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The Internet and Educational Tools
Apr 1, 2000

The World Wide Web has been growing at a phenomenal rate. It contains a vast array of information ranging from news to government information, from entertainment to the ability to purchase pizza. It also allows you to virtually visit any place in the world.

Yet, how can the Web be used for something more than surfing, chatting, making money, or wasting time? Can it provide an environment for learning? Can it be used with other educational technologies? What pedagogical possibilities do these technologies bring to schools, teachers, and students? In this article, I discuss this aspect of Internet.

One of the more explosive growth areas of the Web is distance learning. Web-based distance courses can run the range from text-based, e-mail, correspondence courses to full-blown interactive multimedia presentations. The vast majority of courses more closely resemble the text-based model, while many offerings use video, audio, and even some interactivity. Of particular interest is the newer interactive multimedia technologies found on the Web, such as Java, VRML, Shockwave, and others.

Several sites offer distance-learning offerings. The World Lecture Hall ( offers hundreds of courses from universities all over the world, many with multimedia components. Java and VRML applets used in education are featured at The Internet University ( and offers more than 500 courses. Other exemplary sites include San Francisco State University's "Introduction to Multimedia" course, which features excellent design, interactive multimedia, graphics, streaming audio, and chat features ( Also there are many homepages that offer free online courses, like and

Educational Uses of the Internet

The following is a list of different educational uses of Internet. This is not exclusive, but rather a starting point.

Communication: Educators and students use the Internet to communicate when they exchange e-mail, contribute to electronic discussions groups, participate in Internet Relay Chat ("chat rooms"), and use video conferencing. These tools allow Internet users to send and receive messages from one or more people at the same time. The message may include words, pictures, illustrations, sounds, or movies (Education and the Internet 1996).

Collaborative Learning: Collaborative learning involves communication as well as individuals working in a cooperative team (Erkens & Kanselaar 1995). Team members share a common task and/or project. Collaborative projects may be student-based, for example, student-to-student and classroom-to-classroom projects that rely on teamwork established by teachers from different classrooms. Teacher-to-teacher and teacher-to-expert projects provide additional assistance and create a collaborative environment (Story 1996).

Resource Sharing and Information Gathering: Resource sharing consists of publishing information on the Internet for others to view and use. For educators, this includes lesson plans, learner activities, research papers, articles, newsletters, announcements, and school policies. The Web can serve as a gateway to the Internet's vast resources. Educators and students use the Internet to solve problems, gain knowledge, and research almost any topic (Edwards, Havriluk, and Roblyer 1997).

Presentation Medium: Educators can use electronic presentation aids rather than overhead transparencies. For electronic presentations, users need a personal computer, presentation software (e.g., Adobe Persuasion, ClarisWorks Slideshow, Microsoft PowerPoint), and a projector. Software, hardware, and/or HTML scripting allows electronic presentation aids to be viewed via the Internet.

Interacting with Web Applications: With the Web's multimedia capabilities, Web pages are being developed in such a way that users can input data and receive an output or a product. Search engines and dictionaries are examples of such interaction. Internet users can obtain e-mail addresses, interact with "live" animation, take virtual museum tours, locate an individual's phone numbers, play games, and create their own Web pages. Feedback and assessment can be used to monitor student progress, control the learning pace, and evaluate teaching strategies. Using HTML Forms is a simple but powerful way to collect student feedback and control it to improve teaching. Forms collect data from students using Web-based course materials. Student feedback provides instructors an informed evaluation of their teaching. By using this evaluation method, instructors can get immediate feedback on course material, teaching style, and student progress. After this, they can make the necessary adjustments.

Interactive Multimedia Technologies

Every day Netscape, Microsoft, or another company announces an exciting new piece of technology that will deliver audio, animation, 3-D graphics, or allow one to wander through virtual spaces on the Web for free. Some of these are Live Audio, Shockwave, Java, Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML), Active X, and QuickTime Video.

What is new about such technologies? Physics teachers using Java created an applet for projectile motion that allows users to set the launch angle and coefficient of linear air resistance.

It then animates the body's trajectory and calculates some of its properties numerically. ( What's new and fascinating about such applets is that they offer hard-to-do simulations of physical events, are free, can be demonstrated on several computer operating systems, are highly interactive, and can be accessed at any time by anyone in the world with an Internet connection.

What would an interactive multimedia course module delivered over the Web look like? Physics teachers could videotape real-world phenomena depicting certain laws of physics, for example, the Ferris wheel and the "whip" for circular motion. They could supplement the video with audio lecture material, allow students to manipulate variables in a Java program, use VRML to create 3-D walk-through virtual models of how the laws of projectile motion apply, animate the behavior of balls on a track, conduct a synchronous two-way conversation with one student or the entire class via chat lines, correspond with individual students asynchronously via e-mail, and then quiz and grade students using online interactive exams.

Are there other reasons for using multimedia in teaching? The power of multimedia to impact learning positively can be seen in physics. Laws of physics that run counter to students' commonsense notions of how the world works provide a stimulating catalyst for further investigation. In "The Initial Knowledge State of College Physics Students" (Journal of Physics 1986), I. A. Halloun and D. Hestenes demonstrated that freshman physics students' intuitive notions of the behavior of a ball leaving a track are often contrary to the laws of circular motion, a major topic in freshman physics.

