One of the greatest implementation challenges for administrators is equipping staff and students with online resources that support countless educational topics. For example, I have recently been asked to recommend Web sites for math word problems, inquiry-based science activities, communicating with parents, collaborative projects, classroom behavior and teaching Spanish.
Even when individuals find sites through online search tools and Internet guides, they seek professional guidance to expand those resources in related areas. Since Webrings offer exactly those advantages, they hold great potential for increasing the quality of online education. But the implementation of Webrings in K-12 schools is still relatively modest; most educators have no experience with them.
A Webring is a collection of independent Web sites, organized around a common topic such as government, that are linked together to form an online "circle." When users click on a navigation bar on each participating site, they are carried immediately to the next site in the ring. And, if they click enough times they will return to the site where they started. Many rings also offer added options, such as moving through sites in "mini-menu" groups of five, listing sites so users can jump to any location, or displaying a random site.
For example, the PBL Web Ring (pblmm.k12.ca.us/webring.htm) is focused on project-based learning in K-12 education, and the TeacherNet WebRing (www.teachernet.com/webring/webrresults.tpl) joins sites appropriate to K-12 teaching. "The managers of PBL Web Ring are connoisseurs of good programs in education, so whenever a new site is added, I gain the chance to learn about other exemplary models," says Fern Tavalin, executive director of The WEB project (www.webproject.org).
Similarly, Gary Hopkins, editor-in-chief of Education World (www.educationworld.com), says, "For us, being listed on Webrings is one more way to get teachers to our site and win new regular visitors."
"We use Webrings to help staff and students quickly get up to speed in researching specific topics such as PDAs and Linux. They allow individuals to focus on educational applications, and we have more confidence that the information is relevant," says Chris Mahoney, director of technology for Lake Hamilton School District in Arkansas.
"Putting pages of like subject matter together for easier access and better exposure is one of the best things that site creators do for themselves and their viewers," says Hayley Miller, a student technology team leader at Lake Hamilton.
Conventional search tools can be used for such topics as "physics Webring" to uncover resources such as the "Physics Instruction Resource Association Webring" (www.wfu.edu/physics/pira/webring/PIRAwebring.html). However, since most rings are hosted by the free services RingSurf (www.ringsurf.com) and WebRing.com (www.webring.com), their directories can also be searched. Together these sites list more than 90,000 rings. In addition, the services allow site owners to link to existing rings, create new rings and increase the visibility for school sites through joining rings such as the Middle School Ring (home.columbus.rr.com/drq/msring).
The quality of a Webring is directly dependent on the standards required for joining, and those range widely. While some rings are controlled by strict professional standards administered by a "ringmaster," too many allow sites to join simply by following online directions for linking. And, since Webrings are so easy to initiate, there are also numerous inactive rings cluttering up directories. Furthermore, since some rings are targeted to inappropriate and offensive topics that have no place in schools, the application of online acceptable-use policies is essential. For more information, see RingSurf, WebRing.com and the World of Webrings (www.webringworld.org).
Odvard Egil Dyrli, firstname.lastname@example.org, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.