Posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk,
and TEACH on 11/16/98.
Web pages, email addresses, online chats
-- computer technology seems omnipresent. Whether you're skimming
pages of a newspaper, surfing the many channels on the television
dial, or listening to a radio, you're going to be inundated with
Internet addresses. They've become such a part of everyday vocabulary
that one young man I know began saying "dot-com" when he was
eighteen-months old. He runs around saying things like "mama-dot-com"
and "kitty-dot-com" (though he has no idea what the words means and
believes that computers would be very intriguing play toys if we'd
only let him get close enough).
How will such kids grow up? Will they
take computer technology for granted? Will they see where computers
are -- and more importantly, where they aren't? How many of the
students in our classrooms remember the grocery store cashier having
to punch in every digit of every price by hand? Do they take it as an
everyday occurrence when they call to place an order and the operator
can determine who they are in an instant by entering a detail or two
in the computer? Do they have any idea how people registered for
classes BEFORE computers moved on campus?
As students growing up in a world where
computer technology seems to be everywhere, do they notice the
stores, businesses, and homes where there are NO computers? And how
do they think about these places where computer technology either is
inaccessible or harder to find? What labels do they apply to the
corner store where the cashier still writes out a receipt by hand?
This week's List of Ten provides the
first installment focusing on questions that we can ask students to
consider as critical thinkers interacting with computer technology.
Most of the assignments ask students to look at the ways that
computer technology is presented in the world around them, so access
to computers in the classroom is not necessary for students to work
on these assignments. Note that the first three assignments are
connected, all dealing with the naming conventions associated with
Another ten assignments on this topic
will be posted in the next week or so.
Naming and Web/Email
Addresses. A lot of money goes into the names that businesses
splash across advertisements, commercials, billboards, and product
packages. Companies and organizations want an unmistakable
Internet presence (take a look at the work Hormel has done to
squash various "Spam" pages for one example). They want the public
to look at the addresses and think of the company and its
Take a newspaper or magazine
and collect every email address and web page address that is
included -- check the advertisements and the text of the articles,
and keep track of where you find the addresses. Once you've
gathered all the addresses, write a paper that analyzes the naming
conventions that the addresses (or more properly, the companies
that chose those names) have used. What is the domain (see below)?
Does the company use specific names in the address beyond the
domain? In your paper, create a system of classification that
outlines the ways that companies name their Internet resources, or
write a paper that describes the features that seem important in
naming Internet resources (a sort-of how-to guide for someone
setting up a site).
*** A domain is the part of a
web page address that comes first -- after the http:// and before
any additional slashes or words. In the
the domain is "www.yahoo.com." In an email address, the domain is
the part that comes after the @ sign. In the email address
the domain is whitehouse.gov.
You might discuss the Internet
naming conventions that govern certain parts of domain addresses.
Be sure students understand the differences between .com, .edu,
.mil, .gov as well as country and state designations.
- Naming and Software. Consider
the naming conventions that apply to software. Consider the
thought that went into names like Windows, Microsoft Word, Excel,
PC Anywhere, PartitionMagic, and PhotoShop. What difference would
it make if Windows had been named Doors? What suffixes and
prefixes are used frequently? Are there words that are never used
in titles (words that would make sense for the products)? What do
the companies that named this software hope that the potential
customer will think about these products? Does the kind of name
that is used relate to the things that the product does? For
instance, do you notice that word processing software uses one
kind of typical naming convention while graphics software uses
another? In your paper, create a system of classification for
software product names or choose a specific category of software
and explore the kinds of names that are used (and those that
aren't used) for the products.
- Naming and Hardware. Consider
the names that companies choose for computers, monitors, and
printers -- names such as iMac, OptiPlex, CyberTron, Zip Drive,
and so forth. Or consider the names of the parts that compose a
piece of hardware -- for example, motherboards, daughterboards,
SCSI drives, IDE, USB and Pentium chips. Why these names? Why the
abbreviations? Are there prefixes and suffixes that are used
repeatedly? What are the companies going for? Are they trying to
sound cutting edge? Are they being purposefully unclear -- or do
they perhaps imagine that the general public won't need to worry
about what jargon like SCSI means? In your paper, create a system
of classification for hardware or choose a specific category of
hardware (hard drives, for instance) and explore the kinds of
names that are used (and those that aren't used) for the
- Take a close look at an advertisement
for a software product or the cover of a software box. What is
pictured? What is the relationship between the pictures in the
advertisement or on the box and what the product actually does?
