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Learning is linked to connectedness

In author James Burke's "Knowledge Web," the history of medicine includes Winnie the Pooh and the invention of the spinning wheel leading to the Protestant Reformation.

The new Web site, which Burke introduced while launching the 2003 Dewey Lecture Series in the auditorium of the Salt Lake City Main Library Saturday, seems to indicate how oddly information can be connected.

Such "interconnectedness" is also the point of the Dewey lecture series, which is designed to bring people together at the new library by featuring various speakers addressing a range of topics, said Nancy Tessman, director of the Salt Lake Library who introduced Burke.

She said she thought Burke would be perfect to launch the series.

Burke is a native of Ireland and a British historical scientist. Throughout his career as a journalist, author and TV host, he is most known in the United States for his 10-part, 1979 PBS series "Connections," which revealed links among science, history, social change and technology.

He showed the packed library auditorium that overflowed into the lobby a Web site, www.k-web.org, that he said should be operational in 2004.

He said the Web site will be free to all colleges, schools and libraries. The site makes seemingly random connections (like Winnie the Pooh and blood typing) within science, literature and technology. It provides a 3D framework to map people, places, events and innovations. All the work on the Web site is done by volunteers, he said.

The site looks much like a solar system. At the center is the subject that a student wants to learn more about; every bit of history connected to it orbits around the center. When a student clicks on a connection, that connection then becomes the center with many new links orbiting around it.

Burke said looking at history in this way essentially provides non-linear teaching that leads to innovation

"We're trying to get kids to take journeys through these things," he said. "We're trying to tell them that it's much more fun when you look at things in this way."

The Web site, he said, would help kids see thatwhat they do affects everything else.

"Information causes change," said Burke. "If it doesn't, it's not information. You're sitting in a seat: That's not information. The person next to you has a communicable disease: Now that's information."

One can gather information, but if you can't connect it, it is of little value, he said.


E-mail: jthompson@desnews.com