REFLECTIONS ON ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
THE INTERNET AND EDUCATION
Stop LANGUAGE ARTS
This website has 140 educational links to websites for students and educators plus another 19 websites for commentary and expert analysis exploring educational reforms integrating Internet into the process of education. The portals are KidsSafe and in compliance with all known laws.
Kids and teens, do not purchase things or give personal information without parental permission.
Some educational websites are multimedia and high resolution, requiring Windows 7 media player GET AND Real 8 Basic Standard media player GET. PDF requires Adobe Acrobat Reader GET . Views well on Netscape Navigator 4.7 or Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5.
The user interface is point, click and go, requiring very little knowledge or familiarity with the internet and is designed for ease of use. Databases are updated daily. This is a large website where anyone can lurk for days, weeks, months or years. Enjoy the experience!
The Internet as a knowledge base.
TEXT Thinking Skills: Threaded learning, collaborative sharing, multimedia.
Essay: Reports, opinions, analysis, conclusions.
ASK QUESTIONS WHO? WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY? HOW?
For convenience and ease of reference this document opens with 130 educational websites which are hyperlinked to additional avenues of inquiry. Many sites are multilingual. Otherwise, for non english versions Email the provider and request a web address or use the translator.
Indices - Multidisciplinary
Yahoo Home Page http://www.yahoo.com
Yahooligans Search Engine http://www.yahooligans.com/
America Online http://www.school.aol.com/
MSN Global Schoolhouse http://www.gsn.org/
Students School Subjects http://www.kidinfo.com/School_Subjects.html
Discovery at School http://school.discovery.com/
Federal Freebies http://www.ed.gov/free
Encarta Online http://encarta.msn.com/EncartaHome.asp
Britannica Online http://www.britannica.com
Columbia Reference http://www.infoplease.com
The World Book http://www.worldbook.com
Teachers Reference http://school.discovery.com/schrockguide
Marco Polo http://marcopolo.worldcom.com
Study Web http://www.studyweb.com/
K-12 WWW Project http://web66.coled.umn.edu/
Email Pen Pals http://www.stolaf.edu/network/iecc/
Distance Learning Project http://www.ihets.org/index.html
Cable TV http://www.ciconline.com/srchlist.htm
Gateway to Internet http://www.thegateway.org
US Department of Education http://www.ed.gov/
State Education Departments http://www.ed.gov/Programs/bastmp/SEA.htm
Research Laboratories http://www.relnetwork.org/
Eric Digest http://ericir.syr.edu/
Education World http://www.education-world.com/
Virtual Schools http://www.dlrn.org/virtual.html
Library of Music Videos http://www.launch.com
Martindales Reference http://www-sci.lib.uci.edu/HSG/Ref.html
The Library Network http://tln.lib.mi.us/
Internet Public Library http://www.ipl.org/ref/
Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/
WWW Virtual Library http://vlib.org/Overview.html
Awesome Library http://www.awesomelibrary.org/
Virtual Tours http://www.virtualfreesites.com/museums.html
Great Sites http://www.ala.org/parents/index.html
Smithsonian Institution http://www.si.edu/start.htm
Smithsonian MallMap http://www.si.edu/organiza/mallmap.htm
E Books http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/
Prentice Hall http://www.phschool.com/
Barnes and Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com
Environmental News http://www.enn.com/
British Broadcasting http://www.bbc.co.uk/
Corp. for Public Broadcasting http://www.cpb.org
Democratic Party http://www.democrats.org/index.html
Republican Party http://www.rnc.org/
Search Engines/Subject Index http://www.sldirectory.com/search.html
Ask Jeeves http://www.ajkids.com/
Indices - Subject
Center for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/
Discovery Channel http://www.discovery.com
History Channel http://www.historychannel.com/
Amer. Memory http://memory.loc.gov
History Museum http://americanhistory.si.edu/
US Hypertext http://www.sldirectory.com/studf/research3.html
US Virtual http://www.ukans.edu/history/VL/USA/
Social Studies http://www.socialstudies.com
Social Studies Digest http://www.indiana.edu/~socialst/
SS Clearinghouse http://www.indiana.edu/~ssdc/eric_chess.htm
SS Don Boal http://www.execpc.com/~dboals/boals.html
National Council http://www.ncss.org
National Geographic http://www.nationalgeographic.com/
Sierra Club http://www.sierraclub.org/
Business Roundtable http://www.brtable.org/
Queensland Teachers http://smard.cqu.edu.au/
WWW Catalog http://mthwww.uwc.edu/wwwmahes/files/math01.htm
Top 20 http://www.top20math.com/
Directory of Links http://euclid.math.fsu.edu/Science/math.html
Public Broadcasting Station http://www.pbs.org
WWW Language Guide http://agoralang.com/
English Zone http://www.english-zone.com
Language Learning and Tech. http://llt.msu.edu/
Encarta Language Learning http://language.msn.com/main.asp
Web Links http://www.amug.org/~jpaul/forlang.html
English resources are also embedded within the multidisciplinary indices links.
Science Virtual Library http://www.vlib.org/Science.html
Science News http://www.sciencenews.org/
Scientific American http://www.sciam.com/
Biology Project http://www.biology.arizona.edu/
MAD Scientist Network http://www.madsci.org/
Bill Nye the Sci Guy http://nyelabs.kcts.org/flash_go.html
Thinking Fountain http://www.sci.mus.mn.us/sln/tf/nav/tfatoz.html
Audubon Society http://www.audubon.org/
Nature Consv. http://nature.org/
American Natural History http://www.amnh.org/
USING THE INTERNET
Internet Basics http://lcweb.loc.gov/global/internet/training.html
Microsoft Insider http://www.microsoft.com/insider/default.htm
ZEN on the Net http://www.cs.indiana.edu/docproject/zen/zen-1.0_toc.html
Search Engines/Indexes http://www.sldirectory.com/search.html
We have a very useable internet education resource and access to an enormous amount of information. These selective websites can easily be supplemented with the search engines. Information for students, educators and parents is but a few links away. Each reference is hyperlinked and many additional avenues for inquiry are inherently available. The total rendering is multidisciplinary and the reader can spend fruitful time exploring the wealth of information made available herein. I encourage you to do so.
With origins in research, academia and applications subsidized by the federal government, the internet has evolved into a global computerized network supporting commercial enterprise, government, academic, organizational and personal computing. From its humble beginnings supporting file transfer programs and rudimentary text electronic mail, the internet is able to deliver more than a billion indexed pages of information to about 400 million international users. Futures are expected to include greater speed, multimedia and the delivery of archived or realtime video, graphics, audio, data and text processing at low cost. Many vital internet resources are available for free in keeping with academic traditions of open publication. Commercial ventures provide their services for a fee. The importance of the internet lies in its ubiquity and the creative use of its awesome networked technological prowess which makes cyberspace a simulated virtual reality.
The most popular internet applications include:
2. Discussion groups (bulletin boards, newsgroups, usenets, listservs)
3. Networked wide area computing
4. File transfers
5. Electronic journals and publications
6. Entertainment and music
7. Research and library services
8. Adult sites (<21 blocked; 18 USC U2257)
9. Searchable databases
The ability to create spontaneous groupings of people with shared interests and common values among a global community largely oblivious to linguistic, ethnic, political or geographical boundaries is a social transformation of historical dimensions. The internet is not "owned" by anyone and is largely unregulated. Most regulation prohibits criminal activities. An open system is subject to use or abuse and the end user should exercise a sense of caveat emptor. The information may be reliable or wholly unreliable, wholesome or repugnant.
