In the Fall of 2003 Dr. Douglas Engelbart invited a small group to his home for three days of meetings to plan the formation of an Educational Networked Improvement Community (EdNIC) dedicated to improving how we teach and learn. What followed was three years of innovative collaborative educational experiments and the formation of a prototype of an Educational Networked Improvement Community (EdNIC).
I formed an experimental class at California State University, Monterey Bay, in applying Engelbart’s framework for hypermedia design in . The class was based on a mix of classic constructivist principles and “applied Engelbart.” The class provided students with a rich array of resources to collaboratively construct their own meaning. Field trips, informational interviews, and group work were key elements. Each student acted as a member of our EdNIC. Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker joined in the experiment and brought a wealth of knowledge about Engelbart, communications, and the high tech industry. There were two class requirements. One was to collaborate with classmates and second was to design a multimedia prototype that incorporated Engelbart’s ideas including multiple views, high resolution addressability, scalability, and open source.
Professor Cookesy (Indiana University East) framed Engelbart as an Information Age philosopher who challenges the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s notion of time and place. By facilitating networked collaboration in a global community through both synchronous and asynchronous modes both notions of time and space come into questions. Engelbart’s work also challenges the traditional notion of “the human knowing system” and current epistemologies. Professor Cooksey integrated what she coined as “The Engelbart Hypothesis” into a traditional Philosophy class at Indiana University East (IUE).
Student Reflections on the Collaboration
The inter-university exchange affected the students on many levels. Students repeated three main themes in their reflections on the experience:
• The inter-college exchange made them feel like they were part of a historical movement.
• The notion of bootstrapping knowledge across disciplines and within the class was highly effective
• Exposure to different perspectives through different media was “mind expanding.”
Becoming Part of Social Movement
“We all felt a part of something much bigger than ourselves, a part of something that also made us bigger.” reflected Networking major Denise Gant. “There was a realization that our scholarship was part of a broad community. We weren’t just an isolated group of intellectuals…”
Our class discussed Engelbart’s notion of bootstrapping knowledge via well-organized Dynamic Knowledge Repositories but when we put it into practice with the IUE undergraduate students we saw the real power of inter-discipline exchange. The CSUMB students soaked up the philosophy student presentations and papers. Student Charles Spidell writes, “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.”
Many of the series students testified that the course provided them with sophisticated cognitive tools. CSUMB student Fredrick Josh Warren wrote, “I feel this class was the most influential for me as far as applying class work to real life. Because of this class, I know feel very confident about any problem I face.”
Gerardo Avila explained his experience as a paradigm shift that provides him a broader set of cognitive tools for problem solving.
“Paradigm shift defined: A complete change in thinking or belief systems that allows the creation of a new condition previously thought impossible or unacceptable…
“Paradigm Shift: In our own way each of us was attempting to apply Doug’s ideas to our interactions with each other… I no longer saw the class as a project to complete; rather I saw the class as a classroom where I could learn and expand my knowledge. I didn’t want a project plan, I wanted more ideas that could change the way I approached knowledge.”
“At school and at work, I looked for new ways to approach problems and solutions. Just like Doug could view data from different perspectives, I wanted to view situations from different perspectives…. I am now always looking in different directions and accepting different views.”
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
• Become 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 the Bootstrap Alliance Board attended our final class presentation and offered their support of the project. The Bootstrap Alliance made a $12,000 donation to CSUMB to support the project in the Spring 2005.
In Fall 2004 Engelbart attended the class’ final presentation. Moved by the student progress, he called for the Networked Improvement Community to scale up and include a broader number of universities.
Eight Engelbart scholars from around the world to participate in a series of recorded online dialogs to define and discuss Dynamic Knowledge Repositories and Networked Improvement Communities. The scholars included: Professor James Whitehead, UCSC, Dr. Jaime Dinkelacker, Carnegie Mellon University, West, Robert Duval, ARIADNE Belgium, Professor Brian Fisher, University of British Columbia, Dr. Robert Stephenson, Wayne State University. The students in the class served as observers and transcribers of the recorded dialogs and worked on their individual projects.
The practice of articulating thought, dialoging and reflecting on the dialog deepened our understanding of Engelbart’s writings and sparked other groups to dialog about Engelbart. All eight of the scholars want to continue the bi-weekly dialogs.
By studying and applying Engelbart’s work students can experience significant cognitive growth and expand their ability to consciously engage in meta-learning and meta-cognition.
The value to the students and to the professional development of the scholars was, by all accounts, valuable. All parties involved would like to continue but it would require more resources dedicated to creating a dynamic knowledge repository to house the collective knowledge product.