Copyright (c) 1994,1995 Michael Brundage. All rights reserved.

Education through the Internet

When I first began this section of the report, I was inclined to say that education has, by and large, lagged behind scientific publication and collaboration in its exploitation of information technologies. Of course, the conference really focused on these issues over educational ones; there was a focus group on high schools, but virtually nothing was said about the impact on university education. In the January 95 issue of Internet World, Dave Taylor lists ``The Best Education Resources,'' but this list contained items like AskERIC and the Classroom edition of Cable News Network, government resources such as the U.S. Department of Education, and a multitude of mailing lists. To be sure, education Web sites and interactive environments are hard to find and are definitely not well-advertised at this point. [Note: These pages were written in 1994, when the situation in education was decidedly different. Today, many schools are active on the Internet, but I've kept this page for historical purposes anyway.]

This fact is shocking to me. Isn't education primarily about the transmittal of information (and the understanding of that information)??? Shouldn't a fundamental change in the way we share information have profound effects on education? And yet apparently very little has been done. A growing number of universities provide free email and netnews access to their students (undergraduate and graduate), though many universities restrict such access to those with a demonstrated (education-related) ``need'' for access. Some universities offer more sophisticated services such as desktop references; a few are so advanced as to even email students their telephone bills or recent library arrivals.

While such services surely increase familiarity with the technology, they fail to address primary educational concerns. Students still (for the most part) do not read their lecture notes through the Web (although some professors have put class materials online, such efforts remain an individual activity); students still do not work with interactive diagrams or models. Although there are the University of Minnesota's Geometry Center and Swarthmore's Geometry Forum, and a number of other projects (such as LBL's Frog Dissection Kit, Stanford's Education Program for Gifted Youth and NASA's JASON Project), to my knowledge such projects have yet to find their way into most classrooms.

My own limited experience with such things has shown that students are generally more receptive to using computers and the Internet than their professors; many students showed considerable surprise when they learned I was putting class information on the Net, but were thankful for the additional resource. If such tools are to have the great effects on education that they should, professors (indeed, educators in general) must

  1. Embrace the technology for what it is (a revolutionary change with virtually unlimited possibilities)
  2. Acquaint themselves with the tools of the trade
  3. Adapt existing research software to educational purposes
  4. Ultimately create new software for the sole purpose of education
  5. and perhaps most importantly, Teach their students how to use these things to teach themselves

My hope is that soon educators will get on the bandwagon and begin to develop tools for classroom use. I have a number of ideas for bringing existing collaboration technology to the classroom, and intend to seriously pursue them. Perhaps the day is not far off when students will all have access to (and expertise with) networked computers, and will log in from their real classroom into a virtual one, where there will be individual tutors capable of tracking the student's progress, tailoring the presentation to the student's individual taste and speed, and producing material in ways not possible with plain text books or classroom lectures. Perhaps students in these virtual schools will all load into a virtual tour bus to explore online places like the Exploratorium or the Louvre; while such explorations will probably never replace the real thing, they expand the options available to both the educator and the student.

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