“This vision is incredible, even just trying to make it happen it brings incredible things.”
— Rueben Lustman
In the fall of 2003, Dr. Engelbart invited a small group of college professors and technologists to his home for three days to plan the formation of an Educational Networked Improvement Community (EdNIC) to apply Engelbart’s philosophy in formal educational settings. What followed were three years of innovative, collaborative educational experiments. I was Assistant Professor of Multimedia Design at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and Professor Mary Angie Cooksey taught philosophy courses at Indian University East (IUE). (Cooksey coined the term “The Engelbart Hypothesis” in a paper she published in 2003.)
Cooksey framed Engelbart as an Information Age philosopher. My work focused on Interactive Media Design and Development. As each student or group of students mastered a body of knowledge, they presented a summary of their understanding to their peers at the other institution via a biweekly video conference.
The students also used discussion boards and blogs to dialog with each other. The students at CSUMB became teachers to the students at IUE, and visa-versa. Professor Cooksey and I acted as facilitators of the students’ learning.
I structured my class as a combination of classic constructivist principles and Engelbart’s idea of the CoDIAK process. Students were continually analyzing their work and work process and improving both their designs and their design process.
Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker (a the time a professor at Carnege Mellon University, now Engineering Manager at Google) joined the experiment and brought a wealth of knowledge about Engelbart, communications, and the high tech industry. Field trips, informational interviews, and group work were key elements. Each student acted as a member of our EdNIC.
Student Reflections on the Collaboration
The exchange between students and universities effected the students on many levels. Students voiced three main themes in their reflections on the experience:
• The inter-university exchange made them feel like their work was part of a historical movement.
• Engelbart’s ideas on Bootstrapping knowledge across disciplines and within the class is highly effective
• Exposure to different perspectives through a variety of media (videoconference, blog, wiki, paper) was “mind expanding.”
“We all felt a part of something much bigger than ourselves, a part of something that also made us bigger…By bringing the disciplines together, students get more breadth of knowledge. The current matrix is learning in an isolated environment, in the EdNIC learning takes place in a multicultural world.”
“By reading the philosophy students’ posts, we are exposed to alternative ways of thinking and ultimately it affects the direction of my work in media.”
Student Kathleen Biersteker later reflected upon her experience in this new form of collaborative learning in a letter to the President of the University:
Our projects would not be as impressive as they are without the contribution of each individual. As a result, team members are thinking together and tapping into the collective IQ to augment individual performance, and the whole of our group is much greater than the sum of its parts.
It is an exhilarating and rewarding experience. There were two main class requirements. One, was to collaborate with classmates and second, was to design and develop a hypermedia prototype that incorporated Engelbart’s ideas, including multiple views of the same information, creating modular, scalable, and linkable objects within a project that was open source.
When we began collaborating with the IUE philosophy students we saw:
• the real power of interdisciplinary learning
• how much we needed a DKR to track our exchanges, our in class discussions, our papers, and presentations.
The students soaked up each others’ presentations, discussions and papers. What became almost unmanageable was how to track all the exchange of information the two courses generated. We needed a DKR to organize, share, and parse or tag all the video, online discussions, class discussions, wiki entries and weekly blogs—as well as multimedia presentations, formal papers, field trip photo essays, and project assets. We came to realize how powerful Engelbart’s ideas could be in transforming teaching and learning.
What came out of the class was far beyond our expectations. Based on student testimony, the results were that students:
• Developed a passion for Engelbart’s ideas and creative problem-solving that continued well beyond the course
• Became filled with hope
• Changed perspectives
• Increased critical thinking
• Worked collaboratively
• Felt part of something bigger
• Developed projects beyond the scope of the class
• Engaged in holistic and meta-learning techniques Several Engelbart scholars and members of his nonprofit Bootstrap Alliance board attended our final class presentation. The Bootstrap Alliance made a $12,000 donation to CSUMB to support the project in the Spring 2005.
Moved by the student progress at their final presentations in the Fall 2004, Engelbart asked me to include a broader number of universities in the experiment. Eight Engelbart scholars from around the world participated in a series of recorded online dialogs to define and discuss Dynamic Knowledge Repositories and Networked Improvement Communities.
The scholars included:
• Professor James Whitehead, University of California, Santa Cruz
• Dr. Jaime Dinkelacker, Carnegie Mellon University, West
• Erik Duval, ARIADNE Belgium
• Professor Brian Fisher, University of British
• Dr. Robert Stephenson, Wayne State University
• Eileen Clegg participated and drew murals of the dialogs.
The practice of articulating thought, engaging in dialog, and reflecting on the dialog, deepened everyone’s understanding of Engelbart’s writings and inspired other groups to begin their own dialogs about Engelbart’s ideas. All eight of the scholars agreed the bi-weekly dialogs challenged us in unexpected ways and deepened our thinking about interdisciplinary global collaboration.
Valerie Landau is an interactive media producer and designer with Round World Media. She began her career as Regional Director of the Literacy Campaign in Nicaragua. She then worked in public television on award-winning documentary programs including Silicon Valley (on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution). She also worked for 60 Minutes with investigative reporters Lowell Bergman and Harry Reasoner and for legendary singer Paul McCartney. She is author of the seminal book Developing an Effective Online Course (1999) and implemented Engelbart’s ideas as Assistant Professor at California State University, Monterey Bay. She attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education.