How can I best use the Internet in my classroom?
The broad range of resources, the dynamic nature of the content, and the lack of time and location dependency of the Net create a great deal of classroom potential, but how can these best be utilized?
To help simplify how you can use the Net in your classroom, this section will focus on three processes that commonly take place in classrooms: communication and collaboration, research, and publication. These are by no means the only events that take place in a class, but they exemplify typical events in a teacher's or student's day.
Communication and Collaboration
Communicating with peers is an integral part of the learning process. Typically this communication takes place in the classroom, and consists of interaction between the teacher and the students in that room.
The Net provides the ability to expand that conversation to other classes of students, additional teachers, and content experts. These conversations and resources are not always necessary in a class, but the ability to increase the range of interactions, the variety of perspectives, and the breadth of the approaches students can take to solve a problem can only enrich the learning environment.
There are some sites on the Web that are specifically created to help expand communication among teachers and students. Here are some examples.
Educational Mailing Lists for Teachers:
The Net also provides a great opportunity for students to interact with each other, and to collaborate on projects. For instance, classes of students working on research papers can debate topics and exchange information through e-mail. This type of collaboration expands the range of opinions and ideas that students are challenged with as they complete projects.
The Educational Mailing List for Teachers provides an index to many educational mailing lists for teachers. These discussion groups cover topics from discussions on educational software to American Literature.
The Teachers Net provides a forum for teachers to discuss a broad range of topics that relate to classroom teaching. The discussions are supplemented by resources designed to support teachers.
Some examples of student collaboration can be seen at:
The Journey North Project
In addition to the wide range of experts and collaborations that are available online, the Net offers flexibility by reducing strict time dependence for interaction among students, teachers, and experts.
The Journey North Project coordinates over 4000 schools that share information and research on global wildlife migration. Students contribute their observations to form a global picture of migrations and the passing of seasons.
The GLOBE is an online environment where over 7000 schools worldwide work with researchers, teachers, and other students to develop an understanding of the global environment.
Research is by no means a new topic in schools, but again the Net offers students and teachers a new way to approach information and materials. One of the immediate benefits that the Net offers has been discussed earlier -- the proliferation of resources and materials that are now available to teachers and students through the Web.
Just a sample of research resources can be found at:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Net also offers two very new approaches to research in the classroom; that is, the wide availability of real data and simulations. The use of real data has always been a part of education, but with the introduction of the Net, the amount of data that is available in the classroom has grown greatly. With the Internet, students have access to global data sets. This, in conjunction with the Net's communication capacity, creates potential for very interesting projects.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a wide range of information online as well as an indexed collection of online museum and library links.
Some sample data sites can be seen at:
The U.S. Naval Observatory
Another aspect of researching is the ability to conduct experiments and evaluate the results. Most schools are equipped with labs and give students the opportunity to experiment. The Web does not replace hands-on experimentation, but it provides access to simulations of activities and resources that may be too expensive or unsafe for use in a classroom.
The U.S. Naval Observatory produces accurate data on everything from sunrise and sunset times anywhere on the planet to the real-time orientation, position, and movement of celestial objects. (http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.html).
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
NOAA provides an incredible range of information about our planet, from research on climate to the latest commercial-fishing harvest statistics.
Some samples of online simulations are:
The Virtual Frog
The Virtual Frog provides students with the ability to virtually dissect a frog (oddly named Fluffy). The frog dissection allows students to repeat experiments, to study the sample, and to make their own inquiries, without many of the problematic issues related to lab dissection.
The Visible Human Project
The Visible Human project provides teachers and students with resources previously only available to medical students. A digital-image data set of a complete human male and female cadaver in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and anatomical modes are available online, as are many other resources.
A student's final project should reflect his or her knowledge of the subjects and facts learned for a particular class. The Net allows teachers and students to think about the completed project differently than before -- as something that can be viewed by people around the world, and that can potentially add to the Net itself as a useful resource. Because of its visibility on the Net, the project can also generate feedback far beyond the grade given by the teacher.
By engaging students -- particularly those who find traditional teacher-centered learning difficult -- the Internet can help the students be more productive. The opportunity to create a Web site and make one's ideas public is very attractive for many students, and the tasks involved in Web design allow many talents (such as graphic-design, musical, and computing skills) to emerge. When students are excited about learning and expressing their ideas, their performance almost always improves. And since publication of student material online provides a much larger audience for it, it gives an additional reason for the students to take care and do their best, since potentially anyone could see the results.
As you consider the use of the Net in your classroom, the important thing to remember is the educational objective you want to achieve with your students. The Net can broaden students' access to information, increase their communication with others, and provide a powerful medium for publishing work. The objective of, say, a history lesson is not how to use the Net, it is to understand history, but the Net is a powerful tool that students and teachers can use to help that understanding.