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On Application Areas

Community Computing Projects

Aki Helen Namioka

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Introduction

In the fall of 1993, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) published a position paper titled "Serving the Community: A Public Interest Vision of the National Information Infrastructure." CPSR, a national nonprofit organization with a history of addressing issues of computing technology and its societal impacts, was in the unique position of being able to articulate concerns about the national information infrastructure (NII) from a public-interest perspective while drawing from the technological expertise of its members. Since the mid-1980s and into the 1990s, CPSR had taken positions on such topics as privacy, civil liberties, and free speech, with respect to electronic information. The 1993 position paper urged the adoption of several policy and design guidelines that CPSR believes would serve the public interest in the development of a new national information infrastructure. The policy guidelines are as follows:



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Page 375 On Application Areas Community Computing Projects Aki Helen Namioka Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility Introduction In the fall of 1993, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) published a position paper titled "Serving the Community: A Public Interest Vision of the National Information Infrastructure." CPSR, a national nonprofit organization with a history of addressing issues of computing technology and its societal impacts, was in the unique position of being able to articulate concerns about the national information infrastructure (NII) from a public-interest perspective while drawing from the technological expertise of its members. Since the mid-1980s and into the 1990s, CPSR had taken positions on such topics as privacy, civil liberties, and free speech, with respect to electronic information. The 1993 position paper urged the adoption of several policy and design guidelines that CPSR believes would serve the public interest in the development of a new national information infrastructure. The policy guidelines are as follows:

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Page 376 • Consider the social impact of NII development. • Guarantee equitable and universal access to network services. • Promote widespread economic benefits. • Promote diversity in content markets. • Provide access to government services over the NII. • Protect the public spaces necessary to foster community development. • Encourage democratic participation in the design and development of the NII. • Think globally rather than nationally. • Guarantee functional integrity throughout the network. The policy guidelines are accompanied by the following design recommendations: • Emphasize ease of use. • Provide full service to homes, workplaces, and community centers. • Enable all users to act as both producers and consumers. • Address privacy and security issues from the beginning. • Develop open and interoperable standards. • Encourage experimentation and evolution. • Require high reliability. In addition, CPSR also strongly endorses the principles set forth by the Telecommunications Policy Roundtable in Washington, D.C., of which CPSR is a member. The principles are as follows: • Universal access: All people should have affordable access to the information infrastructure. • Freedom to communicate: The information infrastructure should enable all people to effectively exercise their fundamental right to communicate. • Vital civic sector: The information infrastructure must have a vital civic sector at its core. • Diverse and competitive marketplace: The information infrastructure should ensure competition among ideas and information provides. • Equitable workplace: New technologies should be used to enhance the quality of work and to promote equity in the workplace. • Privacy: Privacy should be carefully protected and extended. • Democratic policy making: The public should be fully involved in policy making for the information infrastructure.

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Page 377 CPSR added one more principle based on its members' experiences as designers and users of networking systems: • Functional integrity: The functions provided by the NII must be powerful, versatile, well documented, stable, reliable, and extendable. These guidelines provide a framework for discussion that is just as relevant today as in 1993. Since 1993, local, state, and national legislation and commercial development have eroded many of these principles-recent examples being the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996, Washington State's Harmful to Minors Bill, and the city of Tacoma's tax on Internet service providers. We have also witnessed the explosive growth of the Internet. These developments, combined with CPSR's experiences and observations with community technology projects, such as the Seattle Community Network and Virtually Wired, have given us additional insights into what "public interest" really means. Every-Citizen's Access-"Infoutopia" Versus Reality Since Vice President Al Gore's introduction of the term information highway into our vocabulary during the 1992 campaign, private, public, and commercial organizations have been speculating about what the infoway might look like and how it will be used. Creative scenario builders, science fiction writers, and even successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates have painted visions of a "wired" future. But all of these scenarios make one underlying assumption-that the technology will be available (i.e., affordable and accessible) for all who want to participate. Gary Chapman, director of the 21st Century Project, in a 1996 article in CIO magazine, cautioned information executives that chief information officers in public services must ensure that information technologies will be the cutting edge and not the cutting wedge of social progress. Chapman noted that computer use, particularly Internet use, in poor households (annual incomes of less than $10,000) is almost nonexistent. At the same time, public-sector organizations are being pressured to develop on-line systems that are available to the public over the "Net." The State of Washington has been struggling with this type of pressure. In response to public demand and expectations, state agencies were already putting information on the Web and trying to grapple with the impact of maintaining an "additional" mode of dissemination, not a replacement for an existing process. A governor's task force on electronic public information access was legislated to make policy recommendations to assist state agencies in transitioning to the information age. One

