The various facets of Net enabling

Most college courses are taught in the traditional way dating back to centuries, with people coming together in groups to listen and discuss. Oh, there have been some remarkable experiments in distance learning (using the Internet to bring people’s minds, rather than their atoms, together to listen and discuss), but they remain a small minority of the courses taught. Now though, Fairleigh Dickenson University plans to change that.

Brought to our attention by RCFoC reader Paul Eade, the Oct 15 Silicon Valley News reports that beginning next year, every on-campus student will be required to take at least one course online each year, choosing from some 15 courses in English Literature, Global issues, and about the Internet itself. Over the next four years, the school plans to implement as many as 60 online classes, while spending $ 5 million to upgrade its computing infrastructure.

Of course online education, while very valuable for some courses and to some students, is not a panacea; at least at this stage of virtual reality technology, there is still much to be gained from the person-to-person interaction of a physical group of people. But according to Michael Adams, President, Dickinson’s,
“Distance learning, when it’s done right, can be as effective as classroom instruction. It is neither better nor worse. It is just different.” 

Which strikes me as a very realistic, pragmatic approach is to use distance learning specifically when its attributes make sense and bring value, rather than going `whole hog’ into a new way of teaching. Overall, my guess is that we’re going to be seeing a continuing growth in online education.

And then, of course, there’s the students’ perspective–just imagine being required not to go to class!

The changing face of the Internet 

I’m not personally convinced that I want to surf the Web from my TV. But the latest forecast from IDC does suggest that 81 million other people worldwide will be doing just that by 2004. 

Of course, it matters little what I want, if many other people do find it convenient to use their already-there TVs for causal access to the Web and e-mail, and for specialized new entertainment-related services. In fact, reading about the new crop of Web-based services that are coming, they might get even me to occasionally click while viewing. 

I’ve already tried out ABC TV’s `Enhanced TV’ so that I could play along with `Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ (although I used my notebook, wirelessly connected through my Compaq 11 megabits/second wireless LAN for the Internet access, and not the TV). I did find that the additional activities, information, and interaction enhanced my watching the show. In fact, it’s just that type of `added value’ that holds the potential to make future TVs seem, well, black and white, if they don’t offer Net access.

I can envision a time when just about every TV show comes complete with underlying Web-based content and activities (and contests) that could leave TV viewers feeling left out if they could not participate–and that would be all it takes to turn just about every TV into an Internet citizen. 

I’m not a huge TV viewer, and even if I were, I still wouldn’t give up my PC for doing work, nor for most non-entertainment related computing.

Nevertheless, the cost to Internet-enable a TV is dropping–consider National Semiconductor’s $ 50 Geode `system on a chip,’ which combines most PC functions in one piece of silicon. Add to that the growth of high-speed Internet access, plus that TVs represent the most visible part of an Internet Appliance that is already sitting in most every den (and kitchen, and bedroom…), this may be an allure far too enticing for manufacturers, and viewers, to resist.

The Internet of a near tomorrow is going to have many different faces…

Turn of appliances

With LG Electronics’ latest announcement of their second Internet-connectable home appliance, your next washing machine might be able to download new fabric care cycles from the Internet. According to the Oct. 17 IDG News Service, it’s called the `LG Turbo Drum,’ and while it doesn’t directly log on to the Internet (it reaches out and touches through your PC), it then stores its Internet-derived programming in four megabits of Flash memory.

I’m all for exploration and `trying things,’ but I do wonder how many people, even the most gadget-happy, will go to the effort of dragging a PC with an Internet connection near enough to the laundry room to update the washing machine.

And I wonder just how often a new fabric will come out requiring a new wash cycle. 

But once the appliance gets its own Internet connection, preferably wirelessly or through the power line (read that as no-hassle to the owner)–and if it also uses that connection for ongoing maintenance status reports and identifying preventative maintenance needs–and especially if it eventually monitors the clothes dumped inside to warn us of a pending washday disaster (whites plus bright colors), then we just might begin to see real value from the ‘connected appliance.’ 

This implementation may not sound like the best thing since sliced bread, but I suspect those first electric lamps and other early electrical appliances also seemed to have limited value (there were even `networking problems,’ since there might only be a few electric outlets in an entire home). 

So I suspect that for Internet-connected appliances, `these problems too shall pass,’ and the day will come when we can’t imagine something that does not have access to the global information network.

It will be an interesting journey, and it’s beginning right now.

Jeffrey Harrow
Senior Consulting Engineer
(Technology and Corporate Development Group), Compaq
Note: This is an article from the `Rapidly Changing Face of Computing’, a free weekly multimedia technology journal written by Jeffrey Harrow. More discussions around the innovations and trends of contemporary computing and the technologies that drive them are available at
www.compaq.com/rcfoc. The writer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Compaq. The RCFoC is copyright 2000, Compaq.

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