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Underlying tension for millennials against standardized education

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Posted on 3rd August 2011 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Golden Age of Learning and Networks

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The way Millennials live their lives — creating their own iPod playlists, designing their own Facebook pages grates against one-size-fits-all, industrial-era public education policies . . . . The preceding words are adjusted to education from a point made this week by conservative columnist Michael Barone:

In the wake of the 2008 election, I argued that there was a tension between the way Millennials lived their lives — creating their own iPod playlists, designing their own Facebook pages — and the one-size-fits-all, industrial-era welfare-state policies of the Obama Democrats.

Instead of allowing Millennials space in which they can choose their own futures, the Obama Democrats’ policies have produced a low-growth economy in which their alternatives are limited and they are forced to make do with what they can scrounge.

Every parent who has given a youngster his or her own mobile knows that an individual kid is empowered in important new ways by owning the device. That power is far more than the social connectivity the kids enjoy. As Barone points out, in the virtual world accessed through the device, the youngster is no longer constrained to a one-size-fits-all scenario such as school classrooms and curricula demand.

I think the empowerment that a personal mobile connection to the internet gives an individual is as fundamentally transitional as what occurred at these pivotal historical events:

The network science unfolding in the 21st century will continue to give us clearer understanding and a new perspective on the fact that human creativity and progress emerge from patterns of individuals. Top down power and patterns stifle, whether it is in a political campaign or a classroom.

The individual is a node in a network. We are just beginning to understand (see network science) how connectivity both gives power to nodes link out, and wisdom to crowds. Today’s Millennials are like the new Athenian voters, Brit serfs with new liberties, and America’s Minutemen — enjoying new individual liberty and ready to fight to keep it.

Great, great amounts of treasure are being poured toward giving every child a standardized education, and the system is not succeeding. Meanwhile, a new, better, individualized — and far, far cheaper — way of learning is already in the hands of Millennials.


BBC presents the British History Timeline

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Posted on 6th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge and History

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The challenge of making clear the long, complex history of Britain is met admirably by the interactive digital timeline across which the BBC has locked events and people into their positions. The timeline begins at 6000 BC marking the separation of Britain from the European mainland. As of this post, the most recent year is 2005. Any of us who at one time had to learn the sequence of British kings will wish we had had the BBC’s timeline at the time.

A long historical timeline has been tough to create physically until it could be done virtually in the digital world. Lengthy paper versions have been cumbersome or impossible to print, and even tougher to keep up-to-date. Museum walls dedicated to long timelines have been costly and inadequate to provide much detail. Spending some time with the BBC’s British History Timeline is an excellent way to enjoy the benefits of interactive digital technology for timelines as well as to learn some British history.

Is open education stuff really open, nuanced, or decided at a table?

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Posted on 1st January 2010 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Golden swamp defined, Networks and Open Content

openTableA very interesting, complex conversation about what open content for education means is underway among several of the top thinkers in the field. Back in November, David Wiley wrote a post called “Defining ‘Open.’” George Siemens weighed in with “Open isn’t so open anymore” in which he took issue with David’s statement that: “open is a function of gradients (”a continuous, not binary, construct”).” David responded yesterday in detail, George has responded there. There are many comments to the posts. The Reverend also wrote about the conversation yesterday; I grabbed the open table image from that post.

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openWiley

I thought it would be fun to toss  illustrations into the mix, if only because I am a “stubborn, irritating, aggravating visionary” of the sort George says we need in his introductory paragraph. So let me be aggravating: It makes little difference if pedagogy is open, nuanced, or behind a wall. Curricula, courses, textbooks, lesson plans — pedagogical content — are great to have online, but are essentially analog teaching tools. As the image to the left suggests, pedagogical stuff now draws some content from the open internet, but is not using the networking laws of the internet for cognitive organization nor to mirror ideas directly to a learning mind.