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Page 378 of the major issues facing these agencies is the cost of making the information available electronically. In his article Chapman suggests that a partial solution to the problem of creating a society of information haves and have-nots is to focus more attention on funding and supporting community computing projects that make technology more affordable and accessible. For the past few years, CPSR members, in various locations around the country, have been involved in projects that focus on making technology available to everyone. Community Computing-Public Access To Cyberspace Douglas Schuler (1996), former chair of CPSR, in his new book, New Community Networks: Wired for Change, discusses two forms of access to community computing resources: community networks and community computing centers. In 1992, CPSR/Seattle started a community network for the Seattle area. One of the purposes of the project was to implement an on-line service that was grounded in principles that the organization believed in-thus the formation of the Seattle Community Network (SCN). It is no coincidence that the policy and principles that govern SCN are similar to the CPSR guidelines introduced at the beginning of this paper. The SCN principles are as follows: • Commitment to access, • Commitment to service, • Commitment to democracy, • Commitment to the world community, • Commitment to the future. In addition, SCN developed a policy statement as the underlying governing framework. The high-level guidelines for network users are: • Free speech: SCN is committed to maintaining free speech rights for all participants. • Free access: SCN is committed to maintaining free access to information for all participants. • Right to privacy: SCN is committed to maintaining the privacy of individuals. • Due process: SCN is committed to maintaining the right to due process of individual users of the network. SCN is just one of over 200 community network projects in the country, most providing free or very low-cost access to on-line services to communities. SCN provides e-mail, discussion forums, newsgroups, and

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Page 379 Web services to anybody who fills out a registration form. The SCN system is available through terminals in all branches of the Seattle and King County public library system. However, availability of on-line services is only half of the equation of making technology accessible and affordable. Access to the hardware that is needed to connect to any on-line service is the other half. This is where community computing centers are filling a societal need. In several American cities people are making computing resources available to the public in community centers, schools, housing projects, and Internet cafes. Often these resources are available to the general public at little or no cost. Projects such as Virtually Wired in Boston, Plugged In in East Palo Alto, and Playing to Win centers across the country provide a communal space where people can learn computer skills and explore the resources of the Internet and World Wide Web. Insights Many lessons have been learned from observing and participating in making computing resources available to a large and diverse group of people. For example, gender balance is possible in the on-line community. When the SCN project started in 1992, the commercial on-line service subscribers were mostly males (at least 85 percent) and Caucasian. From the very beginning, SCN has managed to attract an almost 50-50 mix of male and female volunteers and participants. In 1993-1994, as SCN was doing its initial community outreach, entire families would attend meetings on how to become information providers. Early participants included the Older Women's League, the Seattle Folklore Society, and the Seattle Philharmonic. Nontechnical people were enthusiastic about the SCN project. Unlike other on-line services, SCN was community focused; it provided a low-cost, low-threat way for people and organizations to be information providers and users. Educators, environmentalists, and librarians were SCN's earliest and strongest supporters, even in the days before the World Wide Web and Mosaic. Like other on-line services, SCN provides popular services like e-mail, forum newsgroups, and Web access-through Lynx. Because SCN tries to be sensitive to the lowest common denominator with respect to Web access, all information providers are strongly encouraged to design their pages for a graphics or a character-based browser. This is an important design consideration when creating Web pages for a wide range of people. Coralee Whitcomb, director of Virtually Wired, in a recent discussion, shared her requirements for community computing. These include free e-mail for everyone; a stable interface (something that lasts more than 6

