In the Beginning...
CyberEnglish was conceived during my college days in the 70's when I took a bookbinding class. The purpose of the class as the instructor explained was to make the writer feel the complete artistic excitement other artists felt about producing their own work. Writers, he explained gave up their work to editors and publishers for completion. Writers didn't share in the same control of the entire work like the dancer or painter or photographer or musician. These artists were in control of the whole process from conception to delivery. Not so the writer, who had to deliver text to and editor and a publisher who may alter or present the final product in an unacceptable way bereft of author input. This made sense and as he spoke of Ben Franklin and the important publishers and the power the had because they controlled the press, I loved this revoltionary notion. "Power to the press and to he who owns one," became our motto and mine. So here is how it all started.
My life was about to change and begin a project that would take nearly twenty years to reach its maturity. First I wrote poetry, then selected the font style and size, inks, and paper. I then printed the text using a hand press. I learned how to bind a book and made five copies of poetry book. Finally I took the books to the school bookstore to be sold. At the end of the semester, I retreived two unsold books and my profits. I never knew who bought three of my books. What happened to me that day was pride and my taste for the power of the press. I was now on a mission. Read what Tom March has to say about the need to use the web.
The first steps began soon thereafter when I began teaching in 1974. I immediately sought ways to make my scholars' work public and to share it in the classroom. At first, lots of carbon paper or hours at a copy machine. School publications were limited and pretty much published once a year at the end. The process was bogged down and bothered me. In fact in 1979, I left teaching to learn more about publishing. I entered a new program at NYU called book and magazine publishing. I had big ideas about using this knowledge to find a way to publish scholar work on a more regular and large scale basis. I ended up at Harcourt Brace Jovonovich working on a trade publication. I was so far from education, but was learning about publishing as the editor of a one person magazine. I learned lots and then HBJ's publisher decided to leave New York City, just as I had arived. I didn't relocate and entered education again as an English teacher in a New York public high school across the street from where I lived in lower Manhattan straddling the Brooklyn Bridge. That was 1983. I hadn't lost my desire to promote the scholars' work, but now I had 165 scholars and needless to say that idea became buried as did I in paper. Bt in this environment, I realized even more I needed to get these scholars' words out there.
Why this push and need to make their work public? I believe writers write to share their ideas with others and to discover what they know. This was one of the reasons I became an English teacher, to practice and promote these ideas. Well I hit paydirt in 1984, when I was introduced to my first computer lab of 16 computers. It was to be my new classroom for the next sixteen years. Room 439 was an art room converted into a computer lab. The need for a large room caused the demise of many art programs over the years and served as bad press for computer applications and use. In one half of the room were the computers arranged in four rows of four computers with a dot matrix printer for four computers. In the other half of the room were desks and tables. I spent my first semester playing and learning about the room in my free periods. In the second semester I brought in two classes and taught three in a regular classroom.
Ironically, when I was first introduced to the room, I was dismayed. What on earth would an English teacher do with a computer room? I was beside myself. I was allowed to take one of the computers home. No hard drive, two 5 1/4 floppies instead. The software I had was very primitive by today's standards and was very limited. The first word processor I used only allowed about four pages of text. I remember having to string files together for one of the essays I had written for my graduate work. It was very frustrating and time consuming and I did not see how this would work in the classroom. Word processing software was a shareware program called PC-Write. the first commercial software was Easy-Writer, very limiting. The first major brand name software was WordStar and then finally WordPerfect was introduced. Suddenly the possibilities grew as we had our first user-friendly software. But I'm jumpimg ahead off myself.
I my first epiphany occurred about a year before I was introduced to version one of WordPerfect, when the copy machine broke. I had spent the weekend preparing some worksheets for the scholars on the computer at home. I put the work on my disk and took it to school to print on the one good printer I had so I could make paper copies to distribute to the scholars. They would do all their work on the paper and hand it in. Nothing new here, it was how I did it when I had a typewriter, it was how my colleagues did it, it was how teachers did it. Well I printed the lesson out and went to make copies only to find the machine was broken. Panic set in as I had no lesson or work. As I strolled back to class tapping the 5 1/4 inch disk against my head in frustration and contemplation, it came to me. Copy the file to sixteen disks and have the scholars do their work on the computer, save to disk and then print them all out. Suddenly my walk became purposeful as I strode back to the classroom. It took all of seven to eight minutes to copy the file to sixteen disks. Now another interesting dilemma occurred. I had sixteen computers and thirty-two scholars. I made two groups. One group would work on the computers while the other group would work at the desks in the other part of the room. Many things started to happen that would become major buiding blocks for CyberEnglish. First, division of labor and breaking from the "everyone works at same pace and on same project industrial style of education" as I had the scholars in two groups working on two different tasks. Second was the beginning of digitizing everything. Thirdly was the beginnings of peer review as scholars began viewing other scholar's work as it was being devleoped rather than upon completion. Finally, we were publishing the scholars' work. I still didnt get it then, but found the computer and printer was fortuitous for the scholar with poor penmanship and for me since I could control the format of 64 scholars' work. That standardization of printing took hours off my grading time. In addition because of tghe staggered computer time I had fewer papers to grade each night and spread the work load over a few days instead of the typical due date dilemma faced by English teachers. So instead of grading 64 papers on the weekend I was doing a quarter of that during the week and had very little grading on weekends cause it was being done in class at the time of creation or on the weeknights. These computers were looking better and better everyday.
