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End-User Training: opening The Internet's bottleneck

by

Pablo Liendo

Networks and Development Foundation (Fundacion Redes y

Desarrollo, FUNREDES)

Regional Corresponsal

Daniel Pimienta

Networks and Development Foundation (Fundacion Redes y

Desarrollo, FUNREDES)

Head

December 1993

I. INTRODUCTION

It is a well-accepted phenomenon that there has been a tremendous

growth of a telematic meta-network known as "The Internet."

Nevertheless, the actual magnitude of the indicators depends on

what are we referring to as "Growth."

Historically, the first telematic networks were set in place by

selected groups of experts, basically coming from the computer

sciences. At those times, the Computer Industry contributed

heavily in financing the key element that made those networks to

grow: the computers. It is not surprising that the criterion used

then to measure the degree of growth of any particular network

was the number and capacity of linked computers (or "nodes").

The community served was closely related to computer centers, we

could therefore presume that it was not so difficult to count the

number of users per node.

Later on, another sector became eagerly interested in promoting

the expansion of the telematic services to be provided: the

Communication Industry. It became fashionable to talk about

"connectivity", even in a sense rather like an acquired Civil

Right. Newer and more traffic-intensive services have been

developed and more user communities have seen the potential of

networking. The growth indicators became the number and capacity

of links, and the degree of inter-networking as a result of the

protocols adopted. The number and mix of actual users became

progressively harder to figure out.

As the Information Industry comes in to play, there is a natural

shift towards the user community as the focus of analysis. At

this point in time we are presented with plenty of data compiled

over the past, showing a clear-cut tendency to increase both the

number of "nodes" and the number of users of The Internet. In

fact the tendency is such that by the first quarter of the XXI

Century the whole World population would be using the network..!

The authors hold the opinion that a variety of barriers will

render such forecasting highly unlikely. In order to develop a

network, the setting in place of computers and links are

necessary requirements to be met, but not sufficient!. We do

think that the true development of any network is measured by the

number (quantity) of active, effective and efficient (quality)

users of Computer Mediated Communication, CMC. Fortunately, many

technical barriers have been or are about to be solved. Even

financial barriers seem to be creatively addressed with some

success. Initially, a significant number of the pioneer users

were already familiar with computer and communications specifics.

Quite on the contrary, the overwhelming proportion of people to

become users of The Internet are poorly, if at all, literate in

these disciplines. Adding this to the increasing amount and

diversity (complexity) of resources representing the potential

benefit of the network, it seems pretty obvious that the main

bottleneck for The Internet to: a) keep growing and b) for its

user community to fully exploit its capabilities, is to provide

the proper training to the newcomers and indeed to improve the

degree of expertise displayed by many current users.

II. SEGMENTATION OF TRAINEES

Fortunately one of the most promising potentialities of The

Internet is its variety. It is present in the services it

provides (more than 350 different identifiable services on some

backbones), in the sectors it benefits (research, educational,

commercial, government, defense), in the geographic location of

its nodes (more than 90 countries), etc. We strongly emphasize

that its real power resides in the variety of its user community,

estimated at some 15 to 20 million people exchanging e-mail

through its gateways within more than 137 countries.

In fact the above mentioned variety is such that, in order to

support both the potential and actual users of The Internet, some

sort of characterization or segmental approach is needed. The

authors have participated in the development of a conceptual

model that depicts the universe of those users in a segmented

fashion. The initial groups identified were:

A. People who have not even heard of Computer Mediated

Communication, CMC

B. People who consider The Internet services as non-pertinent to

them

C. People whose access is affected by socio-economical barriers

D. People whose access is affected by technical barriers

E. Actual (but unsatisfied) users.

Additionally, two other groups were identified: a) people for

whom these services do not directly apply, and b) actual users

who are fully satisfied. These two groups clearly deserve less,

if any, consideration within the scope of this paper.

We have enriched the model by including a new group:

F. People whose access is affected by organizational barriers.

The model also considers a variety of actors which, in order to

keep the net working, interact either individually or as

organizational entities. Some of these actors are :

1. Potential users

2. Actual individual users

3. User groups

4. Information systems personnel (librarians, information

brokers, etc.)

5. Educational related personnel (teachers, teaching aids

designers, andragogists, etc.)

6. Policy makers (applications, network management, operational

requirements, routing, security, transport and services,

user services, science and technology organisms, academic

authorities, Parliament Members, politicians, etc.)

7. Media specialists (mass media, scientific journalists,

mediatic experts, publicists, etc.)

