Connected Learning

Earl Jackson, Jr.,
peering at the world
through a Russian Translation of
The Jabberwocky

New book opens door to World Wide Web for students and educators

I realized that I was not, in fact, pressing the computer’s buttons at all–the computer was pressing mine.

Scott Seguin

That comment, excerpted from e-mail written by a student in his Semiotics and Psychoanalysis class, was exactly what Earl Jackson, Jr. wanted to hear.

A literature professor at UCSC, Jackson added a new dimension to his course last year by involving interactive computer work. Jackson’s students were required to send assignments by email and to obtain various course materials from a specially designed World Wide Web site. Both the mid-term and the final exam were taken through the Web.
Exams, coursework, and class discussions–all hyperlinked–appeared on the Web as the term progressed.

„My hope,“ Jackson said, „was that my students would feel stimulated and encouraged to play an active and creative role in their own education.“ The class worked so well that Jackson has created individual Web sites for each of his subsequent classes, as well as for classes he has taught previously. There are 13 courses online so far.

Jackson has distilled his knowledge about the new technologies into a comprehensive and user-friendly book, College Connections Web Directory 1997. The book is written for high school students, college students, graduate students, reentry students, and lifelong learners, as well as educators and researchers. The 388-page book is supplemented by a multi-platform CD-ROM (meaning it is usable on both the Macintosh and PCs).

The CD includes a fully-hyperlinked version of the entire text, Internet Explorer 3.0, College Link tm software, additional narrative material, and the Web version of Jackson’s „Detective Fictions“ course. Published this winter by Lycos Press and Ziff Davis (an imprint of Macmillan Computer Publishing), the book/CD-ROM set costs $29.99.

Jackson said he wrote the book in part because, „I wanted to help people get over their fear and their awe of the Internet. It’s neither a monster nor a miracle. It won’t harm you, but it also does not replace real work and real efforts by real people to understand each other. The Net is only a metaphor for a communications link. What’s important is the people on all the nodes of those networks, and what they do with these new possibilities.“

The first chapters of the book present step-by-step instructions on how to get „plugged in.“ Every facet of the Internet is explained clearly and with great humor and helpful historical notes and anecdotes from Jackson’s experiences online and in the classroom. Other chapters outline various searching procedures and compare the many search engines and reference tools for their usefulness and efficiency.

Other sections of the book provide such resources as a complete listing of four-year colleges and universities; a comprehensive listing of higher educational resources for lifelong learners and reentry students; and a reference guide for researchers and educators on how to integrate Web resources into academic work and courses.

The practical side of the Internet is represented through several extended hands-on operations, following high school students searching for the right college, preparing for admissions and aptitude tests, and figuring the costs and the potential for financial aid–all online.

Next the book demonstrates how the Internet can extend the student’s research capabilities far beyond the usual library shelf. Interactive, multimedia educational sites are showcased from the hard sciences to the social sciences.

In Jackson’s trademark style, the book is intelligent and entertaining. Real-life stories and anecdotes from Jackson’s students, colleagues, and friends frame the technology and provide a human element to this brave new world.

A Web neophyte just one year ago, Jackson saw the potential of the medium as a teaching and communication tool. Before long he had not only mastered the basics, but realized, as he explained it, „There is remarkable potential for learning and for creating communities through the Web as long as people realize their responsibility in accessing it creatively, and not passively as if it were a computer game, or cybernetic television. It’s interactive. That’s the crucial thing.“

Jackson is the author of a number of publications, including Strategies Of Deviance: Studies in Gay Male Representation (1995); Fantastic Living: The Speculative Autobiographies of Samuel R. Delany (forthcoming); and essays in the collections Names We Call Home: Autobiographies in Racial Identity (1995) and Beyond a Dream Deferred: Multicultural Education and the Politics of Difference (1994) (which won the Gustavus Meier Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights).

His areas of expertise include semiotics, Japanese literature, psychoanalysis, Buddhist studies, science fiction, and film theory.

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Earl Jackson, Jr.