Online Education: Putting the Pieces Together
The annual Quality Education Data research report paints a positive picture of the current state of online connectivity in K-12 education: 97 percent of America's public schools and 84 percent of public school classrooms are now connected to the Internet, and 90 percent of teachers use it as a teaching resource. However, the report also notes that the average Internet use by teachers actually dropped in 2001 from 3.5 hours per week in school to 3.2 hours. Similarly, school Internet use by students also decreased significantly throughout the country, except for the Midwest, where usage increased from 1.5 to 1.7 hours per week.
Regarding educational applications, the report, officially called QED's School Market Trends: Internet Usage in Teaching 2001, found that more than 92 percent of teachers use the Internet for supplementary materials. But no more than 6 percent use online resources as a primary source for core curriculum materials. And while 96 percent of the students use the Internet for research, the second-most popular application, at almost 60 percent, was playing games. Furthermore, less than 50 percent of students used the Internet for any other educational purpose, including homework assignments, electronic field trips or online projects.
Some of the decreased Internet use by teachers may be traced to frustration and discouragement from lack of professional support. In this regard, the report found that barely 30 percent of teachers feel "well-prepared" to use the Internet in teaching, 33 percent of teachers are self-taught, and more than 83 percent rely on colleagues to learn about Web sites.
The CEO Forum (www.ceoforum.com) recently completed a five-year "School Technology and Readiness" study. It concludes: "It is now time to take the final steps to integrate technology into instruction to improve student achievement and ensure technology benefits students, teachers, administrators, parents and communities nationwide." The report states: "Schools that functionally reflect the culture of the past, rather than the demands of the future, will not prepare students to thrive in the digital age." The forum recommends focusing on 21st century skills including digital literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, teamwork, and the ability to create high quality products (see www.ncrel.org/engauge/skills/skills.htm). It also asserts that maximum return on the national investment in education technology begins with these key building blocks:
- Alignment to ensure that curriculum, technology use and assessment support standards and objectives.
- Assessment to measure all standards and objectives.
- Accountability by establishing measurement for continuous improvement.
- Access to measure equity for all students
- Analysis that leads to additional research.
Successful K-12 Web sites are incorporating such features into their programs.
Here are some of this year's trends observed among the top education Web sites that follow:
Odvard Egil Dyrli, email@example.com, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.
This site offers suites of high-quality, subscription-based history Web sites that function as secondary school reference and curriculum resources. These include American history (americanhistory.abc-clio.com) and world history (worldhistory.abc-clio.com), which present the history behind current news, featured stories, "This Day in History" events, a timeline of topic explorations and a reference tool that can find resources by keyword, historical period and type (such as maps and videos). An online dictionary, a thesaurus and a calendar for students to keep track of assignments are also site features.
www.skillstutor.com, $7,500 per year per building site license
The new SkillsTutor Algebra I and science modules have been introduced for grades 6 to adult. The Algebra I module, with more than 40 lessons and activities, covers equations, inequalities, polynomials, factoring, rational expressions, graphic functions and systems of equations.
The science module has more than 60 lessons covering physical science, earth science, biology, chemistry
Diagnostic tests identify a student's weak skill areas, and recommend suitable lessons to master those skills. Pre- and post-tests strengthen learning, track progress and help students become familiar and comfortable with the standardized testing format.
AOL@School is an education portal for K-12 schools that offers an easy-to-use interface to deliver age-appropriate curriculum content selected by experts, searchable lesson plans, class projects, online references and homework help. Additional features include free e-mail, education updates from each state, kid-safe search tools, and special resource sections for teachers and administrators with online guides and discussion groups. The site also offers a free weekly newsletter.
Version 2.0, released in March, offers a customized look for each of its six grade level portals. Other enhancements include expanded educational resources in the middle and high school portals, including Advanced Placement test prep resources and common elective class topics.
Apex Learning Inc.
Apex Learning Web Site
www.apexlearning.com, $1/course per student
This site is a builder and operator of virtual schools. Offerings include distance learning courses with customizable curriculum, AP and other assessment and review products, supplemental curriculum products for AP teachers, professional development workshops and technology support services.
Beyond Books Web Site
www.beyondbooks.com, $15 for each middle school student, $17.50 for each high school student
Beyond Books offers standards-based, online curriculum subscription options for grades 6-12. This award-winning program has expanded its catalog to multiple courses in social studies including his-
tory and government; science
including life, physical and earth
science; literature & language arts such as American literature and Shakespeare; and Spanish. The courses include a variety of student investigations, pictures and maps that can be downloaded for reports, scheduled online discussions with experts, teacher resource guides and links to recommended Web sites organized by topic.
www.bigchalk.com, site license up to $1,700/year
Bigchalk Multimedia is an online reference database for middle and high school students devoted to multimedia content. With more than 435,000 audio and video clips, pictures, TV and radio transcripts and maps, the database augments magazine and newspaper databases. It draws from more than 100 information sources, including TV and radio programs from major news outlets such as NPR, CNN, ABC and CBS. The database is updated daily.
