Napster as a Model for 21st-Century Learning

burpfancyElectronics - Devices

Nov 8, 2013 (3 years and 5 months ago)

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Napster as a Model for 21st
-
Century Learning


Clare R. Kilbane


Abstract:

The Napster community, and the modified peer
-
to
-
peer computer network upon which it
operates, has some powerful lessons for the educational community. In this article, the author
des
cribes how computer networks have evolved. She identifies similarities and differences
between the development of learning networks and computer networks and suggests ways that
the Napster model might be applied to improve teaching and learning.




Napster
, the infamous online music service, has stolen more than its fair share of headlines in the
last year. A quick search of Lexis
-
Nexis reveals that over 1,000 stories published in the last six
months dealt with controversy surrounding the service. And media

attention isn’t all that Napster
has been accused of stealing. It was indicted for stealing or “defrauding” the music industry of
several billion dollars in lost revenue by facilitating the pirating of popular, copyrighted music
on the Internet. Judicial
mandates recently required Napster to block the exchange of certain
copyrighted songs. So to dispense further justice

poetic justice

it seems only appropriate that

the Napster concept should be stolen and put to good use. Here I use it to illustrate a new
model
for how learning might occur in the 21st century. After all, turnabout is fair play.


The last century has witnessed unprecedented change in the way people live and work.
Technology acts as both the fuel and a tool for these changes. In other wor
ds, technology
functions as the impetus for change and as an instrument facilitating change. Most world changes
are influenced by three trends, namely, the rapid expansion of information, increased access to
and distribution of information resources, and c
ontinued technological progress.


The Napster community, and the modified peer
-
to
-
peer computer network upon which it
operates, has some powerful lessons for the educational community. In the article that follows, I
will describe how computer networks

have evolved in response to the changes engendered by the
three trends. Then I will suggest ways in which the development of learning networks and
computer networks are similar and different. Finally, I will suggest ways the Napster model
might be applied

to improve teaching and learning.


Computer Networks

Mainframe
-
Dumb Terminal Networks

The first type of computer network was created to solve the problems posed by the early
computers called “mainframes.” These early computers had two main problems. First
, they were
incredibly expensive to build. As a result, they were a resource that had to be shared among
many individuals. Second, mainframe computers required lots of storage space and specialized
air conditioning systems. The “mainframe
-
dumb terminal” ne
twork addressed these problems. It

was a simple, practical, and cost
-
effective way to make computing power from the mainframe
available to a large number of users at a distance. The network was made up of monitors
connected via wires to a mainframe compute
r at a central location. Information was sent one way
from one server to many terminals. The monitors had no processing capabilities of their own but
rather acted as terminals allowing users to interact with the computing resources of the
mainframe from a
distance. As costs associated with mainframes decreased, this type of network
multiplied and became more specialized. Banks developed their own network systems, as did
universities and other institutions.

Client
-
Server Networks

Once the problems posed by m
ainframe computers were addressed with this simple network,
computer use became more and more widespread. But in time, computer users developed new
needs. First, the demands on mainframe computers were increasing

often causing system
overloads. Even though

these mainframes were becoming more powerful and less expensive,
they were not able to keep up with the increasing demands users placed on them. Second, the
tremendous power of mainframe computers was often more than was needed for some tasks.
Computer ma
nufacturers responded to meet these needs

creating computer workstations and
more sophisticated computers called “network servers” to take the place of mainframes.
Workstations were smaller, more durable computers that had just some of the mainframe’s
comp
uting power. Network servers were more powerful computers than mainframes, with
special communication capacities. The “client
-
server network” connected these workstations to
the server, making more effective and efficient use of limited resources. In this
network,

workstations functioned independently and relied on the server for extra computing power and
digital storage space only when needed. The development of client
-
server networks improved
computing, in turn increasing market demand for equipment. This

demand fueled research and
development, made computing more popular, and decreased the price of equipment.