Other research indicates that these misconceptions may be overcome through video and animation. In one experiment conducted at the University of Massachusetts, the path of a ball on a circled track was videotaped. A segment of the track then was removed, and another video segment captured the ball's path as it was about to leave the track. When queried at this point as to where the ball would go next, many students get stuck: their instinctive senses tell them it will go off in an upward path or a downward, not the straight-ahead path that it actually takes. A third video segment showed the actual straight-lined path of the ball leaving the track. An animation done in Director and then put on the Web with Shockwave showed that a circle is really composed of an infinite number of straight lines, and that when the ball hits one of them it goes off in a straight line. This straight-line path is, in fact, counterintuitive to many students. Using these multimedia supplements to regular course materials could improve test grades significantly. Web-based course materials are being used extensively to provide supplementary as well as standalone instruction in educational settings. One of the Web's most powerful elements is its ability to engage learners in an interactive format. Although many technologies allow teachers to develop interactive Web course materials and receive student feedback, many continue to use the Web only for distributing static documents. This severely limits its potential to improve the teaching-learning process. Most education Web sites provide such basic course information as syllabus, schedule, announcements, and reading lists. Others include synchronous or asynchronous communication, online testing, discussion groups, conferences, bulletin boards, and streaming audio and video. These materials are available for courses that meet in classrooms regularly and use Web materials as supplementary tools, as well as for courses delivered entirely over the Web and without any traditional classroom meetings.

Web Interactivity

Web interactivity helps engage students in the active application of knowledge, principles, and values. It also provides them with feedback that allows their understanding to grow and evolve. Chickering and Ehrmann (1998) suggest that while using technology to teach, educators should avoid didactic materials and search for technology-assisted solutions that are interactive, problem-oriented, and motivate students. Students can either read or print a static Web page; with an interactive Web page, they can interact with content, other students, and instructors, as well as participate in discussion groups, quiz questions, simulation program, conferencing, live chat, or fill out a feedback form. This Web-based informal assessment represents a cognitive behavior-modification technique designed to help students develop goal-setting behavior, planning, and self-monitoring. It also allows them to master concepts (Good and Brophy 1995). For example, students can regulate and monitor their own learning in a sequential and constructive fashion as they respond to the questions and receive ongoing feedback. In traditional, as well as Web-based courses, there is a gap between what is taught and what is learned. Reid (1997) mentions that methods of assessing the teaching and learning experience in online education are in high demand but short supply. No existing measurement adequately evaluates how well a teacher performs in a virtual classroom. Angelo and Cross (1993) observed that by cooperating in assessment, students reinforce their grasp of course content and strengthen their own self-assessment skills. Furthermore, student motivation is increased when they realize that teachers are interested in their success as learners. Teachers can empower themselves by using technologies to facilitate a proven educational process of receiving and acting on feedback from learners. This will lead to pedagogical improvements in interactive Web environments for assisting teaching and promoting learning.

Top Educational Resources on the Web

Education World ( A free resource for primary and secondary school educators. It includes lesson plans, articles by education experts, and information on using technology in the classroom. Developed by people with backgrounds in education, the site contains more than 8,000 pages, a weekly e-zine, and a searchable database of over 115,000 education links. Strength: a well-organized interface to the world of primary and secondary education; original material and good annotations. Weakness: needs more quality evaluation of the links so that educators are guided toward the most valuable resources. GSN ( Global School Net Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the instructional application of telecommunications at the primary and secondary school levels. It includes a registry of the best curriculum projects, tutorials, articles about Internet use in the classroom, news and discussion, and events and contests. It also includes a link to the collaborative project with Microsoft to create a comprehensive site for education resources on the Internet. Strength: appealing interface; good selections from many sources. Weakness: inconsistent design does not do justice to the depth and breadth of offerings. Blue Web'n (http: // This is a library of Internet-based instructional information for primary and secondary school levels. You can search this database quickly by audience type, application type, content area, and other search terms. It contains activities, lessons, references, tools, and projects listed for a variety of educational audiences, and is part of the Pacific Bell initiative (Education First) and umbrella program to benefit education (Knowledge Network). Strength: quick way to search for lessons and resources; good method for reviews of resources; Weakness: a bit over-generous with the ratings stars, caveat surfer. AskERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) ( ERIC is a clearinghouse on information and technology. Its collection of education-related resources is funded by the American government. AskERIC includes a question-and-answer service, a virtual library, and a research and development team. Collections are well-organized and frequently updated. Strength: broad coverage of many educational topics; extensive support for educators. Weakness: graphic slab design of Web; coverage is not deep in all areas; some resources are outdated. EDUCAUSE ( This association manages and uses information technology in higher education. The site includes a discussion of current issues, conference information, professional development, publications, information services, and collaborative alliances with other organizations. It focuses on the future of higher education in the information age. Strength: this site is well organized and has breadth and depth; Weakness: not all content is available online.


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