Students can search for content by specific reference type or across media types, and by questions, phrases or keywords. Advanced search capabilities can find material based on a specific date, topic or publisher.
Boxer Learning Inc.
Boxer Learning Web Site
www.boxerlearning.com, $10-25 per student/year
BoxerMath: Fundamental Math introduces basic math concepts to students in grades 3-5. Fundamental Math covers more than 100 activities using five topic areas: number concepts, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, fractions and decimals and problem solving.
Fundamental Math intertwines solid pedagogy with graphically rich and engaging activities to motivate student exploration of math concepts.
Educators can assign the activities in any sequence at any time, either to create a new curriculum or to supplement an existing curriculum.
Audio and Macromedia Flash are used to power its activities and demonstrations.
www.chancery.com, Pricing varies
Open District is a Web-based, district-level student management system that gathers data from all school sites and generates customized reports based on current, accurate data. Easy access to student data makes reporting and applying for funding simple. Customized reports meet individual state needs and improve response times to requests from parents, the school board or governmental agencies.
The system also allows administrators to make strategic decisions for the district by tracking trends in conduct, student mobility, test scores
Classroom Connect Now
Classroom Connect Now is an online subscription service that offers a personalized, standards-based learning environment with professional learning and classroom support resources for K-12 educators.
The site is organized into three primary content areas: Learning, Library and Community. Classroom Connect's flagship Web-delivered products, which include Connected University, Classroom Today and The Quest Channel, are located in the Learning section.
Assessment tools enable teachers to track and assess student work through individual student notebooks and portfolios, gauge student progress before and after assignments and keep track of student work. Lessons, Web units, Quests and other activities are also highlighted on the site.
Classwell Learning Group
Classwell Web Site
www.classwell.com, Less than 600 enrollment: $7,500; more than 2,500 enrollment: $15,000
Classwell, a partner of Houghton Mifflin and Sylvan Ventures, integrates assessment, instruction and professional development and is aligned with various state and local standards as well as popular textbooks.
Content of the Web site supports reading/language arts, mathematics, social studies and science curriculums for grades preK-12.
www.epnet.com, Pricing varies
EBSCOhost, an online service which offers access to EBSCO's more than 80 information databases, has released Version 4.4 with several new features. Users can now read articles in XML format, as well as ASCII text and PDF. Library administrators can profile database defaults for their users. Users will find that the SmartLinks feature takes them from the citations-only database to the full-text databases in one click. Library administrators can choose to make available the language translation feature, which can translate English content into several other languages.
www.edvision.com, $12 per student/year
Two new online assessment and tracking tools from the Performance Series are now available. The series is an Internet-based assessment tool that uses Standards-Based Adaptive Measurement, a new model for instructional placement and determination of academic growth.
The new releases are ReadingPerformance and MathPerformance. Both allow educators to accurately assess students' comprehension levels, with immediate testing results. The quick results allow teachers to understand new students' academic levels without having to wait for records from schools previously attended.
Exploratorium Web Site
This site is the online arm of the world-famous Exploratorium museum in San Francisco. It is also targeted to helping people nurture their curiosity through innovative environments, programs and tools. The Exploratorium offers some of the most creative interactive activities on the Web in science, math and human perception, including opportunities to follow expeditions online, visit the Hubble telescope, look through live cameras, participate in Webcasts, build projects and explore the science behind topics such as baseball and cycling. The site also includes a subject index and selects "Ten Cool Sites" each month.
Facts on File
Curriculum Resource Center
www.factsonfile.com, $599 for less than 1,000 users
Facts on File has introduced the Curriculum Resource Center, an online reference database, to make relevant student handouts available to educators. The resource includes a range of teacher handout materials-such as timelines, charts, maps, graphs and illustrations-organized by subject and suitable for printing.
Content is divided into two levels: K-6 features maps, history and science; and 7-12 features geography, world history, science, physical education, and U.S. history and government. Each main topic area contains several subtopics.
Hotmath Web Site
www.hotmath.com, $4-$9 for at-home use, free during school day
Hotmath.com, a subscription-based service, is staffed by a group of math teachers and professors who believe that getting students "unstuck" on their homework will help keep them from getting discouraged about math.
The site features tutorials for actual homework problems found in a number of popular textbooks.
Hotmath's authors rely on the approaches presented in the textbook prior to the specific page the problem is on, so the solutions use the same methods the students are currently learning in class.
Subject areas include algebra, geometry, pre-Calculus, chemistry, statistics, economics and physics.
How Stuff Works Web Site
On HowStuffWorks.com, visitors can get clear, straightforward information complete with colorful animated illustrations on how things work, from car engines and television monitors, to aspirin and breathalyzers. The expanding site already offers more than 2,500 articles with 2,000 graphics, and receives 6,000 questions a month asking for additional explanations. The content is organized by category-such as Computers & Internet, Body & Health-but also offers a powerful search engine and daily features including "Gadget of the Day," "Question of the Day" and a "Top 40" list
Indigo Learning System
The Indigo Learning System is a subscription service that allows schools to test students' skills, specifically tied to state and national standards. The program then assigns curriculum content to students who need help in specific areas.
