Harvard Educational Review
  1. Spring 1996 Issue »

    Education on the Internet, EdWeb, The Internet Resource Directory, and Way of the Ferret

    By Edward J. Miech
    Education on the Internet: A Hands-On Book of Ideas, Resources, Projects, and Advice
    by Jill H. Ellsworth.
    Indianapolis: Sams, 1994. 591 pp. $25.00 (paper).

    EdWeb: Exploring Technology and School Reform
    by Andy Carvin.
    World Wide Web site (http://edweb.gsn.org). Sponsored by the Corporation
    for Public Broadcasting and the Center for Networked Information Discoveryand Retrieval.

    The Internet Resource Directory for K–12 Teachers and Librarians, 1995–1996 edition
    by Elizabeth B. Miller.
    Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. 199 pp. $25.00 (paper).

    Way of the Ferret: Finding Educational Resources on the Internet, revised edition.
    by Judi Harris.
    Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education, 1994. 191 pp.
    $29.95 (paper).

    The Internet is a huge, amazing, world-wide system of voluntarily interconnected networks with literally millions of documents, resources, databases and a variety of methods for communicating — it has become the best opportunity for improving education since the printing press started putting books in the hands of millions. (Ellsworth, p. xxii)

    Click and jump. Click and jump again. If you were sitting at a computer right now exploring the Internet via the World Wide Web, you would be busy deciding where to go next. Should you stay where you are for the moment and see what the creator of this Web site has placed here? Should you jump to a different page at this same site — if so, which page? Should you jump backwards to return to the last place you visited? Or should you jump to another Web site altogether — perhaps one of the sites that can be directly accessed from this Web page with a single keystroke? You register each of your decisions with your mouse, clicking on images and brightly colored hypertext to hop from place to place. As you visit and explore different Web sites of interest, you easily make several jumps a minute, and hundreds of jumps each hour, electronically crisscrossing the country and the world in the process. Since each new Web site you visit offers direct links to dozens of other Web sites, you find that your universe of possible destinations expands exponentially as you continue your point-and-click exploration. The Internet, in all its splendor and chaos, unfolds before you as you navigate your way though a fascinating, exhilarating, and overwhelming explosion of information.

    During a single Internet session, for example, you might take the "virtual tour" of the White House, monitor the score of an NBA game in progress, leaf through movie reviews, find the names of twenty famous people who share your birthdate, read up-to-the-minute national and international news bulletins, view weather satellite photos, and calculate the mileage between two cities. It does not take long to discover that the World Wide Web features a wealth of entertaining sites that offer endless diversion. But what if you wanted to use resources on the Internet to help improve educational practice? What do the Internet and the World Wide Web offer today to K–12 educators, hype and hoopla aside?

    The short answer to this question is plenty. An individual with 1) a starting point and 2) a strategy for negotiating the World Wide Web can find many high-quality Web sites specific to education in a relatively short period of time. These sites offer, among other things, dozens of on-line student and teacher publications, electronic news services that feature articles of particular interest to educators, subject-specific resources that provide in-depth and comprehensive information on nearly every topic imaginable, complete on-line texts of classics and more recent books, thousands of detailed lesson plans, information about how to apply for educational grants, "home pages" of teachers eager to volunteer their own insights into classroom teaching and recommend other educational sites on the Web, maps to hundreds of networked K–12 schools, lists of students and classes looking for "keypals," step-by-step instructions on how to construct your own Web site, and discussion groups that feature extensive conversation and idea-sharing with others around the United States and the world. Furthermore, provided that you have access to the Internet and the World Wide Web, practically all of this information is yours free of charge, twenty-four hours a day, to explore on-screen, print out as hard copy, or download onto your own computer.

    But successful and satisfying World Wide Web experiences do not automatically result from simply logging on to the Internet. Over 100,000 Web sites existed in late 1995, a number that continues to double every two-and-one-half months.1 Without a starting point and a strategy, you can quickly feel frustrated on the Web: you might encounter one mediocre site after another, face long delays when jumping between sites or downloading files, be smothered by irrelevant information, or just get lost in the electronic wilderness. The specialized terminology of the Internet — complete with acronyms like "http," "ftp," "URL," "ISDN," and "html" — may seem daunting and distancing. And securing access to the Internet and the World Wide Web may represent a large challenge in and of itself. In sum, the prospect of undertaking a solo exploration of the Internet to look for educational resources might be more than a little intimidating.