Pedagogical tools and the knowledge they teach are not the same thing! It is the knowledge that must be open for learning gold to emerge from the internet swamp. Knowledge itself is network of cognitive nodes that has nestled into the online open (only open) network.  This is the theme of my GoldenSwamp.com blog where I advocate that the time has come for education to engage the network power of online knowledge.

openBreckIn this third image, I have suggested a pattern of knowledge emerging from where it openly networks online. The huge change when this is allowed to happen in learning is that this emergent pattern mirrors directly into the networking mind of a student. Open (yes, binary open) is absolutely necessary for every node that participates in patterns of this sort. Proof that this sort of networking is real and very powerful is illustrated in the Los Alamos Map of Science, which I used in the above illustration. Here in a larger size is a portion of that networking, captured from the reality of what is going on online with cognitive knowledge:

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Online knowledge organizes itself better than educators can do it

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Posted on 30th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Networks and Open Content

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mirrorToBrain

A recent GoldenSwamp.com post posits how knowledge for learning is growing as a superorganism from which everyone on earth can learn. That superorganism is a network that lives within the open internet. The first image (above) sketches how the learning mind, which is a network, can directly apprehend patterns of knowledge from the network that forms the superorganism online of what is known by humankind. That apprehending can be thought of as the mind mirroring patterns it encounters on the internet.

If the learning mind can apprehend knowledge patterns from the emergent knowledge online, why then is it that we spend $$ billions every year on systems of knowledge delivery to education that look something like the second image (below)? Would it not make more sense to curate the online knowledge nodes and network, refining them to signal among themselves to create cognitive patterns to mirror directly into learning minds?
mirrorToCurriculum
The education establishment has assumed from the beginning of the internet era that it was they who should judge, select, and organize knowledge to be learned that is located on the internet. There is a fatal flaw in those assumptions: in the open internet, the knowledge self-judges, self-selects, and organizes itself better than those things can be done by educators because human knowledge is itself a network and obeys network laws. My statement here is radical, I know. It is also a fact of the internet that is morphing learning resources into the superorganism of what is known by humankind. It is a truth too beautiful not to be true and enormously hopeful for the global future.

Educational nodes need to signal like our bacteria do

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Posted on 25th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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bodyPoliticSince the late 1990s, when I was working with education study subjects that were then pouring in to the internet, I have been convinced that what is known by humankind would form a “grand idea” online. By that, I have meant a large network, fully interconnected, of all the subjects we know — what we call academic subjects, the stuff we learn in school. That grand idea network would not and is not something that has grown from the top down. It begins as nodes that signal and connect to each other based on their meaning — the cognitive content they have that is learnable by us humans.

Can it be that the grand idea is like a superorganism, as described in a fascinating article in SEED magazine on this topic: “Our bodies harbor 100 trillion bacterial cells, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one. It’s easy to ignore this astonishing fact. Bacteria are tiny in comparison to human cells; they contribute just a few pounds to our weight and remain invisible to us.” The following are some excerpts from the article [with some comments by me] that suggest similarities between the communication among our bacteria and the behavior of knowledge online. The fundamental reason they are alike is that bacteria and bits of learnable knowledge are small pieces that communicate in network patterns.

Indeed, several scientists have begun to refer to the human body as a “superorganism” whose complexity extends far beyond what is encoded in a single genome.

The physiology of a superorganism would likely look very different from traditional human physiology. [Learning resources in libraries look very different from what is online.] There has been a great deal of research into the dynamics of communities among plants, insect colonies, and even in human society. What new insights could we gain by applying some of that knowledge to the workings of communities in our own bodies? [to the workings of knowledge when it gets online] . . . .

Even confined in their designated body parts, microbes exert their effects by churning out chemical signals for our cells to receive. [Yesterday I posted about signaling by cells and signaling by learning nodes.] Jeremy Nicholson, a chemist at Imperial College of London, has become a champion of the idea that the extent of this microbial signaling goes vastly underappreciated. Nicholson had been looking at the metabolites in human blood and urine with the hope of developing personalized drugs when he found that our bodily fluids are filled with metabolites produced by our intestinal bacteria. He now believes that the influence of gut microbes ranges from the ways in which we metabolize drugs and food to the subtle workings of our brain chemistry. [The influence is a form of connectivity.]

Scientists originally expected that the communication between animals and their symbiotic bacteria would form its own molecular language. But McFall-Ngai, an expert on animal-microbe symbiosis, says that she and other scientists have instead found beneficial relationships involving some of the same chemical messages [again: signaling connects] that had been discovered previously in pathogens. Many bacterial products that had been termed “virulence factors” or “toxins” turn out to not be inherently offensive signals; they are just part of the conversation between microbe and host. [Open educational resources (OER) often are, and need to be, able to converse (signal) each other.]

