With these other pioneers, Myron Tuman, creator of Textra and Connect, has influenced the shape and content of the writing interfaces we now use in our networked classrooms. W.W. Norton's release of Connect.Net--the first Internet-capable version in the family of Textra/Connect products--seemed a good moment to discuss the history and future of the networked classroom with Myron. The conversation looked both backward and forward, as the participants ruminated about classroom practices of the past, the transition underway now, and the future of truly multimedia discourse in students' work. Connect itself incorporates the audio and graphical capabilities of current versions of Word and WordPerfect, so Myron's remarks about the "end of the essay" stand out.
Both Myron and Joe are infrequent users of MOOs, so the sudden appearance of an uninvited "visitor" proved disorienting for them and amusing for MOO-savvy Claudine. The "interruption" was itself a source of conversation about the Internet and the future of "traditional" modes of writing.
|Welcome to DaMOO, an educational
MOO, running with the kind cooperation of the Learning Resource Center
at California State University, Northridge. Please join us in exploring
and developing this environment.
You join Claudine.
A calming, celestial place, surrounded by sparkling, gentle crystals of moondust that swirl around in a cool mist. You are floating comfortably, uninhibited by gravity. You see MOO Chalk Board and heifer here.
Obvious exits: Down (to Meteor Crater) and Up (to Leda)
Joe sits down on the log for the interview, noting that it is working today.
Myron teleports in.
Joe gives thumbs up. "Huzzah!"
Claudine says, "Welcome (again) to the InterMOO"
Myron says, "K and I are ready"
Joe says, "Great. Let's begin. First question. . .""
Myron says, "Fire Joe"
||Joe exclaims, "Myron, in
your book Writing with Norton Textra, you recall your first days
with an Osborne computer in the labs. Whatever influenced you, an experienced
teacher who had success in the traditional classroom, to teach in a lab?
AND greetings to Kathryn!"
Myron says, "I started with computers in Morgantown WV where I was director of a writing center, hence not doing that much direct teaching"
Joe says, "What, pedagogically, attracted you to trying computers? Was it their application in the WCenter?"
Myron says, "When I arrived here in Tuscaloosa, in 1985, I accepted the opportunity to create a computer lab to use with freshmen, mainly because by then I was having so much success myself using word processing"
Claudine asks, "By success, do you mean mainly with revision of texts?"
Myron exclaims, "If word processing helped me (in part because I was -- am -- such a poor typist), then I figured that it would everyone!"
Joe says, "It is a big leap from stand-alone word processors to Connect. I've a few questions about that journey."
Myron says to Claudine, "The success was initially and maybe foremost, allowing one to keep papers fairly neat"
Claudine nods to Myron
Joe nods, noting that he is a terrible typist. "Myron, how did Textra get started? What void were you hoping to fill?"
Claudine makes a mental note to assign an extra copy editor to this issue
Joe grins in agreement
Myron says, "Revision was the buzzword -- the ideology -- but I was really more concerned with something far simpler: allowing naturally klutzy people like myself to keep their work neat looking"
Claudine says to Myron, "but is there a danger inherent in that? I'm thinking of basic writers who may be lulled into believing they are "done" if it "looks neat"
|Joe asks, "Did your plans for Textra include
sharing work during the process? How did that aspect of Textra and Connect
enter the picture?"
Myron says, "The void re Textra was putting a simple, fast, cheap word processor directly in students' hands so that they could use it anywhere, anytime -- an early iteration of sneaker ware"
Joe scratches head. "Our readers will want to know about 'sneaker ware.' I think that was what I call 'musical computers,' where students trade non-networked machines in order to do peer critiques."
Myron says, "Re Claudine and neatness: Sure there's a danger with neatness and basic writers--but look at the other side: the agony they go through when their work LOOKS horrible, gnarled, messy, even as they start an assignment -- and then gets all that much more butchered after teachers and classmates chime in with editing suggestions"
Myron asks, "If I had time, I could tell an anecdote -- is there time?"
Joe shrugs. "Anecdotes are good."
Claudine has plenty of time today (for once!) fire away, MT
Myron says, "It's not really a story just a situation, involving myself and early school days, dealing with the start of school when everyone got BRAND NEW NOTEBOOKS that were supposed to last the entire year"
Joe misses the old marbled-cover "composition" books.
Claudine can almost smell the fresh paper...
Myron says, "I always looked on those notebooks like a character out of a Gogol short story, determined finally, this year, to keep them as neat as the other students in the class (Hey, let's be honest: 'As neat as the top-scoring girls')"
Joe recalls his poor grades for penmanship and sighs
Claudine survived Catholic school penmanship and bears the disfigured fingers to prove it
Myron exclaims, "Now the end is clear: like a Gogol character, the desire to avoid something leads to its actualization. So what happens: The first lines that I make in the new notebooks turn out to be not where I want them -- and the possibility of perfect notebooks are ruined for the entire year; or, as they say in Brooklyn: Wait till next year!"
