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BENEFITS OF THE INTERNET

THE INTERNET TODAY

With the recent development of the World Wide Web and the attention given to tomorrow's "information superhighway"(with its promise of high speed delivery of information and slick broadcasting) it is easy to overlook one of the most beneficial aspects of today's Internet. It is above all a communication tool--one which allows us as teachers and students to communicate with other students, colleagues and specialists from our own classrooms or media centers. Contrary to the fears that many have expressed about the dehumanizing effects of such a technology --the Internet provides an unparalleled opportunity for teachers of history to expose their students not only to a vast array of informational resources but more importantly to human resources from around the world. The Internet shows us as much about how people relate to one another as about how they react to technology.

BIAS AND POINTS OF VIEW

In addition, the Internet provides resources for teaching students about bias and points of view. It is one of the few places where we can gain access to history written by both the "winners" and the "losers" and can see how the history of one nation differs according to who is writing. One online project "The Valley of the Shadow: Living the Civil War in Pennsylvania and Virginia" interweaves the histories of two communities on either side of the Mason-Dixon line during the era of the American Civil War through a combination of narrative and electronic archive of the sources on which the narrative is based.

"WHEN THE BOOK AND WHEN THE NET?"

The wealth of information available will also impress upon us the necessity of being selective in the materials we choose. As teachers we often give students the 'standard' readings; the Internet provides great supplementary sources as well as sources of lesser value to our students. Students too will need to learn the skill of "selecting" valuable and relevant sources for their own research.

A CAUTIONARY TALE

WARNING: ELECTRONIC 'SHOVELWARE'

We as teachers must become familiar with these new tools and how they will affect our students. Jamieson McKenzie in his article Grazing the Net: Raising a Generation of Free Range Students reflects on the impact of the Information Age on education and warns of the danger of info-glut masquerading as wisdom and urges his fellow teachers to reconsider the nature of assigned tasks to reward not only the gathering of information but also its analysis, synthesis and evaluation. McKenzie argues that it is the student's ability "to evaluate - the skill of making informed decisions based upon clearly stated criteria as well as balanced evidence" which should form the basis for assigned research and student assessment.(See article: The New Plagiarism)

David Thornburg echoes McKenzie's concerns when he warns of the danger of electronic 'shovelware' (the mindless downloading of vast quantities of information and shoveling it into an assignment without showing any signs of understanding of the subject itself) as a substitute for scholarship . According to Thornburg,

The answer is not to restrict access but rather to encourage all students to gather information and then explain that information gathering alone reflects a tired old educational paradigm ill-suited to the needs of today's learners. We need to help students learn to organize and make sense of the voluminous quantity of information that streams across the Net everyday. If we don't then every day will be a great day for shovelware." (pg. 141) [*]

WHAT'S OUT THERE AND WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?

Finally, there is clearly a need for improvement in the quality, variety and content of history resources available on the Internet. (See McKenzie's The Disneyfication of History) Due to the apparant ease with which one can author and link sites from the World Wide Web it is quite common to locate sites with very promising titles only to discover that they merely link to other sites with yet more promising links and so on. What is needed are more content-oriented WWW sites (hopefully authored by teachers and students themselves as more of them join the Internet community).

In our exploration of Internet-based resources we have been rewarded by discovering several such content-driven projects (some of which we have included in this presentation). It is our hope that these examples of good practice will encourage others to contribute to the pool of shared resources which we believe is still in its infancy.



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