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Expert urges educators to harness Internet

Published 1:00 am, Friday, May 6, 2005

News-Times, The (Danbury, CT),
by Eileen FitzGerald THE NEWS-TIMES

Community messaging, pod casting, social networking, wikipedia – the words are alien to the uninitiated. But they represent progressive uses of the Internet, which is beginning to transfer power from institutions to the people.

“How do you survive all of this change? Think outside in, listen to the people. This is the time to think big,” Internet guru John Patrick told a group of educators in Danbury Thursday. The Internet is no longer found only on a personal computer in the home or at the office. It is held by people carrying personal digital assistants on their belts. In the United States, Patrick said, the Internet will soon be in wallets in the form of smart cards that provide medical histories. He told the educators that adapting to the capabilities of the Internet is evolving rapidly and will require a new way of thinking. “Ninety percent of teenagers use the Internet and they use e-mail as the primary way to communicate,” said the Ridgefield resident, who is president of a company called Attitude, and the former vice president of Internet technology at IBM. “Take baby steps and self-correct as you go and ask 16- to 22-year-olds what they think.”

Patrick said the country is only tapping 5 percent of what the Internet can do to make life easier. While the government and educational institutions are making progress integrating Internet capabilities, health and business have a ways to go. Danbury superintendent Eddie Davis was among the educators listening to Patrick, who will talk again at Western Connecticut State University on Tuesday at 6 p.m. The event will be at the student center on the Midtown campus and is free and open to the public. “The conflict that goes through my mind is, are we behind?” Davis said. “Have we really thought about how to maximize the use of technology not just for gadgets but for use in schools? The bottom line is, I realize how much we need to learn.” Bethel superintendent Gary Chesley walked out with a napkin full of notes after the two-hour presentation. “When he said we have tapped only 5 percent of the Internet potential, it was scary,” Chesley said. “I will be meeting with my technology staff tomorrow and asking them about the pod casting concept and having them look at his Web sites and open service programs.” Podcasting is audio content that is downloaded from the Internet and listened to at any time.

Patrick described a number of innovations taking hold on the Internet. One is wikipedia, a free Web-based encyclopedia where anyone can edit the definitions or descriptions provided on the site. The person who created the original material is informed of the changes and can argue against them. “It sounds like anarchy that anybody can change anything,” Patrick said, “but it’s self-regulating and the content gets better.” One of Patrick’s favorite concepts is blogging. Patrick said blogs – online columns created by someone with something to say – will soon be a central form of presenting information. “Good bloggers like to communicate and add links to other resources,” he said. Blogs are becoming more useful research tools than Internet searches, which present a lot of material without prioritizing it, he said. Patrick bemoaned this country’s slowness in building new physical connections that would make it easier for people to connect online. Japan, for example, offers four speeds of service, with the slowest at $9 a month. At the same time, he said, the most creative thinking about the Internet is being done in the U.S. “The strength of the people in this country has been their creativity,” Patrick said.

Contact Eileen FitzGerald at [email][email protected][/email] or (203) 731-3333.