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The iBrattleboro Interview: John Donaldson    
Thursday, April 10 2003 @ 02:33 PM GMT+4
Contributed by: cgrotke

FeaturesiBrattleboro.com recently had a discussion with local educational web developer John Donaldson about the Internet, children, and K2Kid Hypermedia.

When is your birthday?

July 5, 1959

How long have you known Brattleboro?

My wife and I moved here in 1990. We visited once in a while when we lived in New Hampshire and really liked it.

What were your first impressions of the town?

We liked the fact that it was a small town that had so much culture. We appreciated the diverse community and felt very comfortable here.

Were your gut instincts correct?

Yes, and they haven't changed. I am still impressed with the quality of the people and the arts in Brattleboro.

How about the Internet? What were your first experiences online like?

In the early nineties there were some interesting things going on in Bellows Falls; public bulletin boards and the like. Tony Elliott, who went on to start SoVerNet, taught me how to how to use Lynx. I got Mosaic out of a book I bought and took off from there. A month after I became a charter member of SoVerNet I had a web page up to serve the needs of primary school teachers in Vermont. I believe it was the first educator's web page in Vermont.

First educator's web page in Vermont - there's some trivia for our readers! What got you interested in how children use the web?

Graphics on the Web brought a new and exciting time to computing. I thought it was really important that young children get an understanding of the new medium. I was sure that the Internet was going to shape their education and their popular culture. At times I thought it was wonderful and important and other times I thought it was awful and a total waste of time. Quality use of the Internet in education really depends on how well the teacher controls the environment. Mindless surfing, non-critical consumption, and exploitation suck much of the worth of the Internet down the drain. Unfortunately teachers commonly say, "Well, my students know more about it than I do, I'll let them choose their own resources." But what teacher would let a young student choose a book about the Arctic when the theme is African Animals?

Tell us about your company, K2Kid Hypermedia ...

To that end I developed a Web based software that allows teachers and school technologists the opportunity to pick their own Internet resources from a list of predetermined sites. The chosen resources are populated into a patent pending Directory system that graphically represents the sites and also contains a graphical rolling history of sites visited. You can choose new sites, remove underused ones, compare usage with other directory owners, and manage your accounts all from the Web. It's so much easier for young children to use and schools can offer their unique web address to the school community - it's great because the community has a common culture of understanding.

We also create handmade Directories as well. We integrate a school's curricula into a wholly customized Web site. This serves two purposes: it reflects the school's educational goals and it limits time wasted searching for resources.

Do children face unique issues when going online?

Absolutely. Children have not yet gained the experience to think critically. Most of the Internet is persuasive - whether to buy or to think a particular way. Frankly, most of the Internet, for children anyway, is garbage.

How did you come up with the idea for a special type of directory for children?

Because not all of the Internet is garbage for children. Some of it is simply amazing in it's ability to convey information to young minds. Therefore, cutting through the clutter by predetermining resources and getting it into the hands of children without obstruction is important.

How are the sites chosen for your directories?

There are some good directories out there, but they are generally too broad in their scope. So I take the best ones from many sites. I look for sites that have little or no advertising and are aesthetically pleasing. I do not look for entertaining sites. I look for sites that are interesting and educational, that way the "stickyness" is inherent.

This is different than those "censorship software" programs that block things based on keywords and algorithms, right?

Yes. I am very much against filtering software for three reasons. Beyond the issues of censorship, filtering software doesn't work well, it's expensive, and it abrogates the responsibility of parents and teachers. There are Web sites devoted to overriding filters; savvy kids can get around them easily. Filtering software will only work if it's updated daily, subscriptions per seat add up unless you have access to a great administrator, which most schools and libraries don't. And maybe most importantly it gives teachers and librarians a sense that they need not worry about the resources that make it through the filter. It's that thinking that allows for time wasting, mindless surfing, and non-critical thinking.

Your directory sounds like something a school, children's museum, or library might want. Is it expensive?

Obviously I think everyone who uses the Internet with children will want it, but I'm biased. The cost depends on what you get. One directory can be as little as $75 per year or more depending on the population of your school. A handmade directory is much more expensive of course, but it has great worth.

Sounds like a bargain, considering all the time and work it would save someone. How can people find out more?

Everything you may need to know, including a sample Directory, is available at www.k2kid.com. I don't market my handmade Directories from that site. The best way to discuss those is through email - john@k2kid.com

Should parents and teachers be concerned about their child's use of the Internet? What should their role be?

Simply put - put the computer in a place that everyone can see the screen, learn to check the history of a browser, and most importantly communicate, communicate, communicate.

How "wired" is Brattleboro? Is this an Internet-friendly town, in your opinion?

Brattleboro has a long way to go I'm afraid. One of the first things that needs to happen is the development a Wi-Fi (802.11) network for downtown Brattleboro. In the same spirit of RFB.FM we can spread broadband Internet access through the town. Perhaps iBrattleboro may be the catalyst needed to get this started.

To be honest, we've been taking a look at the free wireless network set up on Newbury Street in Boston. It's pretty simple, and rather cheap. All we'd need is a high-speed connection and some nodes located every few hundred feet in stores down Main Street. Let's do it! But we interupted you...

I'm very disappointed in Internet Cell Service in Vermont. Also, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, Adelphia, and Cell One, pays little or no attention to Internet related community programs in Brattleboro. If it weren't for SoVerNet, the Vermont communications industry would barely be represented.

Another argument for supporting local business. Is it hard to work in Brattleboro, given all the great scenery?

I don't ski - so five months out of the year it's not so bad, but the rest of the time it's hard to keep me off the tennis court. The Brattleboro Outing Club clay courts on Cedar Street are great and very inexpensive.

Where is the best place to get lunch around here?

Probably my house, but otherwise I like the Co-op and Shin La

Thanks for taking the time with iBrattleboro! We'll stop by for lunch soon.

You are very welcome - keep up the great work!


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