1.1 Preface

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1.1.1   Preface to the Second Edition (2002)        

The second edition has been brought about by two factors. Firstly an attempt to create a more robust infrastructure for the creation of this book and its move towards a susbscribion site. For this I am creating a Latex-like collection of document functions which operate within the context of a couple of classes (book and article). Since the output format is XML (and other SGML subclasses as requires such as math) a lot of Latex and Tex details can be smudged over. The resulting document is viewed in the context of the ubiquitous web browser. This collection of functions may be able to be used in the educational context in general for web publishing.

A more important factor is the requirement to totally refocus the document. The future of education looks very different from the perspective of 2002 compared to the initial naive view of simply integrating computer technology into the school environment that existed pre 2000. In 2002 we can clearly see a future in which education in schools and the classroom, as we aspire to it, will become obsolete, or accessible only to the priveledged few.

The factors contributing to a move in this direction are not yet in effect but they can be seen to be moving to realization. They are:

Only the last factor is one which a school has any control over, but it is really more a social issue since it is the parents of pupils who decide what kind of authoratarian model should be adopted by a school. Principals have a little and teachers very little control over the feeling of many parents that the peer group with which their children mix at school is undesirable. The schools that do respond to this challenge will probably survive because they will be rare examples.

Most other schools will be considered unsafe by parents who want a good education for their children. They will lift their children from school and move to homeschooling options. The children who remain at these cschools will be under-acheivers with no pretensions to acemedic success. The schools will devolve to day-care centres. However these schools will not dissappear completely because they will continue to provide specialty services for the homeschooling base.

Whichever industry that computers have touched, there has been the same effect, "downsizing". Downsizing in staff , downsizing of capital investment and overheads. But this has also led to opportunities for new larger-scale structures to form. In theory the same process should happen in education but up till now we have not seen the directions that these changes will take.

Now these directions are becoming clearer, as the birth of the homeschooling industry can be seen to take place. Homeschooling has been a small scale enterprise up till now, taking place within the confines of one home or a small group of homes in a neighbourhood (cohort). While this trend will continue it will become enmeshed in a superstructure. Teachers will move from the classrooom and school to the Practice of Cohort Tutors who train parents how to teach their children in the cohort context, similar to the Susuki method of teaching music, and will also teach cohorts directly. Tutors will form local practices similar in structure to a suburban medical or law center. They will be come proficient at using multiple technologies in the education context, often simultaneously. Since teachers will no longer control the education resources, they will change from becoming the deliveres of knowledge to becoming guides. Large education resource companies will develop on the web similar to the education publishing houses of today, and teaching centers with good practice methods will amalgamate into homeschooling companies which provide perhaps just personel resources and services or possibly the full range of homeschooling resources from the hardware, connections, lesson plans, tutors and up to the diplomas. Indeed the provision of resources which provide for full curriculum delivery in a flexible plan to suit the student, will be the key aspect that parents will go for when selecting an education resource on the open market. Companies will vie with each other to capture and retain their clients by offering "the best, most flexible, full curriculum coverage".

This appears to be the future of education in the next 10 years. High-achieving schools will be at the forefront of developing these kinds of resources. They may not just be schools but also take on satelites of homeschooling management in areas outside their immediate neighbourhood where options for good acedemic schoolling are not available. They may also provide state of the art technology in the form of labs and workshops which are made availble to cohorts in order to maximise their return on capital investment.

It is within the context of this vision that the second edition of webscool sets course. See the section The Future of Education for an in-depth discussion , and The technology infused classroom Y12-13, 2012 provides a glimpse at what a teachers job may involve in a few years time.

Despite this shift in emphasis, words like classroom and school will still be used. Now their meanings must be generalised a little. "Classroom" includes the home learning environment, and "school" includes the cohort. "Class" may also include cohort and/or the immediate learning environment in its meaning. There should be no need to invent a secondary language to explain this generality but rather to be aware that simple assumptions about what a class might be, no longer apply in general. Indeed a company that sells cohort resources or services may very well market itself as a "school".

1.1.2   Preface to the Third Edition (2006)        

Six years have passed since WEBSCOOL was started. In that time changes in the direction of Education had become apparent. In recent years two trends have developed this theme further.

First is the age at which children are able to become computer literate. My neighbours tell me their children are playing with their (parents) computers at the age of 3. Sending emails at 4, which means they can read and write to a level suitable to their communication requirements at that age. Many children can read and write (perhaps I should qualify this and say "print") at the age of four, so perhaps we should not be so surprised. However anyone who thinks that the computer medium is a secondary method of communication for todays preschoollers needs to rethink their position. The computer is being embraced by children at the earliest developmental levels possible. The apparent complexity of the technology is not an issue for them.

This development is in large part due to the concentration on making computer technology accessible to everyone, that is, for dummies. This has made the computer accessible to preschoollers. "User friendliness" has been the criterion for development for the last 20 years since the advent of the IBM PC and MicroSoft. This has been at the expense of other basic logical developments in the technology.

Which introduces the second point. This change in approach left fundamental developments stranded for some years. Computer systems which had been easy to construct and run in the 70's and early 80's become obsolete and new machinery entered the market. But the new machinery did not address the problems and it became difficult (expensive) to replace the old systems. In the last five years this situation has changed. Now fundamental computer tools are available to the ordinary user to construct sophisticated systems easily. There are two particular tools of note, the SQLite database engine and the Tcl webserver. These two "plug and play" tools give enormous computing power to every home user at no cost. It is no longer necessary to employ a database administrator to manage the arcane complexities of your database, and the same applies to webservers. These tools are going to be picked up by the young and put to use, and here I mean children under 10 years old. This is going to deliver a generation of children with hitherto unimaginable powers to organise and use information. The consequences of this are beyond our imagination.

WEBSCOOL itself has been rewritten to take advantage of these tools and so is created this Third Edition.
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