Are there seemingly irrelevant things pictured? Are there relevant
capabilities that aren't included in the advertisement or on the
box cover? Why have certain things been included and others
excluded? What does the manufacturer want potential customers to
think about the product? How close is the information that is
included in the advertisement or on the box to the realities of
the product and what it can do?
Write an analytical paper
that explains how the advertisement or product cover works. What
group of potential customers is the software company attempting to
attract? What are these customers interested in based on the
advertisement of box cover? What issues are important to them?
What conclusions can you draw about the things that are NOT
pictured? What groups of customers does the company seem to be
- Consider references to computer
technology in non-computer products -- how are businesses using
the language of computer technology to attract customers? Think
about television commercials featuring a new car's on-board
computer. The commercials suggest that the computer can track even
the most minor malfunction in a car, and in expensive cars, these
computers are tied to satellites that can help a harried couple
get to the hospital before their baby is born. Why are these
companies focusing on the computer technology? Why draw potential
customers' attention to the computer rather than to the cabin
space, the anti-lock brakes, or the warranty?
Find at least three
advertisements that highlight computer technology as part of their
appeal to potential customers. Remember you're looking for
advertisements or commercials for non-computer products. Gather
details on the things that the three advertisements have in
common. How do they discuss computer technology? What details do
they include? What features do they ignore as they focus on
computer technology? Who do they show using the products? What
kind of customers are they targeting? How do they imagine the
discussion of computer technology will interest these potential
customers? Write an analytical paper that explains your
conclusions about the ways that the advertisers use information
about computer technology in your three advertisements.
- Take a look at a television or print
advertisement for an Internet Service Provider (or ISP).
Frequently advertised ISPs include AOL, CompuServe, and AT&T
WorldNet. What is shown in the advertisements? Who is shown using
these Internet access tools? What are these computer users doing?
What kinds of computer users are left out? What can you tell about
the way that the company describes itself and portrays its
customers? Write a paper that compares the Internet as the ISP
defines it to what Internet users are really like.
NOTE: You'll need to begin by doing
some analysis of Internet users to compare to the ISP
- What one word best applies to
computers and information technology at your school? What kind of
machines and software are available? Where are computers found?
Who can use them? Who actually uses them? When are they available?
How are the computers used? Once you've captured a sense of the
state of computer technology on your campus, write a paper that
explains the one word that you've chosen and the reasons that
you've chosen it. As you explain your word, be sure to include
details on computers and information technology at your school
that support your choice.
NOTE: if your school has no computers, you can think about
computers where you work or computers available for local access
at the library or elsewhere.
- Take a look at commercials for
computer products like the iMac and Gateway's Your:)Ware or
software products like QuickBooks Pro. If you believe the
commercials, what are the steps in using a computer? How do you go
about getting online? writing out an invoice? paying your bills?
sending an email message? Write a paper that compares the
fairy-tale world of the commercials to the experiences that you or
your friends and family have had with computers. Why are computers
and software portrayed the way that they are in these commercials?
Are the commercials believable?
- Assume that you work in the Research
and Development division of a business that produces computers,
software, or computer training programs. For this paper, pitch a
new product or service to your manager that provides better access
to a wider variety of people than its competitors. Your paper
needs to describe the product or service and explain why it's
needed. Describe the customers who will use the product. As you
describe your product, pay attention to issues of equal access --
What makes your product or service available to as many people as
possible? How does it provide better access than competitors in
the market? Your paper will be a persuasive proposal. Include a
section on the background and need, description of the product or
service, its advantages and disadvantages, and conclusions or
- Your school is trying to increase access to computers on campus.
To gather ideas on ways that access can be improved, the school
has invited students to submit proposals that explain things that
the school can do to help more people get to computers or to help
more people learn how to use computers in educational ways. Look
around your campus at the computer technology now available. What
kind of machines and software are available? Where are computers
found? Who can use them? Who actually uses them? When are they
available? How are the computers used what do people use them
for? In your paper, include the following information:
- outline the need for the kind of
access you're proposal focuses on
- describe the things which are
necessary to provide access (hardware? furniture? software?
training classes? etc.)
- explain why your proposal is the
- recommend a timetable or course of
action necessary to implement your proposal
Posted November 16, 1998 on
the Daedalus Website.