The contradictions of internet computing present particular challenges for educators and students in secondary education (grades 7-12). The decade of the 1990's saw the widespread introduction of standalone personal computer applications such as keyboarding, word processing, spreadsheets, dictionaries, encyclopedias, educational games, BASIC programming, graphic programs, computer assisted instruction and integrated learning systems - all of which targeted low level basic skills. Central offices implemented Management Information Systems and batch processing of routine administrative reporting. The most notable feature of computing in school was its comparative absence and low student to computer ratios. Non networked computers had modest degrees of functionality combined with high levels of technological obsolescence. The required investment in human resources for training and technical support were underestimated and often not budgeted. The mere infusion of technology has not significantly altered practice in the classroom, demonstrably improved learning or test results.
The true potential for learning lies in access to large repositories of information for research tasks, enhanced communications among and between learning communities and linked multimedia presentations engaging sensate information such as aural and visual stimuli. The provision of interactivity and active decision making regarding how and what infomation a learner chooses to access, synthesize and deploy requires thinking skills. The sheer power of computers to concentrate information from a myriad of sources and display an array of information at will, on virtually any topic, is an entirely new "application" which is often cross platform and now takes full advantage of interoperability. Modern browsers greatly facilitate ease of use and provide sophisticated programmable plugins which can be tailored to the desired level of functionality. The technology improves consistently and rapidly with a history of improved performance and declining costs.
Needless to say, premier universities, department of defense, international corporations, scientific agencies and computer vendors are atypical user communities, often providers. In an era when many people cannot program the clock on a VCR, educators face the very real dilemma of simultaneously teaching basic skills and introducing complex thinking skills which permit intuitive learning of the vast resources of the internet. Internet need not succeed or fail due to technological limitations. Education is the true test to come. Delivery of vast stores of information, more information than anyone could ever read, does not equate to education or enabling learners. Knowledge is not mere facts and facts alone is mere data, lifeless and meaningless without interpretation. The technology intimately reveals our humanity. So, let us turn now to some of the challenges educators will need to adapt to in order to harness the net for the purpose of enabling learning.
RESEARCH: As an academic researcher, one is immediately confronted with the sheer volume of pages on the internet that is not acceptable for inclusion as reference material. Acceptable styles of reference are published openly by the Modern Language Association http://www.mla.org and the American Psychological Associationhttp://www.apa.org Lacking proper citation and references is a common problem with documentation on the net and dooms even the best of essays to the status of mere opinion. A search engine may yield a long list of documents, few if any of which are acceptable as citations in a research project proper. Determination of the validity, authority and completeness of references is a responsibility of the researcher. Primary sources should be used when possible and secondary sources carefully screened for accuracy, complete citations and references. Many scholarly journals and recognized full text publications are available online. Some societies publish directories and links to offline journals as well. The net is a valuable resource and more scholastic work will probably migrate to online status over time. However, sifting and sorting is necessary and the careful researcher must establish the credence of works included for reference.
Students must learn writing styles and basic elements of reliable citation. Specialized databases facilitate the process, but in general this is no small task for a novice researcher. Many university departments refuse to accept internet citations at all. The learning task is to understand research methods and invoke all of the resources at ones command, traditional or otherwise. The openness of the net presents a unique research opportunity and a variety of challenges in meeting standards for research. General net documentation must be initially met with some degree of scepticism.
COMMUNICATIONS: Opportunities for collaboration on the net are manifold. Email is the most popular application on the net. Listservs are email lists by name or subject which allow broadcast messages to any number of addresses with similar interests. Voice mail is widely available with similar capabilities. Dejanews http://www.deja.com/usenet provides an indexed searchable usenet for thousands of topics and subjects. Newsgroups provide a forum for opinions or thrashing out ideas which benefit from expert or multiple perspectives. Basic research is composed of works in progress and posting drafts for review or comment may be found here. Chat provides interactive public or private conversations in realtime and is often organized by subject or topic. Real time or store and forward communications may be employed with ease and usually for free. Videoconferencing is a high bandwidth application which is becoming more common. Integration of multimedia to include audio, video, data, text and graphics is on the horizon. Unlike public television, digital communications allows information to be categorized, stored and retrieved by relevancy. The ability to deliver a searchable end product tailored to a specific purpose makes the net potentially useful for nearly any information based endeavor.
VIRTUAL ELECTRONIC SCHOOLS: The University of Phoenix Online http://www.phoenix.eduand Concord University School of Law http://www.concord.kaplan.edu are examples of higher education institutions offering undergraduate and graduate level accredited degree programs online via the internet. These schools are for working adults and provide distance learning with video lectures and professor lead discussion groups. Internet collaborative resources may be used; research, programs, courses and course materials are available online. The virtual school is a reality on a somewhat limited basis. Such schools are pioneering new methods of teaching, learning and delivering instructional programs. These are schools with a student body that has disciplined work habits and who meet traditional entrance requirements for academic achievement. Obviously, the faculty and students are computer literate and somewhat atypical in their willingness to be innovative. Stanford University http://www.epgy.stanford.edu/ and the University of Texas http://www.utexas.edu/cee/dec/ plus others, also provide courses acceptable for college entrance or credit.
There is a (VHS) Virtual High School http://vhs.concord.org which is now in its fifth year of operation. The project is funded by the US Department of Education, sponsored by major corporations, consists of a consortium of schools both domestically and internationally and is managed by Hudson Public Schools, MA. Virtual schools then are in existence and are of high enough quality to receive credit toward degree programs. Leading edge schools are establishing virtual schools as an educational and technical feasibility. However, most students and educators are far removed from such environments, residing in brick and mortar schools with textbooks and worksheets while traveling the superhighway in yellow school buses. Multimedia education mostly means watching analog television or videos.
The internet is not a freebie and costs are not inconsquential. In room Appliances, LANS, WANS, ISP's and storage on internet servers all require a considerable initial investment plus ongoing operations costs. A serviceable infrastructure requires technically competent support personnel for operations and keeping the systems online. Daily routines and intensive use causes malfunctions and equipment attrition. Technological obsolescence must be expected and planned for. Because of short product life cycles many systems are on lease and finance is an additional cost. Infrastructure costs can be aggregated and annualized with a fair amount of precision. Most importantly, benefits need to exceed actual costs. The internet must be value added in comparison to traditional standalone computing applications and the mere acquistion of basic skills. It must be justified on its utility as an educational resource, in "soft" dollars, which at best can only be estimated. The intangible benefits of computer savvy students in a technological society with high paying occupations in knowledge based services should be included in the decision making process. An excellent reference for technology planning may be found at http://www.nctp.com/
THE DIGITAL DIVIDE: Information haves or have nots is the usual description. As an economic issue computer education is a basic skill which is central to the well being of the american economy. Literacy and basic computer skills are absolute requirements for internet use. Informative articles about the "digital divide" and access to modern commnunications may be found at http://www.digitaldividenetwork.org/research.adpand at http://www.washington.edu/wto/digital/The salient statistics indicate 57% of internet users are in North America, only 2% of the worlds population has internet access and in the United States access is inequitable, divided by both ethnicity and wealth. Perhaps the greatest benefit to be expected from public schools and library facilities is simply access first of all and education about how to use the resource.
