Classroom Web Sites and Student Success

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->Welcome to the Information Age. We are living in a time of monumental change in the way society interacts. The world has shrunk to an astoundingly small size as a result of the Internet. I teach chemistry and physics at Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, MN. As a science teacher, I feel it is critical that I stay on the edge of these technological advancements. I was feeling a little left behind when it came to the Web as a result of my ignorance to anything beyond surfing the Internet; but I recognize the Internet as an extremely effective communication tool.

Computers are certainly not new to education. My first computer class was basic programming on a Commodore PET computer in 1981. At the time, teachers were learning about computers right beside the students. The power and possibilities of this new contraption was recognizable even then. Because technology has grown at such a dizzying rate, educators have not put this tool to the many uses that were originally envisioned for it. Public schools have recognized the need for technology. According to the Department of Education's Quality Education Data, there are now 200 computers per 1,000 pupils nationwide, as opposed to 1984 when there were essentially no computers. In addition, nearly 75 percent of public school classrooms are now connected to the Internet. However, many teachers still do not take full advantage of the Web as an educational tool. Fewer than 20 percent of teachers use the Internet for lesson planning and less than 10 percent utilize the Internet to communicate with parents (Symonds 2000).

As a tool, there is a plethora of resources on the Web for teachers and students. One can casually browse and find information on nearly any topic they choose. Educational support, supply companies and textbook publishers have resource sites to aid teachers in lesson planning and product support. Some high schools and universities offer distance learning where students can enroll and earn credit for courses taken entirely online.

Many of these developments are in response to a push to get more qualified workers into the market. Computers have transformed industries and society. One simply has to look at the growth of computers in American homes to see how important we view this technology. Since 1984, the percentage of American homes that have a computer rose from 8.2 percent to 51 percent in 2000. Even more dramatic is that Internet access has gone from 18.6 percent in 1998 to 41.5 percent in 2000.

Why a Web Site

Because the Internet is a powerful communication tool for teachers, students, parents and the community, it makes sense to develop a Web site that provides information about what is going on in school. The greatest concern for educators is time. A classroom Web site is a great idea as long as it is manageable. I decided to build a classroom Web site for myself, my students, their parents and the community, so that everyone is well-informed of what I am doing in class.

HTML is the language of the Internet. I am familiar with computer programming and what it takes to learn a high-level computer programming language. While studying for my undergraduate degree at Hamline University, I took courses in Basic, Pascal and Assembly languages. I was not prepared for, nor did I have the desire to learn another computer language. I decided that HTML was definitely not for me. To place information on the Web, I choseMicrosoft's FrontPage 2000 to generate my Web pages, and Blackboard.com, a free Web site service designed to get teachers online, to post all of the school-related information. FrontPage 2000 is very nice for generating pages, working as a synthesis of several of the Microsoft Office products, including Word and PowerPoint. I found that it is easier to drag-and-drop than use Front Page to learn HTML.

Deciding what to in-clude on the Web site was an important step. My first concern was to identify my audience. My primary focus was on my students and their successes, so I considered their needs when setting up the site. I surveyed the students to see what they would find most useful. What I found was that they wanted the class schedule, assignments and due dates, study guides, a discussion board, handouts and grades posted on the site. So far, I have all but the grades posted. I am currently developing a way to post grades and missing assignments while maintaining student confidentiality.

The problem I faced using FrontPage was that I could only update the site from home, which is why I chose Blackboard.com for my school-related items. The site is easy to set up and seems to be secure, but the best part is its power. You can do almost anything on Blackboard.com, including posting assignment due dates, conducting online research, attaching printable handouts and viewing discussion boards. Students can even hand in homework electronically on the site.

My Research

Now that I have developed this Web site, my next task was to determine if the students using the site find it helpful. To accomplish this, I employed "action research." "Action research is systematic inquiry for the purpose of developing the quality of life and learning of a community" (Peckover 2000). I am discovering that there are many facets to conducting this kind of research. My focus is on whether the students are using the site and if it seems to be helping the students succeed.