Signaling cells show education how to use online resources

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Posted on 24th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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Placing OER (open educational resources) online without optimizing their components to signal is like expecting a single cell or group of cells to perform their role in isolation. Yet educators and subject experts put non-signaling lesson plans, courses, and curricula into the internet all the time. This was not surprising in the early days of the internet: educators were used to analog materials like textbooks, lesson plans, and and the separation of experts by geography. But the best knowledge for learning is now online, and education is far overdue in utilizing the cognitive connectivity of the internet.

What the e-Commerce world calls SEO (search engine optimization) is one way to give resources signals they can use to reach out to related stuff online. For OER, SEO is vital, but just a first step in the creation of signaling pathways. There are other very effective signal methods inherent in learning resources including: experts linking to (creating a network with) other OER they respect, landing pages that point (signal toward) excellent OER, and RSS-type signals that roll out expertise as it is published.

So would this signaling stuff work in a real network? Yes, and molecular biology is a very compelling model. The Wikipedia article on Cell Signaling (from which the above illustration is taken) explains:

Traditional work in biology has focused on studying individual parts of cell signaling pathways. Systems biology research helps us to understand the underlying structure of cell signaling networks and how changes in these networks may affect the transmission and flow of information. Such networks are complex systems in their organization and may exhibit a number of emergent properties . . . .

nihNetThe following excerpt is from a current article in Molecular Systems Biology. Click on the small illustration from the article at the right to see a chart of network relationships — which are the real world way in which life itself works. Instead of bundling a course or textbook in a pdf and tossing it online, how can we instead optimize the knowledge within the OER with some of these principles in the excerpt that follows by which our cells keep us alive and keep us thinking?

Despite their value in aggregating diverse and scattered information, protein networks inferred purely from data and those assembled from the literature suffer from significant and complementary weaknesses: reverse-engineered networks ignore a wealth of existing mechanistic information about individual proteins and reaction intermediates, whereas literature-based networks are too disconnected from functional data to encode input–output relationships. Thus, even the most comprehensive interactomes do not capture the logic of cellular biochemistry and—critically—cannot predict the responses of cells to specific biological stimuli. Two nodes in a node–edge graph might have a positive effect on a downstream node, but a graph alone cannot specify whether the target is active when only one upstream node is active or whether both must be on.

Why burying subject matter in curricula stifles learning

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Posted on 22nd November 2009 by Judy Breck in Animals, Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks and Open Content

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curriculumNet

Presenting subject matter to learn online inside of a curriculum or one of its courses causes extra steps for learners and teachers go through to find that subject matter. The illustration* above of the network structure of the internet shows why this is true.

frogByteFor example, in the network illustration above, the Frog Animal Bytes page from the San Diego Zoo could be the 4-dot webpage, with the green dot representing the upper left frog photo. Fortunately, in this case the excellent Animal Bytes pages each have their own urls, and can readily be found through searching online.

Because the Animal Bytes frog and Toad page is an independent url, it can be networked into curricula, independent study, science work and all sorts of subjects: jungles studies, flycatchers, comparative amphibians, and power jumpers, to name a few.

But when curriculum makers and aggregators make their users drill down into through curriculum to lecture to chapter before getting to the meat webpages of the subject matter, the benefits of open source and open content are pretty well lost. Putting curriculum materials online without making their knowledge assets findable on their own degrades the quality of learning. After all, can we suppose that curriculum makers will create a better frog page than the San Diego Zoo has? Yet if you look around at online curricula you will find that often (most often?) the folks who make the curricula do not connect out to the excellent resources like Animal Bytes. That needs to change.

*As I explain in my article where I first used this image, it is adapted from an article by by Natali Gulbahce and Sune Lehmann, from the BarabasiLab, and used with permission.

Little things acting together make music, molecules and ideas

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Posted on 17th October 2009 by Judy Breck in Biology, Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden swamp defined, Music and Open Content

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The thesis of golden swamp is that what we learn and know emerges in network patterns from little pieces — and that can happen in the idea ecosystem of the open internet as it does in our minds. Big, static structures like curricula do not work well in the open ecology, and need to be unbundled into small pieces that can interact freely.

