Friday, July 3, 2009

What good is the Internet for education?

I am taking a course from National-Louis this summer on designing Internet resources for teaching. One of the course requirements is a series of blog posts, which I will be posting here. The first topic is a reflection on the value of Internet resources for education.

What good is the Internet for education? The Internet is so many things now that there are many ways to think about its role in education. Thinking in terms of education roles, it is a conversation space, a meeting space, a filing cabinet, a classroom, a bulletin board, a library, and many types of museums. It is a printing press / radio or TV station / movie theater (where you can be the projectionist or an audience member). It's also a shopping mall, collaboratory and playground (of sorts). Thinking of Google Docs or Zoho, It is many types of computer applications, and the metaphors that they embody. I am sure I have left out important roles, and given short shrift to some. In all of these cases, the economics of the Internet mean that the Internet is a tremendously cost-effective resource for education. So one can interpret its value in a quantitative, monetary sense (quite high), or qualitatively, in terms of (for example) surprising discovered connections, social or otherwise.

On the other hand... It is important to remember what the Internet is not. It is not "right there" -- it can only be reached through electronic devices, and those magical gateways, although not that hard to find these days, are not ubiquitous or free. It is not nature, the real natural world. It is not tactile, physical, sensual world . It is not a real room where one can enjoy the richness of face-to-face interaction. The Internet experience is mediated through electronics, a bundle of media that exerts certain pressures on experience, and so alters and shapes and constrains it. The Internet, hyperlinks notwithstanding, is a programmed experience, where the rules governing interactions are limited by the imagination of the developers or the capabilities of the hardware. And all of the social networking opportunities notwithstanding, it is still a terribly segregated space, of like communicating only with like.

So while there is obvious and real value for education in the Internet, there is also a seductive lure to it. There is the danger that education gets swallowed up by the Internet. That educators might confuse the world with its (relatively) tiny subset, the Internet. Because the digital Internet is, if you are sitting in front of a screen, right there, easier to deal with than the messiness of the analog world.

Here is a more interesting question to me: What is the value of the Internet for education, versus leaving the school building, and spending an hour investigating the empty lot across the street?



Ms. Anti-Bureaucracy said...


You are a wonderful writer. You say what I think, but so much more succinctly! I can see from the caption under the image at the top of your page that you would like to introduce teaching/learning with technology that assists students in experiencing the real aka analog world. I would like to offer my two cents to your question at the bottom of the entry: What is the value of the Internet for education, versus leaving the school building, and spending an hour investigating the empty lot across the street? I truly believe that the internet, and technology more generally, can be used as a tool to help students process what they see and learn from the lot across the street. It can provide background knowledge for any lesson that the teacher is presenting. If it is a social studies project the internet helps them investigate the history of what used to be in that lot in their community; if it is for a science project they could research the effect of impermeable surfaces on water runoff; for math they could investigate angles and so on. After they make their journey to the lot and collect their evidence and pictures, they could return to synthesize the background knowledge and first-hand experience into an online account, whether it be a class website or photobook etc. I’m curious if you agree…is this valuable to their learning, or simply a way to put technology to use for the sake of utilizing technology in education?


StellBell said...

In response to your question my thinking is along the same lines as Mandy's. There is more value in interacting with the real world and seeing, touching and smelling whatever interesting things may be in that empty lot across the street. Value is added by students having background knowledge about the artifacts in that alley; and even more by sharing what they learned with others both through Internet resources. I believe this technologically enhanced experience would be beneficial to learning and not just an exercise of using technology for the sake of using technology. As 21st century students, technology, specifically Internet resources are ingrained in their way of life and teachers must implement and infuse these tools into our lessons and curriculum, helping students construct and exhibit their learning in order to keep education relevant and engaging.


Mrs. Zumpano said...

Well thought out comments from Mandy and Stella. I agree with both responses. The Internet and its resources can bring more knowledge and peak a child's interest in some cases more than a teacher or an empty lot can. It is hard to say what method will reach which child. I would prefer to see all three methods (teacher, Internet, and field trip) incorporated into the learning experience. As Stella stated, prior knowledge is essential. What if the students experienced the empty lot (as in Jim's example), then came back and under the guidance of the teacher used the Internet to research something specific in the lot (as in Mandy's example). At the conclusion of this, they could then return to the empty lot to prove/disprove their theories. Imagine the inquiry that would take place in that instance...
There is so much that can come about with the use of the Internet as a supplemental resource, not as a babysitter.