Articles on Professional Development

Global Literacy in a Gutenberg Culture

Al Rogers

[An abridged version of this article appeared in the article "Living the Global Village", Electronic Learning Magazine, May/June, 1994, Pp. 28-29.]

There are important pedagogical, political, social, cultural, and economic reasons why schools should consider telecommunications technologies as learning tools. This article examines a number of these issues.

Living in the Global Village

Since Marshall McLuhan coined the term in the 1960's, few of us have truly understood what the term "global village" means. Most of us have been impressed with CNN's instantaneous global video broadcasting, but the passive medium of television gives few of us the feeling of much involvement beyond our favorite reclining chair. (For an incisive critique of the influence of television on our culture, see Postman, 1985.)

Yet today, growing thousands of children in dozens of countries around the world are living the reality of the global village in personal, hands-on, interactive ways. Through the medium of networking and telecommunications technologies these students are for the first time learning to think of themselves as global citizens, seeing the world, and their place in the World, in ways much different than their parents.

Today's global networks create connections between people which span time and distance in ways the world has never before seen... and with implications which are beginning to have major political, social, and economic implications. (Toffler, 1990)

Since the days of Gutenberg, the publishing of information has been an autocratic enterprise. Time Magazine's" Man of the Year" for 1991 was Ted Turner, founder and owner of CNN, in recognition of CNN's news coverage of global events. Yet the fact of the matter is, the "selection" of that news is dependent upon a tiny handful of executives in Atlanta. In fact, the "information media" boil down to this: a limited cadre (or cabal?) of reporters, writers, publishers, editors, producers, and other arbiters of "news," "good taste" or "political correctness" decide what is "news," what is "important," what is "good for us," and even what is "art" and "entertainment."

In contrast to this managed flow of information, however, the global Internet of networks is giving millions of people direct access to information in ways the world has never before seen. Information of every sort flows freely, across national borders and around the world, directly from "where it's happening" to where there are "inquiring minds who want to know."

For instance, the world was electrified in August 19, 1991 by the coup d'etat in Moscow. For the first time in over a thousand years, Muscovites raised the barricades and defied the powers behind the coup. Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Republic, issued a decree of defiance, proclaiming the leaders of the coup to be illegal and seizing authority within the Russian Republic from the central government.

Within hours the following message containing Boris Yeltsin's decree, in both transliterated Russian and English translation, flashed around the world, directly to tens of thousands of computers on college campuses, businesses, homes, and schools:

     From: (Dmitry V. Volodin)
     Organization: DEMOS, Moscow, USSR
     Subject: Yeltsin's decree
     Date: Mon, 19 Aug 91 21:20:13 +0300 (MSD)

     Please redistribute this as wide as possible the following in
     stripped Russian and an approximate translation to English.
     It'll be fine, if this reaches world information agencies.
     Thank you.


     sssr, pREMXER-MINISTR sssr, PREDSEDATELX kgb sssr, mINISTRY

     ....lines deleted

                         pREZIDENT rsfsr b.eLXCIN

         mOSKWA, kREMLX
         19 AWGUST 1991 GODA
         n 61


     of the president of the Russian Federative Socialist

     An attempt of a coup d'etat was taken, the President of the
     USSR, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Army, was
     dismissed from this post. The Vice President of the USSR,
     the Prime Minister of the USSR, Ministers of Defence and
     Internal Affairs of the USSR formed an unconstitutional
     body, therefore committing a state crime.
     As a result of this action the activity of the
     constitutional executive power of the USSR was paralised.

          In this situation I decree:

          1. Until the emergency Congress of the People's
     Deputies of the USSR is taken all bodies of the executive
     power of the USSR, including the KGB, Internal Ministry,
     Ministry of Defence, acting on the territory of the RSFSR,
     are taken under the submission of the President of the
     RSFSR, elected by the people.

          2. The KGB of the RSFSR, Internal Ministry of the
     RSFSR, State Committee of the RSFSR on Defence Problems are
     prescribed to temporary execute the functions of the
     corresponding bodies of the USSR on the territory of the
          All the territory and other bodies of the Internal
     Ministry, KGB and Defence Ministry on the territory of the
     RSFSR immediately have to obide decrees and orders of the
     President of the RSFSR, the Consil of Ministers of the
     RSFSR, the orders of the the KGB of the RSFSR, the Internal
     Ministry of the RSFSR, the State Commettee of the RSFSR on
     Defence Problems.

          3. All executive bodies, persons, and citizens of the
     RSFSR have to take immediate actions to prevent the
     execution of any decrees and orders of the unconstitutional
     Commettee on Emergency Situation.
          Executive persons, obiding orders of this commettee,
     are dismissed from their posts in accordance with the
     Constitution of the RSFSR. Bodies of the Procurature of the
     USSR have to immediately take actions to enforce the
     criminal law onto this persons.