Joe says, "But that cannot happen with 'processed' text. You could move those lines around."
Myron says, "Good to see that each of you have similar feelings re penmanship; remember that Mina Shaughnessy's ERRORS and EXPECTATIONS may be the last book [on] writing ever to devote an entire ch[apter] to the subject -- so I guess it's OK if we just devoted 10 minutes to it"
Joe says, "I'm curious, though, how the possibility of sharing the work entered into the world of Textra."
Myron says, "Sharing work is new and another fascinating topic"
Claudine asks, "Was that carried out through the earliest 'sneaker' versions?"
Myron says, "The early prototype of Connect --something we built here ourselves via DOS macros and named NOW -- passed student papers around the round and encouraged everyone to write on them"
Joe nods. "Was there a moment when the light-bulb went off? I mean, I had such a moment when I saw a still photo of Mosaic, back in '93, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. I knew that the world had changed.
Myron says, "There is a light-bulb moment -- at the Biloxi C&W Conference -- when I was talking with Paul Taylor of Daedalus and realized that we could do all this via word processing"
Myron says, "The insight was that we had to split the screen and put read-only files in the top--with these top, read-only files being teacher instructions and classmates' papers"
Joe asks, "When did Group discussion enter the picture?"
Myron says, "The downside of this was that students could no longer write directly on each other's papers"
Myron says, "But this downside was really a plus for me, since I was then -- and remain -- a strong believer that the key to collaborative writing is the chance to READ other people's work and then revise one's own -- and not students all acting as mini-teachers and editing each others texts. Group discussion was there from the start -- since that was the only way for students to interact [with] each others papers"
Claudine asks Myron, "Does the interface itself affect the students' "READ" of the papers, though?"
Joe asks, "Group discussion is a very strong feature of Connect. I have never been an avid MOO user, and the DIWE Interchange uses that type of interface. Why did Connect get the one-message-at-a-time synchronous interface?"
Claudine . o O ( well, Jim's paper "looks neat" on my screen )
Claudine admits to maybe teaching one too many sections of Developmental Comp in her career so far
Myron says to Claudine, "I really don't see the interface as having much impact on students' reading. CONNECT has always worker with sharing big, bulky word processing files, with the idea being that students were supposed to write thick texts (as compared to email or chat)"
Claudine nods to MT
Myron says to Joe, "We just sort of stumbled on one message at a time, each one date-stamped and with a button for next; at first I thought this was not a slick as the scrolling screen and we had lengthy discussions about switching, but feedback from nearly all early adopters was positive"
Myron takes another deep breadth
|Joe asks, "Will Connect.net keep that
same interface for the discussion part?"
Myron says, "There's really been no significant redesigning of Connect since Biloxi; given the financial nature of the software business, practically all programming efforts have had to go to finding NEW users"
Joe asks Myron, "Connect.net will be an interesting product; what differences would we notice between .net and the current version?"
Myron says, "I'm glad to talk about Connect.Net. Its feature set keeps expanding"
Joe says, "I'm curious about what would lead a school to choose .net over the current version of Connect."
Myron says, "With the last important LAN feature being added as we write -- and promised to me in a week or two -- at which point, except for speed and performance considerations (depending on one's access to one's FTP server) the products are practically identical. Thus everyone should use the NET product except where the performance and access to the FTP is poor"
Claudine wonders if users can have discussions with others over the internet
Joe nods. "That answers my question, since UR has to download the update soon for training. "
Claudine asks, "Like can my classes have a discussion with yours, MT?"
Myron says to Claudine, "The Net product is exactly the same: so that discussions and everything else is still class based; now the students in the class can be scattered all over the world: access requires only Word 6, 7, or 8, the Connect client, and an ISP"
Claudine exclaims, "Ah!"
Claudine asks, "So I could feasibly include a peer group from your class in my own classlist, then?"
Joe shudders. "And could Word macro viruses be scattered all over the world? Doesn't Connect now have built-in macro-virus protection? Those things hit Connect users here very hard last year."
Myron says, "I might explain a bit more: all the Connect files in the Net product are stored via FTP on a Web server; the Connect client provides the security access to the server and the complete interface for interacting, etc."
Joe asks Myron, "That would take care of viruses?"
Myron says, "Re viruses: I don't know if we have the problem 100% licked, but Connect now checks for all the automacro viruses etc -- and since this has been put into place we've had no problems here"
Joe smiles. "That should do it. I've heard that newer versions of MS Office also scan for viruses."