    Fortunately, direction and assistance come from several authors who have blazed trails across the Internet in search of resources of interest to educators, and have written books that, in effect, provide Internet compasses and maps. This literature includes Education on the Internet by Jill H. Ellsworth (1994), The Internet Resource Directory for K–12 Teachers and Librarians by Elizabeth B. Miller (1996), and Way of the Ferret: Finding Educational Resources on the Internet by Judi Harris (1994). Other authors have published free educational guides — similar in some ways to the previous three books — on the World Wide Web. One such on-line resource is EdWeb: Exploring Technology and School Reform (http://edweb.gsn.org) by Andy Carvin, a World Wide Web site sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Center for Networked Information Discovery and Retrieval.

    All four of these guides to educational resources on the Internet begin with some assumptions about their readers. First, they assume that readers are familiar with the basics of using a computer, such as writing with a word processing program, saving and printing files, switching among directories or program applications, and copying files between a disk and a hard drive. Second, they assume that the reader has access to computer hardware and software that permit an efficient hookup to a computer network, including a computer with some hard-drive space and at least a few megabytes of RAM, a reasonably fast modem that connects the computer to a phone line, and a decent telecommunications program. Third, they assume that readers already have a way to access the Internet.

    This last assumption of Internet access may represent a stumbling block for many. Universities generally offer Internet access to faculty, students, and affiliates, often over high-speed lines that can transfer data as many as one hundred times faster than is possible over a 14.4K (thousand bits per second) modem. This difference in speed is immediately noticeable on the World Wide Web: a single jump between Web sites might take several minutes to complete over a modem on a home computer, but only a few seconds over a 1.5M (million bits per second) "T1" high-speed line on an on-campus computer directly linked to the Internet. Access to the Internet and the World Wide Web through a university account, especially over a high-speed Internet connection, offers a chance to experience and explore the World Wide Web under optimal conditions. For a teacher, only a few hours on an Internet account — just one well-planned electronic "field trip" on the World Wide Web — could yield enough ideas and information to enrich the classroom for many weeks.

    Another option is to access the Internet through one of the major on-line commercial services. The largest commercial on-line service, America On-Line (AOL), approached the four-and-a-half million member mark in late 1995 — in other words, more than one in every sixty people in the United States subscribed to AOL. The chances, then, seem fairly good that a friend or acquaintance has Internet access through a commercial on-line service. It should be noted, however, that the software tools provided by some of these companies to explore the World Wide Web can be quite slow in making jumps from site to site. To shop around for a service that offers relatively fast Internet access over a modem at a modest price, the latest copy of one of the major on-line magazines at a local newsstand may help. Commercial on-line enterprises advertise their rates and services in these publications, and many businesses provide a one-month free trial period in which new customers can explore the World Wide Web for ten or more hours via the company's set-up before deciding whether or not to subscribe to the service.

    A third option for educators is to pursue free Internet access through organizational channels. Of the resource guides included in this review, Harris most directly addresses this point in Way of the Ferret. She recommends that you "first gather your patience, persistence, politeness, and persuasiveness," and then

    * call a computing services representative with your request [for Internet access], beginning with the first office in the following list and moving through the list until you are successful: your school district's central administrative office
    * your regional educational center
    * your state's department of education technology center
    * university computing centers within your local calling area
    * college computing centers within your local calling area
    * scientific research communities within your local calling area
    * Internet-connected commercial organizations accessible in your local calling area (p. 6)

    In any case, you need to be on the World Wide Web to visit Andy Carvin's EdWeb site, and you need access to the Internet at some point to get the most out of these three resource books. Otherwise, these guides will hold limited value — imagine owning a copy of the yellow pages without access to a working telephone.

    Whereas these three books make assumptions about readers' knowledge of computer fundamentals, and their access to a computer linked to a phone line or high-speed data connection and to the Internet, they make no assumptions of prior familiarity with the Internet. Indeed, all four guides have an audience of Internet "beginners" in mind, and each provides a clear, detailed overview to educational resources on the Internet that should be engaging and user friendly to those who have never before set foot on the Internet.