                     The President of the RSFSR B.Yeltsin

         Moscow, Kremlin

         August 19, 1991

This message came directly from Moscow to the people of the World... unfiltered, unedited, without the benefit of selection or "commentary," "interpretation," or embellishment. (This kind of internetworking transmission is substantially different than radio or television broadcasting, which require expensive transmitters: anyone with access to a personal computer and a phone line can accomplish the same thing as our Moscow "correspondent.)

The quality of "news" and information which flows through the global village networks can also be substantially different than what we have come to expect as "news." It becomes more personal and intimate and "real." Read this message which came out of Bosnia during the early days of the troubles there:

     Date:   November 26, 1991  11:22
     Subject: Appeal for Vukovar

     Translation courtesy of Tomislav
     Subj:   APEL ZA VUKOVAR IZ VUKOVARA !!!!!!!!!

     How can I start a story of death and desire to live?
     How can I describe millions of feelings in plain words?
     How can I concentrate when a packet of death explodes nearby
     every few minutes?
     How can I ask for help from someone whose face I cannot even
     How can I ask in the name of thousands of people, and whom
     can I ask, when all the appeals and cries for help to stop
     this insane bloodshed have been unanswered?

     Death has become the most important aspect of life in this
     devastated city. She follows us in every step; she is an
     integral part of every thought, of every word that is being
     said. Separated from our wives, mothers, sisters, and
     brothers; in the constant presence of terrible massacres of
     our closest friends; deprived from the most basic needs;
     degraded to the level of the cattle awaiting to be
     slaughtered we live in damp cellars with no electricity,
     running water, toothpaste, soap, diapers for the babies;
     with no hope of resting even for a moment, because dreams on
     improvised beds are only the horrible repetitions of the
     cruel reality.

     Can anyone who has not experienced even a little piece of
     Vukovar's reality understand the bitter feeling in every
     single one of us? Can anyone explain to him/herself and
     accept us as savage reality that maybe tommorow they will
     not see their families anymore? In our twisted world there
     are no lies. There is only one truth; the truth about life.
     Life in Vukovar today is the fight for every doorstep, for
     the remains of our hopes, of a town that in the morning mist
     resembles the site of a Hollywood horror movie.

     We are not asking for charity, we are only asking for life
     with basic human decency. We are asking for a chance for our
     children to have their children. How would the West react if
     2,000 of their children were confined to damp cellars with a
     threat of imminent death for everyone who dares to go out;
     with only one skimpy meal a day and uncertainty of how long
     such state will persist? Can you imagine something like that
     in London, Paris, Washington, Berlin, Vienna?

     We may be separated by thousands of miles, but are our
     hearts separated that much? Let us bring negotiators to
     Vukovar! Let anyone come up with a single argument for the
     war when surrounded by dying babies! Let us gather all the
     children that have lost their parents, whose chance to walk
     side by side with their fathers and mothers has forever been
     lost. No institution will ever be able to replace the care
     of the parents.

     Vukovar is not just a bunch of shattered buildings; it is a
     live organism that breathes. Vukovar has got its own
     bloodstream, its life that is being taken away from it. Its
     flesh is being torn apart; its bones are being broken. And
     while the city is defending itself in a spasm, it is being
     attacked by people to whom it represents only a point on the

     This message is directed to all of those who love life; to
     all those who can appreciate the little things that make
     life; to all those who have ever seen a smile of a baby; to
     all of those who still care...


Information of all types circulates on "the net." NASA scientists, aviation professionals and hobbyists, biologists mapping the human genome, Semitic and Middle Eastern Scholars studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, musicians, dissident Chinese refugees... and teachers and their students... can all be found on line, along with the information generated by their research and activities. The implications for schools are profound.

School in the Global Village

When teachers and their students are "connected" to the world, teaching and learning strategies change. The "world" becomes an indispensable curriculum resource. When students communicate with people in distant and foreign places they begin to understand, appreciate, and respect cultural, political, environmental, geographic, and linguistic similarities and differences. Their view of the world and their place in the world changes. When teachers use their international connections as a learning medium,

  • Subject matter becomes current, relevant, and integrated from a multi-disciplinary, global perspective.
  • Students learn about their own culture and foreign cultures, their differences and similarities... directly from their distant peers, in real, meaningful, and exciting ways
  • Students consider issues that are of global concern.

Consider this simple project announcement ("call for collaboration") from a teacher in the U.S. Virgin Islands:

     Date: Feb 6, 1992 13:07
     Subject: Virgin Islands Geography Project

     This simple geography project should suit a teacher in your
     building. Please circulate this call for collaboration among
     your geography-teaching colleagues.

