By Mary Ann Meyers, Pennsylvania Gazette, 1995, Illustrations by Santiago Cohen
Why should old men be preferred to their juniors now that it is possible for the young by diligent study to acquire the same knowledge?
—Jacobo Filippo Foresti Supplementum Chronicarum Venice, 1483
The emergence of the first, medieval universities preceded the invention of printing from movable type by some three centuries. From early centers of higher learning in Paris, Oxford, and Bologna, wandering scholars carried teaching materials with them as they moved from place to place. The mode of instruction was lecture and disputation. Since professors were paid directly by students for their exposition, one can understand if some of them greeted with ambivalence the advent of the typeset book.
But the multiplication and distribution of texts in printed form after 1450 did not lead to the loss of faculty jobs. To be sure, learning by reading took on new importance. Bright undergraduates had the chance to reach beyond their teachers’ grasp. University professors, however, found a new and profitable sideline in textbook writing. They, could enjoy a more sedentary life, since it was no longer necessary to travel widely to consult rare manuscript copies of different works. Printing brought to an end the era of the glossator. It also made possible the widespread, cumulative augmentation of knowledge, based on intense cross-referencing, which is associated with modern scholarship.
Today the explosive growth of an infrastructure for electronic data is forcing members of university communities to once again consider the impact of new information technology. Like late-15th- century dons who regarded printed works as vastly inferior to their predecessor manuscripts, some are highly skeptical of the pedagogical value of CD-ROM’s (the ubiquitous compact disks that carry interactive multimedia programs) or, glory be, the Internet.
But the tide is turning. Less than three years after the introduction of the first browsers—computer software programs that enable even novice computer-users to navigate the World-Wide Web (the multimedia, hyper-linked system for displaying and organizing information on the thousands of separate computer networks brought together on the Internet) —faculty at Penn and elsewhere have embarked on serious explorations of how digital tools can be applied to education.
An invitation-only workshop held at the University earlier this term gave some 80 participants, including academic administrators, teachers, and students, as well as journalists and businness leaders, a chance to talk over their hopes and fears—and, in some cases, riveting experiments. It was the opening event in the University’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of ENIAC, the world’s first large-scale, general- purpose, electronic digital computer, which was developed at Penn in 1946.
The conference had two sponsors: The Virtual University Lab Project, the aggressive effort to launch Penn into cyberspace, which is being coordinated Dr. Gregory Farrington, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Dr. Jerry Wind, the Lauder Professor of Marketing who serves as director of the S.E.I. Center for Advancedd Studies in Management at the Wharton School, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which is directed by Dr. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication.
Although cyber is a prefix derived from the ancient Greek word for the art of steering (kybernetes), no one at the two-day workshop claimed to have a hand on the rudder of whatever was propelling them into the new realm without material bounds or geographic limits that is being created by computer technology and advances in high-speed communications. A wag quoted Lewis Carroll: “If you don’t know where you’re going, virtually any road will take you there.” But the consensus seemed to be that the search for solutions to seemingly intractable educational problems (e.g., differing learning styles, high tuition rates, the information explosion) required bold excursions.
“The challenge is to be on the leading edge but not the bleeding edge,” Farrington said in explaining the need to be innovative without making too many costly mistakes. Wind told his colleagues: “Academic disciplines are part of the global information age and cannot escape trends that affect all enterprises.” He suggested that the range of realistic options was between “reengineering and reinventing universities.”
Lewis J. Perelman, the meeting’s most deliberately provocative speaker, took an extreme position. School’s Out is the title of his 1992 book on how new technology facilitates learning, and he gleefully consigned traditional collegiate institutions to oblivion.
His comparison of universities of the 1990’s to horse-drawn carriages of the 1890’s pointed up the lexical lag produced by technological revolutions. Just as “horseless carriage” was the best people could do for a while in describing what was eventually named the “automobile,” we struggle to name harbingers of the dawning information age.
