You are here

Online Edge


For thousands of students, Groundhog Day each Feb. 2 has a special meaning beyond Punxsutawney Phil looking for his shadow. On that day, school districts across the country offer "job shadow" programs where students spend time on job sites with adult mentors. Even if students have an idea what career they may pursue, they are typically unsure of what these jobs are really like. A shadowing experience, such as with a newspaper reporter or an engineer, allows students to gain those insights through learning first-hand about work environments.

When a student in New York's prestigious Stuyvesant High School created an unofficial school Web site with a message board where the 3,000 students could evaluate teachers anonymously, hundreds of messages were posted daily. While some claimed that individuals assigned too much homework or were overly strict, anonymity also prompted the use of expletives and libelous charges such as "skirt chaser" and "pedophile." The site was shuttered after three teachers threatened legal action.

A few years ago, a high school student from Michigan was expelled for intentionally downloading viruses from the Internet to a home computer and unleashing them in his school's computer lab. The viruses disrupted computer use throughout the district by preventing infected machines from booting, and the school network had to be shut down to check 800 PCs and clean up 130 contaminated systems. At the time, the school was not running anti-virus software because of budget constraints, and the false savings resulted in estimated damages exceeding $60,000.


Online multimedia technologies deliver the sights and sounds of college, without the cost and inconvenience of traveling

The excitement of a new school year quickly gives way to panic as college-bound seniors scramble to narrow college choices and complete applications. This anxiety-laden process may involve last-minute visits for open-house weekends and interviews that cost time and money. As the parents of one senior told me recently after a disappointing trip, "The best part of that college was the brochure."

Perhaps it is because I taught in an era when computer courses and technology careers were almost exclusively male bastions, or because most of the participants in my Internet staff development programs are female, but I am always encouraged to meet and work with district technology coordinators who are women. These professionals include Dianne Martin of Mountain Home Public Schools in Arkansas, Barbara St. Onge of Torrington Public Schools in Connecticut, Leslie Flanders of the Scott County Schools in Kentucky, and Joan Peebles of the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin.

For a new teacher, starting a school year is a strange mix of excitement, anticipation, and-to be perfectly honest-even panic and terror. In my first year, I was told I would be given some of the most difficult students in the school to "try a fresh approach where other teachers had failed." I spent the weekend wondering if I could really fulfill those expectations. How well I remember the anxiety of the days before meeting my first classes, when I imagined the worst and believed that accepting that job might have been a dreadful mistake.

It was only 10 years ago that I wrote the first article for a leading K-12 technology education magazine on the then-new phenomenon called the Internet. I used the Internet to communicate with teacher education colleagues, participate in online discussion groups, do online research and download resources. But relatively few K-12 schools were yet involved. Therefore, in addition to explaining the fundamentals, showing examples of pioneering applications and presenting connection alternatives, I shared my belief that the online exchange of information would likely revolutionize education.

I always valued taking part in outdoor education, conservation and camping programs with school groups. But no outdoor experiences compared to those special educational opportunities in summers and school vacations that involved traveling to national parks, including Acadia National Park in Maine, Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and the Sequoia National Forest in California. Each one truly defined grandeur in unique ways, offering unparalleled aesthetic natural environments.

The National Science Foundation has arguably done more to improve K-12 science, mathematics and technology education in the United States than any other sponsoring agency. Starting decades ago, the NSF funded the development of large-scale programs that transformed the curriculum from didactic content presentations to laboratory-centered student inquiry. The programs were created through comprehensive research and development processes, were piloted and field tested extensively with diverse student populations, and published commercially for wide-scale implementation.

Up until now, the explosive development of integrated multimedia on the Web for K-12 teaching, learning and administrative applications tragically made the Internet even less accessible to disabled students and staff. Barriers for people with hearing, visual and physical disabilities include screen features that cannot be perceived by colorblind users, rapidly changing displays that are difficult for dyslexic individuals to understand, and mouse sevices that may not be usable with certain physical disabilities.