The Internet for Educators and Homeschoolers: Introduction

by Steve Jones (

This excerpt is the introduction to the book The Internet for Educators and Homeschoolers from ETC Publications, Inc. (Palm Springs, CA). It is © by ETC Publications and Steve Jones, all rights reserved.

I would like to take you on a journey through the changes, opportunities and pitfalls that dot the "information superhighway" we have come to know as the Internet. My goal with this book is not to hold your hand along the way, nor is it to push you forward and watch you stumble. I have all too often seen technology foisted on people who do not really need it. Too little or too much information is provided to those who want to use technology. And there are too many instances when consultants have been brought in by schools or entire school districts. They convince some people (typically administrators) to bring new machines and methods into the organization, and then…they just leave, and leave behind a mess. They also leave behind people who are forced to try to find their way through a haze of new software, hardware, and jargon. I hope you will keep this book with you, that you will use it as a reference tool. It is deliberately designed to make sure you are not left behind at any point, including after you've finished reading it. You might read it from cover to cover, but you might just as well keep it around and refer to it from time to time as your needs change and develop, dipping into relevant chapters as the need arises.

What you will not find in this book are single-minded proclamations in the guise of "recommendations." It is not my business to prescribe what you should and should not do. You will not find information in these pages that will tell you which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) you should use, or which software and hardware are best, for two reasons. First, because such judgments of necessity change over time. Were I today to tell you that America Online is the best ISP, tomorrow we might find that TCI/@Home has leapt ahead. Today's hardware is typically tomorrow's doorstop (I'll have more to say on that in a later chapter). Tomorrow's hardware is typically absurdly expensive. Second, I have no stake in the technology beyond using it myself. No corporate entity has sponsored this book. I don't work for ISPs, hardware and software makers, or content providers. I have for many years worked for educational institutions, as a teacher and an administrator (when not writing books such as this or surfing the web, that is).

Instead of giving you pointless advice and platitudes, I would like to join you as you experience and use Internet-based technologies. I want to provide you with the information and ability to make decisions about Internet access and use on your own. I've been there, you could say. But we all have a long way to go. My greatest joy for many, many years now has been working with teachers, parents and students who seek to use new communication technologies for learning. I'd like to share the experiences and knowledge I have gained, working with students of all ages in a wide variety of settings, with you, whether you are just beginning to use these technologies or are as comfortable with a computer as you are with a pencil or a piece of chalk.

My goal has not been to write yet another "how-to-log-on-for-dummies" book. Those are a dime a dozen, or even freely available online. Nor is my goal to take over what you do in the classroom. Yes, computers can be a means of bringing all kinds of information to students. But you already bring them information, in the form of lectures, books, discussions, videos -- you name it.

What I want to do is show you how computers and the Internet can be useful to you as an educator, parent, or homeschooler. That usefulness may be in the classroom, but it also may be when you prepare lesson plans, or when you design a curriculum, or seek new teaching methods and skills. The important thing: no matter how much technology you have at hand, no matter how sophisticated it may be, it will be worthless if you can't use it in your day-to-day practice. If your school is equipped for it, you can use Internet technologies in the classroom. But even if you do not have easy Internet access in the classroom, or if you homeschool, you may find it an extremely useful tool outside the classroom setting. You can use it to prepare lesson plans, make professional contacts, and keep informed about the latest trends and innovations in teaching and learning.

I will help to guide you through the decisionmaking that goes into the implementation and use of most any Internet-related learning technology. Instead of telling you how you should do it, I want to help you to decide how you want to do it. I want you to be able to weigh the costs and benefits of using technology for teaching and learning, and make appropriate choices as you see fit.

To say that these are exciting times for education would be a great understatement, and it would be as great an understatement to say that these are challenging times for educators. There are many causes for the challenges educators face. And there are reasons to be excited and hopeful about the future of education. Perhaps when it comes to the Internet and education we have yet another "half-full/half-empty" glass. One's attitudes toward technology and computers can make all the difference. Our own belief is that information is power, and the better able you are to make informed judgments about how you want to use the Internet, the better the Internet will be for us all.

Trends in Education and Technology

A 1998 report by Market Data Retrieval (MDR) makes several important points concerning the role technology will play in education in coming years. From a survey of 47, 000 public, private and Catholic schools, MDR found that over 85% of public schools, 54% of private schools and 64% of Catholic schools had Internet access. But their report showed that many inequalities exist. Schools in high-poverty areas greatly lagged behind their counterparts in connectivity, as one might expect.

In his 1996 State of the Union address, President Clinton stated that:

  • 1. All teachers in the U.S. will have the training and support needed to help students learn to use computers and the Internet.

    2. All teachers and students will have modern computers in the classroom.

    3. Every classroom will be connected to the Internet.

    4. Software packages and Internet learning resources will be part of every school's curriculum.

  • We are far from achieving those goals, though we are on our to reaching them. But the MDR report notes that fewer than 10% of public schools nationwide can be considered "hi-tech." The ones that are hi-tech are typically elementary schools in rural areas with low enrollments, low minority population, and high instructional spending.