    The three books differ somewhat in their approach. In Way of the Ferret, Judi Harris offers teachers of "precollege" students a step-by-step introduction to the process of finding educational resources on the Internet, and the book is replete with detailed examples and activities. Harris adopts the ferret as a mascot for her book because ferrets "commonly are known for their superior, speedy hunting abilities, especially in the below-ground tunnel networks that other animals (such as prairie dogs) create" (p. xi), and thus provide a symbol well-suited for the topic of searching for resources on the Internet. The spiral-bound volume has a workshop feel to it, which is not surprising, given that Harris offers hands-on Internet seminars to educators around the United States. Harris — an assistant professor in instructional technology at the University of Texas at Austin, a columnist for The Computing Teacher on "mining the Internet," and a former elementary school teacher — clearly knows the Internet, feels strongly about its educational potential, and effectively communicates this knowledge and passion to an audience of K–12 educators in Way of the Ferret.

    Possibly the greatest strength of Harris's book is her ability to demystify Internet terms and concepts through her use of straightforward language, her myriad examples of actual Internet sessions, her supportive tone throughout, and her extensive use of analogies from the everyday world to explain different aspects of the Internet. Harris takes seriously the notion of teaching her readers to use the Internet well, and her guide shows educators how to find and use informational resources, interpersonal resources, and educational applications on the Internet. Harris also includes a thirty-page appendix of recommended Internet sites related to education.

    Whereas Harris emphasizes the process of finding educational resources on the Internet and places her recommended sites in an appendix, Elizabeth Miller does essentially the opposite in The Internet Resource Directory for K–12 Teachers and Librarians. The heart of Miller's book is a 180-page annotated list of 753 Internet sites of special interest to K–12 educators, plus a short section introducing educational issues related to the Internet and a brief appendix outlining the history of the Internet. The 1995–1996 edition of the book features almost three hundred more entries than the 1994–1995 edition, as Miller has added close to four hundred World Wide Web education-related sites to her resource directory. Miller, a member of the faculty at the College of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina, organizes most of these recommended sites by subject area, making it easy to look up resources specifically geared for the fine arts, math, English, foreign languages, science, social studies and geography, and general reference. Miller's annotations for each site give the title, information on how to access the site on the Internet, and a summary of the site's purpose and contents. In addition to providing a practical directory of education-related sites for K–12 teachers and librarians eager to explore the Internet, Miller states that her book could also serve a useful role as a tool of persuasion:

    More experienced professionals would like to convince administrators, superintendents, teachers, school library media specialists, students, and parents of the benefits of Internet access in their schools or school districts, but they do not have any concrete examples of K–12 Internet resources. Career demands prohibit random explorations of the Internet. This directory of K–12 Internet resources provides examples and demonstrates the advantages of Internet access to educators and students who integrate that access into the learning environment. (p. xi)

    Education on the Internet
    by Jill Ellsworth, at 591 pages, is considerably longer than the Harris and Miller books combined. Ellsworth also, in many respects, combines the missions of Harris and Miller: she guides and instructs the reader in how to use the Internet to find educational resources, and also profiles hundreds of recommended Internet sites. In a 55-page tutorial she calls "Internet 101: A Quick Guide to the Internet and Its Tools," Ellsworth provides an overview of the history of the Internet, discusses issues pertaining to Internet access, explains key Internet services, and gives step-by-step instructions about how to use the various Internet tools, supplemented by many examples of actual Internet sessions. In the first 480 pages of the book, Ellsworth organizes her descriptions of education-related Internet sites into subject areas concerning K–12 education, higher education, and lifelong learning. Of the three books in this review, only Education on the Internet profiles educational resources related to colleges and universities or distance learning and independent study.

    Education on the Internet
    also stands out for its high production value. Published by Sams Publishing, Ellsworth's guide features a creative layout and page design, with subheadings, icons, graphics, inset boxes, and different font sizes and types rendering the text visually appealing. Furthermore, Ellsworth intersperses Internet tips, notes, definitions, and examples throughout her book, rewarding the reader with a wandering eye. A professor with a particular interest in distance learning and the Internet, Ellsworth has created a comprehensive and in-depth guide in Education and the Internet, and her book represents a solid investment for those looking for a broad and detailed reference to educational resources on the Internet.