Public facilities have the general obligation to provide equity and possess the physical infrastructure to support computing and telecommunications environments. One purpose of a secondary education is to provide equitable access and instruction in required basic skills. Using case studies and policy analysis, the Benson Foundation has an excellent series of articles about the internet and education at http://www.benton.org/Library/Schoolsand at http://www.benton.org/Practice/Edu/Schools are positioned to provide both basic skills and build upon those skills to fashion for students innovative learning experiences which strengthen the acquistion and use of higher order thinking skills. By the year 2000, approximately 90% of the nations secondary schools have internet access and are now capable of capitalizing on this resource. Internet access for secondary and higher education students will become routine http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/digest99/chapter7.htm
Fee structures are also creating a new type of digital divide. A problem assuming a more prominent role is that "free" information is often of low quality and nothing more than mere opinion. The historical principle of open publication is a hallowed component of scientific methods and highly valued by academicians. As the net becomes more commercialized, proprietary information and "intellectual property" is the high quality information "owned" by corporations, think tanks, universities and some governmental agencies. A fee structure is emerging that precludes access to information for all but well financed institutions through license agreements or subscription services. The digital divide takes on a somewhat new character and is not primarily technical, but financial. The doors of opportunity are closed for the poor or financially prudent unwilling to pay for duplicate services.
Megamillion dollar lawsuits and decisions by the federal judiciary have firmly established the principle that digital information is an asset than can be owned and corporatized. The totality of the range of issues here are far beyond the scope or intent of this document. However, few individuals or academic institutions have blank checks for information. The ideal of a "public library" is a dubious proposition. High quality information must be purchased. The gradation separating quality is clearly evident in secondary school internet implementations. Databases frequently accessed are public, university based or otherwise free. Tools for collaboration including email, usenets and listservs are of low quality and notorious for unreliability. While the technical capabilities are impressive the quality of the information is suspect and second rate, severely limiting its utility. The quantity is overwhelming, but the quality is underwhelming and content is often not of high caliber. This new digital divide reflects a much larger societal issue of priviledge or dispossession of knowledge which further constrains the unlimited applicability of net based services in educational settings. High quality information is not free, it is often for a fee.
To this point in the discussion, we have an ample online library with appropriate references to traditional journals, magazines, books, videos and CDROMS which are available offline. Communications have been enhanced through email, netmeetings, chat, usenets, listsrvs, internets and intranets. People can both seek, find and collaborate on nearly any topic of interest. Communities may form based upon mutual interest, intellectual or personal, and be informed or misinformed as the case may be. That alone is a valuable educational resource.
Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist, proposes that people have eight intelligences: Naturalist, Musical, Spatial, Physical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Logical, Linguistic - all of which may be required for problem solving. Traditional education overwhelmingly emphasizes logical and linguistic reasoning, especially in core academic disciplines. Benjamin Bloom proposes cognition as the process of using knowledge to attain understanding. Knowledge is retention of facts, comprehension is an ability to restate the facts in an original form, an individual should then be able to use knowledge through practice or transference to different circumstances, discrete components should be understood in microcosm and interrelated to the composite whole of the problem or issue, the sum of the whole should be greater than its parts in providing new insights, and the individual should then be able to make informed judgments or evaluation of alternatives.
Basic instruction often follows an information processing model (Input-Process-Output) with teaching and learning occurring in sequential steps and is quite useful for imparting basic skills. A routine critique of traditional education is that great effort is expended on a limited range of potential intelligences and within the domains of logic or linguistics most instruction is at a basic level of knowledge, comprehension and application. The essential thinking skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are given short shrift due to the practical necessity of imparting basic knowledge. Teachers and students appreciate the difficulty of developing, acquiring and transferring knowledge, especially in an era of a knowledge explosion. Like internet, there is more knowledge (or at least information) than anyone could ever read, absorb or understand. The very definition of what is "basic" or minimally acceptable norms of knowledge to be attained is very much subject to dispute. For example, is computer literacy or specifically internet literacy now a basic skill? What will need to be known in 2050? The ability to think, reason cogently and learn perpetually rests upon a solid foundation. There is a continuous tension to meet foundational and advanced reasoning requirements. A student may graduate, receive a diploma or otherwise terminate a formal education, but learning never stops. Living in a modern technological society requires social and intellectual adaptation.
If there is more to be known than can be learned, breadth of knowledge must to some degree give way to in depth learning and a tendency toward specialization. Text book curriculums and chapter sequenced instruction seek breadth and comprehensiveness. Essential knowledge, themes and concepts need to be threaded. Overspecialization on the other hand means individuals know more and more about less and less and may be expertly qualified for a job but not for essential life skills, civic responsibility or rapid change.
As a generalization, these educational process contradictions are perhaps eternal. Aboriginal societies, ancient history, the middle ages and modern history all evidence contradictions and disagreements concerning educational goals, methods and process. On the one hand education must yield to extant circumstances and meet the cultural requirements for problem solving and survival. On the other hand, knowledge and the educational process has a life of its own which transcends contemporary standards or institutional requirements. Education is a cumulative process, building upon prior states, and the sum increases exponentially. Ninety percent of our scientific knowledge has been produced in the past three decades, but its origins began in ancient Greece. A common homily concerning learning is to plant a seed and let it grow. A more deductive approach insists that the cumulative wisdom of ages should be organized, categorized and transmitted via instruction to successive generations.
In modern societies, overlapping the processes of education are institutionalized structures, schools. At the dawn of the twentieth century, America was industrializing and developing heavy industries. The modern secondary school was conceptualized and implemented during this era. Scientific management, sequential process control, professionalization and institutional controls came into being. Educating the masses became a mass process of prescribed curriculums and measured outcomes (tests). Reading, writing, basic math and the ability to work in organizations were highly valued by business and accepted de facto by the general public. Progressive educators, like John Dewey, had a broader vision of the meaning and purpose of education to include the development of the whole person and the attainment of excellence commensurate with a persons interests and abilities. In a somewhat uneasy compromise, the "comprehensive" secondary school was born, offering a broad array of courses, skills and activities. During the past century, the secondary school has adapted to include every segment of society in the interests of equity and expanded the course offerings via a cafeteria style of essential nutrients (core curriculum) along with complimentary desserts (electives) and snacks (fun). "Choice" may produce inequitable outcomes and should not be blindly accepted merely for rhetorical value. Likewise, instilling a desire for learning cannot be commanded. It has to be nurtured and thoughtfully cultivated by example.
"Serving time and getting credits" will get a secondary student the diploma, whatever choices may have been made along the way. Reformers and critics point out that generally, 25% of the high school freshman class will quit and not receive a diploma, 50% will graduate and receive a diploma but seldom continue beyond the 12th grade, 25% will immediately continue with college studies and about half of those may earn a bachelors degree within five years. About 3% of a freshman secondary class will eventually earn a graduate level college degree. Cumulatively, about 25% of american adults have a college degree and as a percentage more high school graduates are attempting post secondary education at some time in their lives. Over the past century, more people have stayed in school longer and we graduate higher percentages of adults with college degrees than ever before. The mean level is steadily increasing and the 3R's are consigned to elementary education. A middle school student is expected to know how to read, write and do arithmetic at approximately grade level. A typical 7th grader can read a general circulation newspaper and understand its contents. On a longitudinal basis, turn of the century reformers would undoubtedly be pleased with the comparative results.