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Page 380 months); topic-focused search engines organized around specific areas (commercial, government, public sector, health care, nonprofits, medical research hospitals); public access centers (e.g., Washington Information Network kiosks located in public spaces throughout Washington State) containing on-line government information (including committee reports and campaign finances) that are as common as public pay phones and free on-line services to schools with the schools given controlled freedom to resell it, thereby providing some financial support for a community computing center. Participating in these projects has also created indirect benefits that are not purely related to the services being offered. SCN has been the training ground for many unemployed volunteers who have later gone on to find jobs in the computing industry. Whitcomb also made the following points: 1. Never underestimate peoples' need for other people. We don't take to on-line help and waiting on hold, especially those who have put off learning about this stuff. 2. Public access [and] community networking are doing the marketing dirty work that industry doesn't want to do. We're the ones drawing in the reluctant, fearful, non-English speakers, disabled, poor, slow, you name it-they can't be bothered. Without us there will be no universality in this technology because industry will not do what it takes to truly distribute it. 3. People are extremely giving, especially computer geeks. Virtually Wired's most important role is providing socially disabled, homeless, recovering addicts, lonely hearts, real community with real people. None of our volunteers have any money and they have terrific talent, yet they give away their talent to have a place ''where everybody knows their name." 4. Computing can be terrifically social. Sharing, tutoring, and just sitting next to each other is a good feeling. Some use basketball courts; others use public access. Midnight computing is a good idea (like midnight basketball). 5. Experience is worth a thousand words. No amount of hype will develop the context most of us need to invest in a computer and ISP [Internet service provider] without a solid reason. Public access places can provide the key experience to let people decide whether it is for them or not. 6. Public access can help develop an appreciation for the many noncommercial uses of the Net. We are going to have a big campaign democracy theme happening this fall, so people will become aware of the potential for citizenship. Conclusion Looking back on the CPSR principles that were articulated in 1993 and our experiences since then with the public at large, it appears that many of them have been validated. Providing available computing and a

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Page 381 forum where everybody can be both a consumer and a producer of information is an essential component of a free society. References And Further Reading Chapman, Gary. 1996. "No Cover, No Minimum," CIO, July. Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR). 1993. Serving the Community: A Public Interest Vision of the National Information Infrastructure. Miller, Steven. 1996. Civilizing Cyberspace-Policy, Power, and the Information Superhighway. ACM Press, New York. Schuler, Douglas. 1996. New Community Networks: Wired for Change. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass.

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Page 382 Lifelong Learning Gerhard Fischer University of Colorado, Boulder A Ubiquitous Goal Lifelong learning has emerged as one of the major challenges for the knowledge society of the future. This challenge is recognized by the international community as a variety of recent events indicate: (1) 1996 was the European Year of Lifelong Learning; (2) UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has included lifetime education as one of the key issues in its planning; and (3) the G7 group of countries has named lifelong learning as a main strategy in the fight against unemployment. Despite this great interest, there are few encompassing efforts to tackle the problem in a coherent way. Lifelong learning cannot be investigated in isolation by looking at one small part of it, for example, K-12 education, university education, or worker reeducation. Learning As A New Form Of Labor The previous notions of a divided lifetime-education followed by work-are no longer tenable. Learning can no longer be dichotomized, spatially and temporally, into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply knowledge (the workplace). Professional activity has become so knowledge-intensive and fluid in content that learning has become an integral and inseparable part of adult work activities. Professional work cannot simply proceed from a fixed educational background; rather, education must be smoothly incorporated as part of work activities. Similarly, children require educational tools and environments whose primary aim is to help cultivate the desire to learn and create, and not simply to communicate subject matter divorced from meaningful and personalized activity. Lifelong learning is a continuous engagement in acquiring and applying knowledge and skills in the context of authentic, self-directed problems. It is applicable to the educational experience of both children and adults; it brings the child's experience closer to meaningful and personalized work, and it brings the adult's experience closer to one of continued growth and exploration. Lifelong learning is grounded in descriptive and

