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Mapping Cyberspace

Is there a "there" there?


Sometimes the Web can be its own best antidote.


Investigating rumors of a vast conspiracy.

Eye Candy

Art for the interface's sake.

Alternating Currents

An online exhibit surveys the impact of technology on late-twentieth-century art.

Janeites Unite

Jane Austen's place in cyberspace.

Inquiring Minds

What questions are on our "most complex and sophisticated minds"?

Sites of the Year

A look back at our favorite sites of 1997.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
February 25, 1998

ThinkQuest For a number of computer-savvy students between the ages of twelve to nineteen, this week marks the beginning of a period of intense collaborative learning -- and the chance to win up to $25,000 individually. On February 28, applications are due for the third consecutive ThinkQuest competition, sponsored by Advanced Network & Services, a non-profit organization that seeks to improve education through the use of technology. Contestants from around the world will team up -- using a "matchmaker" service on the ThinkQuest Web site that allows them to search electronically for teammates with like inclinations and skills -- to develop educational Web sites.

ThinkQuest's matchmaker service was no doubt instrumental in bringing together the three students (from India, Holland, and the state of Georgia) who created Himalayas - Where Earth Meets Sky, voted the best Web site of the 1997 competition. "Meetings were difficult to organize because of our different time zones," reads an excerpt from a passage (written collectively) that describes the making of the Web site, "but we stayed in touch thanks to frequent e-mails, regular IRC [real-time chat] sessions, and the use of programs like ICQ that alerted us to when another team member was online." The matchmaker service and the Internet also brought together Alexander Zhukov from Russia, Brian Metz from Virginia, and Jhenya Sokolova from Alaska, all of whom produced the 1997 first runner-up Web site, You Are What You Eat. Sokolova -- fluent in Russian and English -- acted as translator between Zhukov and Metz. Sokolova was so enamored of the technical side of Web-site design that she is now studying computer science in college -- along with international relations.


But how democratic an experiment is this, really? The general high quality of the student Web sites makes one wonder, as it did a teacher from Arizona, whether the majority of the contestants are "the ones already on the road to making $100,000 a year in the computer industry." Is the ThinkQuest contest simply a feeder system designed to channel students into the world of Advanced Networks & Systems? Not according to Allan H. Weis, the president and chief executive officer of the organization, who nine years ago sold off its for-profit subsidiary for $35 million and decided to put the money toward developing high-quality educational material on the Web. "I want to get a lot of good content out there," he recently told The New York Times. "One way to do that is to get the kids to build the content."

Before the advent of the Internet, students from around the world -- separated by geographical and cultural barriers -- seldom had the chance to collaborate on educational projects. In this sense, ThinkQuest has served as a true bridge of learning. Given the global challenges we all face, that seems like a cause for hope.

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