     Hello from the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean!

     My name is Joe Quain and I'm looking for 5 (five) classes
     from various countries and the U.S. to participate in a
     simple Geo/Cultural project with my middle school (ages 12-
     14) geography class located on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin

     Email Contact:

     Length of Project - 2 weeks

     Description of project
     At the beginning of this project you will receive two essays
     created by my students in the Virgin Islands.  One essay
     will describe the physical geography of our Caribbean island
     and the other class essay will contain a description of our
     island's culture.
     Two weeks after you receive these essays, you will send back
     two similar essays about your geography and culture, using
     our essays as models.  These essays will also be forwarded
     to the other participating sites.

     Virgin Islands students will then compile this information
     and give oral reports.  We will video tape these reports and
     send you a copy of the video tape (in USA VHS format).

     Objectives of project
     (1) Each class learns about their own geography and culture
         and transmits this knowledge to real audiences
     (2) Students become better communicators
     (3) Students conduct collaborative research culminating in
         the final video tape
     (4) Students compare and contrasts each site's essays.

     Send email as soon as possible to Joe Quain at:

     Include your full name, voice phone number, school,
     district, city, country, and mailing address.  Please
     include your grade and subject area.   If more than five
     schools reply, I will select five classes which represent an
     interesting geographical and cultural diversity.  I will
     notify all schools by February 21 regarding their selection.

     Time Line
     February 21 - Five sites chosen for project are notified on
     February 24 - Virgin Islands Essays sent to participating
     March 9 -     Five remote sites send Physical Geography
                   class essay to the Virgin Islands.
     March 16 -    Five remote sites send Cultural description
                   class essay to the Virgin Islands.
     March 30 -    Video sent to five remote locations.

     Essay Details
     Physical Geography Essay - Your students will collect
     information regarding your own physical geography, and write
     a descriptive essay not to exceed 3-4 pages.  This
     description should include information pertaining to the
     relief of the country or state.  All significant land forms
     (mountains, plateaus, coastal plains, unusual features) and
     water bodies (important rivers, lakes, coast lines) should
     be described (both physically as well as utilization
     (economic, recreation, tourism)).  The longitude and
     latitude should also be noted.  Some information with how
     the physical land has influenced the history and development
     of your region should also be included.

     Cultural Geography - Topics of essay can include
     What is germane and unique about your culture?
         food/preparation    housing           music
         art                 schools           religions
         political system    dress             transportation
         positions or status of children, adults, and senior
     What are the essential cultural elements that give your
     locale its distinct flavor? This essay may well be longer
     than the first (3-6 pages).

     Your students can use the models prepared by my students as
     a guideline for the essay which they write.
     To contact project coordinator Joe Quain, send mail to:

Within two weeks after announcing this project, Joe had over 40 replies. He selected eight sites to join him in this project:

  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Tartu, Estonia
  • London, England
  • Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • San Antonio, Texas.

Joe reported that this project not only accomplished his objectives in studying geography and global cultures, it also engaged and motivated his students. He also reported an unexpected dividend: his student's grammar and overall writing skills dramatically improved as they corresponded with students who spoke English as a second language and sought to "coach" them in improving their English.

Networking and Project-Based Learning

The lingua franca of email and computer conferencing (electronic text) is the written word. Although the input device (keyboard) is new, the mode of expression (written language) is thousands of years old. In today's "reach out and touch someone" age, millions of people who would never put pen to paper to write a letter will spend evenings writing to dozens of people through their online connections. Electronic mail has given new life and new meaning to a profoundly traditional form of communication. Telecomputing may in fact be the last frontier of written literacy available which will incite students to traditional literacy skills. The process writing movement has had an important impact on the way that writing is taught in schools across the nation. Researchers such as Donald Graves (1983), Donald Murray (1985), and Lucy Calkins (1986), and such programs as the Bay Area and National Writing Projects all agree on the importance of audience: give children a sympathetic audience, something of value to write about, and help them to find their voice, and they will become eager writers.

Telecomputing offers an efficient, effective means of finding and using many interesting and varied audiences for the exchange of various student activities. Furthermore, the activities can be embedded in other content areas, such as science, math, geography, history, current events, and other topics... providing an ideal environment to facilitate what is becoming known as "project-enhanced" learning (Ruopp, 1993). Joe Quain's geography project was successful because his students were engaged in activities which had rational, meaningful goals that made sense to them. Their research, writing, and communicating was directed at a specific audience with a specific purpose in mind. This illustrates a simple but powerful example of "project-enhanced" learning. According to at least one study, the effect of this kind of approach to learning is significant. Cohen and Riel (1989) concluded that when students write for a distant audience of their peers,

  • They are more fluent
  • They are better organized
  • Their ideas are more clearly stated and supported
  • Their content is more substantive and their thesis is better supported
  • They consider the limits and needs of their audience

We also have abundant anecdotal reports from teachers who testify to the effects of collaborative projects on student learning:

  • They enjoy writing more
  • Students are more willing to write, proofread, revise, and edit their work when they are writing for a distant audience.
  • They are more careful about their spelling, punctuation, grammar, and vocabularies.

