Dede, C. Testimony to the U.S. Congress, House of Representatives; Joint Hearing on Educational Technology in the 21st Century.
The Web is not very organized and this may offer a point of frustration for children. However, at the same time, it also enhances their research and organizing skills.
Since the information on the Internet can be simultaneously accessed by numerous users, one is not dependent on other people's use of the same resources. Thus, for example, one does not need to wait for library books to come back from another borrower
Popularity contests are common among children. As a famous on-line joke says: "On the Internet, nobody knows that you
are a dog." which implies that regardless of your physical characteristics, you can be equally accepted as the next
person on-line. What matters in this case is what you want to communicate and how you communicate it.
This is usually true except for cases of connection problems, or occasional server prob-
lems, but these can be expected to improve through time. Optimal environments are assumed for the purposes of this study to show all potentials of the netowrk. This will also draw attention to the degree of possible inequalities discussed in the next section.
The Technology is Now!
Information obtained through personal communication with Laurent Dubois.
Depending on how
many functions of the computer can be mirrored through the use of
WebTV, it may or may not make the Web a less interactive medium.
The Trace Research and Development Center works on such projects.
Bobby is a program that helpsmake web pages accessible to those with disabilities.
lity in Cyberspace.
Reinventing Schools, The Technology is Now!
The reason that it is now sufficient to have simple
web access to disseminate information is that there
are several services
available on the network
that offer free web pages
to everybody. Although
these services may require
at least an e-mail account,
since e-mail accounts can
also be obtained free, it is possible for anybody with
full access to a machine
to create webpages. (For examples of free webpages
see GeoCities or Angelfire. For examples of free e-mail accounts,
see Yahoo! Mail or NetAddress. For examples
of access-limiting software, see NetNanny.)
It need not be argued that this creates a largely antagonistic attitude in children. Children are taught early on not to talk to strangers on the street. Similar information is
being relaid if they are told not to trust all the information that they find on the Web.
As any other inter-
national consensus, reaching common ground
in these issues requires communication between representatives from numerouscountries, and complex negotiations among them. Given how long such processes can take, it is not possible to rely on the results of these negotiations when considering the level of access to such resources.
For examples of such sites, see Research Papers Online or School Sucks. The latter tells viewers that it is a product of the poor education system in the United States and calls for changes.
If we accept what
children now read in
school as ideal than it may be debatable as to how much of that is directly mirrored on the Web. However, since taking current content as ideal is not the position of this paper (a point reflected in the discussions
challenging current educational practices in general) it would not be consistent to take such a stance concerning
content and thus this
point is not elaborated upon here.
Children in the Digital
Byting Back. OnTheInternet.
Children may need to be evaluated on their perfor-
mance in group projects
and perhaps more creative skills than are mirrored
in multiple choice question tests. Changes in these models may have positive affects on students' works and work patterns.
Children working on a group project that is evaluated with one grade for everyone in the group will probably be more inclined to cooperate and aide each other in the group project because
they are working toward a common goal.
Advantages for Students
The possible advantages of implementing the Internet in the classroom are as diverse as the services and tools offered by the network. The Internet offers a vast amount of resources that are otherwise not available in any one geographical location. In addition to increasing resources, the Internet also fosters and enhances various skills of its users. Communication skills and writing skills can be directly affected through its use. Depending on its incorporation in classroom activities, it may also contribute to the improvement of skills related to critical thinking, problem solving, and group work. This section of the paper will elaborate in some detail how the increase in improved access to resources and the fostering of diverse skills can be beneficial to students.
Dede distinguishes between two types of information technologies: smart machines and intelligent tools. The former take over tasks previously performed by people as is the case at the checkout counter in a supermarket where the checker no longer has to punch in the price of the merchandise, rather it suffices to scan the label of the goods. This type of technology lowers the required skills of the user. Intelligent tools, on the other hand, require higher skills of the user. They give more options to the user than were previously available by another machine. But this addition of options requires choices on the part of the user. An example of an intelligent tool is a word processor in contrast to a type writer. The user is now required to do more than just type in the information. The additional options offered by the technological tool can only be taken advantage of if one is familiar with the details of the operation, of the many available options, and s/he is capable of making choices between the options. The Internet is an example of an intelligent tool because it presents the user with a multitude of choices. Dede argues that with the increasing presence of intelligent tools in all spheres of the workplace, "people's creativity and flexibility will be vital as job skills, because the standardized aspects of problem solving will be increasingly absorbed by machines." [emphasis by me]
One major advantage of the Internet is the amount of resources it makes available to its users. College level students are used to having significant library resources on location, not to mention the vast amount of library resources available to them through interlibrary loans. Such options are not open to children of primary and secondary level institutions. This means that their resources are quite limited and are restricted to the locally available information. Access to all the tools and services of the Internet removes this hindrance faced by young students. Moreover, not only does the Internet expand the amount of resources available to the user, it also makes the process of acquiring materials much quicker than traditional methods.