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Page 383 prescriptive goals such as the following: (1) learning should take place in the context of authentic, complex problems (because learning is more effective when people understand its impact); (2) learning should be embedded in the pursuit of intrinsically rewarding activities; (3) learning on demand needs to be supported because change is inevitable, complete coverage of relevant information and knowledge is impossible, and obsolescence of acquired skills and knowledge is unavoidable; (4) organizational and collaborative learning must be supported because the individual human mind is limited; and (5) skills and processes that support learning as a lifetime habit must be developed. Design Lifelong learning integrates and mutually enriches the cultures of work and education. Central to this vision in our own research is the notion of design activities, a model of work that is open-ended and long term in nature, incorporates personalized and collaborative aspects, and combines technical and aesthetic elements. Design (as practiced by engineers and architects designing infrastructure and buildings, lawyers designing briefs and cases, politicians designing policies and programs, educators designing curricula and courses, and software engineers designing computer programs) is an argumentative process, involving ongoing negotiations and trade-offs. It is also a collaborative process, making increasing use of new social structures brought about by the advent of computer networks and "virtual communities." The communality that binds design activities together is that they are centered around the production of a new, publicly accessible artifact. It is impossible for design processes to account for every aspect that might affect the artifact designed. Therefore, design must be treated as an evolutionary process in which designers continue to learn new things as the process unfolds, new requirements surface, and technologies change. Rethinking, Reinventing, And Reengineering Education A deeper understanding and more effective support for lifelong learning will contribute to the transformation that must occur in the way our society works and learns. Investments in information technology have so far produced disappointing results because both industry and education tend to use these technologies simply as support mechanisms for existing practices rather than as vehicles to promote fundamentally new ways to create artifacts and construct knowledge. A major finding in current business reengineering efforts is that the use of information technology

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Page 384 has had disappointing results compared to the investments made in it. Although a detailed causal analysis of these findings is difficult to obtain, it is generally agreed that a major reason is the fact that information technologies have been used to mechanize old ways of doing business rather than fundamentally rethinking the underlying work processes. We claim that a similar argument can be made for current uses of technology in education: it is used as an add-on to existing practices rather than a catalyst for fundamentally rethinking what education should be about in the next century. As an example, the "innovation" of making transparencies available on the World Wide Web rather than distributing paper copies of them in class takes advantage of the Web as an electronic information medium, but contributes little in the way of introducing new epistemologies. Old frameworks of education do not get changed by using technology in a "gift-wrapping" approach where traditional instructionist, fixed-curriculum, decontextualized, rote learning is "wrapped" with new technologies such as computer-based training, intelligent tutoring systems, multimedia presentations, or the World Wide Web. We need computational environments to support ''new" frameworks for education such as lifelong learning, the integration of working and learning, learning on demand, authentic problems, self-directed learning, information contextualized to the task at hand, (intrinsic) motivation, collaborative learning, and organizational learning. Myths And Misconceptions The current debate about the ability of computation and communication to change education fundamentally is (in our opinion) based on a number of basic myths and misconceptions. The most prevalent of these are the following: • Computers by themselves will change education. There is no empirical evidence for this assumption based on the past 30 years of using computers to change education (e.g., computer-assisted instruction, computer-based training, intelligent tutoring systems). Technology is not a "deus ex machina" that can solve the existing problems of education. Traditional, instructionist approaches are not changed by the fact that information is disseminated by an intelligent tutoring system. • Information is a scarce resource. "Dumping" even more decontextualized information on people does not seem to be a big step forward in a world where people already suffer from information overload. Instead, technology should provide ways to say the right thing at the right time in the right way. • The content, value, and quality of information and knowledge are improved

