Spending that Internet Gold:

Beyond Evaluating

Internet-based Curriculum Resources

Copyright 1997 Miguel Guhlin
May be reproduced for educational use so long credit is given.
Like Cortez searching for the fabled cities of Cibola, we've staggered around in the desert of educational technology for a few years. Now, that we've found those fabled cities of gold--just think of online sites like ONLINE EDUCATOR and CLASSROOM CONNECT with hundreds of lesson plans that refer to specific web sites online--how do we spend it? And, can sites with "canned" lesson plans such as these really satisfy our desire to use the Internet in the classroom? Do we want to risk becoming dependent once again, like teachers in the past depending on textbooks, on someone else to design what happens in the classroom?
As Dr. Judi Harris has mentioned, we go through a cycle using the Internet. Her description of the cycle appears below:

1. We all begin on the Web by "telegathering" (surfing) and "telehunting" (searching. This we can do pretty well. What we don't do very well yet is to take educationally sound steps beyond telegathering and telehunting).
2. We need to help our students and ourselves "teleharvest" (sift through, cogitate, comprehend, etc.) the information that we find, and "telepackage" the knowledge that results from active interaction (application, synthesis, evaluation, etc.) with the information.
3. Then, we need to "teleplant" (telepublish, telecollaborate, etc.) these telepackages by sharing them with others...who use them as information in their...
4. ...telegathering & telehunting, and the process cycles back around again.
Most of us are at the tele-gathering and hunting stage, finding and collecting web sites that we believe are useful. How many educational web sites do you visit that have a list of lists, collections of fantastic sites on the web? Impossible to keep track of and maintain, these lists are just more information that each of us has to wade through, each time creating our own links. The pack mules can't carry all the gold that we've found out there. Maybe, now that we've accumulated the gold, it's time to do more than look at it. To do that, we have to know what's valuable, what's not. According to a colleague, Jim McNamara (jmcn@tenet.edu), evaluating something means being able to extract the value out of it.

Panning Gold from Web Sites

Several years ago, magazine articles asked questions like:
"How do I find technology resources that will help me put together a unit on the effects of acid rain?"
"How do I integrate technology into the curriculum?"
Now that there's so many web sites that are being cited as curricular resources, we have to separate gold dust, and the occasional nugget, from the pebbles. We can visit each site, making arbitrary decisions about each site, or, let others decide for us, or better yet, do both but have specific assessment guidelines.
In "extracting value," or evaluating, web sites for education, we have to look beyond simplistic web site evaluation tools. These tools evaluate how well a web site communicates its intended message. To use the Internet as a curriculum resource, we have to ask ourselves how do we evaluate a web site for curricular use? The following table highlights 7 points we need to remember as we visit that list of lists.

Assessing Internet Sites as Curriculum Resources

Content Area:
Date Reviewed:
TEKS Knowledge/Skill:
Publisher:
Web Site Name:
URL:

Criteria
Questions to Consider when Scoring
Scoring
(1-5)
Notes
1
Assess curricular match adaptability
Does Web Site content support…
Instructional concepts/themes,
Philosophy,
School Curriculum?


2
Instructional Design
Is the web site…
age-appropriate, and
are there suitable instructional support materials?


3
Content
Is the content…
accurate,
current,
thorough,
relevant, and
usable across the curriculum?


4
Portability
Are there restrictions…
on the use of content at a particular web site?
Copyright issues?


5
Accuracy and Bias
Does the web site have
a particular historical or cultural perspective that may serve as an example of a viewpoint?
equal representation of opposing viewpoints?


6
Sensitive Content
Does the web site contain content that may be considered inappropriate by the school, even when studied in the context of a particular historical or cultural perspective?


7
Relevant Extension of Classroom Learning Experiences
Though a web site may offer content not available in a textbook, in what relevant ways does it offer experiences that extend learning?




