Page 4 of 7 pages
(Interview with Jack Wolcott, continued)
JRW: Three things combined to produce what, for me, was the most profound realization of my life. You may wonder at first what they have to do with computing, but bear with me.
In 1975 I was asked to develop and teach a course called The Theatre in Performance, a class for non-theatre students. This goal of this class was to enable a student to go see a play and understand that artistic choices had been made with regard to bringing the text to the stage, and to enable the student to discuss and evaluate these choices. In other words, to be able to say "Putting Hedda Gabler in a white dress was a mistake," and explain to a listener why the text argued against such a choice, and what effect that choice had on the production.
Then, late in the 1980's, I saw a remarkable laser disk that had been developed by Dr. Joe Clark, a biologist at the University of Washington, in collaboration with the Health Sciences Imaging Center. This disk contained more than 50,000 images of cells -- human, animal and plant. Dr. Clark had no agenda for how this data was to be used. The disk was indexed, and the user could browse it at will.
Finally, Joe Clark introduced me to William Perry's Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years (New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1970.) Based on years of research, Perry describes what he calls "stages" of learning.
L.C.: And what brought these together?
JRW: Well, Perry's book deals with learning and structure, with the idea that many, if not most students need a great deal of structure if they are to learn, while others need progressively less until, eventually, a few will attain a "stage" in which they are able to evaluate any information contextually and come to terms with it based on their moral and ethical standards.
The course I was teaching, The Theatre in Performance, created the very problems which Perry addressed. If we structured the course rigidly it served the majority of students, called "dualists" by Perry. They wrote down what the professors said in lecture, and gave it back to the professors in examinations. But this rigid structure worked against the goals of the course which, as I've said, included getting students to make and support judgments of their own, to be what Perry called "contextual relativists".
After weeks of discussion with my graduate student assistants, the question we posed was this: could be create a learning environment that could accommodate various learning styles simultaneously? An environment that would keep the "dualist" on track while at the same time enabling the "relativist" to explore profitably the theatre equivalent of Joe Clark's cellular biology laser disk?
The word "environment" is crucial to the next eight years of our work. We had no plan to create a lesson or formal program of study, but rather to create a place - we called it the Hyperzone -- in which students could make their way through a landscape of ideas and facts, learning as they encountered and participated in this material. And just as new arrivals change natural environments, each new student would leave his or her mark on this learning environment. I had occasion to deliver a paper on this topic in Vancouver, Canada in 1994. ("Educating in the Hyperzone", Proceedings of ED-Media '94, pp. 577-582)
It was at about this time, in the early 1990's, that Dr. Ian Richie marketed a wonderful software program called Guide, which allowed the development of extremely complex hypertext documents. It was also at about this same time that I first saw a demonstration of Mosaic, perhaps the earliest World Wide Web browser, at a conference of the Association for Computing Machinery. I became fascinated with the concept of hypertext, for it seemed to me that it provided an excellent model for the workings of the human mind, and provided a means of delivering instruction making use of Perry's model of learning. Hypertext would become the plain upon which our environmental subjects grazed.