The many sides that issues may be presented from on the Web offer children a very diverse look at a subject. As opposed to looking at the collection of one author, or one book on a subject, they can browse numerous sources in one sitting. Collecting information from various resources (which is how web research often happens) they learn how to integrate different materials. The fact that they can access information in a timely manner means that they can get to the core of information relatively quickly, a point especially advantageous for children who have little patience and quickly lose interest in topics. The quick change in sites and the difference in their looks, presentation and organization of material - while sometimes confusing - also offers new excitement every time the student accesses a new site. This continuous change can be seen as a challenge and could be compared to certain aspect of video games that are technological tools greatly favored by many children. The change in scenes and movement keeps their attention focused and the option of making decisions adds to their interest in engaging with the medium. Moreover, the sources may represent different media. There may be texts, videos, and audio materials available through the help of this one medium, also adding to the excitemtn in the research process.
The multiplicity in Internet services offers a chance for children of different talents to all develop a certain niche in the use of the medium. The many differences between services means that one may not become familiar with all kinds of resources right away. However, if there is a class where different students use different resources, eventually each individual may develop an area of expertise which can then be shared with the wider group. This allows students to feel that they have a niche, but perhaps even more importantly, they can share the acquired information. Some may be better at understanding graphical representations of information and so they can be designated as experts in that field, whereas others may be better at reading through information. Moreover, if CMC services are added into this equation, it is possible that some students will be more at ease in establishing communication with others through the exchange of e-mail messages than they would be in face to face encounters and thus their chances of interacting with people is augmented.
Social behavior may be influenced in some ways by students spending increasing amounts of time alone in front of a computer. The obvious objection may be that children will spend less time interacting with one and other and therefore will lack the social skills that they are otherwise capable of developing through frequent interactions with peers. However, as with many other aspects of the Internet, the implications of computer usage are not just clearly good or bad. First of all, it is possible that children will use computers together which will enhance their interactions with each other. If teachers assign joint-projects where children work in groups of two or more then the interaction of individuals remains in the framework of doing work. Secondly, even if the child uses the instrument alone, s/he is still not necessarily alone. Given the many CMC services of the Internet, it is possible that children use the device to communicate with other children. This opportunity offered by the network actually aides in developing the communication skills of children who are shy, or are not quite accepted by their peers for various reasons.
Work on computers can allow for both independent projects and collaborative undertakings. This means that the same medium allows for deepening individual skills as well as enhancing group dynamics skills. Children can gain status through helping others, through demonstrating their knowledge and their generosity. Knowledge coming from a peer may be more appreciated in situations where that knowledge is shared for the benefit of a whole group. Such appreciation for good performance could replace the currently common hostile and jealous attitudes of students expressed toward others who are above average in a certain domain, but who have no way of turning the additional knowledge to the benefit of the whole. In addition to being congratulated for the understanding of material, students can also gain status and appreciation for their generosity in helping others. A positive attitude toward helping others fosters positive group dynamics, a type of work arrangement increasingly common in many job environments. Early exposure may be quite beneficial to its development in children. Moreover, children from certain cultural communities learn better when working in groups because of distinct cultural practices. For these children, their cultural heritage that partly consists of effectively using group cooperation would now be incorporrated in the classroom setting.
The types of materials the network may be especially useful in delivering include simulations of otherwise expensive or dangerous experiments. Although currently the Internet may not be as effective as other types of multi-media tools in delivering such information to the classroom, rapid changes in its capabilities make it a potential tool in this domain too. One may argue that such services may not make it much different from services offered by television through regular programming or through materials available on videotapes. However, it is important to remember that the information on the Internet is available to all locations at any one time. Similarly to the previously mentioned situation of primary and secondary level educational institutions concerning their limited printed library materials, locally available videotapes will most probably be quite limited. This is not solely because of cost, but also because of storage concerns. Moreover, the interactive nature of the Internet allows for students and teachers to cater the ‘programming' to their specific needs.