A college bound Advanced Placement high school senior is as well educated as many turn of the century college graduates and that educated elite was then only 2% of american adults. The federal governments emphasis upon science and math for the past three decades is yielding dividends. Mathematical testing is showing consistent gains and the majority of high school graduates are well schooled to a satisfactory grade level in scientific methods, social studies and language arts. This has occurred in the very midst of a knowledge revolution which outpaces the ability of publishers to research, revise and distribute learning materials reflecting the most current gains in knowledge. A ten year old text in now essentially a reference for classical organized bodies of knowledge. Supplements and electronic mediums offer great promise for the relatively inexpensive delivery of information, learning and educational tools reflecting the most current gains in knowledge and methods. It is undeniably true that American's made great progress in education during the 20th century.
On a global scale and comparatively, however, we see retrogression. Other nations either equal or surpass America's levels of educational excellence. In 1983 a federal commission authored a report, "A Nation at Risk", which sounded alarm bells all over America and is essential reading, http://www.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/title.html This document began the modern effort at educational reform, especially with a national perspective, and focused many American's on the need for dramatic improvement in the quality of education offered in secondary public schools particularly. Through the combined efforts of many agencies and concerned citizens the Goals 2000 Educate America Act became law on March 31, 1994. The goals, related articles and progress reports may be found at http://www.ed.gov/G2K/ The Office of Science and Technology as well as the US Department of Education have been instrumental in providing research and seed money for internet related educational reforms in support of the Goals 2000 objectives. Indeed, as of 2001 most schools are "wired", or soon will be. The new frontier is not essentially an engineering project as much as an educational issue; discovering effective and or appropriate educational uses for the technologies which are available. The application of captial and technology to increase efficiency and improve quality is a time honored principle of economics.
The basic outlines of the internet as a tool for research, communication, collaboration, interactive learning, information sharing, personal communication and delivery of services have already clearly emerged and begun to evolve as a somewhat primitive virtual learning community. The "highway" of networks is functional but the vehicles are essentially a flat two dimensional plane of text which is efficient in terms of function, storage and networking capacity. This is often described as the Model-T stage having evolved from a human conception of networked hyper text.
At the present time three dimensions and multimedia are the exception rather than the rule. The overwhelming reservoir of information is in a somewhat static two dimensional image/text format, similar to handing students a book or in this case a library of books and periodicals. Approximately 85% of end user devices are low bandwidth capable of displaying text information, but stall, delay or simply lack local processing power which is sufficient for true multimedia applications. The dilemma is, which comes first the multimedia tools or a market to support the development of the tools. Dot Com investors have poured billions of dollars into ventures which have little hope of realizing short term profits. The elusive nature of realizable profits have dampened the speculative fervor and many dot.com stocks have declined by 50% or more in 2000. The Federal govenment in particular has similarly invested large sums in strategic projects. The answer then seems to be somewhat self evident, deficit financing for research and development. The Federal government would seem to have a key role to play in providing subsidies and long term investment capital. In America, education is fundamentally a public trust and is operated on a not for profit basis. Private schools and privatization are advocated by some, but realistically public schools will bear the responsibility for educating America's youth in the foreseeable future. The application of technology to increase efficiency and improve quality has been successfully deployed in both business and government for many years now. The internet would not exist but for public subsidies. The US Department of Education could play a significant role in software development as a provider or by letting contracts with independent agencies and private developers.
Successful companies "find a need and fill it". Find a legitimate want or need, invest in the research and development required to design, build and deliver the product or service. An alternative is to create markets based upon the perception of a need, "if we build it, they will come". If the reader has used any of the links previously suggested, the array of information currently available is prodigous and imminently useful. However, the internet in current form is obviously deficient in interactive multimedia functionality, support for multiple languages/translators, the language arts and mathematical equations. New channels, domains, programming extensions, formats and inter/intra networks may all be required. Software providers are as crucial to the future of internet education as publishers are to the creation of books and periodicals. In many instances, the functions are parallel and beginning to overlap.
There are many opportunities for clever people from whatever background and development of additional functions are going ahead full speed. From an R&D perspective, the future is now. Given the necessary lead times, multimedia applications now in development are likely to find a ready market. The AOL-TimeWarner-CNN-Blockbuster entity and Disney/ABC have vast libraries with educational value which are largely being held in reserve because of bandwidth limitations and copyright issues. As is, the internet may be the best commuications tool available and is sure to get better. At the present time text, data, audio, graphics and video can be developed and delivered to the end user with relative ease. A recent live Madonna concert had six millon simultaneous viewers. As a constellation of applications, it is the entertainment biz and news that most effectively deploys the technical capabilities. More advanced high bandwidth applications are of somewhat limited online availability but both the supply and demand are expected to increase rapidly and assume the role of increasing educational utility over time. Extraordinary full motion multimedia libraries are owned by private and public corporations which await conversion or delivery via internet protocols. Education deserves favorable licensing agreements or even free access. This is a process which is unfolding.
So, let us turn once again to the educational issues. To be succinct, Goals 2000 and the report "a nation at risk", sets forth an objective to be once again the best educated citizenry on the face of this earth. We are not. The imperative is that economic development and national security will depend upon knowledge and the application of our intelligence in an uncertain future. The quality of our human resources will be a crucial economic variable. In economics, with our penchant for quantitative analysis, the "information economy" presents new challenges which clearly depend upon the qualitative aspects of our human resources. A good starting point for a discussion of these topic may be found at http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/resources/infoeon/
The confluence of new technologies, a federal emphasis upon science and math literacy, business concerns for general aptitudes in technology, computation, reading, literacy, effective work and life skills, a new global information economy in particular and the globalization of economic and political issues generally, global competition for money, skills and talent, an explosion in research and new knowledge, and a tradtional education concern for developing the capabilities of individuals to high levels of excellence have all combined to create a sense of the need for reform and concerted effort to realize improvement in both the process of education and the qualitative abilities of the next generation. If the 20th century education model was predicated on a factory or agricultural model, the 21st century model will not be. Internet in the schools is an evolutionary improvement in utilization of the tools at our disposal, but is not particularly revolutionary in content (yet). Most information of educational value still resides in books, periodicals, video and is emerging on the internet.
Modern schools and campuses only vaguely resemble a plant or factory with carefully defined process controls and predictable outputs. Graduation requirements are highly variable. A particular site is affiliated with superior District, State and Federal agencies in the educational hierarchy. Primary constitutional authority for secondary education is with the States who often set policy guidelines and standards recommendations. Districts both set and implement operational requirements, while the Federal role is overwhelmingly financial, advisory and research based. Many European and Asian nations have a completely different management structure with a vertically integrated department of education that plans and implements uniform requirements nationwide. Decisions are not dictatorial or unilateral. Decision making is shared with mediating independent agencies seeking to refine and define standards or objectives, something of a matrix management model. They also have better test results in fundamental academic disciplines. These societies lack the enormous diversity and democratic heritage of american education. Democratic principles and well thought out alternative experiments may offer the promise of rapid response and unique solutions or degenerate into chaos theory with the survivors being determined on a somewhat random basis of simple trial and error. The ebb and flow of negotiation and compromises will produce systemic results that are as yet quite unpredictable.