8. Sociologist (impact forecasting, evaluation and

interpretation, etc.)

9. Cognitive and social psychologist (Multimedia, virtual

reality, etc.)

10. Knowledge engineers (artificial intelligence).

11. Linguists (language translation support, iconic grammar,

etc.)

12. Node administrators (management)

13. Network joint management personnel

14. General informatics technical staff (memory and disk

management, interfaces, database design and administration,

backup, computer resource accounting, etc.)

15. Network specific technical staff (hardware and software

computer and communication support)

16. Publishing industry

17. Computer industry (computers, routers, MODEMS, commercial

software, etc.)

18. Telecommunication industry (PTTs, fiber optics, satellites

links, etc.).

In order to be comprehensive in our analysis we consider the

following categories:

Based on type of use and perspective:

I. Actual

- individuals

- user groups

II. Potential users

Based on exposure to CMC specifics and motivation:

a. None

b. Some but distorted or not enough to motivate

c. Enough to motivate but not to be proficient

d. Enough for proficiency.

Based on type of barrier:

i. Absolute CMC illiteracy

ii. Relative CMC illiteracy

iii. Socio-economical barriers

iv. Technical barriers

v. Organizational barriers

vi. None

Based on participation:

1. End usage of CMC services provided

2. Evaluation and suggestions for improving the system

3. End user informational guidance

4. End user technical support

5. End user organizational support

6. Education of actors about CMC literacy

7. Policy making and enforcement

8. Node or joint administrative management

9. Financing

10. "Non computist type" staff and end user interface

development

11. "Computist type" staff and end user interface development

12. Telecommunication infrastructure support

13. Ergonomic, mediatic, linguistic and congnitional value-

additions

14. Dissemination of news, proposals, resources available,

teaching material, etc.

15. Research and development of new CMC services.

The Cartesian product of the above listed categories gives a

total of 1080 combinations! So, although we feel it is a

comprehensive and nice segmental approach, for the purposes of

this paper: end user training, let us confine ourselves to the

following two variables:

Trainee Segment:

A. Potential end users not been exposed to CMC

B. Potential end users partially exposed but not motivated

C. Potential end users motivated

D. Actual users but with not enough proficiency

Informational Content of Training:

1. General presentation of Computer Mediated Communication,

CMC, as offered through The Internet

2. Detailed training on basic services, mailing lists and

Bulletin Board Services

3. Detailed training in on interactive information delivery

systems (Gopher, World Wide Web, Alex), directory services

(WHOIS, Netfind, X.500) and indexing services (Archie, WAIS,

VERONICA, on-line library catalogues)

4. Detailed training on the alternatives to provide information

through The Internet

5. Detailed trainning on how to get organized to run user

groups and information services related to The Internet

That leads us to the following final matrix:

CMC Not Motivated Not

Illiterate motivated (potential proficient

(potential (potential user) (actual

user) user) user)

Introductory A1 B1 C1 D1

Basic Services N/A B2 C2 D2

Advanced N/A B3, N/A N/A D3

Services

Information N/A B4, N/A N/A D4, N/A,+

Offering

Organizational N/A N/A N/A D5, N/A,++

Skills

[N/A] = Not applicable

[+] = Pertinent to information providers

[++] = Pertinent to User Groups, Joint Network Management, etc.

It is important to state that we are addressing the problem of

empowering end users of The Internet through training. This alone

is by no means enough. A lot of effort needs to be applied to

make some actors sensitive to these themes, in order to ask for

their adequate participation to the growth of the network. Some

of these efforts include:

- To provide a basic understanding of the implications and needs

of the setting in place and operation of this kind of networks,

addressed to those people who can alleviate the identified

barriers.

- To provide a basic understanding of the impact of CMC on social

development, addressed to sociologist, mass media, industrial

sector, etc.

- To provide the technical contents needed by the specialists for

developing teaching materials on the diverse topics of the CMC

- To negotiate with PPTs to become partners of the integral

growth of the network

- To promote the badly needed interaction among actors coming

from computer related fields and the rest of users. It should

make the former familiar with the justifiable limitations of

the later. In some instances it requires going all the way down

the details of some manual procedures to explore possible

automatic processes as support.

- Particular consideration is required by the financial aspects

of the setting in place and operation of networks.

- The prospective analysis of the coming in of the commercial

sector is mandatory.

- Much interaction is needed in order to take into consideration

so many variables involved in the emergent field of the CMC. It

is unquestionable that it represents a true new "Neoculture"

not to be taken lightly.

