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 Ferdi Serim

The Top Ten Reasons Why Teachers Use the Internet

As students and teachers across the nation go back to school this fall, some are returning subtly, yet irrevocably, changed. The reason? They've brought the Internet into their classrooms, and learning will never again be limited to the confines of a classroom's four walls. Over the summer, teachers, as well as students and parents, have discovered that the Internet opens up a wide array of possibilities for lifelong learning. How is the Internet being used in schools-what's all the fuss? As one of these teachers, I'd like to explain...

  1. The Internet provides teachers with free (or low cost) materials they need We teachers have always been a resourceful bunch. We befriend our local travel agents for posters, brochures, any source to liven up our classrooms. When you are able to connect to the Internet, a world of free or inexpensive materials can be either downloaded or sent for. NASA is one well-spring of online educational resources, the PBS and the Discovery Channel have a host of free activities that complement their video programming...even the CIA shares mountains of information you paid them to collect on every country. Some people (mistakenly) believe that this is the only reason for using the Internet-getting things. The reality is far richer.
  2. No classroom is an island, on the Internet! To a classroom connected to the Internet, no place is more than a few mouse clicks away. Students routinely take virtual field trips to every corner of the earth from my classroom. When their Language Arts teacher wants them to explore the countries of their origin, the Internet is a logical tool. In our school, 44 languages are spoken, and so far we've yet to turn up empty in our searches. Many times, we collaborate with students from these countries, striking up relationships by electronic mail (email); it's free and fast! My daughter carried on conversations with a good friend who returned to Iceland for the summer, just as if she still was only a few blocks away (and without adding to our phone bill!).
  3. The Internet releases you from being a "Prisoner of Time" In a recent study "Prisoners of Time," the US Department of Education detailed how progress in educational achievement is stymied by schools' use of time. Every teacher knows he or she is time stressed. The Internet can help you focus on learning, instead of time, by assisting you in managing your communications, providing "just in time" materials, and by being "open" 24 hours a day, to allow you to plan when you can. Keeping in contact with people becomes increasingly difficult as our lives become more complex. Even our message machines seem to be playing phone tag sometimes! The introduction of the Internet into classrooms brings with it one important benefit of email: the person you're writing to doesn't have to be at their machine when you send your message. They'll get the message the next time they check their mail. It is so much easier to control when this happens (as opposed to answering every phone call or cycling through dozens of voicemail messages) that most people I know prefer to be contacted by email. This doesn't mean we've forsworn phone or "face to face" contact-each is still vital, and each has its place. Using email first can actually make our phone conversations and meetings more focused and productive. Our email has prepared us by giving us time to think about the topics we're discussing and letting us reply when we're ready.
  4. The Internet motivates your students This same benefit-being in control-also works its magic on students. Kids who are only reluctant writers find that access to audiences of large numbers of their peers gives them reason and confidence to express themselves. Research shows that the same students who could care less about grammar and punctuation suddenly become very particular when realizing that online they are only known by the quality of their words. Other cues, such as age, appearance, race and gender no longer get in the way of understanding. My students are now beginning to create their own web pages, moving from "surfers" to "settlers" of cyberspace, and are taking ownership of the Internet and of their own learning. The Science Learning Network is trying to keep up with kids' creations in all subject areas, and a visit is worth your while.
  5. The Internet allows students to learn by doing Your students could read about DNA (if their textbook is not too outdated!). Or, they could manipulate a 3-D rendering of a DNA molecule, determining its chemical composition, size, construction and function in our world. All for free, using software developed by the National Institute for Health, and worldwide protein databases-the same ones scientists use. Got a question? Increasingly, some of these scientists are available to interact with students.
  6. The Internet allows expanded opportunities for mentoring In fact, it has a name: Telementoring. According to the Center for Children & Technology (CCT), telementoring describes "formal and informal on-line exchanges among teachers, students, and/or scientists usually collaborating on specific curriculum-related topics." Among the variations, CCT's Telementoring project differs in that it "builds on the traditional concept of mentoring; a supportive relationship, sustained over a period of time, between a younger person and an older person". Another flavor is Judi Harris' Electronic Emissary project, where hundreds of volunteer Subject Matter Experts serve thousands of students, by sharing what they know.
  7. The Internet ends teacher isolation All of these benefits apply equally, if not moreso, to educators. After all, it's really about lifelong learning. Responding to necessity, early educational networkers soon realized that they were the trailblazers and pioneers, going into unknown territory, and thus had to depend upon each other. The resulting ethos (share what you know with whomever needs to know it, the same way you were helped in the beginning) continues to this day. For an evolving, exciting example of how this idea can flourish, please visit the Online Internet Institute, where hundreds of educators are using an online community to support their individual successes in their classrooms. Together, we are developing class curricula, evaluating Internet resources, trading tips, and finding partners for our educational journeys.
  8. The Internet can bring schools and communities closer together When our school published our Board of Education policies, schedules for Board meetings, and homework assignments on our Web server, reaction was instant and positive. It's difficult for people to understand what they can't see, and the Internet reduces the distance that often hinders the growth of effective school/community relations. The Internet has become a hot button. Following the first wave of hype, the pendulum swung back to hysteria about the perils facing youth on the Internet. The reality is, of course, somewhere in-between. Not only do most people realize that networks are here to stay, and that ability to use networks will be an important qualification for employment, learning (and citizenship), most communities respond positively and enthusiastically to evidence of their students' success on the Internet.
  9. The Internet can spread good news about your program Real students, doing authentic tasks, and solving real-world problems-this is the type of good news that provides much needed support for your educational program. Every day, I am astounded by how students exceed the limits of what I thought possible. Soon after you begin exploring ways to make your classroom come alive with the new power the Internet can bring, your students will surprise you, too. Let the public know, invite them in, tell the papers and media. For example, last spring our school collaborated with a school in Millburn, NJ to help one of their students. Vova had contracted leukemia in Chernobyl at the age of two. Now in the States, he was in remission, but faced a return to Ukraine because his dad was denied a green card. If Vova returned, it would be a death sentence, as there exists no medical help in Ukraine should his remission end. Our students in Princeton worked with the Millburn students and partners in Hawaii who heard of our efforts to help Vova. Our community responded by having a radiologist and environmental scientist answer all the questions students encountered as they did their research. The Millburn students did a letter writing campaign. The result: New Jersey state legislators learned of the web site, realized the good PR value, visited Vova's school with a film crew, and passed a resolution asking the Secretary of Labor to approve Vova's dad's request for a green card. These students now know that their learning is powerful, and they know how to use the Internet as a tool in ways that no one could have predicted.
  10. The Internet rejuvenates your professional life! Bob Marley's advice to "lively up yourself" could have been a prescription for Internet use. Releasing yourself from the Prisoners of Time syndrome, ending professional isolation, steering newly discovered energies and motivation among your students-it all adds up to transforming the context and support you experience as an educator, for the rest of your career. To those who say, "that sounds like more work," I reply, "maybe so, but it's better work!" As my students and I return to our classroom, all of us are excited about the discoveries that lie ahead. None of us would ever go back to the way things were before!

Ferdi Serim teaches people to use computers for lifelong learning at the Princeton Regional Schools. He is co-author, with Melissa Koch, of NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet, from which many of the examples in this article are drawn. NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet By Ferdi Serim & Melissa Koch A Songline Guide from O'Reilly & Associates 292 pages; ISBN: 1-56592-201-8, $24.95 (US)

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