The Promise and Challenge of a Connected World
The Internet has impacted nearlyevery aspect of our culture — from the way we communicate with friends andfamily, to how we conduct business, to how we shop and everything else inbetween. The Internet has certainly touched our educational system, and as moreand more schools become connected, that influence will become even clearer.
Along with the connectivity comes a whole new set ofchallenges in the classroom. Who will provide Internet curricula? Who willtrain teachers to use it? And if teachers aren’t trained to use the Internet,as many reports are now showing, how will students learn to use it for morethan games, chat and buying music? Statistics indicate that only half of alleducators have received some sort of formal technology training and only 20% ofall teachers say they are well prepared to use technology in their classrooms.These issues are prominent in the mind of the public, and the U.S. Governmentis taking a continued aggressive role in addressing the opportunities thataccompany connectivity in schools.
Equity of access is also becoming a highly discussed topic,because the few schools that are not connected to the Internet face a distinctdisadvantage. Further, the issue is not confined merely to connectivity. Wemust still address the issues surrounding schools that are connected to theInternet, but have too few computers per school. In addition, many teachers,parents and children do not have access to the Internet outside of theclassroom.
It is timely to note that President Clinton, in his finalState of the Union Address (January 27, 2000), specifically addressed the topicof schools and connectivity and the fact that as a society, we must empowerparents with more information and more choices. President Clinton has said thateducation and the Internet rank as a top priority in our country and therefore,more funding will become available for schools and classrooms to becomeconnected across the nation.
It is encouraging that the federal government continues totake a leadership role in the vision and support of the Internet in all aspectsof society, including the continued national support and funding for educationand the Internet. The support of the government helps assure that we will moveforward in the quest to make education, the Internet, and learning resourcesavailable to all, both at school and at home.
The following areas are key to ensuring that the Internet isa useful and friendly tool for all, especially in relationship to oureducational system. The four areas outlined below are necessary in order toestablish a solid foundation. You must start with the basic technology, trainthe users of that technology, make meaningful information available to theusers and, finally, there must be ongoing support from the community.
Access to Technology
As a society, we are moving toward the goal of makingtechnology available to all. This is being accomplished through the support ofthe educational system, private and public businesses, the government, and avariety of other supporters. In our schools, we must aim for higherconnectivity and make computers and Internet access more widely available. Wemust make sure that parents have avenues through which they can connect withthe schools and teachers. If a parent d'es not have a computer or Internet accessat home, then perhaps they have the option to access these tools at their placeof work.
Most community libraries have computers and Internet accessreadily available, as do local community centers and places of worship. Thesame equity of access issues are equally important to our teachers so that theycan connect from outside the walls of the classroom. The key is to make oursociety keenly aware of just how easy it is to become connected. As a society,we have a responsibility to make sure these resources are available in ourschools, libraries and community centers.
Once the technology is available, wemust train the users to take advantage of this wonderful tool. Withouttraining, we can not realize the full value of all of the resources that are aclick away on the Internet. It is imperative that basic training on the use ofthe Internet and computers is made widely available to all, in a format that iseasy to use and cost effective.
Training can be made available in a number of differentways, whether through an onsite method (including training classes with aninstructor), training through books and manuals, or training in an onlineenvironment.
Depending upon the needs of the individual, the appropriatetraining method can be determined. A “just-in-time” approach is usuallypreferable: choosing the right time, the right place and the right informationfor the situation and person. This may be the preferred way to support anever-changing and sometimes unpredictable environment.
Learning Resources on the Internet
Another key component that is necessary to support theultimate success of connectivity is to make credible learning resourcesavailable. The Internet is a powerful tool. It is up to all of us to harnessthat power and channel our efforts into making certain that when our parents,students and teachers go online, there are multitudes of learning resources athand. These resources can include everything from content-rich Web sites, tolinks to research sites, to online products that teach a variety of subjectsfrom mathematics to social studies. The possibilities are unlimited, and wemust all work together to provide these resources to all.
The current reality is that most Internet users areill-equipped to take advantage of the Internet’s vast resources. In fact,statistics indicate that many Internet users do not know how to tap theavailable information. Instead of accessing the wealth of information thatresides on the Internet, most users only browse sites, search randomly, andsend e-mail messages. The opportunities that exist are far beyond thosecapabilities, and it is only a matter of training people and making them awareof the resources that exist.
The responsibility to “mainstream” the use of the Internetmust become a cooperative effort between our schools, parents, teachers,private and public businesses and the government. Each entity plays animportant role that affects the overalleffectiveness of connectivity.
I believe the role of business and its interaction with theeducational system is of great importance, and that philosophy has played a keyrole in the decision to co-found wwwrrr — an online training, communication andeducation company. Formed in March 1999 in response to national concerns overthe Internet’s place in education, wwwrrr offers a line of products andservices that enables all teachers, students and parents to use the Internetmore effectively, with online technology that transforms the World Wide Webinto a friendly, useful environment for learning.
Understandably, wwwrrr chairman Dale LaFrenz and I felt thatthere needed to be a total Internet solution for the education system, and webased this observation and evaluation on our years of experience as educators,as well as our experience in business. As a brief background, Dale and I workedtogether as part of the management team of the Minnesota Educational ComputingCorporation (MECC), which Dale founded. MECC is credited with developingnationally acclaimed software such as Oregon Trail.
We strongly believe that businesses such as wwwrrr can helpprovide solutions by offering communications products that link parents toschools and help them stay in touch with teachers. In addition, there must beeasy-to-use learning and training products. The learning products must helpteachers and parents enrich and support student learning, and the trainingproducts should be easy to use and designed to enable teachers, parents andstudents to use technology more effectively.
On a final note, it is exciting to see the rapid movementtoward connectivity for all, accompanied by equity of access. Each and everyone of us can help shape the successful outcome. Businesses can support theseefforts by providing products and services that offer Internet solutions. Thegovernment can make funding and support available on a national level. Teachersand parents can work together with their schools to form committees and groupsthat help support teaching and training initiatives and open lines ofcommunication to better meet the needs of all.
wwwrrr can be contacted at
(877) 999-7771 or www.wwwrrr.com.
This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.