CD-ROM’s (which stands for Compact Disk Read-Only Memory), for example, are called “diskbooks,” but the best of them are really more like libraries or, better yet, like having the whole of a rainy childhood Saturday to wander through the stacks. An opening screen with a list of contents, known as a “home page,” can be found at most addresses on the Web. “Hypertext” is the name given to an online electronic document containing links to other documents. In a stunning reversal, hypertext soft-ware transfers control of information from author to reader, who can follow his or her own path through a work.
Penn’s provost, Dr. Stanley A. Chodorow, told the conference participants that the electronic revolution “threatens to blow away our traditional definitions of a course.” He said the current standard of measurement—“so many credit units for so many class hours, so many exams and papers, so much reading”— will certainly be challenged “when the majority of communication between faculty and students and among students occurs outside class hours, when students write hundreds of lines of prose or calculations in e-mail discussions of topics, when research is conducted in electronic databases, when a paper is built up by a group of students writing and editing and adding text and footnotes.”
Last semester, students enrolled in English 293, Literature of the Holocaust, produced 16,800 lines, equaling 730 typewritten pages, of collective writing on course assignments via e-mail. Dr. Alan Filreis, the associate professor of English who serves as head of the undergraduate division of the department, had set-up an e-mail address for use only by the class members and himself. By sending messages to a list server, a computer that shares information with other users, his students carried on round-the-clock discussions.
Filreis, who kept “office hours” front 10:00 p.m. to midnight, described the electronic network to conference participants as “an English cafe.” He said that “by providing a free, virtually instantaneous way of engaging people in conversation at almost any hour of the day or night, digital media have increased faculty accessibility and responsibility.”
Filreis then pointed with pride to the English department’s Gopher, a software system that allows individuals on campus and around the world to access, through PennNet (the University’s component of the Internet), course descriptions, class rosters, faculty profiles, a calendar of departmental acctivities, and even an alumni directory with e-mail addresses. He further noted that since faculty advisers and undergraduate peer advisers went “on line” to respond to students’ inquiries in 1993, “undergraduates have declared English majors earlier in their collegiate careers and taken core courses not only earlier but in sequence.”
Dr. Charles J. McMahon, Jr., ’55 MtE, professor of materials science and engineering, shared with conference participants a portion of a CD-ROM that he and a Penn graduate student, Ransom J. Weaver, ’90 C, developed to demonstrate a basic but hard-to-describe materials-science concept. Three- dimensional animations on the computer screen quickly conveyed how the shape of a crystalline solid can be permanently altered by passing a defect (called a dislocation) through the material. “Usually it takes students several weeks to get the idea,” McMahon said, “but when they played the CD-ROM, their comprehension reached 100 per cent by the end of a single class session.”
He added that he has created more than 30 other animations to demonstrate similarly difficult engineering concepts and expects to have 100 by next semester. Combined with text, graphics, and video chips, they will become a multimedia supplement to an existing textbook, The Bicycle and the Walkman which McMahon conceived and developed with Dr. Charles D. Graham, Jr., another Penn professor of materials science and engineering.
“Our objective is to provide entry-level instruction via CD-ROM,” McMahon said, adding: “Classroom time can then be used for tutorials.” He went on to note that if “virtual lectures and laboratory experiences continue to prove successful, they could be packaged and shipped anywhere. The biggest market would probably be secondary-school science departments,” he said.
Penn students studying medicine and veterinary medicine also have the help of multimedia technology in mastering subject matter in their fields. Doctors-in- training can use a computer program called “Lazy Eye” to conduct a neuroophthalmology examination on a simulated patient. They can view graphic illustrations of anatomic neural structures and read textual discussions of motility problems and pupil pathologies, as well as actual case histories of afflicted individuals.
Veterinary students learn about the innards of animals by putting a stethoscope to a computer screen and examining a virtual cow. After developing a list of potential problems that require further investigation, they go to an electronic lab where they fill out forms requesting various tests. The computer keeps a running tab of how much they’re spending, so the apprentice veterinarians are forced to confront certain economic realities, even as they contemplate therapeutic interventions and formulate recommendations to the digitized dairy farmer.
