The Internet as a Learning Tool

The Internet: Its Benefits and Problems

The Internet has a universal appeal for most people. We (in the United States) have become dependant on it for our daily routines. We shop, send mail, read the news, look up movie reviews, etc., using the Internet. We depend on this service, because we have told ourselves that "It" has made our lives easier. We advocate the use of similar technologies within the classroom, because we are convinced that the use of computers and having access to the Internet is the best way to educate our children so they can have an equal chance to reach their potential and accomplish their goals.

It is true that the Internet is a great source of information. Its value as a resource is immeasurable. Unfortunately, to get this benefit we have to pay a price. In some cases this comes as loss of privacy. The Internet and the digital world are a part of the public sphere; therefore, our speech has to be measured and revised to be appropriate for this realm causing our free speech to be limited. Access to the Internet is also restricted to a certain group of people. One has to own a computer, or have access to one to be able to make use of its benefits. Internet access is uneven, therefore unfair. The other potential problem with the Internet is the access that people with shady intents or with low morality have to it. Anyone with the means to a computer can be online with our innocent children. Are their intents innocent also?

In the realm of education, I think that the Internet can be a great resource for information. Research can be easily planned and implemented for the benefit of both students and educators. Unfortunately, this brings us back to the issue of limited access. Some students are more readily exposed and connected to this source than others. It would be unfair for educators to expect all students to access Internet sources for their education, unless this is implemented as part of the curriculum.

The Internet is a great research tool. I think that all students at the university level should be proficient at using it. I also know that these skills are better learned when taught from a young age; therefore, the sooner we teach students to use the internet (as a serious resource) the faster the students will pick it up and be able to learn to reap its benefits. The Internet is a public forum and as such, it is accessible to all kinds of people.

Teaching students to be critical of what they research on the net can help them to be more critical overall. I think that a way of teaching critical evaluation of sites is by having the students access or build their own (class) web-site. To implement this at the elementary, middle school and high school level might not be easy. Most schools are hooked up to the Internet for research but availability of servers is short or non-existent. Servers are required for setting up a class or student's web-site. The possibility is interesting and worth exploring. A student or a whole class would benefit from the experience and knowledge that would be gained by their exposure with this endeavor.

I know that the Internet is a great research and information tool. I assume that it can be utilized for educational purposes beginning in elementary school. I imagine that the implementation of equal access and curricular use of the Internet will not be an easy task to accomplish.

The Search: Stunted Possibilities

In writing this paper, I chose to focus on evaluating, building, and accessing web pages and the potential benefits that the proficiency of such might offer to students of all ages and all backgrounds. My research will focus on the possibility of having a class (in high school) build and help maintain a web page for their use, reference, and practice.

A server is required to store and publish the data. Most schools in LAUSD are hooked up to the Internet, but a server, like the ones available at major universities, is not among the capabilities of the school district. This search took me to the web, where I found a few sites that offer fast, easy, and free access to creating web pages.

The most interesting web site about publishing web pages is the one called "Fast, Easy and FREE Webpages at Webspawner.com." This site gave extensive information on the rights and responsibilities of both the "customer" and this company. I was able to print out the customer agreement prior to the actual sign-up for the service. All of the information seems easy and legal.

Another Internet site for publishing web pages is "Publishing Your Page for Free." This site offers "A Guide to Web Publishing for Starving Students" which was helpful and informative. This site also has links to the essentials of web publishing. Most of the links are to free hosts and/or software that will make publishing a web page fun and easy.

From there, I went to other publishing sites that also offer automatic publishing, personal publishing, or access to Internet servers. These sites were available through educational and commercial institutions.

The page on "How to PUBLISH Your Web Pages Automatically" offers a choice of 3 commercial programs that will publish web pages to "servers." It also has links to software "downloads" that will facilitate the process of publishing on the web. This site also has step-by-step instructions on how to access the publishing tools and how to input the necessary information.

"Personal Publishing from Web Central or Satellites" is offered by the University of Texas. This site also offers links to different system users. The user would have to open an account and have to be a staff or alumni member of the university to take advantage of this service.

