What can the Internet do for my classroom?
Schools and classrooms are dynamic, interactive, social places, where teachers and students communicate, share information, and challenge each other's ideas. Teachers guide student learning by posing problems, encouraging student questions, and offering opportunities for students to find solutions. The resources and interactions in a classroom depend on the curriculum the class is working on and the beliefs of the teacher and school.
So how can the Internet assist students and teachers in reaching their educational objectives when schools are already such dynamic places? One answer to that is, "The Internet doesn't matter." Let's think about that for a second. When second graders are learning about the history of their town, it doesn't matter if they have an Internet connection. What does matter is talking to the residents of the town, the local historian, the fireman around the corner, and their parents. Teachers always make decisions about what resources students have access to and which resources will encourage and help them reach the educational objectives of the lesson they are studying.
As you continue to learn about the Net and how it can be used in your class, you will see that the same idea applies. There will be times when technology and the Internet make a lot of sense, and there will be times when technical resources are not needed. Teachers, as always, should select the resources they think best suit their objectives.
Dr. Bonnie Brownstein, co-Director of NETECH/City University of New York, explains how the Internet provides classroom advantages, even for the youngest learners.
The Internet basically expands the resources available and decreases the time and location dependencies that can be limiting factors in schools. It offers powerful and varied ways for students and teachers to interact, manipulate data, and conduct research.
The Internet is not an approach to education, but rather a tool that can be used with almost any educational theory. It makes additional information resources available, it enhances dynamic communication, and it makes collaboration easier by reducing the need for collaborators to be in the same place at the same time (they can simply e-mail each other at their convenience). Let's look at each of these enhancements -- expanded resources, dynamic resources, and reduced dependency on time and location -- one by one.
. Expanded Resources:
Consider some of the non-Internet resources that are traditionally available in schools: libraries, video, film strips, and CDs, to name a few. Because of budgetary and physical restrictions, schools can only have so many of these. There are documents, artifacts, and books that students in a typical school will never be able to access. In addition, many schools are working with outdated textbooks and materials.
Brooklyn elementary school teacher Janet Torkel discusses the advantages of using a Web site as an aide to science teaching at P.S. 200.
But the Net provides access to an amazing number of constantly updated and expanding resources and an incredible wealth of information.
For example, take a look at the following Web site:
The Library of Congress
. Dynamic Resources:
The Library of Congress houses a great deal of American history. Pre-Internet, unless your school was lucky enough to be located near the library, it was difficult to utilize its resources. If you have access to the Net, you can now review their collection of resources for American history (http://memory.loc.gov/), use their research services (http://www.loc.gov/library/) to help construct a lesson, or have students research Congressional decisions (http://thomas.loc.gov/)!
This is just the barest beginning -- there are many more such resources contained in this course, and many more on the Net.
Many educational resources and technologies are either static or broadcast media -- meaning that information is simply delivered to students, without offering any opportunity for them to interact with it.
There are times when it is appropriate to simply deliver information to students. However, much of the time, teachers wish to encourage students to interact with resources and other students. The researchers who developed the Net
wanted to ask critical research questions, locate resources based on those questions, and then discuss their findings with fellow researchers. The Net made it possible to do that. Teachers and students have that same opportunity on the Net today. Students can research information on the Web, discuss what they find with classmates or, if they're using e-mail, with students in another class or an expert in the field they are studying, and when they conclude their research they can publish theirwork on the Web. (However, effective use of this interaction and research opportunity depends on expert teaching. The range of resources and options students have access to on the Net is staggering. Specific focus and guidance from the teacher is critical.)
Winnifred Bolinsky, a fifth-grade teacher at Fogsville Elementary School in Allentown, PA, discusses the way the Internet offers students access to up-to-date information and real-life examples in a huge range of subjects.
An example of the dynamic nature of the Net can be seen at:
The Global School House
. Reduced Time and Location Dependency:
The Global School House provides research, lessons, and projects for teachers, as well as a way to discuss them (http://www.gsh.org/lists/index.html). Students can participate in a number of projects where they can interact with experts and students from around the world (http://www.gsh.org/pr/). These resources are effective because they are dynamic. It is teacher and student questioning and interaction that guides the project.
The Internet eliminates the need to be in the same place at the same time as the person or resource you are interacting with. There are technical requirements such as a computer with an Internet connection, but other than that, the world is at your door. The potential to have all the educational resources you need at home, at school, or anywhere you have a computer is now there. This is not to say that the interaction and dynamic of a classroom are going away; rather, they are growing. Away from school, students can ask questions that come to mind by sending e-mail to friends, teachers, or content experts; they can research materials at various Web sites; and they can submit their work for review from anywhere at any time. The potential to expand students' learning time is tremendous.