Friday, May 31, 2013

Flashback Friday: Logging on to 'Internet'

(In 1994, I blew readers' minds with the idea of easy access to a global information filing system by which anyone at a community college might be able to access info all over the planet in only a few minutes. I know, it's difficult to believe now, but about 20 years ago this whole "Internet" thing sounded like sci-fi. Here's the story from The News Herald's Dec. 14, 1994 edition.)

GCCC will offer students access to the information superhighway

From July 25, 1994
Gulf Coast Community College is not just "surfing the Internet," it's ready to hang-ten, according to one of the school's on-line professors.

For years, computers on campus have been integrated into a closed network. But recently they have joined the Florida Information Resource Network, creating a gateway onto the international Internet.

During a recent meeting of the District Board of Trustees, Professor Joe Howell described the highlights of the system and the advantages Internet access will give to faculty and students in the future. Howell demonstrated how easy it is for someone sitting at a terminal in Bay County to access information sources around the world.

 In less than a minute, he had at his fingertips computer files in Iowa, Sweden and Asia — including professional journals, research information, job listings, electronic mailboxes and computer bulletin boards.

There was even a file on "UFO and Alien Information" — although he quickly skipped past it.

Howell accessed the U.S. Department of Education database and found an excerpt from his own doctoral dissertation on file. He looked at job listings in the Chronicle of Higher Education by reading the expensive journal on-line.

"In the not-too-distant future, we want Gulf Coast Community College to be a server site on the Internet," Howell said. "If someone wants an academic calendar, a catalog, they can get it through the computer system."

The cost would be very small with the appropriate software in place, he said.

Now, 30 terminals on campus have access to the Internet. In the future, open terminals may be installed in public areas such as the college library, so students could use the available wealth of information throughout the world.

"The challenges are doing it faster and better and using it in the instructional process," Howell said.

Meteorology students, for instance, could reach into public-access NASA files for satellite photographs less than four minutes old. They could gather information on a city's weather patterns and create forecasts in class.

"We can do that today," Howell said. "This is not science fiction."

Another challenge may be blocking student access to objective or offensive materials that can be found through the Internet. But Howell said no matter what safeguards are put in place, "some enterprising young person" will no doubt find ways to bypass them.

The ramifications of having so much electronic information at one's fingertips could make facilities like libraries — which are expensive to build, equip and staff — anachronisms, college President Bob McSpadden said.

"What role will a facility with 80,000 hardback books play in the future? A museum?" he said.

The project was made possible by a $12,000 grant from the George G. Tapper Foundation.

Howell said he had always wondered just what was meant by the term "information superhighway." The Internet, he said, puts anyone in the information fast-lane.

McSpadden said he thought trustees "would be astounded by the information" now available to the college. He was right.

"It has created a world of excitement," McSpadden said. "And its capabilities will carry us well into the future."
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