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Page 385   simply because information is offered in multimedia or over the Web. Media alone do not turn irrelevant or erroneous information into more relevant information. We must create innovative technologies (e.g., design environments, simulations, visualizations, critiquing) to let people experience knowledge in new ways. • Ease of use is the greatest challenge or the most desirable goal for new technologies. Usable technologies that do not serve the needs and concerns of people are of no value. Rather than assuming that people should and will be able to do everything without a substantial learning effort, we should design computational environments that offer a low threshold for beginners to get started and a high ceiling for skilled users to do the things they want. • The myth of the Nobel Prize winner-one of the earlier arguments in support of the information superhighway was that every school child would have access to a Nobel Prize winner. Although this argument is true (or soon will be) at the level of technical connectivity, it is hard to imagine that Nobel Prize winners will look forward to getting a few thousand e-mail messages a day. • The single or most important objective of computational media is reducing the cost of education. Although we should not ignore any opportunity to use technology to lower the cost of education, we should not lose sight of an objective that is of equal if not greater importance: increasing the quality of education. • Human learning is equal to machine learning. Although we have deepened our understanding of human learning through progress in machine learning, there are fundamental dimensions, such as motivation and competing requirements for a person's time, that make human learning a much more complex and interwoven activity than machine learning. There is substantial empirical evidence that the chief impediments to learning are not cognitive. It is not that students cannot learn; it is that they do not wish to. Challenges Making learning a part of life creates many challenges, requiring creative new approaches and collaboration between many different stakeholders. For illustration, a few of them are mentioned here: 1. The educated and informed citizen of the future: "super-couch potato" consumers or enlightened designers? The major innovation that many powerful interest groups push for with the information superhighway is to have a future in which everyone can demonstrate creativity and engagement by selecting one of at least 500 television channels with a remote

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Page 386   control. The major technical challenge derived from this perspective becomes the design of a user-friendly remote control. Rather than serving as the "reproductive organ of a consumer society" (Ivan Illich), educational institutions must fight this trend by cultivating "designers," that is, by creating mind-sets and habits that help people become empowered and willing to contribute actively to the design of their lives and communities. This goal creates specific challenges for computational artifacts, such as the support of end-user programming and authoring. 2. The "basic skills" debate. If the hypothesis that most job-relevant knowledge must be learned on demand is true, we must ask ourselves the question: What is the role of "basic skills"? For example, if the use of software packages dominates the use of mathematics in the workplace, shouldn't a new function of mathematics education be to have students learn to use these mathematical artifacts intelligently? Another important challenge is that the old basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, once acquired, were relevant for the duration of a human life; modern basic skills (tied to rapidly changing technologies) will change over time. 3. Can we affect motivation? As mentioned above, there is substantial empirical evidence indicating that the chief impediments to learning are not cognitive but motivational. This raises the challenge of creating learning environments in which learners will work hard, not because they have to but because they want to. We need to alter the perception that serious learning must be unpleasant rather than personally meaningful, empowering, engaging, and fun. Our research has developed computational environments that address these motivational issues; for example, systems have explored making information relevant to the task at hand, providing challenges matched to current skills, creating communities (among peers, over the Internet), and providing collaborative access to real practitioners and experts. 4. School-to-work transition. If the world of working and living relies on (a) collaboration, creativity, definition, and framing of problems; (b) dealing with uncertainty, change, and distributed cognition; (c) coping with distributed knowledge; and (d) augmenting and empowering humans with powerful technological tools, then schools and universities should prepare students to function in this world. Industrial-age models of education and work (e.g., based on Skinner and Taylor) are inadequate to prepare students to compete in the knowledge-based workplace. A major objective of the lifelong learning approach is to reduce the gap between school and workplace learning. Current research addresses some of the major school-to-work transition problems and develops answers to the following questions:

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Page 387   • How can schools prepare learners and workers for a world that relies on an interdependent, distributed, nonhierarchical information flow and rapidly shifting authority based on complementary knowledge?   • What basic skills are required in a world in which occupational knowledge and skills become obsolete in years rather than decades?   • How can schools (which currently rely on closed-book exams, the solving of given problems, etc.) be changed so that learners are prepared to function in environments requiring collaboration, creativity, problem framing, and distributed cognition?   • To what extent will lifelong learning and new approaches to learning and teaching-such as learning on demand, learning while working, relations, and the involvement of professionals in schools-prepare learners for work? Lifelong Learning: An Impetus For Designing Every-Citizen Interfaces There is general agreement that as we approach the next century and next millennium, our society is changing to a knowledge and information society. There will be new opportunities and new challenges in all dimensions of our lives. But the future is not out there to be discovered: it has to be invented and designed. Making learning a part of life and the implications this has for how, under the influence of new media, human beings will think, create, work, learn, and collaborate in the future are major considerations for the design of every-citizen interfaces to the national information infrastructure (NII). Although the technologies surrounding the NII are important, we should not forget that they are means to ends and that we need to develop a deep understanding of these ends. Further Information Background information about the ideas articulated in this position paper can be found on the World Wide Web: 1. About the Center for LifeLong Learning & Design (L3D) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and its research activities: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/˜13d/ 2. A slide show of a presentation to the National Science Foundation about lifelong learning: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/˜13d/presentations/gf-nsf-9.95/

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Page 388 3. About Agentsheets, a computational substrate to support the development of design environments, simulations, and visualizations: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/˜13d/systems/agentsheets/ 4. About the Agentsheets Remote Explorium, an environment to turn the Web from an information dissemination medium into a collaboration medium: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/˜13d/systems/remote-explorium/ 5. AboutWebquest, a system that exploits the Web with interactive learning games:   • About the system itself: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/˜corrina/mud/   • A paper describing the system: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/˜corrina/WebQuest/ 6. About "SimCity in 10 Minutes" describing the philosophy of the Center for Lifelong Learning and Design on end-user programming: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/˜corrina/simcity/

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Page 389 Supporting Learning In Communities Of Practice Charles Cleary Northwestern University Lifelong Learning: A Key Function For The National Information Infrastructure The National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC, 1995) has identified education, particularly, lifelong learning, as one of five key areas requiring attention in the development of the NII. Although the NIIAC does not argue for its focus on lifelong learning, the case for the importance of lifelong learning is now familiar to most education researchers: • The range of skills and knowledge that individuals now need for satisfying, productive lives is so broad and unpredictable that we can no longer hope to teach them all they need during the traditional school years. • Many types of technical knowledge have but short half-lives, so individuals need to continually reeducate themselves if they are to keep current. • Individuals change careers increasingly often, and, when they do, they frequently need to augment or rebuild their skills base. • Learning is increasingly intertwined with "regular" work, as individuals and organizations see continual improvement as an integral part of doing work. • Learning is fun and so people wish to continue learning even after the traditional school years end. In short, the need to support lifelong learning is well established, but the mechanisms for doing so are less well defined. This position paper addresses the question: How can we apply the NII to foster lifelong learning? Communities Of Practice As Communities Of Learning To support learning we must begin by considering how people learn most effectively. For instance, consider these four themes from recent educational research:

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Page 390 • Motivation is critical. Learning is most effective when learners are able to pursue challenges they care about. • Transfer is hard. It is easiest for people to apply what they learn when they learn it in a context like that in which they will need to apply it. Traditional "teach-em-and-test-em" methods of teaching often lead to inert knowledge. • Skills are more important than facts. A good speechmaker must command both impressive writing skills and broad factual knowledge. But skills are harder to acquire than facts. So people are more often concerned with learning how (e.g., how to draft a speech) than learning that (e.g., that George Washington was the first president). To learn skills, people must practice them (learning by doing). • Support is essential. People learn to do complex tasks best when they receive coaching. People are ready to learn when they have tried something out and have failed. But they need advice to help them understand why they failed and to determine how to improve their performance. These themes point out that people learn most readily when they care about what they are learning, when they try to solve problems in realistic contexts, and when they have access to coaching when they get stuck. Although these constraints may not be satisfied very often within the walls of today's schools, they are satisfied in many situations outside school. In particular, they are satisfied when people who share an interest in a domain support each other in advancing their learning. Such groups, which have been labeled communities of practice, are quite common. From a group of engineers who are concerned with similar problems to an investment club to a swimming team, people often join together in communities of practice. Communities of practice can provide fertile support to help individuals learn throughout their lifetimes. As an example, consider a group interested in fostering literacy. Such a group can help with motivation. A college student who thinks he may want to dedicate his career to increasing literacy levels can sit in on a few events that the literacy group sponsors to make sure that the field matches his expectations before he commits to it. The group can help with skill building. The literacy group can enable the college student to engage in real tasks (e.g., helping run reading groups) and work on real problems (e.g., selecting appropriate material for a particular reading student). Both the group and the college student benefit. Furthermore, communities of practice also often provide established routes for scaffolding learning, whereby new members begin with simple tasks and work their way up to expert-level tasks. Finally, the group can also help with coaching. If the college student runs into trouble when he tries to find appropriate reading materials, he can turn to the literacy group for advice from a senior member.

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Page 391 Communities of practice can also serve as engines for advancing group learning. An organization learns most effectively when it can harness the experiences and energy of all of its members. Often the learning cycle begins with the most junior members in a group. For instance, when a new member asks a question that the group cannot readily answer, then the group learns of a need for new learning. When the group works to develop an answer, the group advances its theory of its domain. When someone later tries out that answer and finds a wrinkle in it, the cycle begins again. Acting alone, the members of the community will run into only a few problems and be able to generate a few potential answers. When they join in a group, the members can leverage each other's specific experiences to build significantly more powerful understandings of their domain. Given that communities of practice provide an effective and relatively widespread mechanism for supporting lifelong learning, it is not surprising that the NIIAC links them together in its report (NIIAC, 1995): By providing people of all ages with opportunities for lifelong learning and workplace skills development, the NII should enhance each individual's ability to create and share knowledge and to participate in electronic communities of learning. Still, the question remains: How can we apply the NII to support communities of practice? An Approach To Supporting Communities Of Practice Communities of practice can effectively support both individual and group learning. For a community to operate smoothly, it requires frequent and flexible communication between its members. Furthermore, if a group is to grow to significant size, it requires some way to leverage the experience of its thought leaders, so that they do not become overwhelmed with demands for coaching. Because of these constraints, few communities of practice function effectively today if they contain more than a few dozen members or members who are geographically separated. The foundation provided by the NII can potentially enable members of a community to communicate across the boundaries of space or time. However, this potential is yet to be realized. To effectively support communities of practice, improved applications must be developed that will run on top of the NII. What sorts of applications are these? As an example case, imagine that an independent business consultant would like to learn how to better diagnose a client's problem. He is a member of a geographically dispersed

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Page 392 group of independent consultants. What sorts of applications can be provided that will help the consultant take advantage of the resources of the group (and that will help the group develop resources that are worth taking advantage of)? Three separate classes of applications are needed. The most fundamental is that groups require organizational memories to keep track of what their goals are, what they know, and what they would like to learn. As a simple example, the business consultant might tap into a "memory" of business cases to search for one that is similar to his client's. However, organizational memories alone are not sufficient because too often the knowledge they contain lies inert. Accordingly, groups also require two classes of applications that actively deliver knowledge to the point of need. First, groups require performance support tools that help users perform tasks effectively. For instance, the consultant could make good use of a performance support tool that leads him through the process of making an effective diagnosis, feeding him appropriate advice or factual content from the group's organizational memory as it becomes relevant. Additionally, groups require training systems that enable individuals to learn how to perform tasks in a safe environment. For example, once the consultant makes his diagnosis, he could benefit from a training simulation that helps him learn how to position his recommendations to his client in his final presentation. Again, these training systems will rely on the knowledge contained in the organizational memory, both for raw case material and for coaching knowledge about how to respond to common failures or queries. Organizational Memories The most straightforward function of a group's memory is to help members of the group publish their expertise to each other and to "outsiders." If my brother-in-law happens to be an expert investor and I wish to know how to allocate my retirement funds, it would be reasonable for me to want some advice from him. However, the problem arises that 15 other people ask for the same advice in the same week, particularly if he is a member of a large investment club. People who develop a specialty do not want to have to answer the same questions time and again. Instead, they require some mechanism for publishing what they know. Unfortunately, current media are not particularly effective at publishing large bodies of complex interrelated knowledge. So we require improved group memories that provide more effective mechanisms for publishing knowledge. Additionally, organizational memories should be dynamic, changing as the group modifies and expands on its ideas. Organizational memories

