The Importance of Reliable Online Sources
A couple of weeks before writing this column, my wife, Caralyn, and I were truly grateful that we had access to the Internet. Our middle daughter, Kali, suddenly developed a numbness and paralysis on the right side of her face. By the time we found out about this, she was already in the emergency room. On our way there we were able to get information about her condition from a friend who is a medical doctor. We explained the symptoms as someone who was with Kali at the hospital described them to us. The doctor informed us it was probably Bell's palsy - an inflammation of the facial nerve that causes paralysis of half the face - and said it was very treatable. Still, we were both concerned when we heard the words "palsy" and "paralysis." We arrived at the hospital and saw that Kali's face was obviously paralyzed on the right side. After spending some time with Kali, and being told that she would not be seen for at least three hours, I drove my wife home.
Caralyn immediately went to the Internet and did a search for Bell's palsy. The data she found was both consistent and reassuring that it was a temporary condition, which is indeed very treatable. Caralyn printed several pages of information that I brought to Kali when I went back to the hospital. The data helped relieve Kali's uncertainty and distress about the condition. When the doctor finally saw her, he confirmed it was Bell's palsy. As he discussed the cause and treatment, I was aware of everything the doctor told her. He also confirmed what we knew thanks to Caralyn's research and the information she found on the Net - from what we determined were reliable sources.
Monitoring the Internet
The good news about the Internet is that it's such a rich and powerful source of help, information and expertise. The bad news is that it provides an almost limitless amount of information and an ever-increasing supply of experts on just about every subject. The main concern for educators is how do they and their students locate the correct sources of information, as well as determine and identify what or who is a reliable source of information (i.e., those who have true expertise). In a report on technology in schools, the National Education Association (www.nea.org) mentions a university study which found that only 27% of the Web sites used for research by middle and high school students who took part in the study were considered reliable sources of information.
The question becomes do we, as educators, monitor the Internet and how our students use its information. Do we use filters allowing only what is considered age-appropriate material from what are known to be reliable sources? Or, do we not use filters at all and allow unlimited Web access for middle and high school students - concentrating on helping them determine what is reliable information from dependable sources. Either solution brings its own set of problems.
In reality, we are determining and defining the set of problems we prefer to deal with whenever we come up with a solution. If we decide to filter the things our students can be exposed to, the problems created include who makes those decisions - local school districts, states, the federal government, individual teachers, parents, service provider, etc. - and what criteria are used to decide what is reliable, appropriate and allowable. But, if we give our students unlimited Internet access, we run the risk of them going to sites that are inappropriate, controversial and irrelevant to the educational reasons for using the Internet.
Leaving a Legacy
I also want to personally reflect on the recent death of Dr. Sylvia Charp, who was editor-in-chief of T.H.E. Journal for 30 years. For five years during my tenure as editor-in-chief of Converge magazine, you could say we were rivals. But, in reality, we were both kindred spirits working to improve the quality and effectiveness of education through the use of technology.
I did not know Sylvia very well - only meeting her at conferences - but what I observed was her sincerity of purpose, her tremendous dedication to her work, as well as her willingness and ability to speak her mind and say precisely what she wanted to communicate directly and passionately. I remember a personal moment that meant a lot to me when Sylvia stopped me while passing her at a conference. She told me how much she appreciated the quality of Converge and that I was doing "fine work." To paraphrase a quote by late American psychologist and philosopher William James: Sylvia, you have truly affected eternity, and your influence will never stop. You have left a legacy to be admired. Thank you.
Bernard Percy (former editor-in-chief of Converge magazine) is a noted educator, author, producer and Senior Fellow at the Center for Digital Education. Contact him at [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.