    Prospective readers should know, however, that all of these books also have some limitations. For example, none offers a glossary of terms for easy consultation to look up the definition of a particular term like "listserve" or "WAIS": the reader interested in a particular term has to backtrack to the relevant section of the book after consulting the index.

    More importantly, Education on the Internet and Way of the Ferret were written before point-and-click graphical browsers like Netscape and Mosaic, which made it possible to navigate the Internet with ease via the World Wide Web, became as popular and commonplace as they are today. As a result, these two books focus almost exclusively on text-based ways of exploring the Internet such as "gopher," "telnet," and "file transfer protocol." When you explore the World Wide Web using a graphical browser, however, all of these text-based approaches are integrated with one another, with hypertext, and with graphics (which can sometimes be stunning), allowing you to jump from one place to another with a click of your mouse. The order-of-magnitude difference between Web graphical browsers like Netscape and previous text-based Internet applications like gopher and file transfer protocol might be compared, roughly speaking, to the difference between the Macintosh or Microsoft Windows operating systems and the older DOS operating system: whereas the latter often seemed awkward to use and required mastery of some esoteric commands, the former is largely intuitive, very user friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and simple enough that a novice can begin using it almost immediately with minimal preparation.

    For the educator interested in finding educational resources on the Internet, the World Wide Web appears to be the easiest and preferred way right now. Of the three books reviewed here, however, only the 1995–1996 edition of The Internet Resource Directory for K–12 Teachers and Librarians addresses the World Wide Web in detail, as the advent of the Web and graphical browsers had not yet occurred at the time the other two were written. Educators may still find Education on the Internet and Way of the Ferret handy as overviews to the Internet and as references for using the older text-based Internet applications, which are generally faster and cheaper to access than graphical browsers and the World Wide Web. Alternatively, educators may wish to wait for the next versions of these books; as with the 1995–1996 edition of The Internet Resource Directory for K–12 Teachers and Librarians, they will undoubtedly include entirely new sections devoted to the World Wide Web.

    Another option for educators with access to the World Wide Web is to visit the Web site by Andy Carvin called EdWeb: Exploring Technology and School Reform. Carvin calls his work a "hyperbook," and his site provides an intelligent, detailed, informed, and practical guide both to education-related issues concerning the Internet and to educational resources on the World Wide Web. Carvin's work is especially noteworthy for the way it places the World Wide Web in a larger historical context, explains how the Web and the Internet have remained largely untapped resources for educators, describes how the Web works, and discusses the role of the Web in particular, and educational technology in general, in school reform.

    EdWeb, sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Center for Networked Information Discovery and Retrieval, offers visitors a chance to learn about a given subject in as much detail as they desire. For example, when reading a page about the role of the National Science Foundation in the development of the Internet, a visitor could click on hypertext links located throughout the document to jump to the home page of the National Science Foundation, jump to an on-line dictionary for a definition of "NSFNET," jump to Carvin's e-mail address to leave a message for the author, jump to the next page in this series of pages on the history of the Internet, or jump back to the EdWeb home page to select a different subject altogether. Likewise, in the "Educational Resources Guide" area of the EdWeb site, the visitor can read Carvin's annotated lists of educational information servers and discussion groups, and, if sufficiently interested, jump to that site with a single click of the mouse to investigate further or even sign up as a member.

    EdWeb can be reached directly by going to http://edweb.gsn.org or indirectly by entering "EdWeb" into a Web search engine (e.g., Yahoo, WebCrawler, Lycos), and clicking on the EdWeb link when the search results appear. Like nearly all education-related Web sites, EdWeb costs nothing to visit. As an on-line guide to educational resources on the World Wide Web and the Internet, EdWeb enjoys some notable advantages over its more traditional counterparts in the book world: the site is free, offers instant access to the resources it profiles via hypertext links, and is extremely flexible in the way it allows readers to zigzag across the site in pursuit of their own particular interests. EdWeb is one among many high-quality, education-related Web sites where organizations and individuals make it their explicit mission to welcome educators to the Web, share ideas about using the Internet to improve educational practice, and offer direct links to other interesting sites that offer educational resources. In her preface to Way of the Ferret, Harris writes:

    In 5 to 10 years, my hope is that this book will no longer be necessary. In that time, software tools will be developed and distributed that will make Internet resources just "points and clicks" away. . . . At that time, this book will, perhaps, be relegated to a time capsule somewhere to remind future generations that networked information wasn't always so easy to obtain. (p. xi)

    Perhaps that time has already arrived. With many people on the Web today eager to act as your free on-line guide to educational resources on the Web, books seem largely superfluous.