The massive transactional processing capabilities of business, industry, government, university and scientific labs will never exist at the level of secondary education. The skill levels do not exist and the learning curve is such that at best secondary education can serve the purpose of introductory skills acquisition. Teaching basic computer literacy is one element of instruction appropriate for secondary education. As value added, the internet is a viable resource for information retrieval, research, communications, collaboration, interactive teaching/learning, information sharing and simple administrative management at advanced levels of secondary education. In keeping with the more general problem of education as a prerequisite to advanced information economies, low levels of skill limit the ultimate applicability of the internet in secondary education. Hooks to advanced processing levels will largely be in the form of information search and retrieval of appropriate databases. Secondary education will be a consumer of information and providers will require sophisticated professional talent. As is, the internet provides a wealth of information but the obvious long term trend is toward development of multimedia content.
The input of text/image and the throughput requirements have historically been cost conscious. Anyone with rudimentary skills can produce a source document and the processing overhead was minimized. When cost exceeded feasibility, the federal govenment has historically intervened with subsidizes for development, most particularly in the network backbone. Over time, this has become more and more privatized. The underlying technological and economic imperatives are necessitating the restructuring of entire industries. A spoken audio message consumes on the order of ten times the computing resources of an equivalent written transcript, and video is even more resource hungry. The immediate and direct impact of multimedia is enormously increased costs distributed throughout the entire network. Initial investment and capitalization costs for production of the event increase. Do it youself projects and personal sites will be interesting curiosities, but "studios" for the production of educational materials will require institutionalized resources and management skills.
Unlike other mass communications media, virtual schools seem to offer an economical opportunity for the production of supplemental learning experiences which may be specialized with content being of paramount importance. In depth learning or specialized courses which may not be economical for 20 students in a typical school may become so when the content is extrapolated to online accessibility somewhat universally. Greater opportunities for a more diversified curriculum seem imminently feasible. Nearly any level of generality or specificity could be instantly accessible to an audience going far beyond school, district, state or even regional limitations.
Educational materials have been organized, planned and categorized from time immemorial. A book is an organized body of knowledge with a shelf place inside a library,which is an even larger body of organized knowledge. It is this superior organizational structure which makes internet search engines seem like such crude retrieval systems. Multimedia aggravates the complexities of classification. An accompanying abstract or descriptor is a near necessity and at best provides a very general description of the content. Interleaved multimedia generalizes content with multiple inputs and the difficulty of both describing and retrieving the salient subject classification is obvious, hence my long list of multidisciplinary links. The assemblage of multiple inputs is in effect a process of synthesis or transformational with the new or novel representation being more than the sum of its parts and often multidisciplinary. An additional complication is that a sophisticated user can edit or modify digital representations locally, constructing their own interpretation or meaning using criteria relevant only to them. Synthesis, originality and authentic learning are essential principles of constructivist learning theory and as an upper tier learning experience seemingly invaluable. It is proof that students can show mastery of the underlying learning principles which must be fully utilized in order to produce a unique presentation. At this level of sophistication, we have progressed beyond the "learn and do" criteria of simply applying what basal knowledge has been retained and entered into the realm of threaded learning. Threaded learning transcends subject classifications, blurs traditional notions of curriculums and syncopates technology with study, thinking skills, multiple intelligences and mental representations of newly constructed artifacts.
This netherworld of multimedia technology transforms traditional conceptions of curriculums, teaching, learning and information. The resultant collage approaches artistic expression. Such levels of sophistication may be found in some corporations or university fine arts departments, representing a quantum leap in technical sophistication and cost. Such applications are not generally available to students in world class universities and it is even less likely that such capabilities will generally filter down to secondary schools in the near future. However, as a necessary caveat, it is clear multimedia is emerging in its own right and is most assuredly appropriate as an enrichment exercise with futures clearly in mind.
Taking into account technological feasibility, cost, skill levels and what is imminently practical, a good exposition of what can be delivered and how it may be effectively utilized is found in a now historical document written some five years ago by Professor Owston at York University, http://www.edu.yorku.can/~rowston/article.html while attempting to answer three essential questions;
1. Are educational
2. Is learning improved?
3. Is learning made more accessible?
The general conclusion is in the affirmative and largely depends upon creative use of the technology. There is a chasm between what is technologically feasible and the ability of people or institutions to deploy and use the technology effectively. Educators are not at the forefront of technology for a very obvious reason, it is not their principle mission. For instructional purposes, a low tech overhead projector is quite effective in enhancing presentations for a classroom of students during whole group instruction. All three questions are answered in the affirmative. The technology directly serves an educational objective cost effectively and that is the yardstick by which any technology is assessed. As Owston demonstrates, interent has the potential for meeting essential educational criteria and enhancing learning.
Systemically, educational objectives transcend situational factors and is a very long process of first imparting basic knowledge in disciplines of organized bodies of knowledge, followed by connections within disciplines. Education builds upon this base to later draw connections among concepts between disciplines. A networked or webbed model of instruction and learning emerges over time and a picture of interrelatedness of knowlege and disciplines further leads to reintegration of the interdependencies among concepts. The true beginning of thinking skills draws upon the store of a students abilities, knowledge and webbed connections. It is a very long path to impart knowledge, demonstrate understanding, use what has been learned in new ways, provide situational analysis, synthesize all of that learning to provide new insights and form reasoned conclusions based upon evidence. The process is not threaded except in its later stages.
Threaded learning operates at a meta level, integrating the many previous years of learning which in and of itself needs to be successfully accomplished discretely with ample opportuniites for practice and the psychological reenforcement of successful accomplishments. At the most advanced networked level (grad school), only the learners themselves have the sophistication to define what knowledge is essential for continued exploration. The challenge is not to just deploy the most sophisticated technology, it is to use technology which is appropriate to the instructional objective within an embedded process of education. The promise of digital technology is an ability to "slice" the mass of information into levels of complexity appropriate to the learning objective. The medium is passive, the content is separable from the messenger and the various technologies occupy niche postions which can be categorized in a somewhat hierarchical fashion. Hyperlinks tend to be related topically with similar levels of complexity.
Globalization and restructuring of america has been occurring more or less unfettered since World War II. Corporate and governmental restructuring have been occurring continuously and in earnest since the early 1970's. A covalence of interlocking interests has moved the process along more or less in parallel. A common refrain is global competitiveness. The gobal federal outreach, more of necessity than by design, has had far reaching consequences. There have been winners and losers with the pace of change being quite uneven.
A sector of the American and Euro-Asian economies have been globalized and is high tech. In america, the proportion is about 40% of gross domestic product and 20% of jobs. The professions and information based occupations are high skilled, high wage, high tech services. A high proportion of people are college educated. New York and Chicago excel in finance; Los Angeles metro in entertainment; San Francisco/Boston metros in science and engineering. Consulting and managment services are valued globally and well compensated.