My chemistry and physics students are very busy people. They have heavy-course loads, are involved in extracurricular activities, have jobs and social lives. They needed to have an additional source of information they could access to find out what is going on in class, what the assignments are and when they are due. Nearly all of my students (99 percent) have Internet access at home, so the natural thing to do was put the information out there for them. I anticipate the students will use this Web site and that it will positively affect their performance by ensuring they have their assignments in on time, and will be more prepared for projects and exams.

I have been collecting the grade-book results for each quarter this year and have been comparing these results to previous years. I am looking at the average number of missing and late assignments and also the class average grade for the quarter. In addition, I am planning to include a hit counter as evidence that the students are really using the site.

After the first quarter, the hit counter read 1,067. I also noted that just prior to a recent exam, there were 47 hits in one day. The missing assignments are giving me a mixed message. Last year, my first-quarter chemistry class showed a 2.9 percent missing assignment rate, compared to 3.2 percent during the same period this year. What I did not expect to see were the improvements made as far as the average score is concerned. The average score for last year's class was 80.9 percent, and this year's average is 87.2 percent. I see improvements in both fields for my physics classes. Last year's missing assignment rate was 3.9 percent first quarter, and this year's was only 2.4 percent. In addition, the class average score increased from 80.5 percent last year to 85.4 percent this year.

This information is encouraging. My plan is to continue monitoring student achievement and conduct some surveysto find out what the students' thoughts are about the site, what they find useful and what improvements they would like to see. What is nice about the site is how dynamic it is. The more I work with it, the more I learn about it and the better it gets. The hardest part is taking the time to keep it updated. But based on the evidence, the time is well spent.

Matthew Washenberger is a chemistry and physics teacher and a member of the technology committee at Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, MN. He received his bachelor's in physics from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. He is an educational technology consultant for Saint Mary's University in Winona, MN.

E-mail: Matt.Washenberger@mail.moundsview.k12.mn.us

URL: http://www.geocities.com/mjwash1/Home1.htm

References

Peckover, R. B. "Mapping the Process of Action Research." MPAR. Fall 2000, 1-15.

Symonds, W. C. "Wired Schools." Business Week, 25 September 2000, 116-128.Welcome to the Information Age. We are living in a time of monumental change in the way society interacts. The world has shrunk to an astoundingly small size as a result of the Internet. I teach chemistry and physics at Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, MN. As a science teacher, I feel it is critical that I stay on the edge of these technological advancements. I was feeling a little left behind when it came to the Web as a result of my ignorance to anything beyond surfing the Internet; but I recognize the Internet as an extremely effective communication tool.

Computers are certainly not new to education. My first computer class was basic programming on a Commodore PET computer in 1981. At the time, teachers were learning about computers right beside the students. The power and possibilities of this new contraption was recognizable even then. Because technology has grown at such a dizzying rate, educators have not put this tool to the many uses that were originally envisioned for it. Public schools have recognized the need for technology. According to the Department of Education's Quality Education Data, there are now 200 computers per 1,000 pupils nationwide, as opposed to 1984 when there were essentially no computers. In addition, nearly 75 percent of public school classrooms are now connected to the Internet. However, many teachers still do not take full advantage of the Web as an educational tool. Fewer than 20 percent of teachers use the Internet for lesson planning and less than 10 percent utilize the Internet to communicate with parents (Symonds 2000).

As a tool, there is a plethora of resources on the Web for teachers and students. One can casually browse and find information on nearly any topic they choose. Educational support, supply companies and textbook publishers have resource sites to aid teachers in lesson planning and product support. Some high schools and universities offer distance learning where students can enroll and earn credit for courses taken entirely online.

Many of these developments are in response to a push to get more qualified workers into the market. Computers have transformed industries and society. One simply has to look at the growth of computers in American homes to see how important we view this technology. Since 1984, the percentage of American homes that have a computer rose from 8.2 percent to 51 percent in 2000. Even more dramatic is that Internet access has gone from 18.6 percent in 1998 to 41.5 percent in 2000.

X@XOpenTag000Why a Web SiteX@XCloseTag000

Because the Internet is a powerful communication tool for teachers, students, parents and the community, it makes sense to develop a Web site that provides information about what is going on in school. The greatest concern for educators is time. A classroom Web site is a great idea as long as it is manageable. I decided to build a classroom Web site for myself, my students, their parents and the community, so that everyone is well-informed of what I am doing in class.