Dr. Holly Pittman, associate professor of the history of art, has used computer technology to create a virtual walk- through of an Assyrian king’s throne room. Upon donning a head set, students in Art History 101 can roam the long, narrow palace room lined with elaborately carved stone slabs from which Asurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.) ruled northern Mesopotamia nearly 3,000 years ago. Although the actual slabs, which were excavated in the 1850’s, reside in the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, computer simulation comes nearer than any print medium to enabling students to experience the ancient art in original position in the lost city of Calah (Nimrud).
Farrington suggested to the conference participants that the criterion judging the success of the various Penn experiments in the use of advanced information technology, should be their ability, to enhance learning. But it was also clear from the two-day discussion that computers, satellites, and fiber- optic cables could greatly expand the number of learners by erasing geographic barriers to participation in campus-based classes.
Last semester, Dr. James J. O’Donnell’s graduate seminars on the Roman philosopher Boethius (480-4 A.D.) included, in addition to six Penn students who met with their professor in Williams Hall, four other, off-site students (a secondary-school Latin teacher in Atlanta, a graduate student at the University of Dallas, a member of the faculty at Idaho State University, and a beginning assistant professor at the University of Nagoya in Japan), as well as 175 auditors from around the world. Digests of each class were written by the Penn students and posted to the University’s C.C.A.T. (Center for Computer Analysis of Texts ) Gopher, as were student papers. A list server facilitated 24-hour-a-day discussion by e-mail.
Modeled after a noncredit course on St. Augustine that O’Donnell, a professor of classical studies, taught last year to 375 students from places as far away as Istambul and Hong Kong, his Internet Boethius seminar was enhanced by on-line conferencing software. For two hours each week during the 13-week course, the off- site, tuition-paying graduate students logged on simultaneously to a virtual seminar room and engaged in real-time discussion with O’Donnell and each other via linked computer networks. They received graduate credit from Penn upon successful completion of the seminar, and O’Donnell, who is on leave this term at the University of Washington, created a home page on the Web to share with faculty around the world his enthusiasm for using technology in teaching.
The Penn classicist offers both technical advice and political tips. His “visitors” learn not only how to use the Internet to develop lists of scholarly, resources butt hat librarians can be “unexpected allies” in urging deans and provosts to support the use of technology in the classroom. O’Donnell says he “can’t imagine ever teaching again without including off site learners in the conversation. They enriched it immensely,” he adds with satisfaction.
The School of Nursing is the first school in the University to use interactive audio/visual teleconferencing to link students not physically on campus with their Pennclassmates. Beginning last September, three women with bachelor’s degrees in nursing—two from Central Pennsylvania and one from Western Pennsylvania—joined 16 other candidates for master’s degrees in nursing in an intensive 16-month graduate program in nurse midwifery, the only such program in the state.
The off-campus learners attend classes at several of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s HealthNet teleconferencing sites, where they are able to seeand hear lectures delivered in the Nursing Education Building and be seen and heard by their professors and classmates, as well as one another. In addition, they are learning at the side of local nurse-midwives and other nurses who are providing health care in their own communities and studying independently in their homes. Through personal computers equipped with moderns and loaned to them by the School of Nursing, they carry on e-mail discussions and receive and transmit assignments.
At the beginning of two sequences in their course of study, off-campus students visited the Penn campus to participate in clinical- skills labs. They plan a third visit this spring for similar hands-on training in physical examination. A member of the faculty of the nursing school visits with them periodically, as well as with their preceptors.
“Nurse midwifery involves a very personal approach to health care, and bonding among students and their teachers is essential,” says Sister Teresita Hinegan, a lecturer in nursing who developed and now directs the “distance- learning” program. She adds: “It’s gone well so far. Thank heavens!”
“Think of the way alumni will be able to continue their learning and participation in the intellectual life of a university.,” Stanley Chodorow instructed participants in “The Virtual University” workshop: “I see a future in which alumni stay in touch with faculty, as well as athletic teams,” he said. But then he also asked: “Will the faculty be able to cope?”
Dr. Raymond J. Fonseca. dean of Penn’s School of Dental Medicine, answered that his faculty colleagues were in the process of planning a “quality, lifelong learning program for all graduates of the dental school,” which would be facilitated by advanced communications technology. Referring to the practice of having students work on manikins and plastic teeth during their pre-clinical years, he explained that, in a sense, dental education “has been doing virtual reality for 100 years. But when you have 90 students in a class, the class can only proceed at the pace of the slowest student.
