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Internet – So What?

I recently presented a demonstration on the internet, specifically the World Wide Web, to a group of educators. I was careful to show all the cool and trendy places that get all the ohs and ahs. After a short period of this, the questions got down to the nitty-gritty of what to do with this resource.
This was a group of computer literate educators, mostly members of the local user group, that took a Friday evening and sunny Saturday to attend computer workshops. In short, they are the computer using elite in their schools. These people are keeners for technology and work very hard against shrinking budgetary resources to get technology into the hands of students. Their reaction to the internet as an educational resource is mixed. Whether this was a self-fufilling prophecy or not, it amplified many of my own thoughts.
I am a great believer and a constant user of computer technologies but I must admit to having my confidence shaken by the public hype over internet and like technologies. My fear is that the hype will blur the critical analysis that should accompany teachers, students and parents in school matters, all people in everyday life when making choices about technology. The logical flaw works like this.
The internet is a vast resource  (true)
Schools need resources (true)
Schools need the internet. (false, or at least not provable from the above)

For those of you without direct interest in school issues please substitute ‘people’ for ‘schools’ in the above statements. Despite the fact that everybody seems to be discussing ‘The Internet’ the level of understanding is very low. The internet, at its heart, is a technology not a thing. This technology allows for the combining large and small computers over vast distances. The result is a patchwork that allows information to pass to just about anywhere. No one ‘owns’ the internet and with a few minor exceptions no one ‘manages’ it either.
The result is a frontier not a highway. People that are using it are left to their own devices, both literally and figuratively, and the “kindness of strangers”. As a result most internet activity is a mass jumble of unrelated and sometimes irrelevant events. So as a school or individual the prospect is more of tripping over something that of finding something that your looking for. In such an environment, a level of prudence in both the searching for information and the acceptance of what you find is required. I made a point at my recent presentation of showing my cat’s web page. This I created for a laugh one day when I had nothing better to do. I used it as an example of two things.
First, anyone with a minimum of means can access and input information into the internet. This is powerful and necessary if this technology is to be widely accepted and used. The problem is anybody means ANYBODY whether the information is useful, relevant or even true. This should be a concern to all and something that internet users should be consciously aware of. Second, The clutter of irrelevent or plain useless information only increases the difficulty of locating useful information. Additionally, it is extremely difficult to divine the truthfulness, character, of honesty of those providing the information over an electronic link.
What are our defences in a case like this. Well, the easiest and safest is abstencence. If you don not trust a medium you don’t us it. The domination of television  and cable in homes shows that this is not realistic. Even if it was, it might not be prudent to exclude yourself from a medium that are carrying discussion and decisions that may eventually effect your life. Abstenence does not do justice to the many excellent resources that are available from the internet. The more viable choice is the determined and measured use of the internet that shows you are aware of these pitfalls.

I should say to those that view the internet as a recreational medium that, that approach is fine and you should stop reading here and go back to reading alt.funny.jokes.steinfeld and ignore these rantings.

{are they gone yet? …. good!}

For the rest of us, specifically educators, we need to get out on the internet and be active critical users. We need to assess the merit of individual resources. This will make us ready to be advocates for what our students need rather than gatekeepers of a flood of information.

In future instalments, I would like to discuss the pros and cons of the uses of internet tools. In the process I hope to pose some of the questions that we need to ask of information technology. The answers, I fear, will be a little more nebulous.

Bill Kempthorne (billk@wimsey.com) is a Math/Physics teacher at Mountain Secondary in Langley, B.C. He has a soon to be published thesis on Computers in the Grade Eight to Ten classroom and a semi-regular contributor to user group newsletters and similar publications. Electronic rebutals are accepted in the manner offered at the above address.
The view expressed here should be treated as the sole opinion of the writer except were specific quotations or references are cited. Permission to reproduce for individual educational use is granted, all other rights reserved WAK&CO ©1995

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