Children also must assume a different, possibly greater, responsibility as learners. There is more information available on the World Wide Web than they could possibly need, but most of the material is very easily accessible. They have to be responsible (even if they are assisted in this process) in knowing what information to use, and how deep to explore a certain topic (one can always easily find more information on a topic on the Web and this may seem overwhelming). At the same time, there is the risk of being sidetracked. There are so many links to sites that cannot all be relevant to one area of interest or research, that they need to know when to stop browsing for fun and start doing work and only work. (See below for a discussion of the danger in the use of objectionable materials.) However, even if they do browse off once in a while, they are still using a technological tool, they are still using some of the skills that are very useful and are only fostered by such an interactive tool. Unlike television, the Web - even when one is mostly just browsing and is taking little advantage of its interactive features - requires to be guided. The viewer decides what the next step is. As Dr. Dorothy Strong, an educator from the Chicago Public Schools stated commenting on the comic book tabu: "Read, but not comic books. No! Use technology that students play with." Most Internet tools require some amount of reading, and different amounts of writing. Moreover, they require skills of logic and inference for the navigation of sites. So instead of being faced with a linear flow of information which is the only way a book can present information, the Web allows for numerous skills to be fostered and improved at once.
The computer-mediated communication tools allow students frequent and timely communication with children from around the world, and also with their teachers for information about class assignments or any school related issues. Electronic mail gives students the convenience of responding at their own convenience thereby giving them the time to contemplate their responses. Children can also communicate to others through web pages. The idea of publishing to the whole world may add to children's motivation concerning work. It may also improve the quality of their projects since knowing that their work is being published may motivate them to produce better works. Such practices have already been instituted in the Kent School District of Washington. The district has a very sophisticated web presence with individual school homepages. Some schools present information about their activities and their students' achievements. The Springbrook Elementary school exhibits the paintings children had created in tribute to Georgia O'Keeffe.
Using the CMC tools children can engage in projects with people from around the world. If language issues become a problem, they will increasingly understand the importance of learning foreign languages. For those who already realize the importance of foreign languages, the network may offer exceptional opportunities for practicing their newly acquired language skills through communication with children from countries where the language they are learning is spoken by students as a native language. Communicating with students from other parts of the country and other nations makes discussions about other cultures a reality, awareness about the world's diversity is raised.
Laurent Dubois's elementary school classes in Switzerland communicated with students from around the world to exchange information about school hours. The children collected materials about other regions' and countries' practices and published their results on their webpages. They also collected outside observer's opinions concerning the proposed changes in school schedule in their own school district. This project allowed these children to communicate with people from across the world, they were able to compare data, use their mathematical skills in calculating differences in scheduling practices, and they were able to feel like they were directly involved in the processes affecting their school lives.
In addition to the contributions the Internet can make in raising children's cultural awareness, it may also be able to play a significant role in fighting some of the gender biases of today's education. This would require that it be implemented in the curriculum across the board regardless of course content. Currently, girls are less likely to take science courses. Traditionally, science courses are more likely to include the use of technical devices such as computers. Many people still think that just because the Internet has to be used with the help of a computer (and perhaps the creation of the WebTV - a TV device that allows viewing of World Wide Web content - will disperse some of these preconceptions), people assume that they need detailed and in-depth technical knowledge for its use. Moreover, it is more likely to be associated with the hard sciences for this reason. However, the Internet is not field-specific. Information can be found on it about any topic, and therefore it can be used with any course content. Showing students the useful aspects of the Internet in courses across the curriculum, and allowing access to the Internet in all classes gives girls an equal opportunity in taking a class that does include Internet use in learning. The issue of who actually gets to sit in front of a computer still remains, but if group projects and individual projects are intermixed, and the educator is conscious of getting everybody to directly interact with the machine then all students will get a chance to try the technology.
A whole separate research paper could be written on the positive role of technology - and within that the Internet - on people with disabilities. A publication that is not available in Braille version may be available on the network which means that a screen reader may thus make it available to a visually impaired user. People who have trouble getting to library locations because of physical barriers can be greatly aided in that they can access information from their own homes. Many of the Internet's characteristics seem to require specific human functions such as good eyesight. Conscious efforts are being taken to make the network accessible to people with disabilities such as motor problems, deafness, low vision and missing limbs. If funding is continued for the development of such tools than the network may even act as an equalizer in making resources previously not available to people with disabilities increasingly accessible . This continued interest in the field does not only depend on humanitarian efforts since even business purposes warrant an investment in the development of helpful tools given that there are 30 million people in the United States alone who suffer disabilities or functional limitations and are potential users of such services.