“Multimedia software will allow a student sitting in front of a computer to learn clinical skills as fast as the student is able and practice them on a simulated patient long before he or she sees an actual one,” the dean told the workshop participants. 'More importantly, given an exponentially expanding knowledge-base in basic and clinical science, it will allow us to change the paradigm of how and when we deliver dental education,” he added.
Fonseca said that beginning with the Class of 2000, the School of Dental Medicine “will guarantee its students lifelong instruction.” He explained: “We will award students an entry-level degree after they successfully, complete a course of study on campus. Then, using CD-ROM’s or, perhaps eventually, directly on Internet, we will provide them with periodic updates leading to degrees that will be valid for, say, an additional five years. And we will offer them similar opportunities to continue their education and maintain their Penn credentials for their entire professional careers.”
Fonseca went on to suggest that “the term alumni will become obsolete” when degree-holders, presently referred to as “graduates,” will be continually enrolled at Penn. Chodorow observed that we are, indeed, “on the verge of revolution in the ways we define the building blocks of a University education,” and he cautioned that “we do not vet have any idea how or whether we will be able to integrate the new with the old.”
As they continued their discussion of the characteristics of the virtual university, trying to imagine its shape and size, the conference participants returned again and again to questions about professorial roles. In particular, Jerry Wind asked, what will be the “function of local faculty’” when students can access the world’s leading experts in any field on computer or television screens?
Charles McMahon suggested that they would become coaches. Dr. William Halal, professor of management science at George Washington University, said he saw himself “as a broker of information who might package knowledge in new ways and then reinterpret it” for his classes. He is producing the proceedings of a management conference sponsored by George Washington in CD-ROM format. Michael Tomczyk, chief operating officer of Better Education, Incorporated, a company that develops educational software systems, predicted an emergence of a new form of “guru competition” for market share among the nation’s leading institutions.
Martin Meyerson, ’70 Hon, emeritus president of the University reminded the conference participants that “the most vital aspect of a university is its research function.” He suggested that whether a lecture is delivered in front of students in chairs with writing arms or on video and beamed around the globe, it “should deal with tentative material” reflecting the lecturer’s current areas of scholarly or scientific investigation.
As head of the Foundation for International Exchange of Scientific and Cultural Information by Telecommunications (FISCIT), an organization founded in Zurich and now located at Penn, Meyerson has been demonstrating for nearly 15 years how different modes of telecommunication can enhance research, along with education and related services, by shrinking distances among scholars, as well as students and staffs, at institutions separated by oceans. FISCIT has tested the efficacy of live teleconferencing, using video and high-speed computers, through virtual meetings of the world’s leading experts in a variety of fields.
For the past eight years, prior to each economic summit meeting of the heads of government of the world’s major industrial nations, FISCIT has convened a meeting of prominent nongovernmental economists to assess policy options facing the summit participants. The virtual gatherings are chaired by the University’s Nobel laureate Dr. Lawrence R. Klein, Benjamin Franklin and university Emeritus Professor of Economics. The participating economists, who remain on their home continents, use Klein forecasting model to trace the impact of various options, and their fundings and suggestions are transmitted to the summit secretariat.
Other teleconferences have brought together scientists interested in the neurobiology of pain and clinicians concerned about child health care in the tropics. In a demonstration project, students in the United States and Europe had an opportunity using one-way video and two-way audio, to ask questions of and receive answers from former British Prime Minister James Callaghan. An elaborate, interactive video-conference on the bicentennial of the French Revolution linked students and faculty in Paris and Los Angeles. Another test project involved a video discussion among artists, writers, cultural producers, and critics in Russia and the United States.
Meyerson told the workshop shop participants that FISCIT had found that “videoconferencing works well for exchangeing ideas and knowledge but not so well for getting to know people or negotiating with them.” He said his experience suggests that it is “most successful when the participants are at least slightly acquainted beforehand.” He added that videoconferencing is “a valuable adjunct to travel rather than a full substitute for it.” But FISCIT’s experiments have shown that videoconferencing can stimu- late collaborative endeavors, and Meyer- son described it as “significantly superior to just the computer net, the facsimile connection, or the telephone conference call” as a means of educational encounter and scholarly exchange.
