Can Libraries Find a New Home in Courseware?
Afunny thing seems to be happening on the way to creating
courseware sites for all students. Increasingly, faculty are using online
learning tools to assemble in one convenient electronic place the syllabus,
assignments, problem sets, and resources their students need to do the work for
their courses. Resources often subsume links to relevant readings, articles, or
other electronic documents and Web sites that enrich the course—a one-stop
e-home for the class. Sounds great, right? But something is missing.
The largest, best organized,
and most accessible information warehouse on any campus has always been the
university or college library. Since the days of the Alexandria library in
ancient Egypt, it has been the responsibility of librarians to select, arrange,
preserve, and interpret mankind’s information store.
For those who understand its
riches, the library is a joyous place, with ideas, paradoxes, and surprises
around every stack.Yet in the midst of the digital revolution, the very
epicenter of our collected wisdom is not only being transformed into bits, it is
being dispersed as a concept.
Libraries were among
the first campus organizations to embrace the introduction of technology. As
early champions, they began creating electronic records of their holdings to
facilitate finding and retrieving the vast amount of information they collected
and maintained. Books were bar-coded and manual processes automated to increase
efficiency. The cost-efficiency was obvious, but the result was unexpected.
Patrons could easily and
quickly find materials first from proprietary terminals, later from any
network-connected terminal emulator. What they could not do is get the content
delivered to them electronically.
Similarly, libraries moved
to get abstracting and index databases online, giving library users the same
access to journal citations as they had to books. Initially, those resources
were costly and limited to specially trained reference librarians. But as costs
decreased, libraries began to make full-text databases available to more and
more people. The impact was profound. As Clifford Lynch once remarked, "other
than the ATM [automated teller machine], the online catalog was the first
interaction that many faculty and students had with technology for information
access." Of course, then came the Internet, and everything changed again. Search
engines emerged that accessed full-text data, but it was now HTML-coded Web
pages. Both the pages and the search engines that retrieved them were created
and made available by people from all over world. The calculus of information
retrieval was profoundly altered. The primary locus of information dissemination
is no longer the exclusive province of the library.
Have you looked at the
library resources in courseware management systems lately?
again. There isn’t much of what you might consider "library
material" there. What might library materials useful for online learning
look like? Examine the richness in the offerings from the library itself and
you’ll begin to get an idea.
To be fair, the reasons library resources are
absent from courseware tools aren’t entirely external to the library. Libraries
have traditionally operated on the assumption that there is added value for
users to come through the library for services. Yet it is becoming clearer all
the time that faculty and students may not find the same value proposition.
Librarians can and do provide added value to students looking for material from
collections as well as from the Web. But people building the courseware
infrastructure, as well as the courseware modules, don’t know what services to
expect—or in programming terms, to "call"—to integrate library resources,
materials, or special functions into their courses.
Librarians need to think hard about what
services they wish to deliver to online environments and clearly articulate how
they might be accessed from courseware systems. This requires a radical shift in
thinking because "calling" a resource says nothing about the behavior it will
exhibit when it appears at its destination. Until libraries begin to think in
terms of services they can offer courseware developers, it is not likely they
will find a home in these tools.
It won’t necessarily be for lack of interest,
though I don’t see a deep understanding of what library resources are from
courseware vendors, either. Nonetheless, libraries must decide on their suite of
services and define clear mechanisms by which they can be invoked in support of
a learning process or in courseware environments. Doing anything less will only
accelerate their disappearance from the experience of our students. That would
be the least desirable of the potential future outcomes for online
Moore’s Law Superceded
If you needed any more confirmation that
things are moving more rapidly than ever in the world of technology note this:
Intel has demonstrated CPU microprocessor performance of up to 10 GHz at room
temperatures. Moore’s Law, which predicts a rough doubling of computing speed
every 18 months, is starting to appear as a quaint anachronism.
What’s happening? Moore’s Law was
predicated on processing speed increasing in proportion to the number of chips
one could pack onto the silicon wafers making up a CPU.
Recently, however, that
shrinkage has gotten out of whack. Specifically, chip designers have been able
to accelerate the size reduction in one particular aspect of the chip
fabrication process, the distance between gates in adjacent transistors. This
so-called physical gate length has shrunk in the most advanced chips to 90
nanometers. Given that an atom is about 4 nanometers wide, that’s a distance of
about 360 atoms.
The International Technology Roadmap for
Semiconductors—a group of industry manufacturers and suppliers, government
organizations, and universities —predicted just two years ago that physical gate
lengths would decline to 140 nanometers in 2002. The fastest Intel Pentium 4
chips currently run at 2.2 GHz, with portions of the chip zipping along at 4.4
GHz. Intel announced at the February International Solid State Circuits
Conference in San Francisco 10 MHz speeds for these CPU parts.
With processing power expanding
faster than Moore’s Law, how might we use it beyond running word processors at
lightening speeds? The most powerhungry applications continue to be things like
speech recognition. With computational power of this magnitude, it won’t be too
long b e f o r e t h e human/ computer input interface switches from digits to