10.0724 online teaching: resources, tools, fatalities

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 19 Feb 1997 22:21:53 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 724.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Paul groves <paul.groves@computing- (38)
Subject: Re: throw-away?

[2] From: Mike Scott <ms2928@liverpool.ac.uk> (138)
Subject: Re: online teaching (fwd)

[3] From: Fred Levy <flevy@u.washington.edu> (102)
Subject: Re: 10.0720 online teaching

Date: Wed, 19 Feb 1997 10:28:00 +0000 (GMT)
From: Paul groves <paul.groves@computing-services.oxford.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: throw-away?

> --[2]----------------------------------------------------------------
> Date: Tue, 18 Feb 1997 14:00:47 +0000 ()
> From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
> Subject: throw-away?


> My question is, wouldn't it be better to concentrate on
> developing primary resources which an instructor could assemble
> quickly into courseware and then abandon at no great cost? Isn't
> the Web, as the authors of the report cited above, in general a
> better means of providing throw-away software than any
> stand-alone authoring system, such as Hypercard or Toolbook?

Absolutely, this is the ultimate aim of the JTAP project 'Virtual Seminars
for Teaching Literature' (http://info.ox.ac.uk/jtap/) - to provide a
structured environment in which primary resources can be obtained and
utilised. Whilst some 'off-the shelf' tutorials are being constructed,
these are really just examples of what can be done using the primary
resources the project will be providing and to provide an introduction to
the subject.

These resources will includes manuscript images, transcriptions
(hopefully using TEI compliant texts as a base), as well as other
supporting material (photographs, letters etc.) A useful side-effect
of the project is that some deteriorating original sources will be
digitally preserved (as high quality 24-bit images) for future

If anyone would like further information about the project, please do not
hesitate to contact me at the address given below.


Paul Groves Email: paul.groves@oucs.ox.ac.uk
JTAP Project Officer Fax: +44 (0)1865 273 275
Humanities Computing Unit Tel: +44 (0)1865 273 226
Oxford University Computing Services
13 Banbury Road
Oxford, England. OX2 6NN

Date: Wed, 19 Feb 1997 12:11:34 PST
From: Mike Scott <ms2928@liverpool.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: online teaching (fwd)

I think it depends entirely on how you classify the software endeavour.
Prof. Z's work went into developing a product: she should have developed
a tool.

The following is from the help system of WordSmith Tools which attempts
to be a set of tools as opposed to a product. But you do have to learn to
use a tool, don't you. This is more like education as opposed to
"instruction" or "training".

Tools are needed in almost every human endeavour, from making
pottery to predicting the weather. Computer tools are useful
because they enable certain actions to be performed easily, and
this facility means that it becomes possible to do more complex
jobs. It becomes possible to gain insights because when you can
try an idea out quickly and easily, you can experiment, and from
experimentation comes insight. Also, re-casting a set of data in a
new form enables the human being to spot patterns.
This is ironic. The computer is an awful device for recognising
patterns. It is good at addition, sorting, etc. It has a memory but it
does not know or understand anything, and for a computer to
recognise printed characters, never mind reading hand-writing, is
a major accomplishment.

Nevertheless, the computer is a good device for helping humans
to spot patterns and trends. That is why it is important to see
computer tools such as these in WordSmith Tools in their true
light. A tool helps you to do your job, it doesn't do your job for you.

Tool versus Product

Some software is designed as a product. A game is
self-contained, so is an electronic dictionary. A word-processor,
spreadsheet or database, on the other hand, is a tool because it
goes beyond its own borders: you use it to achieve something
which the manufacturers could not possibly anticipate.
WordSmith Tools, as their name states, are not products but
tools. You can use them to investigate many kinds of pattern in
virtually any texts written in a good range of different languages.

Insight through Transformation

No, this is not a religious claim! The claim I am making is
psychological. It is through changing the shape of data, reducing
it and then re-casting it in a different format, that the human
capacity for noticing patterns comes to the fore. The computer
cannot "notice" at all (if you input 2 into a calculator and then
keep asking it to double it, it will not notice what you're up to and
begin to do it automatically!). Human beings are good at noticing,
and particularly good at noticing visual patterns.
By transforming a text into a list, or by plotting keywords in terms
of where they crop up in their source texts, the human user will
tend to see a pattern. Indeed we cannot help it. Sometimes we
see patterns where none was intended (e.g. in a cloud). There can
be no guarantee that the pattern is "really there": it's all in the
mind of the beholder.

WordSmith Tools are intended to help this process of
pattern-spotting, which leads to insight. The tools in this kit are
intended therefore to help you gain your own insights on your own
data from your own texts.

Types of Tool

All tools take up positions on two scales: the scale of
specialisation and the scale of permanence.
general-purpose ----------------- specialised
The spade is a digging tool which makes cutting and lifting soil
easier than it otherwise would be. But it can also be used for
shovelling sand or clearing snow. A sewing machine can be used
to make curtains or handkerchiefs. A word-processor is
A thimble is dedicated to the purpose of protecting the fingers
when sewing and is rarely used for anything else. An overlock
device is dedicated to sewing button-holes and hems: it's better at
that job than a sewing machine but its applications are
specialised. A spell-checker within a word-processor is fairly

temporary ----------------- permanent
The branch a gorilla uses to pull down fruit is a temporary tool.
After use it reverts to being a spare piece of tree. A plank used as
a tool for smoothing concrete is similar. It doesn't get labelled as
a tool though it is used as one. This kind of makeshift tool is
called "quebra-galho", literally branch-breaker, in Brazilian
A chisel is manufactured, catalogued and sold as a permanent
tool. It has a formal label in our vocabulary. Once bought, it takes
up storage room and needs to be kept in good condition.
cheers -- Mike

Mike Scott
AELSU, English
Univ. of Liverpool
Liverpool L69 3BX

Date: Wed, 19 Feb 1997 08:39:04 -0800 (PST)
From: Fred Levy <flevy@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.0720 online teaching


I liked your story but, as I read it, I anticipated a different ending:

After two years, the university, liking what it saw, kept the course
available on its computers and fired the professor. Thus a substantial
investment led to even greater savings. (We don't know what happened to
the professor.)

Fritz Levy