The program contains an articulated, question-based curriculum with a linear progression from grades 1-8 in math, language arts, science, history, geography, government and economics.
The curriculum contains more than 50,000 questions conforming to standards from states including New York, California, Texas, Illinois and Florida.
www.studyweb.com, Starts at $3,500
Lightspan's StudyWeb offers a searchable collection of more than 141,000 categorized and reviewed "research quality" sites designated by grade level, and rated according to the richness of the visual content. The recommended resources are also organized in an information index that can easily be browsed. And the site includes a "Study Buddy" that offers online research tools, including calculators, dictionaries, maps, a thesaurus, an encyclopedia and the CIA World Fact Book.
Logo Computer Systems
www.microworlds.com, Site license $450 plus an additional $5 per student per year server fee
Journal Zone is an online tool for reflective collaboration. Designed for grades 3 and up, the program is predominantly a "journal" that supports reflective learning in any subject within a social context. It can be used within a classroom or the user can join other classrooms from around the world.
Available in English, French and Spanish, Journal Zone contains graphics, journal text and comments areas. In the graphics area, students can present their ideas visually, using objects, backgrounds and animation.
The McGraw-Hill Learning Network is a multifaceted password-controlled education site that integrates the latest online technology with K-8 learning. The site provides content tailored to students, teachers and parents, including multimedia instructional programs, interactive textbooks, games, productivity tools, and breaking news, in creative and secure environments.
In addition to product-keyed activities, the site also offers professional materials, including class tools, calendars, references, a lesson planner, an assignment creator and an online gradebook, as well as a tour of network features.
National Geographic Web Site
This is one of the most valuable and comprehensive education sites on the Web, with more than 100 online learning adventures that range from Trekking Nepal to Remembering Pearl Harbor, and special features such as a spectacular 3-D virtual trip through our solar system. National Geographic offers superior geographic resources including a star chart, a dynamic Map Machine for the earth, printable maps and a guide to national education standards. The site also includes teacher-tested lesson plans, homework help, information on grants, a guide for parents, and outstanding links to related resources.
National Science Teachers Association
sciLINKS is an initiative from the National Science Teachers Association that contracts with publishers to insert special content codes next to topics in the margins of new textbooks. When users enter those codes at the sciLINKS Web site, they are linked immediately to a selection of Internet resources such as news items, enrichment articles, multimedia presentations and interactive activities to enhance and extend the content.
To illustrate, if you visit the site as "guest," and enter the code HE100, you will find online information on lakes, ponds and reservoirs appropriate to a topic from the Holt Environmental Science text.
Netschools Orion is a members-only site that aligns textbooks, lesson plans and activities with national, state and local standards, as well as supports the curriculum with news, learning games, activities and related articles.
Orion includes a powerful and extensive curriculum search tool that uses up to 18 different properties-including keywords, level, resource type and standards-to select from a database of 47,000 pre-screened multimedia Web sites. It also offers related teaching materials, including lesson plan templates, and tools such as "Organizer"
for planning and grading.
Destination Math v5.0
www.riverdeep.net, $20,000 to $40,000 per year
The new version 5.0 of Destination Math, a series built on a sequenced, comprehensive curriculum, features tutorials, hands-on activities, practice workouts and step-by-step problem-solving strategies for grades K-12. Lessons are correlated to state and national standards, as well as to major textbooks.
Courses for K-3 learners have been added to the series. These courses introduce early learners (grades K-1 and 2-3) to new concepts and provide opportunities for students to apply their understanding of those concepts within real-life contexts.
Destination Reading K-3 is the language arts complement to Riverdeep's offerings. It guides students through the essential steps of becoming beginning readers. This new program is sequenced to build on prior learning.
The Learning Network
The Learning Network Web site
The Learning Network is an online consumer network of the company's learning and information resources, personalized for educators, students and parents.
Specific sites and content areas include: FamilyEducation.com; TeacherVision.com; MySchoolOnline.com; Learning Network's Kids Channel; FunBrain.com; Infoplease.com; Factmonster.com, among other sites.
Video on Demand Service
www.unitedstreaming.com, Pricing starts at $975 for a single K-8 school and $2,200 for a high school
Unitedstreaming.com is a Web-based video-on-demand service that brings full-motion, high quality video content to classrooms. The site offers a database of more than 12,000 video clips correlated to national and state curriculum standards and can easily be searched by keyword, subject or grade level.
Once users click on a selection, the video begins to play in the browser window using Microsoft's Windows Media Player, or users can download it to the desktop or local server for later viewing. It is also possible to develop play lists for specific school groups, control usernames and passwords, and track usage.
www.wolfram.com, Internet, $195
Providing the ability to quickly add interactive calculations to the Web, webMathematica enables users to: build custom Web sites that provide specialized calculations; compute, visualize,
and analyze data using a Web browser; deliver sophisticated courseware and publish interactive books; provide active functionality for technical documentation that can be instantly updated from a centralized location; and integrate computation into existing enterprise infrastructure.
The product is built on Java servlets, making it compatible with any Web server, servlet engine, or application server that supports the Servlet 2.0
or later API.