Routine production in manufacturing and services is widely distributed without epicenters per se. Generally, the people are not college educated and work for an hourly wage. Employees follow directions and the routinized processes are not creative. In 1950 these job classifications were 30% of gross domestic product, and nearly 50% of jobs. They were relatively high paying and still are if they can be found. Today, routine production has declined to about 20% of gross domestic product and 25% of jobs. This segment has been hit hard by globalization both in terms of total jobs and compensation. Other nations provide well educated (sometimes better) human talent and comparatively low wage requirements. It is in this sector where the supposed deficiencies in american education have been felt most acutely. International test scores show students at least as good if not better than american students. The argument is that international competitors are providing superior skills at a lower cost. It is routine for global companies to have production and service facilities in 40 or more countries and cost/performance ratios apply to corporate performance as well as technological innovations.
Personal services may be standardized but are not necessarily routine. These are often small business opportunities, distinguishable by their retail characteristics and in person face to face mode of delivery. To some extent the uniqueness and localized personality shield global competition, but indirect competition from above and below is intense. Workers may or may not have high school diplomas and are hourly workers. Business owners are entrepreneurial and poorly capitalized with high rates of business failure. This sector is now one of the fastest growing, accounting for 30% of jobs and 20% of gross domestic product. Total jobs and the largest growth percentage has been in the unskilled tier.
Information services, routine production and personal services are about three fourths of the jobs in america. The remaining one fourth are mainly government employees, including educators, who are often below prevailing wage rates in private industry. Income inequality between these economic sectors is growing, with the rich getting richer and 60% of poor families having at least one provider working full or part time (Reich, Robert B; "As the World Turns", The New Republic, Vol200, no.18, May 1, 1989).
The global trend is that global employers seek out the highest skill levels for the lowest possilble cost. Yes, many consider human talent a cost item rather than an investment. However, lowest possible cost appears to be a factor, but not necessarily the determining factor. High skill corresponds with high income. The foundation of a global economy is education and the respective positions are often allocated accordingly. Upper tier knowledge workers face an increasing threat as other nations produce a higher percentage of college graduates per capita, with Canada outperforming the rest of the world.
What has historically distinguished america is the high quality university research and level of commitment to required investments by the federal government. Foreign competitors are making massive investments in secondary and post secondary education as well as basic research and tend to quibble less about ideological distinctions in mixed economies. If private investors are unable or unwilling to make strategic investments and incur the deficits associated with uncertainty or high risk, many foreign governments simply subsidize such ventures or invest in non profit public corporations. Global corporations do not have nationalist loyalties and sometimes joint venture with one another and governments.
Based upon the evidence, it is possible to make reasonable inferences and some tentative conclusions. The global economy directly employs about 20% of american adults. It is firmly grounded in premier universities, international corporations and the federal government, which both produce and employ the skilled knowledge workers. High skills translate into high incomes and america is the home base. Routine production services employ about 25% of adults who are mostly high school graduates, middle income, and not participating directly in the information economy. These jobs are internationalized and represent a declining percentage of american employment.
The fastest growing sector is in personal services, now about 30% of total jobs, which are relatively low skill and low paying. The demand for unskilled workers is strong, particularly in retail. Nearly half of american high school juniors and seniors are employed at least 20 hours per week and many work in retail temp jobs for near minimum wage with limited long term career opportunities. A three tier class structure has emerged and levels of education, as well as degree programs chosen, is an important criteria for selecting winners and losers in a global information economy. For three fourths of americans, in a direct day to day sense of meaningful work, the internet and high tech is essentially an irrelevancy. However, it cannot be ignored or dismissed as merely another economic sector. Thirty years ago it did not exist. Information services now account for 20% of all jobs and encircle the earth. On a comparative scale, it is a sector which many people aspire to because of the intrinsically interesting career opportunities and relatively high scale of compensation. It is sufficiently ingrained as an economic driver that the core functions and ancillary spinoffs are indispensable. The high end and the low end of the economy are both growing, the middle range is stagnate or in decline. High skill, high wage is clearly the best alternative with an obvious correlation to levels of education.
There are many scorching critiques of american secondary education. The critiques are seldom unbiased and advocates of globalization are perhaps the most persistently critical. Schools exist within the parameters of a social milieu. Generally, 25% of highs school seniors enroll in college, 50% discontinue formal education and enter the workforce, 25% never graduate. This is a remarkable coincidence with economic data sets and stratification. The fatest growing economic sectors are low skill requiring a high school diploma or less. The middle range for high school graduates is in decline or stagnate and the upper tier of professional knowledge work is largely the prerogative of college graduates. The debate has gotten to the point of being somewhat disingenuous, with business executives arguing that education fails to produce students with sufficient skills and at the same time the macro economy fails to produce jobs which effectively utilize skills which have been attained.
These problems are well known and widely discussed. The blame game has contributed little to a resolution or rational proposals for solutions. It should be quite clear that internet and related technologies are not a magic bullet and knowledge work is perhaps the domain of 20% of working adults, and growing. The preponderance of knowledge work is in the traditional professions but now also includes engineering, science, math and computer science.
Schools accommodate this distribution, both mirroring and reflecting the contemporary environment. For many, the reflections are disturbing. The mission of schools is to educate: develop and transmit new knowledge, provide instruction and improve thinking skills, provide students with a meaningful learning experience and improved reasoning capacities that previously did not exist. Education does not have a vested interest in high drop out rates, low international comparisons and divisions by class, gender or ethnicity. In Japan, 97% of secondary students graduate. Graduation rates in america are variable. A 25% drop out rate is a widely accepted national average, but in some inner cities school drop out rates are on the order of 50% or more and all the while a free public education through grade 12 is available to all.
A university education in america is not free (unlike some foreign countries) and costs are highly variable. A best guess estimate of approximately $100,000 for a bachelors degree includes out of pocket expenses and salaries forgone. The per person investment is considerable and the investment is recouped over a lifetime. Many worthy students discontinue studies due to the lure of immediate incomes and the costs associated with higher education. Drop out rates closely correspond to a high incidence of poverty and is multiracial. About half of high school juniors and seniors are employed and the same is true for college undergraduates. "Starving" students are a vast resource of part time low wage labor, with disposable income near $140 billion. Many students are sustained mostly by promises of future benefits and for the fortunate few a love of learning. The close correlation between economic data sets and educational statistics is obvious and graduation rates closely parallel economic indicators. Temp work is now an independent business. Adam Smith's "invisible hand" would appear to be an operating principle and it is economics driving education rather than education driving economics.
This would seem to suggest that education must decouple from the immediate exigencies of work and regional economies. Education should be universal and skills portable, which requires an emphasis upon thinking and reasoning skills. The job markets are transitory and temporal. "Thousands of good paying jobs" exist in IS; in the past it spiked in manufacturing, mining, transportation, government, services or down on the farm. If education serves temporal economies, fine, an instance of loose coupling (as in many foreign countries.) If education is the slave of economies and tightly coupled, it is firmly grounded in quicksand, perpetually buffeted by winds of change. The Dow Jones of today has little resemblance to the Dow of yesteryear because many of those entities have ceased to exist. A job skill is a specific instance of learning; jobs are created and obliterated in mass. In highly diversified economies, we must be careful that education serves the student and the human being during the course of life and a variety of endeavors. It is logical to conclude that secondary education should only be loosely coupled to economic imperatives with an unequivocal focus upon general thinking and reasoning skills, which is mostly available by academic core curriculums.