III. CURRICULA PER SEGMENT

Given the variety mentioned in the previous section one sees

clearly that no one single informational content could be chosen

to provide end user training. If we limit ourselves to those used

to build the previous matrix, we have a framework to define the

segments and its corresponding curricula.

First of all there should be a kind of "core curriculum" which is

aimed at providing a general but sound understanding of the

characteristics of the Computer Mediated Communication, CMC in

general, and its actual realizations within The Internet in

particular. The following is a list of topics to be addressed at

this Introductory level:

- Man as a Cybernetic Action Agent ("goal seeking" system)

- Role of communication (its contribution to the quality of

process and of product)

- Human information processing (basics of data, information and

knowledge)

- Man - man communication

- Man - machine communication (interface)

- Machine - machine communication (ABC of telematic network

infrastructure)

- Characteristics of the "Telematic Neoculture"

- Briefing on the telematic services most commonly used:

electronic mail, file transferring (FTP) and remote computer

use (Telnet)

- The Internet in a few words, figures and diagrams

- Concrete references to the systems locally available (access,

cost, limitations)

- Practical listing of the requirements to become an Internaut

- Human contacts to further pursue the apprenticeship about The

Internet

- Bibliography for further reading

By definition this core curriculum should be applied to all four

trainee segments considered.

Next comes the detailed training on basic services provided by

the Internet. The following is a list of topics to be addressed

at this Basic Curriculum:

- General review of the material covered at the Introductory

Level

- Basics of the local operating system (as related to the

subject)

- Communication software interaction

- File transferring software interaction

- Message administration software interaction

- Basics of the MODEM (what it is and basic commands)

- Transport network interaction

- Node interaction (user validation, terminal emulation,

services selection)

- Electronic mail (characteristics, addressing/routing, aliases,

writing, sending, receiving, replying, forwarding, bouncing,

saving, printing, deleting)

- Mailing lists (listing of topics and locations, subscribing,

reading, writing, listing their members, listing their

archives, getting back postings, unsubscribing)

- Bulletin Board Services (listing of topics and locations,

reading, writing)

- Bibliography for further reading

This basic curriculum should be applied to the potential user and

the actual but unskilled user. It should be also considered for

those potential users not motivated, providing that the examples

have to be carefully tailored based on the interests of the

group.

Next comes the detailed training on interactive information

delivery systems, directory services and indexing services

provided by The Internet. The following is a list of topics to be

mastered at this Advanced Curriculum:

- General review of the material covered at the Introductory and

Basic levels

- Gopher (description, locations, navigating, typical

interaction)

- World Wide Web,WWW (description, strength and limitations,

interaction)

- Alex (description, interaction)

- WHOIS (description, locations, interaction)

- Netfind (description, interaction)

- X500 (general specifications)

- Archie (description, selecting, connecting, variables,

searching, reading, saving)

- WAIS (description, selecting, searching)

- VERONICA (description, logical operands, interaction)

- On-line library catalogues (options, listing locations,

variety of interactions)

- Foreseeable future implementations (voice and image, AI,

artificial assistant)

- Bibliography for further reading

This advanced curriculum should be applied to the actual but

unskilled user. It should be also considered for those potential

users not motivated, providing that the examples been carefully

selected for the interests of the group.

Some specific curriculum is needed for training people to enable

them to provide information systems through The Internet. The

following is a list of topics to be reviewed at this Information

Provider Curriculum:

- General review of the material covered at the Introductory,

Basic and Advanced levels

- Different perspectives (source, editor, transcriptor,

operator, end user, broker)

- Input load volume and human limitations ("Diabetes

informaticus")

- Selective dissemination of information through The Internet

- Briefing on mediatic techniques applied to interfaces

Multimedia

- CD-ROM (remote access)

- Briefing on database systems (design, updating, remote access,

searching, saving results, printouts)

- Administration techniques (access control, billing, security,

integrity, privacy)

- End-user support

- Financing

- Bibliography for further reading

This information provider curriculum should be applied to some

actual but unskilled user, and it could also be considered for

those potential users not motivated, providing that the examples

been carefully selected for the interests of the group.

Some specific curriculum is also needed for training determined

people to enable them to get organized in order to run user

groups and information services related to The Internet. The

following is a list of topics to be addressed at this

Organizational curriculum:

- General review of the material covered at the Introductory,

Basic and Advanced levels

- Overview of the actors related to The Internet (listing and

roles)

- Definition of organizational coverage of each entity (User

Group, Node, National Network, etc.)