    Does that mean the rest of us will be unable to reach the goals President Clinton set out for the country? Of course not. It does mean there is much work to be done before we reach them. And, most importantly, even though one may not be hi-tech, there are still useful things technology can bring to teaching and homeschooling, often at little, or even no, financial cost.

    A theme running throughout this book is the need for continual evaluation of the use and value of computers and the Internet in education. A report published in late 1998 by the Educational Testing Service stated that computers used for math drills were ineffective and that children using computers were not well prepared to do basic math. However, that same report stated that using simulations to teach math, rather than using drills, resulted in higher math test scores. A Washington Post article reporting on the study carried the headline, "Study Links Lower Grades to Computer Use." That same day a New York Times article about the same study carried the headline, "Computers Help Math Learning, Study Finds." Clearly, something is going on here that has less to do with computers and more with attitudes toward them. In terms of teaching, what should be clear is that what matters is not that they are used for teaching, but how they are used. And that end of things is up to you. Be aware, be skeptical, be critical, and by all means keep watch on your students' learning.

    The Plan

    I have organized this book to serve as a guide and reference tool that you can use beyond a single, cover-to-cover reading. The first section of the book will focus on the "nuts-and-bolts" issues related to getting on the Internet. The first chapter, "What is the Internet?" will explain the concept of the Internet as a "network of networks" and provide some of the history and background that can help you understand its development. You'll find explanations of Internet protocols like the WorldWideWeb (WWW), electronic mail, file transfer protocol (FTP), as well as an explanation of the Internet's organization that will help you find information online. It will clarify distinctions between the Internet and the types of software and services used to access it.

    Chapter two will guide you through the variety of resources specifically of use to educators. Confused about WorldWideWeb, Usenet, FTP, telnet, Gopher? This chapter will explain those tools, with special emphasis on the access requirements and educational resources each provides. Chapter three will explain the basic requirements for hardware, software, and service providers. It will discuss alternative access options (such as cable modems, public access sites, and WebTV). In chapter three, we will provide guidelines with which you can evaluate your needs and the services you require. This chapter will guide you through the maze of freeware, shareware, and software, and describe methods of acquiring software available free or at low cost to educators. It will also cover means of procuring inexpensive (even, sometimes, free) hardware items. Federal, state, and corporate programs exist that can provide you with most everything you need to gain Internet access at virtually no cost. It will also discuss issues related to maintaining a computer used for Internet access.

    After the first section of the book tells you how to get on the Internet, the second section of the book will help you get the most from being online. Chapter four will acquaint you with the Internet's "Rules of the Road," and will explain the concept, and importance, of "netiquette." It will discuss some of the complex legal and ethical issues involved in using the Internet for education. Chapter five will discuss the Internet's place in learning and in the classroom. It will explain some of the mechanics of using the Internet as a teaching tool, and help you prepare for the unexpected. For example, how do we ensure that Internet use in the classroom is focused on student learning and not on "browsing" or other activities counterproductive to the classroom environment? How do we ensure that students access specific sites, or, as importantly, that they not access inappropriate ones? Chapter six will help you get started using computers and the Internet in the classroom with some practical tips and advice for getting the most out of technology. It will provide several models for Internet use in an educational setting, and serve as a guide to your own efforts to implement the Internet as a learning tool in conjunction with other learning tools you may already be using. It will also provide information about getting support for your online efforts, from computer clubs and user groups, for instance, with which you can share information and get help.

    The final section of the book will help you to understand the broader issues involved in implementing the Internet as a teaching and learning tool. Chapter seven will discuss distance learning/distance education and its advantages and disadvantages. It will examine the existing approaches to distance learning, and discuss the ways students, educators and homeschoolers can choose among the variety of distance offerings available online, as well as provide some pointers should you yourself wish to offer courses online. Chapter eight will cover the basics of creating Internet opportunities for networks of multiple users, from classroom and lab settings to larger communities of users. It will include discussion of community networking initiatives that are of particular interest to educators. It will also provide examples of innovative approaches by towns, villages, local utility companies, cable and telecommunications providers, working together to provide Internet services for education. The chapter will conclude with a description of how you might galvanize the energy of students, parents, educators, channel it to proper areas, and get into the "Internet game" as a community of learners. The book's last chapter will discuss the place of computers and the Internet in the homeschool environment.

    Let's Get (Logged) On With It

    An important point before we get started. It is probable that you will run across something that you don't understand or can't make sense of. There is a glossary at the end of the book, and an appendix with helpful Internet-based resources, that you can consult. But you don't need to know everything to get something out of the Internet. As fast as technology changes, it's not possible to know it all. I have tried to avoid overloading you with information, and instead have sought to tell you what you really need to know to get the most out of educational uses for the Internet. If you really want to be a whiz at computers and the Internet this book will set you on the right path.

    It is my sincere hope that you will find, as I have, that Internet use can enhance education in ways limited only by our imagination. As the Internet has brought us closer to the realization of a "global village," we should be particularly energized by the notion that we can also build a "global schoolhouse" from which we can learn about the world, and by which we can teach the world about ourselves. The Internet can take us on a journey around the world in a matter of moments &emdash; it is up to us to figure out where we want to go with it. And it is imperative that we make it a good place to go.

    The Internet for Educators and Homeschoolers table of contents


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