The desires of colleges in terms of course content has affected the content and level of high school classes. The high schools in return pose requirements to junior high schools. In a similar way, it is possible that increasingly the growing emphasis placed on cooperation, conflict management, and problem solving in colleges will affect the need for such skills to be developed in lower-level educational institutions. Colleges evaluate the breadth and depth of high school extra-curricular activities. These after-school activities tell colleges about possible skills of students that would have had to been acquired outside of the classroom since traditional curricula do not train students for many of the characteristics needed of upper-level school students. Increasing implementation of group projects in college curricula means an increasing need for students who possess the skills for the required group dynamics. In turn, if high schools will be asked to present students strong in these skills, high schools may turn to junior high schools to also start fostering the development and evolvement of such skills. In this way, as colleges influenced the curriculum of lower levels of education, they may also influence what skills emphasis is placed on in primary and secondary level schools. Once these educational institutions are required to pay attention to such angles of educating students, the Internet will prove to be increasingly helpful since its implementation can cater to many of these needs. Moreover, if we consider that complex learning skills begin developing at preschool age, it is even more important to remember and take advantage of the "intuitive capability that young children have to process complex thoughts, even in the absence of basic skills traditionally instilled in the young as ‘building blocks' of learning."
Disadvantages of Internet Implementation for Students
Several of the points mentioned in the section about the Internet's advantages also raise issues about possible negative effects concurrently. Easy access to resources concerning just about any topic may lead children to materials that would otherwise not be made available to them. Students have to be educated about how much information they can give out about themselves to the unknown public. Another issue concerns the increasing presence of commercial sites with little content that would be deemed educational. However, we will see that none of these concerns are clear cut and they present schools with both hardships and reasons for teaching children about responsible and cautious behavior, in addition to critical thinking.
Given the nature of the web - the fact that anyone with access to it can put information up on it - it is inevitable that there is room for incorrect information to also make its way onto the network. This means that users always have to question the reliability of the available information. If students are not aware and conscious of this problem, they may use and learn wrong facts about anything from historical information to scientific data. If teachers are prepared to teach students to be critical in their perception of material derived from the network than this characteristic of the Web may not be such a problem, and it may even turn into a plus by enhancing their research skills. Teaching children to be critical of information presented to them, to check sources, and to try to derive information from various sources teaches them that a search for information entails more than just finding a source. Rather, it involves comparing, evaluating, and making decisions. One could argue that it is essential to teach children to question the reliability of information in any case so this nature of the Web is just reinforcing an otherwise already important aspect of developing a critical approach to various aspects of life.
The Internet also houses controversial materials that many adults prefer not to have available to children for various reasons. Sites depicting pornography cause one problem. Even if the public display of certain materials may be illegal in the United States, the international nature of the network makes it possible for users to access materials stored on machines in other countries. Thus, the overall disappearance of certain content would require international consensus on what is deemed harmful and against the law.
Other controversial sites include those that represent and advocate ideas deemed dangerous by the majority of the public. Such sites include pages advocating Neo-Nazism or the activities and beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan. It is not within the scope of this work to analyze the pros and cons of such materials being available on the Web, as it is not within the scope of this paper to debate what the contents of school materials should include. While some would argue that such sites should be outlawed, there is the opposing argument that emphasizes the importance of free speech. The latter viewpoint is not only held by those who want to advocate the contents of these sites. Some say that it is important for children to learn abour what types of ideas and viewpoints people represent. It is the responsibility of education to teach them to view such information critically. So if a student is doing research on the Ku Klux Klan then s/he may want to include information from a website advocating the views of that group.
Some Web services may be harmful because of the ways in which they offer students alternatives to doing their work. There are numerous sites on the Web that offer term papers and book reports for sale, or even for free. This raises numerous issues concerning plagiarism and work ethic that have to be addressed by administrators before implementing the network in the classroom. This point is discussed in more detail later in this paper in the section dealing with the general concerns of Internet implementation.