The two marvelous videos embedded above and below show the dynamics of small pieces emerging into music and molecules. That is very similar to what happens when you or I think. That is also what happens online when a learner connects interlinkable bits of knowledge.

The narrator of the molecule video says that, “Ribosomes can make any kind of protein. It just depends on what kind of genetic message you feed it on the RNA.” The music machine is also being fed a string of information code which it follows to activate the balls. Future curricula will include strings of information to activate online patterns of virtual bits of what is known by humankind.

Connecting ideas on the nano internet

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Posted on 15th October 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability and Networks

foldingDNA

The image in the illustration above shows how a string that binds to different parts of a string of DNA causes a new configuration. Why not use the same principle to bind the meaning of small hunks of meaning in the open online ecology? When you think about it, something like that is already happening through tagging. Webpages with the same tags are clumped together during keyword searching.

Most importantly, the principle that is illustrated suggests what could be done by working at the nano level of the internet to enrich content. The illustration demonstrates that reducing ideas to their very small components makes possible new and multiple combinations. Typical educational curricula start from the whole big idea, restricting the flexibility of the pieces that compose the subject.

You will see that I am extrapolating an idea that is a stretch from the subject in the TED talk by Paul Rothemund where I found the illustration. It is a very interesting talk on DNA Origami. Clicking the illustration will take you to the talk.

Digital riches are not in little boxes

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Posted on 9th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Biography, Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Literature, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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In its front page article titled “As Classrooms Go Digital, Textbooks Are History,” the New York Times mentions in passing the fabulous opportunity to multiply the riches of education letting students access their subjects online. The reporter, Tamar Lewin, does a thorough job of hitting all of the key points from the traditional edu power players: the schools and the publishers. We learn that when classrooms go digital state standards are mapped and textbooks are online instead of printed. The school/publisher mindset is to serve up subjects in little boxes: standards, textbook chapters, curricula, etc. So, the challenge for the usual edu suspects has been to keep the stuff students use in those boxes while somehow making the tools youngsters use to access them digital.

The misfit here is that online knowledge resources are networks. When you put a piece of a network in a box, what you can learn from it shrivels. It is clipped away from its cognitive connections. We are left with kids who are connected on Facebook to dozens of friends and features — and for their “digital” study of a subject they are served up a little virtual box with a bit to learn in it that fits the standard of their grade and semester. Online networks of ideas are like critical thinking: they are in context and connect to related ideas. Here are a couple of samples; textbooks these are not; boxes they are not. They are networks:
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Trial of Zacarias Moussaoi
The Walt Whitman Archive

The Blue Brain waves patterns to educators

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Posted on 14th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Networks

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bluebrainMapSci
The Blue Brain project, first reported on GoldenSwamp in January 2008, is the subject today of a Wall Street Journal feature: In Search for Intelligence, a Silicon Brain Twitches. The illustration above compares excerpts of Blue Brain’s neural network construction (left) and connections in the internet among science articles from the Map of Science (right).

The left network is thicker because brain connectivity is thicker than the connectivity of ideas about science on the internet. But the same thing is happening in both places: a structure from which idea patterns emerge is present.

Of course, the Blue Brain is not flesh-and-blood. It is a model made of silicon, and yet, as the WSJ reports:

Dubbed Blue Brain, the simulation shows some strange behavior. The artificial “cells” respond to stimuli and suddenly pulse and flash in spooky unison, a pattern that isn’t programmed but emerges spontaneously.

“It’s the neuronal equivalent of a Mexican wave,” says Dr. Markram, referring to what happens when successive clusters of stadium spectators briefly stand and raise their arms, creating a ripple effect. Such synchronized behavior is common in flesh-and-blood brains, where it’s believed to be a basic step necessary for decision making. But when it arises in an artificial system, it’s more surprising.

The implications for this same sort of activity within networks of human knowledge online are a big “Hello” to educators — a Mexican wave, as it were, hailing them to harness the internet for reflecting knowledge to students.

Interacting web patterns, link love, and the literati

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Posted on 10th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Findability, Networks and SEO

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The internet is a swamp full of gold. It is the patterns of connections among the bits of gold that cause dross to float away and allow us to connect to refined and authenticated meaning. As I wrote in my last post: The fabulous adventures ahead for educators are to understand and make findable what Stuart Kauffman calls the “ceaselessly, co-constructing creativity” that describes the emergence.