The use of computers to facilitate research, particularly to help with laborious calculations, has a long history. At the end of World War II, when Dr. John W. Mauchly, ’60 Hon, then an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and J. Presper Eckert, Jr., ’41 EE, ’43 GEE, ’64 Hon, developed the first operational electronic digital computer at the University’s Moore School, it was in response to the United States Army’s need for improved ballistic trajectory computations.
But it’s good for more than number crunching. Optical scanners and software facilitating the reconstruction, comparison, and analysis of textual information have extended the use of computers in research well beyond the physical and life sciences.
Since the early 1980’s, Dr. Robert A. Kraft professor of religious studies, has been using a program called Ibycus, which works with fragments of words and unusual alphabets, to establish electronic editions of ancient Greek translations of Jewish scriptures. The program also is enabling him to encode and reformat all the textual variants, and his work is enabling other scholars to prepare dictionaries and grammars of Greek and Hebrew materials, tasks that would once have required several lifetimes. At the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Dr. Stuart J. Fleming, scientific director of the Museum’s Applied Science Center for Archaeology., and his colleagues developed a software program for making maps of excavation sites far faster and more accurate than by hand. The computer- aided designs, which show not only rite topographical surfaces but also representations of artifacts placed exactly where they were found, are being used by archaeologists working in Petra (in Jordan) and Copan (in Honduras). The extraordinarily precise maps are an invaluable resource for excavators devising strategies for further digs.
Dr. Harold L. Dibble, associate professor of anthropology, envisions the mouse as a trowel. He excavated a Middle Paleolithic site in Combe Capelle Bas in southern France, and from the beginning of the three-year project, he used a computer to help analyze his data. As a result, he was able to finish a site report in record time. It is ready, now for publication by the University Museum, and Dibble is working on a CD-ROM complement, which contains, in addition to text, four-color graphics, and pictures of the excavation team at work in their trenches, some 1200 colored photographs of artifacts—as compared with about 200 pictures of tools and bones in the projected print version.
“All the raw data is there? he says, observing, “I want scholars and students to have access to it so they can analyze my work” Dibble notes that, in addition to producing a CD-ROM, he is considering making the electronic site report available over the Internet. “I’m even thinking about creating a computer program that would allow students to go on a simulated excavation,” he says, adding: “it would be a virtual dig. They would choose where to make trenches and how many artifacts to take. It could be a real research experience.”
Another Penn archaeologist, Dr. David Gilman Romano, who is the keeper of the Museum’s Mediterranean section, is using computer software to create a new highly accurate map of the Roman colony at Corinth. He has scanned into the computer his own surveys of all above-ground architectural features of the ancient city including excavated structures, walls, monuments, roadways, and foundations, as well as more than 1,000 topographical maps based on aerial photographs made in the 1960’s by the Greek Air Force, satellite photographs, and site drawing of excavations produced through the years by other archaeologists and collected at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. On the basis of his work so far, Romano thinks the earliest colonists would have had a colonial plan in hand when they left for Greece just weeks before the death of Julius Caesar.
More than 250,000 photographic images of the exquisite Greek vases from Corinth and elsewhere in ancient Greece, along with 50,000 text records, reside in the Beazley Archive in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University. Decorated with pictures of gods and men, the clay vessels represented in the Beazley are the single richest source of visual evidence about classical antiquity.
Beginning in 1979, Oxford entered the Greek textual material into a computer database and, with funds from the European Community, has entered many of the images over the past two years. The treasure trove is now accessible to Penn scholars as the result of an agreement that makes the University Museum what Greg Farrington calls “the westernmost terminus” of. R.A.M.A.. (Remote Access to Museum Archives), a telecommunications project linking seven museums in seven countries.
Other members of R.A.M.A. are the Goulandris Museum in Athens, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, Museo Arqueologico Nacional in Madrid, the Museon in the Hague, and the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. Penn will have electronic access to their digitized collections in the future. The technology, which involves downloading stored data into University Museum computers, is “relatively conventional,” according to Farrington, who adds that “the Museum- Beazley link is, nevertheless, an exciting and important first step.”