Total



The only one who wins in the gold rush is the clerk in the general store.
As we said earlier, we have to know what's valuable and what's not. Perhaps, just like prudent gold miners, before we reach for the modern equivalent of a sluice pan to look for gold (a computer with Internet access), we decide where, when, and on what we're going to spend that gold. If we fail to do the planning, the gold rush will result in cyber-ghost towns, boot hills with unemployed administrators and reckless teachers, and, worst of all, bankrupt students.

PLANNING INTERNET PROJECTS
Evaluating Internet-based curriculum resources is only the first step. The second step is deciding how to use those resources in the classroom. In my work with school districts, the planning sessions are the most exciting aspect of helping teachers learn how to use the Internet. The Technology Services Component, Education Service Center, Region 20, an organization that supports 51 school districts efforts at integrating technology, has developed a series of workshops that facilitate the process of Internet Project Design. As Dr. Harris shared with us, it is critical to follow a model that gives teachers hands-on experience to using the Internet, then addresses curriculum integration. In light of these suggestions for workshops, Technology Services has put together the following Internet Learning Institute, a 30-hour course for teachers that takes advantage of web-based discussion groups and is based on the work of Dr. Judi Harris. The course description is shown below:

Internet Navigation
This class provides an overview of the Internet and the resources available with emphasis on the World Wide Web. WWW search engines will be explored in depth with a focus on finding and evaluating curriculum materials. (6 hours)
Internet Telecommunications
Reviews previous skills and focuses on getting information (text/graphics) from the web, configuring electronic mail programs (i.e. IE Mail & News, Eudora Lite, Pegasus Mail, Netscape). (6 hours)
The Internet—A Curriculum Resource
Classroom teachers will match Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) online with curriculum resources on the World Wide Web, as well as examine common Internet-Based lesson plans. (6 hours)
Internet Project Design
Participants will develop real lesson plans that correlate to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and design Internet Projects from scratch. See what other teachers have produced visiting us on the WWW at http://www.esc20.k12.tx.us/techserv/discussion/ili_frm.htm (6 hours).
Publishing via the Internet
Participants will learn how to publish student work, as well as their own, via the Internet using MS Office tools, HyperStudio, and other presentation tools. Issues such as evaluation of student work, electronically-displayed student work release forms will be addressed. They will also learn how to use popular web publishing software to design web pages focused on student work (6 hours).

Prerequisite skills for the class include:
Basic desktop navigation skills on either Windows or Macintosh computers.
Word processing skills at a basic level (minimum), although intermediate level is preferred.
Each session in the Institute can be contracted individually or as a whole for $350.00 per six hour session for up to sixteen participants. We usually recommend that districts contract for on-site follow-up consultation since "planned" just-in-time support can have a tremendous impact on teacher morale and effectiveness.
Facilitating the Internet Learning Institute
Designed to build teachers’ online skills from introductory levels to curriculum integration of the Internet, the Internet Learning Institute provides participants with an effective plan for using the Internet in the classroom. The work of Dr. Judi Harris guides our workshops, and our success is due in great part to her, and her oft-given gifts of advice and tips.
In addition to the content, handouts, PowerPoint presentations our group of facilitators uses are three guidelines that I have found to make workshops successful (all available at the Education Service Center, Region 20 web site: http://www.esc20.k12.tx.us/techserv/materials/internetpromat.html ). The three guidelines are listed below:
1) Ask participants what they hope to learn at the beginning of the workshop.
2) Encourage participants to share they are learning during the workshop.
3) Invite participants to share how they've achieved their learning goals at the end of the workshop.
I make an effort to achieve these three simple goals when I do a workshop. I have found that my participants appreciate my listening. Important is not only the hands-on training, but the dynamics of building a community of learners that will share ideas and talk about what they're learning. The Internet Learning Institute has presented us, the Technology Services Component at the Education Service Center, Region 20, with an excellent opportunity to listen, to build knowledge from information, and establish learning partnerships with the people that we serve. And, those are never easy tasks when you see people only at what some people might term, "one-shot workshops." Yet, new web-based technologies can help overcome the loss of contact from one session to the next. In environments where Internet access exists, teachers can read the work of others that have come before them through web-based discussion groups.

