Internet without a Direct Connect

Copyright 1996 Miguel Guhlin
A few months ago, I was blithely unaware of the intricacies of designing a World Wide Web page. Even with help from East Texas State University TENET Master Trainer and professor, Dr. Sue Espinoza, it has been difficult. Sometimes, struggling to figure out the intricacies of hypertext markup language (HTML), the formatting codes used to prepare documents for publishing on a portion of the Internet known as the World Wide Web, I wish I was still ignorant.
Ignorance, however, is something Mt. Pleasant ISD (MPISD), a small East Texas school district, cannot afford. Neither can your school district. In a study of Top Ten jobs in the 21st Century, three of the jobs involved technology, with two of them focusing on Internet use. While MPISD doesn't have a direct connection to the Internet, our Education Service Center (Region 8), does.
When the son of one of our deputy superintendents found our World Wide Web home page, he expressed pride in Mt. Pleasant ISD. As son of one of our deputy superintendents, and having grown up in Mt. Pleasant, accessing MPISD's WWW home page was an important way of staying in touch. Staying in touch with your home town via the WWW isn't the only benefit.
BENEFIT #1: THE INTERNET AS A TEACHER RESOURCE
Our school district, like most other school districts in the nation, is engaged in a massive instructional technology staff development effort. We place World Wide Web Internet resources on our web page grouped according to content (from Math to Science to Bilingual & Foreign Language). Lacking the benefit of a direct connect doesn't mean that teachers are unable to use it as a resource. Our teachers have to earn 20 hours of Beginning (Computer Literacy) training, 20 hours of Advanced training (One-Computer Classroom Methodology & Teacher Tools). Acting on the research on teachers' use of the Internet (i.e. TENET), we have provided many short two-hour workshops on using the Texas Education Network (TENET). Rather than focus on teaching our teachers how to use older Internet tools such as GOPHER, FTP, VERNICA, JUGHEAD, and ARCHIE, TENET/Internet training focuses on using a text-based WWW browser, a.k.a. Lynx. Rather than just teach these "Internet basic skills," I focus on teaching them in the context of teachers' content areas.
Teachers use Lynx, and later, Netscape, to access a variety of resources on the Internet, downloading both software, software upgrades, lesson plans, and raw data and graphics for class projects. This has proved especially useful for content-area teachers (grades 4-12 in our district). Having a handy list of World Wide Web sites designed for Mt. Pleasant ISD teachers has demonstrated its use again and again. For example, one campus technology committee uses the Internet to search for grants available. Others, bilingual teachers, access World Wide Web sites that provide resources in Spanish, as well as bilingual curriculum and curriculum guides.
BENEFIT #2: SHARING TRAINING MATERIALS
Realizing that technology changes every day, preparing for instructional technology training is a process of evolving materials. From step-by-step guides, such as TENET Quick Reference Guide for training beginning Internet explorers in rowboats to advanced Internet navigators, to lesson plans and thematic planning in the One-Computer Classroom, Mt. Pleasant ISD has made their technology training materials available to the world-wide community of educators. Mining the Internet is a popular expression. In Mt. Pleasant, like other ISDs empowering teachers, each teacher is a potential source of great curricular material. Finding out the answer to the "What do I do first in establishing a Technology Training Program?" question is also critical for districts starting down the road. Having access to a variety of materials, such as our Phase I Training Guidelines and District Technology Plan, benefits those who visit our site.
Perhaps, the greatest benefit for Mt. Pleasant ISD technology staff is the e-mail sent in response to training materials available on the Internet. I cannot count the e-mail messages received, not only complimenting our materials, but offering suggestions and criticisms, as well as materials prepared by other trainers. This exchange of information is integral to our success.
BENEFIT #3: PUBLISHING STUDENT AND TEACHER WORK
For many of us, publishing writing and multi/hyper-media projects has been difficult. While that Spanish Kid Pix Slide Show, or HyperStudio stack,on Dinosaurs looks nice on my classroom computer, how do I share my students' work with a greater audience? Before, Mt. Pleasant ISD would have had to participate in programs like Region 3's Kids' Web Project (KiWePro), masterminded by Region 3's webmaster Ken Task (e-mail: ktask@tenet.edu). Now, Mt. Pleasant ISD students can publish their work online, available to the Internet community, an audience beyond the scope of traditional audiences in the past. Furthermore, students, as editors, in a particular class can decide what will be published, and what will not. Dividing up our student work according to campus, parents in the community can see their students' work on the Internet. In a previous article, THE WRITING-TECHNOLOGY CONNECTION (January 1996), we discussed publishing via the Internet.
While this experience (submitting one's work to a publication's editors) is vital to one's development as a writer, even more important is how students can edit their peer's materials. This opens up a variety of opportunities previously unavailable without the World Wide Web. For when you publish on the Internet, you have moved beyond the boundaries of your classroom, your school, and those you know. These are only three of the benefits of having a world wide web page. There are others, however, those can be explored at a later date.
On first arriving to Mt. Pleasant, the question I asked is, "Where's the information superhighway exit sign for Mt. Pleasant?" It's a question that spurred me to collaborate with Region 8's Technology Staff on putting up a world wide web page. The exit sign is now at the following URL: http://www.esc8.tenet.edu/~wwwmtp. As Mt. Pleasant ISD moves into the 21st Century, the exit sign on the Information SuperHighway is clearly visible. Now, if only we didn't have to walk at the speed of a 28,800 baud modem.