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What's All the Hype?
The Internet is simply millions of groups of computers (Networks) from all over the world that share information and are loosely connected together. The early uses of the Internet include E-mail, File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Bulletin Boards, Newsgroups, and Remote Computer Access (Telenet). The most successful application of the Internet, thus far, seems to be the World Wide Web (Web).
These millions of computers all speak two common languages called Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). TCP breaks down every piece of data that is to be transmitted into smaller pieces, such as an E-mail, or an audio file (sound). Think of the process as if you would put a letter in an envelope. IP determines how to get the letter from point A to point B and initiates the transmission (distributes the letter from a central location). The routers (like post offices) then send the letter from router to router (spot locations along the way) until the information reaches its final destination. It's like the post office picking up your letter at a central location and determining where it goes to.
Due to the fact that this global network is comprised of so many computers, information has more than one thousand methods for getting information from point A to point B. In some areas of the globe there are not clear paths for information to follow. This results in a slow up. This is usually the case when you send a message and the recipient doesn't receive it until days later.
What is the World Wide Web?
The Web is a lesser part of the Internet where a large collection of interlinked documents reside. Anyone using a web browser (i.e., Internet Explorer or Netscape), can view these documents simply by typing in the location of the document.
Web pages are written mostly in a computer language called Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). A web browser reads this language which explains how each page should be displayed. HTML also tells the browser how to use and organize audio, video, and/or images files.
Assigning web addresses (domain names), such as teach-nology.com, is controlled by 2 central agencies: Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and Internet Network Information Center (InterNIC). When an individual or organization wants to reserve a domain name, these agencies can be contacted usually through a third party and the name selected can be leased for a set period of time.
What is an Intranet?
An Intranet is a way for an organization to use the Internet, but restricts the access of its web pages to only its employees. No one outside the company can have access to the documents via the outside Internet.
The Intranet Concept is still evolving. But suppose, for example, that a group of teachers from district "x" would like to create a K-12 Science Curriculum. Using simple software, the teachers could build collaborative web pages where they could communicate their ideas and actually build the curriculum as a group without ever being in the same room together. In this environment, the teachers could be free to communicate without the fear of the outside world seeing what they were doing.
But let's say you want to develop a state-wide curriculum with 14 other districts. Then you would need an Extranet, which is several linked Intranets. An Extranet can be partitioned so that teachers from other schools can only explore certain areas of your Intranet.
As you are probably aware, K-12 institutions are behind mainstream corporate technology use about 4 years; Higher Education Institutions are about 18 months behind. Intranets are fast becoming part of the mainstream status quo. So, be on the look out for them in your neck of the woods.
Who Owns The Internet?
Although we're sure your answer was Bill Gates, the true answer is: no one. The main lines that carry the bulk of the Internet traffic are owned by Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as America Online (AOL), AT&T, Earthlink, JUNO, MSN, and Sprint. These companies inter connect their networks with other companies worldwide creating an Internet pipeline that extends from the U.S. to Europe, Asia, or any other continents and back again.
In the U.S., there are five major locations (hubs) where all of this traffic intersects: Chicago (IL), Pennsauken (NJ), San Jose (CA), San Francisco (CA), and Washington (DC). ISP's, in turn, connect to these points based on their geographic location. This allows them to provide their customers Internet service. Educational institutions and Government Agencies also link into these areas.
As the Internet evolves and more and more people log on, these hubs become flooded with traffic; thus, the speed of the network slows down. In response to this, the U.S. Government is planning what is called the "Internet II."
What is the Internet II?
The U.S. Government envisions a period in time when the Internet audience will be so massive that everything will come to a crashing halt. With the financial support of private industry, Congress is actively planning the "Internet II," the next generation of the Internet. This will not replace the Internet as we know it. What it will do is provide alternate routes for information to flow when it is needed. The idea being when traffic gets heavy, turn on "Internet II."
What does the Internet Mean For Teachers?
Corporate America is changing, therefore, educators must change to avoid setting up our children for failure. The current trends in the private industry sector seem to indicate that by 2005, computer/Internet skills will no longer be a benefit, but a necessity. Using the Internet to find useful information quickly will be as critical as being able to read and write.
Two emerging trends are evident in today's marketplace: 1) there is an increase in the amount of available information (estimated to double every two years) and 2) there is a decrease in the amount of time that this information is being applied in an effort to get ahead in the marketplace.
To survive this ever-changing world, the future workforce, (your students), will need to learn to adapt quickly to unique living and learning environments. The digital generation will need to be more open in its thinking unlike any generation before. We will need globally aware individuals who are innovators and responsive to the world around them. It is obvious that technology plays an integral part in meeting this challenge.
The Problem with The Internet
There are still many problems that prevent the effective use of technology in teaching. Some obstacles include, but are not limited to:
1) lack of available technology;
2) limited resources, or out-dated technology;
3) lack of effective professional development for teachers to develop the necessary skills for using technology to acheive learning outcomes;
4) resistance to anything new;
5) not having a good enough rationale for using technology as an effective teaching tool.
A Possible Solution
The answer to many of these problems (that are not so unique in this day and age of teaching) is to:
1) take the risk and become knowledgeable about the use of technology and
2) appreciate its scope in a vast world of information exchange.
By exploring what is out there in cyberspace and knowing how to travel on this endless highway of information, you will be ready to face the challenges of a new generation of learners - a generation of learners who will come to you already prepared for the electronic journey to learning. In that journey, you will be the guide that will continue to define your role as "teacher!"
The Bottom Line?
It seems as if every educational administrator is pushing teachers to use technology in their teaching. In fact, most K-12 and Higher Education Institutions that boast about their technology program only provide students, at best, with minimal technology skills. It's not the classroom teacher, or instructor who develops the necessary skills