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Page 393 should help groups keep track of what their goals are, what they know, and what they would like to learn. Current systems are not particularly effective at helping communities develop new knowledge (or capture the new knowledge they do develop). When a novice asks a question for which the community has not yet developed an answer, what should happen? The question should be posted and perhaps routed to those who have an interest in (or responsibility for) developing an answer. These people must develop their opinions, perhaps collaboratively. Differences in opinions must be ironed out or at least understood. The results of this discussion need to be captured in a form that makes it readily available, as needed, to those who later develop a need that it can address. Today, applications such as e-mail and usenet news support some of the functions required to support knowledge building. However, the hard problem is integrating all of these functions, particularly those having to do with capturing the results of discussions, thereby helping groups to pull together a consensus point of view from a collection of disparate opinions. Complicating this task is the observation that the same piece of content may be relevant in quite different situations (e.g., a counter-example to someone making a claim, a piece of advice to someone facing a problem, an illustration to someone asking a question). To build dynamic memories, the indexing problem-determining how to label content so that it can be retrieved in the range of situations in which it will be relevant-must be tackled. Performance Support Members of a community of practice rely on each other for support and advice as they perform their work. However, it is not always possible to access the right expert at the right time. Accordingly, we require performance support tools that help members tap into a community's organizational memory. This support can take a range of forms, including providing cases that are similar to the situation in which a user finds him-or herself, abstract templates for how to perform a task, and automated tools that actually perform the task for a user. When a person tries to leverage each of these types of support, he or she is likely to have a range of sorts of questions. For example, someone who is trying to find a case in a performance support system might want to ask questions such as: • "How should I go about choosing a case?" • "What mistakes am I likely to make?" • "Who can help me understand if I have chosen an appropriate case?"

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Page 394 If a performance support system only provides raw content (e.g., cases) and does not also answers such questions, it is likely to leave some users confused about how to apply the content that it does provide. Accordingly, performance support tools should not only provide raw content, they should also allow their users to ask a range of types of questions about that content. Simulation-Based Training People learn by doing. For instance, to become a good investor, one must do a lot of investing. But investing is a risky business. So it is best to practice in a safe, controlled environment, one that allows effective coaching to be delivered as it is required. Simulation-based training environments can allow people to learn by doing without the risk of catastrophic failure. More generally, it is often easiest to explain what a domain is about to prospective members of a community by letting them try completing a task in the domain. Similarly, it is often easiest to help existing members learn new skills by allowing them to have a go at them. Since performing tasks in the real world is often expensive and does not permit adequate coaching, giving members simulated experiences is a sensible approach. However, good simulations require good content. A simulation builder must identify which tasks are important to simulate, what case material may be used as grist for the simulation, what errors users are likely to make, and what coaching is appropriate to deliver when those errors occur. Importantly, this is the same type of content that an effective organizational material should provide. The Nii's Role The NII can, in theory, help those with similar interests work together, even though they may be separated by barriers of space and time. This potential, if realized, promises to revamp how we as individuals learn throughout our lifetimes and how we as a society grow our capabilities. However, to realize this potential, we must move beyond general goals to a specification of the types of applications we desire the NII to support. Only then can we create the particular research agendas needed to develop these applications. Reference NIIAC. 1995. Common Ground: Fundamental Principles for the National Information Infrastructure. First Report of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council. March.