What he describes as “a much more ambitious, almost breathtaking set of linkages” will involve, for starters, all of Penn and Oxford. “Our plans are just at the formulation stage,” Farrington explains. He is looking for about $2 million to establish the electronic ties. The shape of possible technology-aided, cooperative programs remains unclear, but he suggests that, for example, “an Oxford don could tutor University undergraduates and a Penn professor teach a class at an Oxford college” without anyone even temporarily pulling up stakes. Beyond educational exchanges between the two institutions, Farrington is also considering how computers and fiber-optic cables might be used to link the cities of Oxford and Philadelphia themselves.
Meanwhile, scientists at Penn will soon link their computers with those of colleagues at the Universities of Illinois and Maryland. State-of-the-art telephone technology will allow scholars at the three institutions to create a virtual supercomputer for sharing data, conducting experiments together, and solving complex problems that require high speed calculations.
Known as the National Scalable Cluster Project, the consortium is being funded by a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation and supported by business partners. “The shared computing system is the future of Internet,” says Dr. Robert J. Hollebeek, a University professor of physics who is one of the directors of the project. He predicts that it will allow its users, in such areas as linguistics, cognitive science, robotics, astronomy, and particle physics, “to think together.”
The ability to simply share and learn from information on the Internet has proved a boon to people from more than 90 countries who, since last spring, have been using specialized browser software to obtain point-and-click access to OncoLink, a hypermedia cancer database, made available through the World-Wide Web by the University’s medical center. Dr. Lauren Buhle, a physicist in the radiation oncology department, and Dr. Joel Goldwein, ’79 E, ’83 M, an associate professor of radiation-oncology specializing in treating children with cancer, created OncoLink to provide up- to-date information on cancer research and treatment to physicians, other health-care professionals, patients, and their families.
Users of the system flooded the Department of Radiation Oncology with e- mail last winter when Buhle claimed he had been “fired” as keeper of OncoLink. Goldwein and Dr. Ivor Benjamin, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology who is OncoLink’s third “co- editor,” told The Daily Pennsylvanian that Buhle had simply been asked to abide by an existing agreement to provide them with “full access” to all OncoLink postings to ensure they underwent a peer-review process in the interest of medical accuracy. “One wrong, misleading, or not qualified piece of information can be very harmful,” Goldwein said. He notes that OncoLink users register some 285,000 requests a month, and their concern that a dispute among the editors might disrupt the system testifies to the value they place on it.
Franklin, Penn’s on-line library catalogue, also has electronic visitors. It provides them access to more than two million bibliographic records, including most materials catalogued since 1968. They are supplemented by six million records from indexes in the arts, the humanities, technology, medicine, nursing, and the social, physical, and life sciences.
Together, these various databases form the Penn Library Information Network (PennLIN). Through it, users can reach LEXIS/NEXIS, a remote database that includes full-text newspaper files, business information, and legal material. Access from the PennLIN menu to the Research Libraries Information Network and its 22 million records became available last fall.
PennLlN users can ask the library to purchase books, renew ones they’ve borrowed, and make Interlibrary Loan requests by filling out electronic forms. They also can search for interconnections and associations among words in the digital version of the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which, in its typographical version, consists of 20 volumes covering four Linear feet of shelf.
The impact of electronic technology on the practices and futures of print publishers was a recurring subject of informal conversation at the Virtual University Workshop. Would paper give way to the computer screen or not? The question was formally addressed by Thomas M. Rotell, who was then director of the University Press. Rotell, who has since left Penn to accept the directorship of the press at Texas A. and M. University, said that “unless copyright issues are resolved, most publishers will be cau- tious about committing large sums of money to electronic projects.”
He also noted that “while manufacturing a CD-ROM costs far less than a comparable-size book, the research and development costs of electronic publishing are geometrically higher than those associated with print products.” Furthermore, he said that “because of the relative ease of copying products electronically, publishers are fearful that unit prices will have to be set extraordinarily high, since they are apt to sell fewer copies of a given electronic product than they would a print product.” But Rotell expressed a willingness to test the market.
