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What is a hyperbox?

Thinking without a book

Defining and designing complex mental structures is a common activity performed by members of almost every discipline, profession, and artisanship throughout the centuries. All the disciplines of old discovered that skills and knowledge required for the composition of large complex systems for the containment, conservation and transmission of culture  do not match the skills that are required for assembling small, bottom-up knowledge structures. Yet the bottom up assembly of knowledge is where we all start at primary school.
 
A present day difficulty with an '-ology' structure of education  is that for many workers, formal education is no longer a prelude to a career; it is a lifelong endeavour. While their parents might have expected to work for one employer throughout their careers, a more realistic expectation for young people entering the workforce today is a succession of careers with different employers who required the flexibility to learn new ways of thinking.

Workforce development experts refer to the phenomenon as “job churning".  In the US it is estimated that  one-third of all jobs are in flux each year, meaning that they have recently been created or soon will be eliminated from the economy.  Whilst  the U.S. population as a whole has aged, so has its workforce. Currently, the cohort aged 35 to 64 accounts for nearly two-thirds of all workers. The combination of demographic trends and job churning has led to an older clientele for higher education. Between 1970 and 2000, the proportion of college students aged eighteen to 21 years declined by a quarter, from 58 percent to 44 percent. Today’s “typical” American graduate student is female, in her thirties, married with dependents, and takes classes on a part-time basis while also holding a full-time job.  The complex silo structures that have grown with the need to produce life-long specialists are an impediment to such persons.
 
Higher education has been criticized for its tentative responses to these changes. The “universities’ preoccupation with traditional college-age students, coupled with their typically fragmented subject structure, often makes it difficult to focus attention on the learning demands of post-school students.  It has been argued that  with a more diverse and older student population, we need a more diversified set of educational offerings in which e-learning plays a key role.  Unfortunately, today's learning systems offer little or no support to personal knowledge management. As a consequence, students do not get a comprehensive, overall view of what might be useful for their individual needs, and the e-learning potential is not fully exploited.  This is particularly true regarding any effort to address climate change.  which must begin with education. Unfortunately, people today share a relative lack of literacy with regard to environmental issues. 

Each year, the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEEF), in collaboration with Roper Starch Worldwide, conducts a’’ National Report Card on Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviors.  And each year, the report card finds a persistent pattern of environmental ignorance among the entire public. Some survey results include: ‘‘45  million Americans think the ocean is a source of freshwater; 120 million think spray cans still have CFCs in them even though CFCs were banned in 1978; another 120 million people think disposable diapers are the leading problem with landfills when they actually represent about 1% of the problem; and 130 million believe that hydropower is America’s top energy source, when it accounts for just 10% of the total. Thisi s also why very few people understand the leading causes of air and water pollution or how they should be addressed. Many people do not see the economic aspects of these issues, often resisting such knowledge as being counter intuitive and contrary to taken-forgranted assumptions

From this perspective we need to go back to times before learning was compartmentated in order to clarify what lies at the heart of the problem.

So we arrive in the 18th century, when knowledge was derived by the learner from a process of personal accumulation that required constant revision to give a sense of satisifaction that what had been gained made sense and was relevant.  Creation of such small personal worlds of knowledge is still central to self-motivation.  The units of information to assemle a personal body of knowledge  are still words and pictures but the metaphor of their containment is a 'box' not a 'book'.
 
 
 
 
 
The 18th century educational model is actually the boxed 'Picture Academy for the Young' (Bilder-Akademie fur die Jugend) created and published by the German theologian Johann Siegmund Stoy in the 1780s.

It consisted of sheets of engraved pictures which children were expected to cut out, paste onto cards and arrange those cards in ordered compartments in a special box to produce 'a whole world filed in a box of images'. The box and its images from nature, myth and biblical history were intended to teach children how to collect, store and order knowledge. Learners were also expected to rearrange the pictures and add personal explanations and so build small worlds of their own. The contrast between the use of the box with its loose contents and the fixed spatial relationships between words and pictures in an encyclopedia is clear. 
 
This dynamic physical and mental interaction with words and pictures in Stoy's Academy was aimed at encouraging independent thought and judgement to enable students to become useful members of society. A small world view is created by a child making new combinations of textual and graphical information by which he or she learns, grasps and compares information.
 
Fast forward to the 20th century when In the late 1980s, Bill Atkinson, an exceptionally gifted programmer working for Apple Computer Inc., came up with an application called Hypercard for the Macintosh desktop computer.  Hypercard used links between parts of a computer text (hypertext) to enable anyone to construct a series of on-screen `filing cards' that  contained snap shots of textual and graphical information. Users could navigate these by pressing on-screen buttons, taking themselves on a jump tour of the information in the process.  It was Atkinson's wish that the software should be available free to all Macintosh users.  He said his reward would be to see hypercard stacks as copyright free information packages passing between learners who would add and rearrange cards to amplify knowledge from their own personal perspective.  This concept was eventually applied through the invention of the Internet so that jumps could be made between learaners across the globe.
 
Thinking across cultures

Hyperbox is a term that encompasses Stoy's 'world in a box' and Atkinson's 'world in a stack'. The box is a computer and the hypertext toolkit is exemplified by Google's suite of free software ( 'Google Docs', 'Google Picasa', 'Google Maps' and 'Google Sites') for adding to and rearranging text, numbers and pictures as on-screen snap shot presentations.
 
Broadly speaking, in the efforts to understand one's place in the world there are three types of educational hyperbox:
 
Culturescape:- something you see which has been created and protected deliberately as an entity to express the main elements of an idea, tradition or set of values as to how a group of people in a place should live.
 
Bioscope:- a simulation of a place, large or small where species interactions open windows on wider worlds to answer the question, 'What is nature?'
 
Conservation Templates:- simulations of landscapes chosen as characteristic example of conservation management of a cultural entitiy.
 
In fact these are three extremes of thinking for adapting successfully to a rapidly changing world where different beliefs and values are more or less adaptive in different environments.   ranging from no effort to manage habitats and species to the complete managerial control  to mould the environment to meet paticular human demands for survival.

Although HyperCard is now extinct there are many similar software packages to make personal stories out of words and pictures.  A good example is 'Spider Net'. e.g. http://www.spiderscribe.net/app/?acd8f6dd4961658157ca60f758c11838 
 
Subpages (1): Making connections