|by James L.
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1997, 5(2), 2-3. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
The Web rush is on. The
number of Web users is projected to jump from 30 million in January 1996 to over 250
million by the year 2000, or a daily average increase of 150,000 users. In 1994 there were
fewer than 1,000 companies on the Internet; in April 1996 an estimated 316,000 companies
were marketing their wares on the Web (Top Internet Experts, 1996). As a
consequence, cyberpreneurs are now making their presence known on the World Wide Web
through cybermalls that offer one-stop virtual shopping.
The cybermall trend is also emerging in
education via virtual conference centers that, because of the linking and bulletin board
capabilities of the Web, now allow conferences to take place over a designated period
electronically in the manner of distance education courses. For
example, the Center @ Hamline is a virtual conference center located at Hamline
University, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fully accessible via the Internet, it hosts seminars,
workshops, and academic classes for Hamline and for other colleges and universities. In
addition, it serves the local community by hosting seminars and meetings for community,
government, and private sector organizations.
How does the Center @ Hamline operate? It
sets up controlled-access conferences. Currently, the Center is sponsoring open
conferences on such topics as multimedia use in higher education and the future of
education. The latter conference is a multidimensional virtual fair space with permanent
exhibits and seminars. The Center offers these conferences as a public service, without
charge, as demonstration projects. If you want to participate, go to the Centers URL
and complete a form to obtain a signon name and a password. You are encouraged to post an
introductory statement about your background and particular interest in the topic. You can
review such statements from other participants, look over discussion that has taken place
thus far, and add your contribution. The next time you log on to a conference, you can see
both the introductions and postings you have already reviewed and whatever messages have
been posted since you last logged on.
But this is not all that goes on at the
Center. Tom Abeles, center director, and John Vinton, conference administrator, have set
up a shopping mall of academic cyberstores called the Crossing. For example, Baxters Books
in Minneapolis has a cyberstore called (appropriately enough) Baxters at the Crossing.
Here you can purchase books on-line via credit card and, during announced four- to
eight-week periods, you can go to a special conference room where you can meet an author
whose book is featured by Baxters.
How? You click on a link (for example,
the authors name or book title) in the Baxters at the Crossing page that takes you
to the author's introduction and opening statement. You can type a response, a question,
or a statement to which other visitors and the author can respond. In effect, this feature
offers an opportunity to interact over time with authors and
other people who enter the room in an asynchronous seminar. Moreover, you can link to
other Web sites in your discussion (by simply typing in the URL, which instantly becomes
"hot"), so other participants can review the material you reference in your
statement by clicking on the addresses you provide. This is the same manner in which
distance education courses are now being offered via the Web.
Virtual conference centers offer the
opportunity to participate in focused discussions at participants' convenience and pace,
thereby providing time for reflective thought and analysis in discussions. Indeed, by
being asynchronous, conferences allow participants time to add materials and to integrate
their ideas in a more substantive fashion before responding to questions or starting a new
discussion stream, thereby improving the quality of the discussion. Because anyone with
Internet access and a browser can participate, virtual conferences offer the opportunity
to learn from colleagues from different cultures while focusing on global topics.
We are exploring the concept of the
cybermall to enhance the value of an On the Horizon subscription by allowing you to
access and download all issues of On the Horizon. As soon as an issue went to the
printer, it would be available to you. Moreover, we would have a room where
draft articles being considered for publication would be available for your review,
downloading, and comment. We would request our authors to respond to your comments and
questions about their articles (both draft and published). I hope to give you the details
of this enhancement in the next issue.
"Top Internet Experts Reveal New Ways People Are Making Money on the NET." Raleigh
News & Observer, Dec. 29, 1996, p. 5B.