Peer
-
to
-
Peer Networks

The increased sophistication of hardware equipment over time enabled the development of
software programs. Programs written t
o accomplish specific tasks were loaded onto computers
and stored there

allowing computers to serve a growing number of useful functions.
Diversification in the way that computers were being used resulted in the expansion of the
breadth and depth of inform
ation generated. And this in turn resulted in increased diversification.
Again, new needs surfaced. First, scientists and researchers had a need to use technology to form
communities. They designed methods enabling them to communicate with others who share
d
their needs and interests. Second, members of these communities needed ways to share resources
with one another. Out of these needs, peer
-
to peer
-
networks evolved. These networks enabled
computer users at locations around the world to connect from one wo
rkstation to another without
need of a network server.

Napster Network

A Modified Peer
-
to
-
Peer Network

The development of the graphic user interface, or “GUI,” made computers more “user
-
friendly”
and intuitive. This increased usability, coupled with the d
ecreasing cost of hardware, promoted
the use of computers among a greater percentage of the population. Amateur computer users
began to connect with one another to form communities based on needs and interests. They also

used peer
-
to
-
peer networking to sha
re information and resources with one another. But the
communities of users gathered around certain interests

like popular music

were too large to
be sustained by traditional peer
-
to
-
peer networks. Napster and similar modified peer
-
to
-
peer
networks were de
veloped as a result. In this kind of network, members of the community log in
to a central network server. During this log in, they share information about the resources they
have to offer and allow these to be indexed and made available to other users. In

exchange for
sharing these resources, users gain access to those provided by other members of the community.
In the Napster network, members search a database to find music to suit their needs and interests.
They also gain current information on the music

industry and make personal connections with
other members who share their musical tastes. The Napster phenomenon generated a great deal
of excitement and enjoyment until question of the legal and ethical ramifications of its use were
raised. Although the
future of this music service is questionable, it undoubtedly has great
promise as a model for the development of learning networks.


Learning Networks

If a network is considered to be a system supporting the exchange of resources, then several
parallels ca
n be drawn between the development of learning networks and that of computer
networks. First, cost has been the largest influence in the development of both types of networks.
Take, for example, the traditional teacher

student learning network implemented
when formal
schooling began. At the time, important resources such as teachers, textbooks, and other
equipment were expensive and scarce, just like mainframe computers. As a result, these

resources were centralized to provide maximum access. Local communit
ies pooled their
financial resources and paid a teacher to educate children of varying ages in a centrally located
one
-
room schoolhouse.


The second parallel that can be drawn relates to the diffusion of successful networks. When it
was clear that var
ious computer
-
networking models were effective, they proliferated. When the
one
-
to
-
many model used in one
-
room schoolhouses appeared to meet local needs, news of this
model spread. It became common throughout the country to the extent that is still conside
red the
“ideal” of early education.


The third parallel is evident when considering the changes that occur when resources become
more affordable and accessible. When required resources for computer networks became less
expensive, they were replicated a
nd became more specialized. When the costs associated with
learning networks decreased upon women’s entrance into the teaching profession and when more
teachers were available, a greater number of learning networks were created. More teachers were
hired, r
educing class size. And the learning networks became more specialized as well. Groups
of students were first separated by age into grades and then into classes.


But the parallels end here. Unlike the computer industry, which developed new types of
ne
tworks and technologies as new needs emerged, the educational “industry” has been largely
unsuccessful in doing the same. The traditional model for the sharing of resources or information
between teacher and student is rarely challenged

even in situations
when it is found ineffective
and even downright detrimental to certain student populations. Although one might recognize
similarities between the resource sharing that occurs in the traditional learning network and the

mainframe
-
dumb terminal network, or
the cooperative learning network and the client
-
server
network, there are few learning networks that resemble peer
-
to
-
peer networks.