HTML is the language of the Internet. I am familiar with computer programming and what it takes to learn a high-level computer programming language. While studying for my undergraduate degree at Hamline University, I took courses in Basic, Pascal and Assembly languages. I was not prepared for, nor did I have the desire to learn another computer language. I decided that HTML was definitely not for me. To place information on the Web, I choseMicrosoft's FrontPage 2000 to generate my Web pages, and Blackboard.com, a free Web site service designed to get teachers online, to post all of the school-related information. FrontPage 2000 is very nice for generating pages, working as a synthesis of several of the Microsoft Office products, including Word and PowerPoint. I found that it is easier to drag-and-drop than use Front Page to learn HTML.

Deciding what to in-clude on the Web site was an important step. My first concern was to identify my audience. My primary focus was on my students and their successes, so I considered their needs when setting up the site. I surveyed the students to see what they would find most useful. What I found was that they wanted the class schedule, assignments and due dates, study guides, a discussion board, handouts and grades posted on the site. So far, I have all but the grades posted. I am currently developing a way to post grades and missing assignments while maintaining student confidentiality.

The problem I faced using FrontPage was that I could only update the site from home, which is why I chose Blackboard.com for my school-related items. The site is easy to set up and seems to be secure, but the best part is its power. You can do almost anything on Blackboard.com, including posting assignment due dates, conducting online research, attaching printable handouts and viewing discussion boards. Students can even hand in homework electronically on the site.

X@XOpenTag001My ResearchX@XCloseTag001

Now that I have developed this Web site, my next task was to determine if the students using the site find it helpful. To accomplish this, I employed "action research." "Action research is systematic inquiry for the purpose of developing the quality of life and learning of a community" (Peckover 2000). I am discovering that there are many facets to conducting this kind of research. My focus is on whether the students are using the site and if it seems to be helping the students succeed.

My chemistry and physics students are very busy people. They have heavy-course loads, are involved in extracurricular activities, have jobs and social lives. They needed to have an additional source of information they could access to find out what is going on in class, what the assignments are and when they are due. Nearly all of my students (99 percent) have Internet access at home, so the natural thing to do was put the information out there for them. I anticipate the students will use this Web site and that it will positively affect their performance by ensuring they have their assignments in on time, and will be more prepared for projects and exams.

I have been collecting the grade-book results for each quarter this year and have been comparing these results to previous years. I am looking at the average number of missing and late assignments and also the class average grade for the quarter. In addition, I am planning to include a hit counter as evidence that the students are really using the site.

After the first quarter, the hit counter read 1,067. I also noted that just prior to a recent exam, there were 47 hits in one day. The missing assignments are giving me a mixed message. Last year, my first-quarter chemistry class showed a 2.9 percent missing assignment rate, compared to 3.2 percent during the same period this year. What I did not expect to see were the improvements made as far as the average score is concerned. The average score for last year's class was 80.9 percent, and this year's average is 87.2 percent. I see improvements in both fields for my physics classes. Last year's missing assignment rate was 3.9 percent first quarter, and this year's was only 2.4 percent. In addition, the class average score increased from 80.5 percent last year to 85.4 percent this year.

This information is encouraging. My plan is to continue monitoring student achievement and conduct some surveysto find out what the students' thoughts are about the site, what they find useful and what improvements they would like to see. What is nice about the site is how dynamic it is. The more I work with it, the more I learn about it and the better it gets. The hardest part is taking the time to keep it updated. But based on the evidence, the time is well spent.

Matthew Washenberger is a chemistry and physics teacher and a member of the technology committee at Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, MN. He received his bachelor's in physics from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. He is an educational technology consultant for Saint Mary's University in Winona, MN.

E-mail: Matt.Washenberger@mail.moundsview.k12.mn.us

URL: http://www.geocities.com/mjwash1/Home1.htm

X@XOpenTag002ReferencesX@XCloseTag002

Peckover, R. B. "Mapping the Process of Action Research." MPAR. Fall 2000, 1-15.

Symonds, W. C. "Wired Schools." Business Week, 25 September 2000, 116-128.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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