Web-Based Discussion Groups
They didn’t make conversation; rather they let a seedling of thought sprout by itself, and then
watched with wonder while it sent out branching limbs. They were surprised at the strange forest
this conversation bore, for they didn’t direct their thinking, nor trellis nor trim it the way so many
people do.
—John Steinbeck
The strange, online forest available through discussion groups (created with **MS-Front Page** Discussion Group web bot) that results from exchanges of project ideas serves as the most visible example of the workshop's success. For beginning teachers, making the curriculum connection involves distinguishing between information (public, available to all) and knowledge (private understanding/internalization of information). Web-based discussion groups allow workshop participants to share their efforts at knowledge-construction with others. You can access the Internet Learning Institute discussion group at http://www.esc20.k12.tx.us/techserv/discussion/ili_frm.htm.

This serves as a way for participants to asynchronously stay in touch with each other, as well as contribute to an online resource available to Internet Learning Institute participants from other sessions. The three guidelines, based on the concept of sharing, discussed below can find natural fruition in the web-based discussion groups.

ASK PEOPLE WHAT THEY HOPE TO LEARN

Want to facilitate a successful workshop? Ask the persons in your workshop to share what they want to learn. I take notes as I listen to what they hope to accomplish. For example, in the Internet Learning Institute, there are five workshops. The first workshop deals with Internet Navigation.
Participants in the first workshop always begin with the statement, "I don't know anything about the Internet. That's why I'm here." My response is, "Forget about what you don't know about the Internet...what do you do when you get home, away from work?" The answers range from, "I keep track of my stock portfolio" to "Read about the Republic of Texas shenanigans."
For the teachers at Dwight Middle School in South San ISD (San Antonio, Texas), recipients of the Texas Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund grant, I think the most surprising aspect of the staff development session is that we spent so much time focusing on their personal interests. Teachers used their personal interests to learn how to search the Internet. As teachers progressed through the Institute, they came to appreciate the importance of the morning, "This is what we're going to be discussing today. What have you learned that is related to this?" In the afternoon, when evaluation forms were returned, teachers could easily decide how successful they had been--had they found out about those things they were interested in, or had they wasted the day?
A history teacher posed the question, "Last time I was here [Evaluating Web Sites as Curriculum Resources], I visited a site that was filled with this long diatribe on religion. It was in a section entitled RANT and RAVE." Evaluating this site proved useful to her because she could see that only one view was represented. In the ensuing discussion, we agreed that "while this site may be unsuitable for our middle school students, it need not be for high school students, who in addition to considering opposing viewpoints, could also discuss the language used in the rant." This emphasized the need for students to shift from being consumers of information to knowledge-makers who carefully sift through information before making it their own. How do teachers do this?
Another teacher, centered on designing Internet Projects, asked, "Although we've had time to visit so many different web sites, how do you use them with your kids? I have here a printout of a web site that I can give to my students to read, but what else can I do?" A natural question that must be answered before teachers can use the Internet as more than a curriculum resource. The discussion that came about included the ideas that we begin our odyssey using the Internet as hunters and gatherers of old. We collect URLs and share them, looking for that perfect site. Dr. Judi Harris calls this, "Tele-gathering and Tele-hunting." To move to the next level, that of "Tele-planters," we have to gather information, synthesize it, and then transform it into knowledge. In doing this, we can then share our knowledge with others, where our knowledge then becomes an informati Pa^)Pa^).. Pa^)Pa^)?FINDER DAT"Pa^))Qa^)W?EU?NImagel?2.gife?Le?Le?Le?LU?NMAGE2 GIF O?N??f)%)O?N??f)A?N{U?NindexL3.htmle?Le?Le?Le?LU?NNDEX~1 HTM O?N??f)%)@%)u?LX?E^i?N@E?N?E^i?N@E?N:a`?fe?L2?MIGUEL JPGone.html????@?|e?Le?Le?La`TEXTMSIE?E^i?N@E?N?E^A?NnE?NO:a`?fe?L2A^ONE~1 HTMontheborder.jpg????@?|e?Le?Le?La`JPEGogle?E^i?NA?E^i?NAO:a`?fe?L2i?LNTHEB~1JPG pblbig6.html????@?|e?Le?Le?La`TEXTMSIE
SHARE WHAT YOU KNOW.