This letter we received from a teacher in Rhode Island regarding one of our FrEdMail projects illustrates this point:

     Ppath: bonita2!nsutherl
     From: )
     Subject: letter of thanks from 3rd graders at Newport, RI


     The following letter was written by 3rd graders at Underwood
     School in Newport, RI.... The Geogame provided a GREAT
     example of what types of learning experiences exist on the
     INternet for kids.

     A footnote to the letter was written by the teacher of this
     class.  I think her closing statement summarizes the
     feelings of all of us who participated in the Geogame.

     Thanks again to you for all of your good work !!  ;-)

     Forwarded message:
     From: mmmmmm
     Subject: using computer connection
     To: oooooooBrown.Edu
     Date: Fri, 22 May 92 15:48:05 EDT
     Dear ooooo,

     We are writing to tell you that we really enjoyed the
     computer connection to Brown.  We had a great time and
     couldn't wait to work on it every day.

     We learned so many things like different things about our
     country and Europe.  We also learned about latitude and
     stuff like that.  We used big maps, road atlases, social
     studies books, P.C.USA program, childrens atlas',
     encyclopedias, wall maps and our brains.   Roger, who is a
     sp. ed. student that worked with us on Geogame says that it
     made him feel like we're the smartest kids in the whole

     It was so much more fun than just using our books and maps
     and it was neat to get mail from other classes each day.  We
     are now in the process of writing to the other schools
     across the country and Europe that we played Geogame with.
     We're learning so much from each other.   We got to know one
     class so well that we invited them to our school so that we
     can meet each other and have lunch together.

     Please let us do this again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you so
     much for letting use the computer connection!

     From the great third grade at Underwood School!!!!!


     Dear oooo,

         The children in my class compiled the letter above in
     their own words and typed it to you on the computer.  I
     think you can hear their enthusiasm in their words.  What I
     wanted to share with you though is, that if you were able to
     see the enthusiasm, the cooperative learning and the growth
     in these children during the weeks that we used your
     connection, there would be no question that this type of
     program should be accessable to every classroom.

     I have a wonderful group of children that love school and
     love learning but I have never seen the level of motivation
     in them as I did in the use of this service.

     I can't thank you and the people at Brown, enough for your
     patience in teaching us how to get "on line" and for
     allowing us access to such an exciting program.  You helped
     us to do great things in educating our students.    If there
     is anything that you can do to continue a program of this
     nature in the future, please don't hesitate.  If anyone has
     a hesitation, just tell them to come to our room and see
     first hand the positive learning experience that this has

     Thank you for everything.  You've done more than you know!

     gr. 3, Underwood School

Similar stories about student involvement and achievement percolate through the online networks:

  • The Global Grocery List stimulates a discussion with Japanese students who are surprised that their diet staple, rice, is so much more expensive than in other parts of the world. Students in Japan and America discover principles of protectionist trade policies.
  • Students in Europe and America find out from children in Israel what a SCUD attack is REALLY like.
  • Students in Southern California learn from children in Santa Cruz, California, what they need to do to prepare for an earthquake... lessons learned from bitter experience.
  • A student in Cold Harbor Springs, New York interviews Russian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn. He recruits online acquaintances in Moscow and Jerusalem to interview Russian Jews in those places, and send him the results, so he can compare the stories from all three places in his high school sociology project.
  • Students in New York collect relief supplies to send to their online friends devastated in the Florida hurricane.

There is no question that curriculum will change as more and more schools join the net. Students who have the opportunities described here have already begun to make their own paradigm shifts regarding their place in the world, and how to relate to it. As the global market economy grows, these students as adults will have advantages in their experience and mindset over those who were isolated to their own classrooms and communities.

The only question left, then, is when will you join the Global Village?

End Notes

Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth, NH Heinemann Educational Books, 1986.
Cohen, Moshe and Margaret Riel. "The Effect of Distant Audiences on Students' Writing," AERA Journal, Summer, 1989, pp. 132-159
Graves, Donald H. Writing Teachers and Children at Work. Portsmouth, NH Heinemann Educational Books, 1983.
Murray, Donald. A Writer Teaches Writing. 2nd ed. Boston Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves To Death, Penguin, 1985.
Ruopp, Richard, et al. LabNet: Toward a Community of Practice, Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993.
Toffler, Alvin. Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century, New York, Bantam Books, 1990.