Myron says, "Re viruses and a whole lot more: we've truly been blessed these last few years to have three world-class programmers working full-time on the product; it remains an incredibly solid product"
Joe asks, "It's sad, to this Mac user, to see Apple in so much trouble. If things improve for the company, would you consider a Mac version?"2
Claudine pats Joe, and his MAC
Joe says to Claudine, "Bartleby the Mac would pat you back, but he prefers not to"
||Myron says, "A big issue in all this remains
the future of word processing and computers handling big or thick documents
-- and obviously our requiring such docs from students"
Joe asks Myron, "Do you think the future of word processing is in doubt? Could something like PageMill replace wordprocessing?"
Myron asks, "Alas, somehow I feel as if I've not been as concise and as witty as I was the last time -- is it possible Joe?"
Claudine doubts that
Joe lights a [virtual] Cuban H. Upmann (don't print that, Claud, or I'll be arrested). "We don't have to be serious, Myron."
Claudine giggles at Joe
Myron says, "Excuse my ignorance re PageMill; but the issue isn't so much word processing (which really is dying in favor of html editing) but program to handle (reformat etc.) complex docs"
Claudine says to Myron, "do you see Microsoft keeping up with that, though? HTML editing, I mean"
Claudine says, "And Corel WPerfect as well"
Myron says, "No cigars here -- the strongest stimulant was a Caffeine-free Diet Coke that I had bought for this hour and which Kathryn quickly guzzled down in all the excitement"
Joe nods. "PageMill is Adobe's HTML editor, so you've answered the Q. Do you think that 'big or thick' documents will disappear from comp. classes, in favor of Web pages and hypertext?"
Joe opens window and sits stogie on the edge. "If it weren't Cuban, I'd snuff it. . ."
Joe wonders if Webtexts can be "big and thick."
Myron says, "Joe's question re big docs and comp classes strikes me as THE core question of our profession, and it's not big or small vs. linearly structured or not -- ie., with a beginning (thesis), middle (development) and end -- the kind of writing that nearly all students find extremely difficult. Hence my sense that it really is doomed as being too burdensome, and perhaps without a clear-cut advantage (except possibly for helping people to think more clearly more deeply -- but then who cares about that?)"
Claudine winks at mt
Joe cares about that, deeply, and winks at everyone present.
Claudine asks, "But eliminating the "essay-a-saurus" (baldwin?) hmmm, how imminent is that?"
Myron asks, "Clearly Web docs can be thick, and even linearly structured as in a Web site--but then the question becomes how to teach students to organize such a site, especially students who have trouble organizing a 5-paragraph essay?" [I'd like to add: "The most likely solution to this dilemma: The Web site and whatever graphics oriented project students are asked to do won't be well-organized but worrying about such things (when all the individual screens are jumping with bright colors) will come to seen boring and old-fashioned."
Joe says, "Teaching students linear rhetorical structures, a la Aristotle, can actually assist them when they write nonlinear texts. Reminds me of artists who first study anatomy before trying abstraction."
Claudine says to Myron, "for some students (spatial learners a la Garnder's MI theories) organizing the webtext would be EASIER than the 5 paragraph essay"
Joe agrees with Claudine. "But could they then learn linear structures after that?"
Myron says, "Re how imminent: my sense is that the change to Web docs, html, and esp graphic modes of orientation (and the end of the essay) might be as swift as the demise of Latin was in the 1880s: here today, gone tomorrow. ('Where are the snows . . . ')"
Claudine says, "In theory, allowing students to 'flex' their own strong 'intelligence' allows teachers a clearer pathway into that learner's mastery of another intelligence--ie. linguistic or logical, which show up in the 5 paragraph essay"
Myron says, "Clearly there will always be a value in mastering linear thought structures, and likely good ways to teach such structures via graphical Web design: but since I see the impetus to Web authoring as a (joyous?) flight from the onerous nature of such thought patters, I don't see such an option becoming normative. After all one can also teach graphics with printed, linear texts -- yet pictures drop out of student writing in kindergarten"
Claudine laments that, mt
Claudine asks Myron, "Have you designed connect.net to be flexible in response to that, then? Is there html support there?"
Myron says, "There are already hotlinks inside all versions of Connect: the ability of teachers and students to link to Web material, but for now no ability to compose and share html docs, although that is clearly around a corner (and likely sooner rather than later)"
|loco_guest teleports in.
loco_guest asks, "anybody here?"
Myron asks, "Hello loco_guest! Can you liven up things in here?"
loco_guest asks, "what do you mean?"