"Do you really think it will take that much time?" I'd ask my colleagues, and they would tell me, "It's important that they [participants] share their own experiences, talk about the changes that using this technology will cause." After years of working with teachers on integrating technology, this universal truth has sunk in.
As we were discussing The Internet as a Curriculum Resource, I passed out some examples of the Dr. Judi Harris' activity structures. Not much, just three brief examples, and broke the group into three large groups. I asked them to look at the paragraph and tell me what they thought. To guide them further, I asked them to write down some questions. What a shock it was to hear their responses to the examples. One group, composed of middle school science teachers, stated that this example could be used to facilitate the teaching of the scientific method.
Sitting down, listening to the reporter for the group as he elaborated on his opening comments, I could find little to do with science, much less the scientific method. "How did you come up with that?" I asked, perplexed. One of the other teachers replied, "He's a science teacher. You can use anything to teach the scientific method. He does it to us all the time."
This application of the scientific method to a seemingly unrelated topic convinced me of the power of sharing, of building learning communities. As instructor, there was a right answer and specific ideas I wanted these teachers to "get." As facilitator, however, while the connection this teacher made caught me off-guard, this made the process of knowledge-making easier for him and the others in his group. His sharing enabled me, if no one else, to better illustrate the application of the scientific method to the use of the Internet in the classroom, as shown in the example.
These mini-presentations on the part of the participants help build a bond in between participants that was not present before. That their relationship has improved for the better is evident in the way they joke about their errors in using the Internet, and as they explain how their idea for Internet-based projects could be better crafted. Some of the project ideas they have developed in the Internet as a Curriculum Resource class, ideas that lay the groundwork for full-blown Internet Projects, are listed below:

Research Writing: create their own Q&A service for working with other students
Meet the Author: focuses on interview skills, research skills.
Electronic mentoring with other students
Posting a San Antonio, Fiesta-related project to share San Antonio culture with the world.
Posting TeleField trips to San Antonio historical sites like the Alamo, the Missions, parks, Edward's Acquifer.

More projects that were shared appear online via the Internet Learning Institute discussion group.

SHARING OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS.

As my seventh-grade teacher--a fact I discovered when she turned in her dyad's contribution to ideas for Internet Projects and I saw her name on the sheet--walked out the door, she whispered, "I gave you 10s on the evaluation." What had I done that was worthy of 10s? It surely wasn't knowledge of the subject matter. Like a class I'd done with science and math teachers, the first words out of my mouth were, "I'm a writer, not a mathematician or scientist. You know more about science and math than I will ever know. You intimidate me, yet I know that by the end of the day, you will think I'm brilliant." That's not conceit talking. If we offer our workshop participants the opportunity to share their accomplishments, what they've learned as they begin an Internet Odyssey, then we will all get 10s on our evaluations.
It isn't that the Internet has so much to offer, it's that we have so much to offer each other. Our journey together, sharing our joys and sorrows, has meaning. With so much information, we must construct knowledge together. Just like the teachers at Dwight Middle School in South San Antonio ISD are learning, using the Internet in the classroom is more than gathering information. . .it's a process of making meaning from that information that is relevant to our lives.

The Internet Learning Institute guarantees that knowledge-makers will walk into the world with discerning minds, and make decisions that take into account the community. And, once our teachers know this, it is their responsibility to do the same for their students. I know because I'm a student of such teachers. Wouldn't it be great if our children were, too?

References

Harris, Dr. Judi. Internet Learning Process. [Online] Available email: mguhlin@tenet.edu from jbharris@tenet.edu , May 22, 1997.