    In preparation for writing this review, I spent about forty hours on the Web, and found the books by Harris, Miller, and Ellsworth to be much more useful before I logged on to the Internet than after. Once I started exploring the Web, it seemed unnatural to look up a reference in a book when I could just click and jump to another Web site. In general, I discovered that if the two elements mentioned earlier in this review — a starting point and a strategy — were well-defined, I could expect to have a productive search for educational resources on the Web.

    I found that two strategies, each with an associated starting point, seemed especially useful for beginning a Web exploration right away. Both strategies take advantage of the fact that several on-line companies have full-time staffs who explore the Web in search of new and interesting sites and then provide the results of their searches free of charge to the general public. Rather than conduct a random search for education-related sites among the more than 100,000 sites currently available, Web beginners may wish to use these on-line resources to pinpoint sites specifically related to their particular area of interest or to locate sites that have been recognized by Web veterans for their overall excellence.

    The first strategy involves using a Web index called "Yahoo," which is considered by many to be the finest on-line index to Web sites. Yahoo can be reached at http://www.yahoo.com and features an extensive index to education Web sites. In late 1995, the "education" category in Yahoo had about forty subcategories ranging from "adult education" to "grants" to "K12." Each subcategory breaks down into further subcategories. When you click on "K12," for example, about twenty more subject areas appear, including "resources," "gifted youth," and "magnet schools." If you then click on "resources," an annotated list of more than sixty Web sites appears, offering a concise description of the contents of each site and direct hypertext links to those sites. The education section of the Yahoo index, with all of its education subcategories, seems rich enough to keep an educator happily occupied visiting one interesting site after another for days. Yahoo, incidentally, is free of charge; the company makes money through posting advertisements in a rectangular space on the top of the screen, which allows visitors to jump to the home page of these sponsors by clicking on the ad if they are so inclined.

    The second strategy might be called the "best of the Net" approach. Several organizations roam the Web in search of excellence, and then selectively present their seal of approval to sites they consider exemplary. These organizations then create directories, organized by content area, to these award-winning sites, and make those directories available free of charge on their own Web sites. Two companies that perform this service and feature education as one of their content areas are Point Communications and GNN.

    Point Communications, which can be reached at http://www.pointcom.com, gives out a "Top 5% of All Web Sites" award to Web sites it considers to be in the top echelon of the World Wide Web in terms of quality. Each selected site is rated on a 50-point scale for content, presentation, and overall experience, and critically reviewed by a staff member. These reviews are organized into various categories, including education, and each category features further subcategories; education, for examples, offers subcategories in subject areas such as higher education, libraries, and K–12. Once a visitor selects a subcategory, a list of the "Top 5%" education sites in that area appears, along with the three numerical ratings for each site. Clicking on the name of a site brings up the individual review, and the visitor, if interested, can then jump directly to the Web site via a hypertext link. The Point reviews offer an excellent introduction to high-quality educational resources on the Web. Like Yahoo, Point offers its services free of charge to the public and generates revenue through the on-line advertisements of its sponsors.

    Not unlike the Academy Awards, GNN offers an annual "Best of the Net" award for Web sites in ten subject areas, including "K–12 Education," with an "amateur" and "professional" category in each subject area. GNN can be reached at http://www.gnn.com, and its "Whole Internet Catalog" area provides a direct link to an annotated list of the 1995 nominees and finalists. In 1995, there were five nominees in the professional category of the education subject area, with AskERIC winning top honors; the amateur category featured four nominees, with an on-line publication created by and for middle school students called MidLink Magazine taking first place. ("Yahoo," incidentally, was awarded the 1995 "Best of the Net" award in the professional category of the "Internet Navigation" subject area). The GNN Web site provides hypertext links to every site nominated for a 1995 award, and is another excellent starting point for finding exemplary education resources on the World Wide Web.

