The State of the Net

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The two most discussedtopics at the professional meetings that I have recently attended arethe need for on-going staff development and the more effective use ofthe Internet for teaching and learning. The following questions onthe use of the Internet, which were raised by Gordon Davies,Commissioner for Higher Education in Virginia at Educom's NationalLearning Infrastructure Initiative meeting in 1995, are as relevanttoday for both K-12 and higher education.

  • D'es it make learning more accessible?
  • D'es it promote improved learning?
  • D'es it accomplish the above while containing costs, if not reducing the per unit costs of education?

The use of the Net iscausing educators from preschool to graduate school to rethink howinformation should be presented and the release of teaching andlearning from the physical boundaries of classrooms and the timerestraints of class schedules. Quality Education Data (QED) aresearch firm based in Denver, Colorado, in their recent reportInternet Usage in Public Schools 1998 (3rd edition) point out someinteresting findings. These include:

  • By the end of the 1998-99 school year, 96% of public schools are projected to have Internet access.
  • In the U.S., 65% of teachers use the Internet in teaching, an increase of 17% over 1997. When asked how often the Internet was used as a teaching aid, either at home or at school, 81% of respondents said they use the Internet at least once a week. Another popular use is to access curricular material.
  • Nearly half of the teachers use the Internet for professional development.
  • Lack of time to practice was mentioned as the greatest barrier to the effective use of the Internet as a teaching tool. Budget restriction is the second greatest barrier.
  • Twenty percent of teachers reported a decrease in the use of textbooks and 40% reported an increase in the use of instructional computer software as a result of the Internet.
  • Eighty-eight percent of teachers are comfortable with their Internet skills. For a copy of this QED report, call 1-800-525-5811.


 

InterestingProjects

Many examples ofinteresting projects using the Net exist. A number of these werepresented at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC)held in San Diego, Calif., June 22-24, 1998. For example:

  • Online professional development opportunities are offered to teachers and administrators on the Internet. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, through their Web site, offer online professional development, which shows how to use e-mail, Web browsers and other electronic resources as tools to enhance instruction and improve student achievement (http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/). Opportunity is also provided for teachers to submit lesson plans to a centralized database correlated to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. The database (http://www.learnne.org) contains lesson plans designed by teachers.
  • Communications Language and Assessment in a Student Centered System (CLASS) project is "creating an accredited high school diploma for delivery sequence on the World Wide Web." The Department of Distance Education of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was the recipient of $10 million in federal funding to develop the project. When completed, 54 CLASS courses will be available. Currently, four courses are ready (http://class.unl.edu).
  • In the state of Missouri, development is under way to construct statewide performance standards. More than 100 exemplar assessments are currently available for a wide variety of levels and content areas. This growing database includes submissions from national, state and district levels (http://tiger.c'e.missouri.edu/).
  • An interactive Web project will enable students to utilize powerful scientific simulations including climate modeling and dispersion of atmospheric pollutants. The National Education Supercomputer Program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory gives K-12 students access to a Cray Computer 215 via the Internet (http://nebbs.llnl/gov/).

With all the enthusiasm onthe use of the Internet for teaching and learning, some concerns mustnot be overlooked. One of the most often repeated complaints is thatstudents are not taught how to locate or access the requiredinformation. Also, parents and teachers want to ensure that theinformation is valuable and worthwhile.

Furthermore, the role ofthe teacher is not fully understood. As stated by R. Burniske,University of Texas at Austin, and Margaret Riel, Center forCollaborative Research in Education, University of California,Irvine, in their presentation at NECC: "The Internet provides avehicle for student interaction but d'es not ensure successfulcollaboration. While computer networks afford the opportunity forinteraction, teachers remain critical in inspiring students, planningand supervising e-mail exchanges, and helping a community of inquiryconstruct knowledge and meaning."

 

NewOpportunities

More and more schools,universities, businesses and governments are using the capabilitiesprovided by the Internet. People are finding new ways to shop, tocommunicate and to learn. Internet commerce is growing at aphenomenal rate.

The Internet 2 project isfocused on the development and implementation of new networkcapabilities. According to Dr. Douglas E. Van Houweling, Presidentand CEO of the University Corporation for Advanced InternetDevelopment (UCAID), "Opening new horizons in education, reinventingcampus networks, transforming the global Internet, and re-affirmingthe partnership between academia, industry and government that hasbeen so effective in advancing the state of the Net over the lastthree decades all are ambitious goals but certainly within ourreach."

It all sounds veryexciting. Events are developing rapidly. The prediction is that by2010 the Internet as we know it will no longer exist. There will justbe an ubiquitous broadband capability accessible through a variety ofinformation providers. However, we still have to get from here tothere. Educators must be given the opportunity and time to learn thetechnical and pedagogical skills necessary to use the Internet toassist in teaching and learning.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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