Some arguments may be raised concerning the time Internet activities take away from more traditional means of information retrieval such as reading a book. However, it must be noted that much of the information available on-line is also in forms of the printed word. Use of a computer should not be seen as time wasted staring at a screen, but as time used looking at information that mirrors the many faces of users around the world similarly to a book mirroring the voice of its author. Discussing the content of websites in relation to the ideal reading content for children is not within the scope of this work.
Although there are quality educational services available for children on the Web, increasingly these are being overshadowed by innovative commercial sites that greatly appeal to children. Advertising sites offer interactive games to children to lure them to their sites and to familiarize them with their brand and materials. To alarm people about the power of computers in guiding children's attitudes and beliefs, Montgomery cites the results of a survey according to which the majority of children queried in the research put greater trust in their computers than they did in their parents. She suggests that the creation of a non-commercial children's civic sector could serve as an alternative to commercial sites and thus contribute to shaping youth- geared web content in more educational ways than advertising sites do.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Internet Implementation for Teachers
Many of the advantages cited for children are also advantages for teachers including such aspects as timely communication with colleagues and parents. The same is true for information retrieval services in that teachers can access materials in a timely manner and the resources available to them are more than are present in any one geographical location. The following section will elaborate on points that were not discussed above in relation to students.
The Internet grants teachers and administrators numerouspossibilities through its computer-mediated communication tools. Students, teachers, and families can communicate directly with each other. This may happen in real-time (talk function, chat rooms), or with a time difference over e-mail, through listserves, or on newsgroups. Some of these tools allow for group distribution of material which can then be further elaborated on with the ongoing inclusion of all participants in follow-up discussions. For example, in discussing a proposed change in the system, administrators and teachers can query parental attitudes through the use of a mailing list or local newsgroup. Instead of requiring a one-time, one-location parent-teacher meeting, the discussion can spread out over time and does not require everyone to be in one place. This gives greater flexibility to parents in taking part in their children's schooling - an issue often stressed and often considered as an important part of education; and it gives administrators and teachers a better sense of what the community of parents are concerned with. However, such use of the Internet also requires that not only schools be wired, but that parents have access to the Internet as well. This raises additional questions concerning inequality that will be discussed in the next section of the paper.
It was already mentioned in the section on advantages for students that children's attention span may last longer with new technological tools than with older teaching aides. This may also serve as an advantage for teachers in that it leaves more time for productive work and requires less time for disciplining. Moreover, the general affect of the network in teaching students more useful skills than they are learning under current conditions may affect teachers in a positive way in that the goal of schools in educating children may be met more effectively through the use of network tools and services and thus teachers can feel a better sense of accomplishment.
Adapting the positive aspects of the Internet requires great effort from teachers. Current teaching practices have to be reevaluated and some changes may need to be made. Teachers have to be trained in the use of the new technological tools and their skills require continuous updating, although this may come easier once the initial investments in training have been made. Steps concerning professional development can be assisted through the use of Internet tools. Discussion groups among teachers and technical professionals can aide in their training. One of the main problems seems to be that despite the fact that governments are allocating great funds to Internet implementation, little of these funds is going toward teacher training. Moreover, there is also the question of adequate resources for teachers in that under optimal circumstances they require machines of their own not only in their classrooms, but also in their homes. When a school decides to introduce the Internet in the curriculum, the funds required for teacher training must also be remembered and adequate resources need to be set aside for this purpose.
According to studies conducted by psychologists specializing on people's psychological reactions to technology, several factors influence a person's attitude toward computers. One important factor is how early a person is exposed to technological tools during childhood. However, just as important is the instructing teacher's attitude toward and knowledge of technology. If enough emphasis is put on computer education in primary and secondary schools, and the required tools are available, then children are much more likely to be exposed to technology early on. These individuals will be more comfortable with technology later on in their lives. This is why it is important to keep in mind teacher's attitudes toward the topic and to support them in acquiring the necessary skills they need to feel comfortable about technology in order to be able to introduce its use to students.
Beyond having to learn the use of new technological tools, Internet implementation also comes with other types of responsibilities such as possible supervision issues, the creation of new projects that incorporate the network into the curriculum, and the introduction of new evaluative methods. These take energy and time to develop and get used to. However, since affective communication channels and timeliness are one of the great features of the Internet, it can aid these processes considerably through information retrieval on the Web, and through regular (or one-time) communication with colleagues on e-mail, mailing lists, and newsgroups.