    Large numbers of people in North America currently have access to the Internet and the World Wide Web, and the Web phenomenon is more than just hype. Today, close to seven million computers world-wide are hooked up to the Web. According to a Nielsen survey released in late 1995, an estimated thirty-seven million people in North America had access to the Internet, twenty-four million used the Internet between September and November 1995 (including eighteen million who used the Web), about one-third of all Internet users were female, and the typical Internet user averaged 5.5 hours on-line each week.2

    Business is getting into the Web in a big way. This became especially clear to me after I attended "Internet World 95," a city-trotting convention that features over two hundred Internet-related services and companies, and that, with all its razzle-dazzle, might be described as an electronic circus. I caught the high-tech show during its three-day run at the World Trade Center in Boston in October 1995. Under the big-top of the grand exhibit hall was a dizzying array of live demonstrations, computer workstations, giant video monitors, free software, company representatives and technicians, and informational brochures explaining how to gain faster access to the Internet via the World Wide Web, receive and send information more efficiently, conduct more powerful on-line searches, create "home pages," build new clienteles, and generate new growth. The Internet — the decentralized network of networks that had long seemed rather vague and amorphous to me — suddenly felt very real in that concentrated whirl of human excitement, ingenuity, and earnestness.

    As the terrain of the Internet came into clearer focus, however, I felt increasingly uneasy about a landscape feature that was noticeable through its absence: education. I left "Internet World 95" with the overwhelming impression that access to the Internet and World Wide Web had more or less become an end in itself, rather than a means towards achieving some larger goal; when a goal was specified, that aim usually involved money and profits. Whereas commercial interests seemed paramount, ends related to education and learning floated intermittently about the exhibit floor almost as afterthoughts.

    My hope is that educators will eventually find the World Wide Web as valuable as those in the business world do, and, inspired by a learning motive rather than an economic motive, that educators will develop and disseminate strategies for using it constructively to improve educational practice. The World Wide Web might not yet quite be a giant leap for education, but, given a secure foothold, it is certainly one big "jump" in the right direction.
    EDWARD J. MIECH

    Notes

    1 Vic Sussman, "Gold Rush in Cyberspace," U.S.News Online, November 13, 1995 (http://www2.usnews.com/usnews/issue/neti.htm).

    2 Sussman, "Gold Rush" (http://www2.usnews.com/usnews/issue/neti.htm).
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    Spring 1996 Issue

    Abstracts

    Getting to Scale with Good Educational Practice
    By Richard F. Elmore
    Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildering
    The Use and Misuse of State SAT and ACT Scores
    By Brian Powell and Lala Carr Steelman
    A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies
    Designing Social Futures
    The New London Group
    The Politics of Culture
    Understanding Local Political Resistance to Detracking in Racially Mixed Schools
    By Amy Stuart Wells and Irene Serna

    Book Notes

    Moral Development
    Edited by Bill Puka

    Places of Inquiry
    By Burton R. Clark

    Teaching and Learning in History
    Edited by Gaea Leinhardt, Isabel L. Beck, and Catherine Stainton.

    School-Based Management
    Edited by Susan Albers Mohrman and Priscilla Wohlstetter.

    Developing Home-School Partnerships
    By Susan McAllister Swap

    Over the Ivy Walls
    By Patricia Gandara

    Composition as a Cultural Practice
    By Alan W. France

    Fugitive Cultures
    By Henry Giroux

    A New Generation of Evidence
    Edited by Anne Henderson and Nancy Berla.

    Mother-Work
    By Molly Ladd-Taylor.

    Beyond Tracking
    Edited by Harbison Pool and Jane A. Page

    School-Community Connections
    Edited by Leo C. Rigsby, Maynard C. Reynolds, and Margaret C. Wang.

    Bird by Bird
    By Anne Lamott

    The International Education Quotations Encyclopaedia
    Edited by Keith Allan Noble

    Learning from Strangers
    By Robert S. Weiss

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.