And unlike the computer networks, learning networks appear to be largely uninfluenced by
the three trends of informat
ion expansion, increased access, and continued technological
progress. Although educational leaders are considering how the curriculum (what is taught) and
models of instruction (how it is taught) might be modified to respond to the changes of these
trends
, the basic objectivist epistemology underlying the network and sharing of resources from
teacher to student remains unchanged. In most educational environments, children are not unlike
the “dumb terminals” of early computer networks. They are not consider
ed knowledgeable but
rather are expected to gain all the information they need from the classroom teacher. As new
ideas about the nature of knowledge evolve, it might be sensible to consider other possibilities
for education. If an existing technology has
merit, it is not replaced when new technologies are
created. Instead, the two coexist. What does this mean for educational leaders? Preserve the
traditional model when it works, but consider other alternatives when it does not.


What Does the Napster Mode
l Offer Education?

The answer to this question lies in a creative application of the Napster concept. If Napster is
recognized as a network model, an example of how technology can be applied effectively, a new
type of community, and a model for resource sh
aring, then Napster offers educators some really
interesting ideas that might be used to improve learning.



First, Napster demonstrates a powerful new network model demonstrating information
sharing among peers mediated by a third party. Because of t
he rapid expansion of information, it
is no longer possible for a single individual to possess all the information that might be available
on a given topic. Teachers are no longer able to know everything that students might need to
learn. Fortunately, the
increasing access to and distribution of resources no longer makes this
necessary. This being the case, perhaps classroom learning networks should be modeled after the
modified peer
-
to
-
peer network that supports Napster. Students might be recognized as pos
sessing
information resources that are of value to their peers. Teachers might act as the communication
hub between and among students who have similar needs. In this role, the teacher might keep
track of the resources students have (what they know), makin
g connections between students
when the necessity dictates. Consider the powerful lessons that might occur when students
interact with one another around areas of shared concern. And perhaps teachers could focus on
helping students process information into

a useful commodity

knowledge.


As an example of a useful application of technology, the Napster concept demonstrates how
technology can customize information to meet individual needs and interests, develop
communities around shared interests, and faci
litate their communication and resource sharing.
Perhaps educational leaders should consider, therefore, how technology can be used to help
students identify their needs and interests. Once these are identified, maybe educators could use
technology to cust
omize the curriculum to meet students’ individual interests, and then adapt the
methods of instruction to meet their individual needs.



If Napster is considered a new type of community, perhaps educational leaders could use it to
consider how technol
ogy might be used to develop communities unhindered by time and space.
There are tremendous benefits that might result if students in various countries and cultures
communicate with one another around issues of common concern. And if students could use
tec
hnology to share information among one another, it is difficult to imagine what could happen!
Students might gain access to better information about each other and their world.


Finally, the Napster concept offers a practical and timely model for resou
rce sharing among
educators. Lesson planning is an increasingly difficult enterprise for teachers. Increased pressure
to meet state and national standards, when coupled with the increasingly diverse needs of
students in classrooms, makes the task simultane
ously more difficult and more important than
ever before. Perhaps states could work together to develop professional and technological
infrastructures that allow teachers to share effective instructional materials with one another.
Maybe someday, classroom

teachers will be able to use “Lesson Planster” to search for
developmentally appropriate, state
-
approved, and peer
-
reviewed materials that will help them
effectively meet the needs of students in their classrooms.



Author’s bio:

Clare R. Kilbane is an a
ssistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education and
Curriculum Studies in the School of Education.




Pull quotes:

Technology acts as both the fuel and a tool for change. Most world changes are influenced by
three trends: the rapid expansion of in
formation, increased access to and distribution of
information resources, and continued technological progress.

If a network is considered to be a system supporting the exchange of resources, then parallels can
be drawn between the development of learning
networks and that of computer networks.


As an example of a useful application of technology, the Napster concept demonstrates how
technology can customize information to meet individual needs and interests, develop
communities around shared interests, and

facilitate their communication and resource sharing.



Maybe someday, classroom teachers will be able to use “Lesson Planster” to search for
developmentally appropriate, state
-
approved, and peer
-
reviewed materials that will help them
effectively meet the
needs of students in their classrooms.