Advanced placement programs in secondary schools are generally good and a success story. Graduates are internationally competitive and college bound. AP has been in place for about 35 years now, and in the geologic time of education, something "new", with an unerring focus on academics. Extending the principles of AP to the general student population and providing educators with the resources to do so would mean that all students would complete four years of language arts, social studies, math and science.
The economic data sets suggest two major changes in the external environment. First, secondary students must think "work" is a dirty word and something to be avoided if possible. Japanese secondary students are not allowed to work as employees. They study, do homework and stay in school. AP programs require that students have ample uninterrupted study time and 20 or more hours on a dead end minimum wage part time job is not acceptable. It is a poor investment academically, economically and socially. Second, students should be allowed to self pace, graduating when ready rather than ready or not. Classrooms would be more heterogeneous, largly grouped around levels of achievement rather than age. This kind of flexiblilty accomodates the diversity of modern schools and uses principles of attendance which are common to post secondary institutions. Students drop in and drop out based upon their circumstances. Distance Learning, online home schooling, virtual schools and similar modern learning experiences could allow students to supplement traditional class work with for credit courses which are self paced. "Drop outs" could "drop in" the system using alternative mediums and earn credits toward graduation. Others may want to accelerate and based upon achievement graduate prior to traditonal timelines. Virtual learning environments could conceivably supplement tradtional structures and introduce elements of flexibility which better match peoples lifestyles and educational requirements.
The transformation which needs to occur is more academic that economic. Greater flexibility and more alternative entry-exit points would give educators some control over the educational environment independently of economic exigencies. Decoupling or loosly coupling education and economics means that legislators and schools have to ramp up academic requirements, provide the infrastructure and educational support. Above all adults must make it clear that education for youth is the top priority and every high school graduate should be prepared for entry into college if and when they choose to do so.
Put simply, we are being thumped internationally because other students spend more time in school and studying. Virtually every american secondary teacher is a college graduate and nearly half have masters degrees. There is no evidence that international students are inherently more intelligent or capable than kids in the USA. There is plenty of evidence that international students are in school, study, have a global perspective, and other responsibilities are deferred until after graduation. Education is their top priority and they are serious students. Effort plus commitment seems to count and contributes to graduation rates.
Business may or may not be a particularly significant influence in educational reforms of the 21st century. Business executives were activists in 20th century reforms because it was in their interest to do so. Industrialization served a rapidly expanding domestic economy and the labor pool was regional, located near physical facilities. A great deal of effort was expended to upgrade skills and educational opportunities for urban populations in particular. There was an identifiable hub of business financiers, industrial magnates and philanthropists who perceived the need for educational reforms in keeping with their orbit of interests. In the 21st century global corporations reliant upon physical structures necessarily draw upon regional populations for skills and expertise, which may be anywhere. The information economy has few physical or infrastructure constraints and actually draws upon virtual talent anywhere on the globe. Domestic production services are stagnant. Unskilled personal services do not have a perceived direct interest in education and many see education as time that could be used in work related tasks.
The primary proponents of education reform inevitably are stakeholders in the knowledge sector of the economy. Their labor pool is essentially college graduates and there is presently a labor shortage in IS related technologies. The basic skill levels, technical unsophistication and second rate content common to secondary schools usually derails instruction into basic skills and clerical positions in the information economy or serves as a necessary enrichment exercise for college preparation. This is a legacy of economic tight coupling and feeds into the job market. Decoupling means high skill, high wage job creation will depend upon education and high levels of productivity. High tech accounts for only 20% of jobs but contributes 40% of the gross domestic product and the long term pull of technological imperatives is increased levels of productivity per person. There is an obvious correlation between the complimentary self interest of education and knowledge based enterprises. Production services also have an interest in increasing levels of productivity per person and invest heavily in modern technologies. Many adult workers continue with their educations in post secondary schools. The mid range of secondary students or about 50% capture the "prize" of a high school diploma and enter the workplace or military. About 20% continue with some form of post secondary education, often in community colleges to advance their job prospects. One half of college students are in community colleges to supplement diplomas or complete general education requirements preparatory to admission in four year colleges or universities. Community colleges are the backbone of undergraduate general education. Whether they ride the up or down escalator is tied to opportunities for educational advancement quite directly.
So, what does this have to do with the internet and education? It is a harbinger of the 21st century; 20th century education processes were dominated by business interests incorporating an industrial model of management. Present educational and economic statistics exhibit a tightly coupled correlation with this historical legacy. Then, the relationship was mutally beneficial and each rode the up escalator together. Secondary schools adapted remarkably well and graduates slipped into the economic structure quite comfortably. World War II and its aftermath of the Cold War thrust upon the Federal government an urgent requirement for a strong defense capability, high tech weaponry, competencies in science and math - which is still one of the principle aims of Goals 2000. In the early 1980's the computer revolution began, mostly driven by private business but funded in many important respects by the federal governments need for accurate computing devices and research in the sciences. University research departments invested heavily in high tech. Business began to apply computerized processes which is now quite pervasive. 40% of homes are now equipped with internet devices.
That is where we stand today. The irony of ironies is that the traditional business model has reached the point of diminishing returns. The harshest possible assessment is that schools have so tightly coupled to economic interests and externalities that they are failing to educate and are somewhat derilict in the primary mission of educational institutions. Like it or not, schools have been decoupled from traditional realities. On international comparisons america is nearer the bottom of the scale. The average Japanense secondary student is as good as advanced placement american students. To state the matter differently, until our general track students are as good as advance placement criteria, american students will fall behind. For the bottom one third of the unskilled economic strata, education has little or no economic utility or perceived value. For the mid range general education student, the diploma has been devalued and routine production processes internationalized. Universities are unable to meet the demand for upscale knowledge workers. That assessment is worthy of mention here because a widespread malaise or sense of irrelevancy may have an objective basis.
Successful schools and students strive for academic excellence, study, do homework and stay in school. That should not be surprising and is true both domestically and internationally. Education can succeed on its merits by remaining committed to the mission of education and continuing to decouple from specific economic sectors. Students must be prepared for a wide array of endeavors which requires thinking and reasoning skills. Tightly coupled education and economic data sets means that a typical secondary school is largely irrelevant for fully one third of the student body. We have moved beyond the trade school phase of secondary education. The apparent value of a secondary education lies not in the end product, a high school diploma, but in the quality of preparation for more advanced levels of education and skills acquistion.
There is seldom disagreement about the actual value of education. Over the past century the trend has been for more people to become better educated and america has prospered. Secondary schools have become more uniform nationally, with similar curriculums and college entrance requirements for graduates. Secondary schools have decoupled from local or regional economies and aligned with national requirements for a mobile labor force. A core curriculum of four years of language arts, three years each of social studies, math and science is a de facto standard for the college bound. The recent phenomenon of charter schools, the rhetoric of choice, magnet schools or outright privatization of public schools as in New York City, is further evidence that secondary schools are decoupling from local or regional economic structures.
Over the course of a three year journey in 1519-1522, Ferdinand Magellan sailed around the earth in a creaky wooden ship and returned with neither gold or silver but a much more precious commodity, information about global trade routes. Five centuries later, the tentacles of international political economy are a firmly entrenched feature of the landscape. People fly from continent to continent in 767's, dine on burgers while listening to a walkman, watch news on the tube and chat in real time via the internet or voice telephones, with the transactions simply credited to a plastic card supplied by international financiers and posted to an electronic account on some computer, somewhere, whose physical location is nearly irrelevant. Information and ideas fly on the wings of neurons and electrons with the symbolic representations stored on a disk drive. The person and the machine have a symbiotic relationship and coexist in a state of mutual dependency. Knowledge and information are translatable into economic and political power, ignorance into powerlessness.