The last site that I researched is "How to Publish Web Pages to an Internet Server." This site offers a link to "Site Development" which is informative and helpful. This site offers links for shareware downloads and detailed instructions for the use of such.

The search for information was not as quick and easy as I had anticipated. The evaluation and trial of the sites was a bit more complicated still. Some sites offered an enormous amount of links that seemed to go nowhere. The task became repetitive and at times confusing. I chose to do my search using Alta Vista.com. I used "free publishing" as the key word. That yielded many choices for review. The first 20 were more interesting and usable. The rest were not as good. The sites that I chose came from the first group of 20 choices.

The most accessible site is the one offered by WebSpawner, followed by the one offered by Yahoo!GeoCities. I signed up for both. All that was needed was an e-mail address for WebSpawner and an e-mail account with password for Yahoo!GeoCities. The usefulness of the sites is not clear to me at the time. I would like them to function as information and instructional sites where my students can check if they missed class to keep up with assignments, have links to current articles, and to use as a communication tool. I do not know if this will be valuable enough.

Both of these web page creation facilities are similar. They offer the basics. They are mostly used for links to other sites. WebSpawner offers several spots for links. The only one they fill in automatically is the one linking to their own site. On the other hand, Yahoo!GeoCities has 4 openings for links which are already preset to their own sites. These sites are for informative and for entertainment purposes. They can be changed easily.

After creating one web page in each creation facility, I came to realize the minimal benefit that it would have for my students. I do not see how I could post an assignment list and keep such updated without the use of a server to which I could transfer the information directly.

I went back to change and update the web page at GeoCities. I wanted to change the reference sites that were given at the time of set-up. I could not get into the set-up / edit mode to make the necessary changes. I needed to make this page less commercial and more educational, but I was unable to figure out how to do it.

I tried once again to edit the web page at GeoCities without any success. I tried to access the web page but could not. The message box kept telling me that I had to delete the default "index.html" and rename my page as the index. It took me several tries to figure out what that meant. Finally, I was able to delete and rename so that I could successfully access the web page. Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to change the commercial (pre-set) sites that were given at the time of initial set-up.

The site that I set up using WebSpawner was easier to change and up-date. I revised it several times and found it very easy to do. The thing that still baffles me is the usefulness of the information offered. I had envisioned this site to be more interactive. I wanted it to function like an e-mail address that was to serve as a class list and as a link to different reference sites.

Web Pages: Limited Educational Use

After doing this research and setting up these 2 sites, I realized that what I had envisioned is not representative of the end result. I realize now that I was imagining a mixture between a MOO program and an e-mail service. I also know that it is possible to link a class web page to a MOO or a MUD program, but the availability of a server is essential.

In this quest, I also found out that publishing programs, such as WS_FTPs are easily downloaded and some versions are shareware programs that are free for the asking. The main problem still remains the lack of a server that will serve as that vital link and storage source.

I still believe that engaging students at using technology at an early age is essential. I also know that not all students have the same access or exposure to the world of computers and computer technology. For that reason, I am convinced that schools and school districts need to offer this as part of the curriculum. It has to be made an essential part of the curriculum so that all students can be equally exposed and trained in this field. Having access to a computer inside the classroom is a way of equalizing access. Training the students at utilizing the research capabilities of the Internet is another way to use technology to enhance the traditional way of learning/teaching.

The Internet will continue to have a universal appeal for people of all ages. We are using the Internet more and more for commercial and communication purposes. We need to teach technology using skills to our students. We also need to teach them critical analysis techniques so that they can be able to differentiate between trustworthy sources and shady ones. This is a skill that needs to be systematically taught just as we teach reading, writing and arithmetic.

In conducting this research, I learned that we have to "upgrade" the way we think about technology in the classroom. I also learned that, we are not as close to a multimedia / interactive classroom as we think we are. The school district (LAUSD) has spent several millions on purchasing computers and hooking them up to the Internet. The emphasis is on acquiring technology instead of implementing it. I still think that the novelty of computers and its tremendous appeal to students of all ages should be utilized to teach.


Works Cited

Last revised: December 15, 2001

adelina.contreras@csun.edu