Next year, the University of Pennsylvania Press will publish its inaugural effort in electronic editions. A CD-ROM version of Mary., Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus is being prepared by Dr. Stuart A. Curran, Penn’s Andrea Mitchell Term Professor of English, with the assistance of two University, graduate students, Sam Choi and John Lynch. It will be a variorum edition for intellectual play geared to the World- Wide Web.
Curran says that one of the major challenges in producing an electronic Frankenstein “lies in using a dictatorial delivery medium and creating an illusion of choice.” The very completeness of the work, which will be a repository of otherwise widely scattered scholarly and critical materials, helps him achieve his goal. Users will be able to point and click their way through masses of material according to their individual interests and needs.
Shelley’s novel is “almost uniquely suited to becoming a model for hypertext technology,” Curran says. He points out that there are “two fairly diverse editions” published 13 years apart “with a few intervening manuscript variants.” He also notes an array of other problems that need to be worked through by serious students of the work but, in the aggregate “beyond the capacity of print technology.”
Among them, Curran cites: “the fascinating issue of textual interpolations from Mary Shelley’s husband, the poet Persy Bysshe Shelley; a pervasive intertextuality, so that the novel becomes a virtual commentary on such diverse works aas Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and Milton’s Paradise Lost; a ddaunting array of linked contexts within the cultural icons and passions of the turn of the 18th century, involving a number of human and physical sciences; political and social undercurrents within the text that are not always immediately discernable on its surface; the legacy of stage and film reproductions; and a vital history of commentary.
Within the constraints of copyright and reproducibility, the enthusiastic editor says, he and his collaborators “can embed all—all—of this material on a single disk.” Everything you ever wanted to know about Dr. Frankenstein, who is, you may remember, both creator and slave of the creature.
What hath the university,, Penn in particular, wrought in developing the digital computer? The question was a subtext that ran through much of the conversation about virtuality in January. Stanley Chodorow noted that “today the concreteness of the campus weighs in balance against [the] centrifugal force of disciplinary involvement” characteristic of an academic universe in which scholars at leading institutions define themselves in terms of worldwide communities of interest. But tomorrow? Chodorow predicted that “the campus will lose much of its natural weight, which consists in the limits of traditional teaching methods and traditional academic units, as the Internet transforms teaching and the faculty expands beyond the campus or even local boundaries.”
But he also said that “while the university will go through some tough times,” he thinks “it will come through them just fine in the end. The university, has been one of our most enduring institutions,” Chodorow went on to note, adding: “It has had its ups and downs; it has been pushed aside at times; but since its invention in the second half of the twelfth century it has never been far from the center of the knowledge industry.”
The provost’s optimism was based on the university’s consistency in producing new ideas, a record of reliability stemming, he suggested, from the unique protection of “pure curiosity” found on campuses. He also said that “the youth of students may play a part in building the shield that preserves the university.”
Dr. John Clement, a program officer at the National Science Foundation, reminded his colleagues that, through the tenure they grant and the diplomas they award, universities have a significant role to play, in “certifying and validating contributions to knowledge and participants in the learning process.” Others, including Chodorow, stressed the importance of the face-to-face interactions that take place on campus. He said that, in his opinion, the Internet can “quicken the pace of discovery and invention, but the electronic environment cannot replace physical human society.”
For all the uses of the University recounted by the conference-goers, no one disagreed with the premise of the workshop that advances in computer and information technology are certain to transform a great deal of what goes on in universities. “How faculties teach, whom they teach, and when they teach has been dictated by the technology of the book,” Farrington said. So has scholarly dialogue, a convention which depends on the ability of participants to cite certain words on certain lines on certain pages.
But on the eve of the first furl computer millennium, the ongoing communications revolution is creating a world increasingly characterized by the integration of text, sound, and visual images, where information is becoming instantaneously available anywhere and everywhere. It is a world where relationships between viewers and artists, readers and authors, students and teachers, town and gown are sure to be altered as formerly sharp distinctions dissolve into the ether of the net.
“Cyber U”, The Pennsylvania Gazette, 1995.