A January 2001 Federal report, "The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice", compiled by the Web based-Education Commission http://www.webcommission.org offers a somewhat different perspective and identifies seven barriers to effective internet implementations.
1. Universal broadband
2. Professional support and development for educators
3. Additional research on how people learn using internet age technologies.
4. Quality online educational content that is available, affordable and of high quality.
5. Relief from regulatory requirements which do not accommodate innovations in learning.
6. Safeguards to protect and ensure privacy.
7. Financing and sustained funding to accommodate technologies and learning strategies.
The reader is urged to read the full report. Significantly, only one technological barrier is alluded to - broadband for fast interactivity and video applications. The technology exists, cost effectiveness and access are the fundamental issues. It is relatively easy now to access a computer and broadband communications permitting video, audio, graphics, images, text and data processing. The capabilities can be merged into a single application viewable on a popular player or separated channel by channel. This particular textual document mostly excludes audio and video inserts because 85% of end user devices cannot read it and illustrates the dilemma as reported. Multimedia technologies are available but not yet in widespread use or a truly significant online influence, except perhaps in entertainment and news.
All of the remaining concerns are related squarely to educational issues. The most significant educational challenge is perhaps stated best in the introduction to this report. "Millions still cannot access the Internet and do not understand how to use it . . . they do not know how to deal in information . . . how to find information, how to handle it, how to trade in it, how to invest in it for their future." This is an educational issue, first and foremost.
In the past, secondary schools have offered basic skills instruction in standalone applications and there is now an obvious requirement for "the course" in internet operations to address some of the deficiencies mentioned in the report. A structured basics introductory course is an obvious prerequisite for more advanced applications. Computer basics and word processing are prerequisties for an introduction to internet and the fundamentals can be learned in middle school. A high school sophomore should have facility with computer basics and word processing, then subsequently undertake more advanced skills such as internet operations, programming and advanced internet applications. Basic skills instruction remains a fundamental objective in secondary schools.
Organizationally, the educational objective needs to be redefined more generally as information or knowledge skills and decoupled from business departments so the computing power of the internet can be seamlessly integrated into other disciplines. It is the necessity of providing higher level transferability of skills across disciplines that requires general information skills be removed from traditional organizational structures. The ultimate benefit of the internet will be realized if the tool facilitates analysis, synthesis and evaluation of alternatives - especially through construction of models, simulations, reenactments and real time events in academic core subjects. An application is just a particular instance of assembling and presenting information and the supporting structures need to fit the environment.
The "learn and do" misinterpretation of constructivist educational strategies, seeks proficiency in applications. This is of limited educational value and distorts the real value of inquiry based learning. Constructivism is firmly grounded in scientific methods and reiterates that using what a person has learned reinforces what a person knows and assists in acquiring a deep understanding of academic principles. As in a scientific experiment the do phase is really a learning process which answers the question, how? Its value lies not merely in application and the ability to perform a task. The educational value of the inquiry lies in processes which serve as a platform for higher order thinking skills. In addition to how, education must answer questions relating to what, when, why and where. So inquiry must be "wild and free", but at the same time guided and purposeful. It is not enough to do or do what we have always done more proficiently. Ultimately we must know why and make judgments based upon best evidence. That is the modest task of education.
The commission is also concerned about restrictive regulations which map existing political and physical structures. Regulations institutionalize modes of operation which were designed a century ago and have undergone subsequent enhancements. Patches, fixes and band aid solutions dot the landscape. The commissions discussion here is very good and inherently reflects institutional priorities. Systemically, the net is blind to these human constructs. The flow of information aspects of education are relieved of geographical constraints. Current regulations seem to mirror current practice but are not unduly restrictive. The long term requirement for the equivalent of interstate "commerce", is accredited inter/intra state educational programs which are recognized within each respective state. That will require some coordination by States to define and approve educational resources. Virtual by definition is interstate, if not international, and some entity will need to harmonize accreditation and standards.
The most popular applications are far from integrated educational programs and the development of integrated educational applications will require the lifting of state by state regulation.
Educators will require professional development but lambasting educators as either incompetent or resistant to change is foolhardy with very little supporting evidence. Reference materials and technologies need to be situationally appropriate and enhance educational/instructional objectives. Education is all about people: thinking, ideas, acquiring and transferring knowledge or skills. The appropriate use of internet in education is going to require a great deal of refinement and work.
The intellectual appeal of a great deal of internet information is so far below a practicum for any science, math, language or social science curriculum that it is nearly useless in a school setting. Educational content is the opposite of web surfing and disassociative perceptions. Educational studios and developers need cohesion and integrated schemas. From a content and economic perspective, education faces unique requirements that transcend the medium. The combination of primitive technology and a limited audience have mostly boxed internet technologies into a supplemental role rather than a primary delivery vehicle. The second rate nature of vast quantums of internet information is unsuitable for educational purposes and professionally produced materials are in short supply. Financing the development of educational materials has yet to be resolved satisfactorily. A clarion call for content development is appropriate with a dual requirement for meeting educational standards and being sufficiently appealing to capture the imagination of a young audience. Operational models do exist on the net and will require additional support.
Another obvious requirement is not being met by general search engines. A search engine company could be devoted to educational resources and a hierarchical engine requires a professional staff to navigate the elusive net and get the "hits" organized into some domain of relevancy. Other than open information or govenment sites, non indexed and fee based databases limit the utility of what is available via general search engines. The educational community could do a better job of being conspicuous, for free or a fee, and a search engine company might cajole providers into the public domain. Advertisers could do more than plaster athletic fields with billboards and hallways with vending machines. Banners could be a much needed source of revenue consistent with educational objectives. Corporate dollars could support educational databases as easily as halftime shows. Products and services requiring educational literacy, i.e. technologies, would find a ready made market niche.
In summary, and by way of wrapup, this program has captured a snapshot of educational links which should be of value, but is not all inclusive and cannot be. A short history of the internet and some of the considerations specifically germane to education have been explored and reflected upon by the author and and external experts. The bad news is that the applicability of the internet is somewhat constrained technically, economically and by virtue of content. The good news is that the internet for education is incipient, the technological impediments are declining, availability should translate into economies of scale which are conducive to content development. Departments of Education, Legislators, Software Developers and Curriculum Standards Organizations need to develop frameworks which facilitate online resources. Developing relevant content and search facilities then seems to be a top priority at the time of this writing. The ubiquity of the net in school, at home and in the office means huge numbers of people are familiar with the tool. Translating familiarity and cursory use into an educational enterprise of considerable complexity will be a challenge for decades to come.
If you have read this entire exposition, you are undoubtedly interested in the topic. This project began 23 search engines and many months ago as a graduate level research project. References are hyperlinked inline and authoritative.
Reasoned opinions, critiques, references or contributions are welcomed. Please direct any comments to the email address [email protected] Hopefully you have found the resources helpful and thought provoking.
BA., Social Science
MEd., Master of Education
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Art resources are also embedded within the multidisciplinary indices links.
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