“Internet is a huge resource but it’s incredibly disorganized, with everyone doing their own thing,” said John Krantz, assistant professor of Psychology at Hanover College. “So I thought it would be a lot easier if psychologists had a central place to start from, where they could find a significant portion of the resources useful to them.
“I was thinking I’d collect those resources and put them into an as-organized-as-I-can set of ‘pages’ that can easily be gotten to by those who are less experienced,” Krantz said.
Krantz popped his idea into the APS central office in Washington early in 1994. As he recalls it, “I said, ‘Wouldn’t a gopher site be an interesting thing for APS to do?’ APS Director of Communications Lee Herring responded, ‘We were just talking about that…. Would you be willing to get started?'”
Blazing the Internet Trail
It seemed like a natural, Krantz said, just one step up from the gopher site he was already maintaining for Hanover’s psychology department. Shortly after the development of the gopher site, the first APS web page was written. And that’s how APS’s place on the Internet got off the ground in 1994, as the first Internet site devoted to psychological science.
APS has since presented Krantz with a glowing citation and certificate of appreciation for creating psychology’s first global web site and for “growing it,” to use a favorite Washington term, with four to five hours of totally volunteer work per week. It has become an island of order and clarity in a global network that seems chaotic and intimidating to a lot of people.
Information Highway: ‘Your Volunteer Dollars at Work’
“Computers don’t intimidate me,” Krantz says, somewhat superfluously, when he talks about how fast the robust one-and-a half-year-old APS web site has grown in terms of information and links available there and in terms of numbers of users. The number of user “hits” has been increasing at rates of 10 to 20 percent a month. In October, there were 5,000 hits on the APS home page that serves as an index for all available services at the APS server site. There were about 250 hits on teaching, 450 on research, and over 500 on the employment pages.
It’s a nexus where teachers and professors share some of their best products, for example, overheads for classroom lectures, updated course syllabi, and multi-layered diagrams of human brain anatomy and rat anatomy that Krantz’s students use for assignments in his classes.
Link to Departments of Psychology, New Features
The APS home page now links up with the web sites of more than 200 psychology and related departments, a number increasing by 25 to 30 a month. It provides information and contacts with major federal funding agencies and foundations, as well as many private funders of research and study grants big and small. Several major articles from past issues of the Observer are now available on line through the APS web servers. And, as of this month, a searchable index to issues of the Observer dating back through March 1990 is now up on the server. You can search by issue month and/or year or by topic.
Krantz says he has been comfortable with computers since he did extensive programming during his graduate years at the University of Florida, where he received his PhD in experimental psychology in 1988. But he finds the degree of computer know-how to be “extremely variable” among psychologists. “In parts of the field that are very technical, psychologists tend to be more comfortable with email and the web. But in parts of psychology that are not as technical, the comfort and use levels are much lower,” Krantz said.
“It’s not entirely a matter of age,” he said, noting that some of the psychology department web pages are maintained by emeritus professors who may have a bit more time to spend this way. “It’s probably need-based, more than anything else.”
What is now nearly universal among psychologists, Krantz observes, is “the desire to pick up computer skills as fast as possible because psychologists are seeing more and more need for such. Other people are going to be communicating on the web, and you can’t afford to be left out.”
So should psychology be gearing up for “the next revolution” that will take place on the information highway, if Bill Gates’s predictions in his current best-seller, The Road Ahead, prove correct?
Krantz believes “there are going to be some dramatic changes, but I’d be a little more conservative. I don’t see it as a revolution that would make the old ways of doing things no longer valid. I don’t believe that’s what we’ll see at all. I see it more in terms of enhancing what we’re doing now, giving us more options to do things in different ways.”
In teaching, for example, Krantz says computers and the web are “giving me new tools, such as on-line tutorials, to do many different things with students that keep the teaching process creatively interesting. But I don’t think the computer is going to suddenly take over. There is a lot to be said for being there face to face with your students. That’s here to stay. I think education is at its best when in a situation with one teacher and a small group of students,”
The problem with Internet as we know it today is that “with such an uncontrolled device you also get a lot of noise. There’s lots of good material but there’s lots of stuff that’s not relevant or useful, and it detracts from your ability to find useful items. So that’s one of the reasons why we are trying to organize the APS Internet pages to help people find their way through.”
Krantz has no problem agreeing with Bill Gates’s assertion that “the network will enable teachers to share their lessons and materials so that the best educational practices can be spread.”
But Krantz doesn’t believe that the network will bring forth a string of master teachers who will supplant all others and do away witb classroom teaching as we know it today- nor does Gates say he thinks so either, for that matter.
For Krantz, a great virtue of the network is that it makes teaching more collaborative. That is particularly important in a small liberal arts college like Hanover, with its 1,100 students and only four faculty members in its psychology department. Feeling somewhat isolated, Krantz is the sole professor on campus with a sensation/perception specialty, though he teaches courses in other areas as well. A decade ago he might have been holed up in his office preparing his courses on his own. Today he says he can sit in his office and tap into what other professors like himself are doing on dozens of other campuses. He can share their syllabi, their classroom techniques and materials, and offer some of his own. And when they develop an exciting new approach to a subject that Krantz teaches, maybe he can download their overheads and use them himself!
Krantz isn’t predicting the demise of paper journals, either. “There’s something about having the paper in front of you,” he says. “‘But at the same time, in terms of access and in this era when the discipline is so finely divided and where there are so many journals, if you can search through them electronically, that could save you from filling your office with a bunch of journals when you might readjust one or two articles in each journal.”
He points out, by the way, that the APS web isn’t trying to take the place of on-line abstract services. “What I’m developing is much more varied than just abstracts. I have links to granting agencies (e.g., National Science Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health) for information about funding programs, a lot of teaching resources, publishers on-line, employment opportunities, and a full line of information on APS activities and services.”