The next major date of import was 1986 when our school was one of six in a pilot program taught by Frank Madden at City University of New York. The course was global communications. We were going to communicate with schools in three counties, England, Austria, and Japan. We were going to use the Internet and the classes at CUNY were designed to teach us how to use email, telnet, gopher and ftp. The Board of education provided us with a telephone line into our classroom, a computer with a 10 meg harddrive, an 600 baud phone modem, and a phone number to have the computer dial to connect us to the Internet. I was more confused than ever. What did all of this have to do with teaching? What it did was to relieve me of one class of 32 scholars so I didn't complain. We of course ran into problems as we didn't have technology support and had to figure it out as we went along. I was lucky to be introduced to some folks who were providing Internet access. The organization's name was The Dorsai Embassy, a name derived from a science fiction series written by Gordon Dickson. Dorsai became my Internet provider at home and eventually at school. This connection allowed me to connect the school to the Internet. The other five using Board of Education resources never connected. For a semester, we exchanged work with scholars in three foreign coutries. Time consuming, labor intensive, but so worth it as I saw happen to my scholars what had happened to me when I realized i sold three books of poetry.
Over the next five or six years, I played with new software, wrote software for the English class, and experimented with early National Writing Project teachers developing effective ways to use the computer in the English class. With the advances in technology, I was able to distribute work more efficiently, share the scholars' work with neat network commands, and fine tune the peer review process. The technology allowed me to broadcast scholar work as it was being written to the class, it allowed me to drop in while a scholar was writing without that scholar knowing it, it allowed me to assist the scholar. All this was done from my computer while the scholars were at their computers. All of a sudden I was driving this class from one computer and they were all engaged and sharing. But it wasn't enough, it wasn't public enough for me. It was only within this class and peer review was limited as a result. But that all changed again in 1994, when I learned about the World Wide Web from my friends at Dorsai. i was one of the first people there to make a web page. I was the first one to publish some of my own work. When I received a piece of mail from someone who had read one of my essays, I suddenly discovered how the Internet would be useful to me in my English class. I met with the folks at Dorsai and told them about my 34 computer lab and asked if they could hook it up to the Internet. Sure and they explained what I would need to do. I gave them a 486 computer that they converted into a LINUX box and installed it in my lab one weekend. They then connected it to the Internet through their computers. During this time I secured an IP address from the Internic and Murry Bergtraum High School was on the Internet. That summer I wrote the first version of CyberEnglish as part of my doctoral work at Teachers College at Columbia University and with the help of many friends on the Alliance for Computers & Writing listserve. In September 1994, CyberEnglish was born.
Cyber English addresses how we change our classroom practices as teachers to make education more
effective and better for all. It is constructivism. It is a response
to demands by society to engage in the educational paradigm shifts and to get beyond the status quo.
Cyber English is "out of the box" thinking and practice. Cyber English is the blend of technology and
humanities, a paradox, oxymoron. It taps into the future work and lving environment of technology with
old world humanities. Cyber English allows me to practice my pedagogical theories which will emerge as
I present my practice via scholar work, my own published writings, observations by others, and from my
presentations. Perhaps the most important reason for Cyber English is that it puts the process of
learning in the hands of the learner and allows the teacher to teach and guide them and watch them learn
how to learn and have fun doing it. And of course the greatest reward is reading their webpages which
bear out my correct assumptions about why Cyber English is so important. One final note about its
importance is that during the years I taught this course in a NYC public high school of 3200 scholars, I
consistently had the highest attendance rate in the school and more 100% attendance days than other
classes each of those years. That helps me understand why Cyber English was so important.
The Web-Book is designed in a linear style to help the user navigate Cyber English more effectively.
One might say it is the annotation to the class page. Although I use hypertext exclusively and
extensively, I am trying to maintain a more traditional linear style for the Web-Book while bringing
in the hypertext. I have chosen not to publish it in print simply because it isn't possible and print
certainly does lend itself to the class.
NOTE: will explain this more as i see it unfold and book develops