- Dealing with The Public

- Dealing with policy makers and authorities

- Dealing with information providers

- Dealing with the mass media

- Dealing with technical staff

- Dealing with International Organizations

- Dealing with other groups and networks

- Financing

- Evaluation techniques

- International Meetings overview

This organizational curriculum should be applied to those engaged

in activities related to this field but from an organizational

entity.

IV. TRAINING METHODS AND TECHNIQUES

As can be seen from the previous sections, the skills needed to

fully participate in the growth of The Internet is wide and

diverse. Hence the training methods and techniques can not be

uniform.

At a very macro level it is fair to state that no matter the

training used an Internaut should be familiar with:

- The basics of information as a resource

- The impact of communication on the quality of processes and

products

- The nature of the so called "Telematic Neoculture"

- The interaction of the different actors involved.

- The fluent use of the CMC services locally available

- The cost and financing of this powerful tool.

It is important to tailor the curriculum to the objective needs

of the prospective user. It is so fascinating (but so extense)

the knowlwdge base related to The Internet that a real effort is

needed to avoid overwhelming the trainee. Also it is very easy to

bias the emphasis on its technical aspects on detriment of its

tremendous social, political and economical implications.

Almost every country has some kind of organization linked to The

Internet. This provides a unique opportunity to share experiences

and resources from each other.

An innovative and very promissing strategy would be to make that

as many proficient users as possible "adopt" one newcomer each,

in order to foster their training.

Numerous documents at different levels hace been written on many

of the topics listed above. Furthermore, many of those documents

are available on line. A critical mass of monographs are already

at hand to be used either as textbooks for formal courses or as

reference material for self training.

Progressively we have witnessed the introduction of distal

education techniques for introductory courses about and through

The Internet. Some effort should be done to evaluate the relative

success of those initiatives and to improve next releases.

It is not casual that the vast majority of people not initiated

or minimaly benefiting from the CMC as offered by The Internet is

not English speaking. Therefore if not for some other reasons a

massive effort is to be done in order to provide documentation

for training in the prevalent languages of the regions where

those people belong.

There is a widespread agreement on the promissing potential of

the so called "Nintendo Generation". For those luckly enough to

receive informal (or formal) training in computer based gadgets,

being them for fun or as tools for education, at an early age,

are prone to become Internauts without major traumas. For the

incorporation of them it seems to be just a matter of time. Quite

on the contrary is the case of adult people, already specialized

in technical or humanistics fuilds but who have missed the

interaction with the above mentioned devices. Not only they lack

that joyful experience but the do not have the attitude, the

time, or even the intelectual flexibility to embrace a totally

new environment.

It is not that easy for a socially differentiated adult to

develop a whole Neoculture as the telematic one. It is at all

possible but not necesarilly easy. Therefore some techniques

borrowed from andragogy (adult education) are imperatives.

Particular potential display some techologies such as multimedia

in order to develop self administered training with the

unequivocal advantage of reinforcing the key issues to be learned

and to do so at one's pace. It is invaluable the benefit of

simulating a telematic session but without being connected. Thus,

one can spend all the time needed in grasping the lessons,

without being penalized by connection or remote computer usage

charges.

Another resource to be applied is the mass media. The level of

professionalism achieved by this sector and its coverage makes it

specially suited for dissemination of information on these

topics. After all, we are talking about an audience which is the

size of the World population. No kidding..!

V. CONCLUSIONS

The CMC as offered by The Internet is one of the most oustanding

and promissing technologies to be applied to improve the quality

of life of mankind.

Despite the fact that several million people already use The

Internet, the vast majority remains marginated due to a variety

of barriers. Having setted in place a critical mass of nodes and

links, the current bottle neck for the true development of The

Internet can be pinpointed: training of end users.

The users conform an heterogeneus mix and therefore require

training which should be tailored to some extent. We present a

conceptual framework based on a segmental analysis of the

different users and propose several curricula to be addressed to

them.

We enphasize the importance of making people aware of the social,

political and economical impact of the so called "Telematic

Neoculture". Non current users should be informed and motivated

about these themas. Non proficient users should receive

complementary training.

New actors should get more and more involved with the harmnonic

development of The Internet: the information providers, the

politicians, the comercial and industrial sector, the mass media,

the International Organizations, among others.

Sharing of experiences and resources, widespread application of

distal education, adult educational techniques, multimedia and

simulated sessions are some of complementary actions proposed.

A promissing strategy is put forward: to make that as many

proficient users as possible "adopt" one newcomer each, in order

to foster their training.

The chalenge resides in the trainee target audience: the whole

World population.

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(Bibliographic references to be inserted)

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