Joe wonders where to go with this fascinating topic. "I like the recursive nature of using Connect transcripts, which itself is not a linear practice. Will Connect.net make transcript-making easier? I'd like to put transcripts from group discussion right onto Web pages."
Joe asks loco_guest, "?Que' pasa, el loco?"
loco_guest says, "Nada"
Joe says to loco_guest, "Ni yo, tampoco. Juego como journalista."
Myron says, "Re transcripts: There's no strong reason to post stuff on the Web since students with the client and an ISP can access any Connect material via the Net from anywhere"
Joe nods. "That will save me time."
loco_guest says, "I'm from Samoa"
Joe exclaims to loco_guest, "We're doing an interview about a new piece of software, btw. Buncha teachers; wish I was in Samoa!"
Myron says, "I have had students do Web building projects (via Angelfire) and have put hotlinks to that directly in Connect assignments"
Joe says to Myron, "That would work with PageMill and other HTML editors, too. I have a few general, wrap-up questions."
Myron exclaims, "Let's wrap and roll!"
Joe asks Myron, "When we've gotten stuck over the past few years, Connect-L and the tech. support from Ann Arbor have come in really handy. Do you participate regularly on the list? How has the list affected design changes in Connect?"
Myron says, "I definitely read everything; most discussion now is technical and Fred or someone else provides the answer"
loco_guest says, "My uncle owns a village in American Samoa"
loco_guest says, "He says I should be next to lead his people"
loco_guest has disconnected.
Claudine asks, "Weird day, eh?"
Joe slaps his head. "Damn. I just missed my chance to become the village shaman and cigar vendor!"3
Myron laughs loudly
||Joe praises Kon-Tiki and dances. "Last
Myron says, "Shoot""
Joe asks, "Let's put ourselves in a time warp for a moment. Computing has changed exponentially since 1988, when Textra first appeared. Imagine the next ten years in our field of computers and writing. The Young Turks of grad school will be entering the profession. They are among the primary proponents of computers and writing. What lies ahead for the field? What will a computer-assisted class look like in 10 years?"
Myron says, "The overwhelming issue for the next 10 years (imho) will be the role of graphics. Pictures, for better or worse, have immense power. It's hard for me to imagine a condition where plain text won't look shabby, old-fashioned "
Myron says, "The counter argument (that graphics will not prevail in college composition) has to do with the prevalence of older technologies: still photography in a world where everyone has a video cam; radio in a world where everyone has TV. Still I have a hard time imagine students working exclusively with text when everyone has colors and MMX technology to support video and animation"
Joe says, "O brave new world that has such rhetors in it"
Claudine says, "Getting back to how connect was conceived--heh-heh, mt"
Claudine says, "What about that unique pricing arrangement"
Claudine asks, "How did you all decide to buck the trend and go with individual user licenses?"
Joe recognizes marketing savvy when he sees it. "Was it that?"
Claudine grins at joe
Myron says, "Last session had extensive discussion of market conditions affecting computers. The pricing for Connect followed the pattern for Norton Textra Writer, and the pattern of textbooks generally: that each students bought her/his individual copy."
Joe nods, adding "So it wasn't so much a deliberate decision as the desire to go with what Norton knew how to do well?"
Claudine says, "Ah, very smooth transition--from books to disks"
Myron says, "If you license the product to a school, then you have to constantly resell your same few customers, who naturally want to keep using the older (already paid for) stuff; businesses like PeopleSoft get around that with stiff annual license fees, which writing programs were not about to pay"
Claudine nods, agrees
Myron exclaims, "Part of the idea was (still is) to give students high value, in terms of documentation, support, software quality--and figure that they wouldn't complain, and it's worked pretty well!"
Joe asks, "I'm outta questions, friends. Shall we retire to Samoa?"
Claudine votes for that, Joe
Joe blows on his Samoan Great Horn of Celebration and Thanks
Claudine thanks Joe and MT for all the wit and smiles this afternoon
Any such list will be incomplete. In noting the contributions of these individuals, the authors considered a few people who have developed the paradigms of courseware as we know it. Certainly, one could add a long list of composition theorists and rhetoricians who have studied how we write on-line and what we use to for the task.
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Mac users take heart; Myron was not dodging the question, although everyone became sidetracked at this point. In previous discussions of Connect, Myron and Fred McFarland of W.W. Norton have expressed interest in a Macintosh version of the software. On numerous occasions McFarland has noted that development costs and the need to maintain current products have kept Ann Arbor software from coding another version. Readers interested in developing a Mac version of Connect should contact Fred McFarland.
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Joe Essid, a reader of Albert Wendt's fiction about Samoa, hopes that he does not offend any Samoan readers. Claudine, Joe, and Myron would appreciate any offers to visit Samoa as good-will ambassadors for computers and writing.
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