip Bell reach a similar conclusion from the students' perspective, describing tools that the Knowledge Integration Environment (KIE) has developed, which help students work with networked information - and hence support lifelong learning.
How students learn also informs the story by Raven Wallace, Joseph Krajcik, and Elliot Soloway of the University of Michigan, who describe their project in the use of digital libraries to support inquiry-based learning among middle and high school science students. They conclude that how the question is formulated is critical. Therefore, the interface that helps the user ask the question properly becomes terribly important - but not to the exclusion of either the teacher, student, or classmates. In short, the role of the software is to enable and enhance but not to replace the wetware, a point nearly every author in this issue also makes in one way or another. Indeed, Daniel Edelson and Douglas Gordin build on this insight to point out that the intellectual framework within which experts asks questions differs from the assumptions and understandings that children bring to a problem. The tools - or "bridges" -- the interface offers must similarly be different. An experts' interface must let them manipulate precise measurements of rigorously defined data sets; grade school children, on the other hand, want to know something about global warming, including, for example, how to visualize the information.
Of course all of these studies are based on lots of observations of people working with systems. How to employ these observations in re-design is the subject of Michael Christel and Krishna Pendyala's story on the Informedia Project at Carnegie Mellon University. Christel and Pendyala studied the retrieval behavior of a broad range of students aged 7-17 with access to video material in biology, math, and physics, and on the basis of preliminary findings have focused the research design for the next phase of work. They found, for example, that students overwhelmingly work with browser features immediately displayed on screen (rather than embedded in menus) or with default options. They propose, therefore, to add more "extended tools with better support (less clicking; on-screen instructions)."
These five stories all presume an interactive model of use: a student, or teacher, works with the web or a collection of digital materials that may or may not be locally stored. Miriam Masullo and Robert Mack of the EduPort Project look at another application of digital library technologies: how information can be captured, stored, and retrieved for future or alternative uses. They begin with a multimedia, multidisciplinary project built around construction of cardboard kayaks in a San Francisco school in which middle school students explored a range of topics from buoyancy to Inuit culture. To enable re-use of all or elements of the unit, Masullo and Mack propose a "content organization scheme," based, in part, on "modular pieces of content, referred to as Media Objects, in the form of digitized video clips, scanned images or text [which] are stored in an object library and accessed in real-time on-demand by a media server."
Finally, Edward Fox and his colleagues remind us that graduate students are an important part of the educational process, as students and as future teachers and professionals. Fox and his co-authors describe their recently funded project, which will, among other things, use the creation of a digital library of theses and dissertation as a means of enhancing the information available to students and faculty and of diffusing the technology within the participating institutions. As a result, more students will develop more expertise with digital libraries and the tools that create them.
This is a charming issue -- in no small reason because of the anecdotes describing creative work with children. A special thank you to Elliot Soloway of the University of Michigan, who helped organize the contents. Thanks to Elliot and his colleagues and students, Bill went sailing, Rhonda organized her annual family reunion, and I re-read Jane Austen -- at home and on paper.