The image above is derived from the actual internet swamp; it shows only a tiny portion of its complexity. To make the image I took a 400 pixel square from the Los Alamos Map of Science, a 400 pixel square from a Berkman Center mapping of Iran’s public blogs — and superimposed these two bits of networks. The science map depicts ideas interconnecting and the Iran map depicts points of persons connecting to the internet. (The Iran map does not depict the interconnections among the blogs, which are profuse in reality.)

A crucial key for educators to master and employ into the future is that the two kinds of swamp stuff these maps focus on interact to select and vet what forms the emergent patterns. If the blogging depicted were among chemists and their pattern of interaction included linking to some of the chemistry webpages in the science map, those webpages would get “link love” and get boosted on the findable scale for search engines.

Education is arriving late on the scene for appreciating the tools of online emergence. Suddenly now, the politicians are all over it. I wrote this post after reading Micah Sifry’s post today at Personal Democracy Forum titled Needed: Better Tools and Data for Understanding Social Media’s Role in #IranElection.

As chemists and historians and linguists and other literati twitter, blog, and link among themselves and with content pages they respect, they too cause useful, meaningful, golden patterns to emerge in the internet swamp.

Mobile-browsing the internet and the new learning

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Posted on 9th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning and Networks

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Last week I wrote about A fourth orb (world) for Roger Penrose’s diagram, and included an illustration with his 3 orbs and a fourth circle that I added representing the internet. Today I have added the little boy using his wireless device to browse the internet.

I have been working in recent weeks toward refining the focus of my GoldenSwamp.com blog. The illustration with the orbs and the boy mobile-browsing the internet pretty well captures where I am going. What the boy is doing changes education in ways that are almost too beautiful to be true.

Two big things are bringing the new global golden age of learning into view:

ONE: The amassing of the contents of Penrose’s 3 orbs within a single open venue where networking laws can refine the knowledge gold within the grand swamp of information. The process presents what humankind knows in a totally new, integrated way.

TWO: The individual mobile (untethered) device will soon connect everyone on the planet with the will and wits to use it into this knowledge.

The fabulous adventures ahead for educators are to understand and make findable what Stuart Kauffman calls “ceaselessly, co-constructing creativity” that describes the emergence. No longer separated by print and ivy walls, learning resources within the internet are for the first time experiencing the honing and enrichment of emergence.

Watch learning long tail emerge

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Posted on 14th April 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Mobile Learning and Networks

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This animation gives you a place to play with the long tail of study subject webpages. There are four subjects in the Emerger, with clickable samples of how they are connected into ideas that you can click to bring together to teach or learn.

One of the examples here, of comparisons of how Rembrandt depicted hands, seems like a small subject and simple detail. That is true, yet the comparison connects the greatest museums on the planet. Even young children can learn from the pattern that emerges of similarities and differences in the depictions, and for painting scholars the lessons are sophisticated.

Next week I will be using this Emerger animation that I created a couple of years ago in my talk at Design4Mobile. If you are attending, you might want to check out the Emerger here for a look at what I will be discussing. For mobilists, a crucial criteria of creating handschooling is to deliver the long tail you can play with in the Emerger.

The Black Cat on this iPhone is not an app

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Posted on 5th March 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Literature, Mobile Learning and Open Content

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The image here shows a highly readable text (clearer on the phone than in the photo) of The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe coming through the Safari browser of my iPhone. The text is from the comprehensive and authoritative collection of Poe works at the website of The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. The Society is an open source for reading Poe’s work on any mobile online browser.

Transitional reading through apps
The app store phase in which mobile content delivery now finds itself cannot be the comprehensive and authoritative venue for future mobile learning content. For one thing, there is no reason to duplicate the open collection at the Society of Baltimore for delivery by one or more app stores. There are thousands of content websites already available for academic topics ranging from the humanities and arts through the sciences and technologies, and essentially everything else studied in education. It is a huge and unnecessary effort to organize all of that again for one application and then another.

In the case of works like Poe’s, which are in the public domain, the adjustments to what is available already for larger screens for reading in a mobile browser are highly doable. We need to be perfectly clear that protecting copyrights and making money are the motivations for pushing reading matter through app stores. I am not saying that is not okay. I am only suggesting that long range, accessing reading material — and most other study subject collections — through browsers will prevail.