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Using the Internet in the Classroom

by Philip Bigler

Introduction
Why Use the Internet?
Guidelines for Using the Internet
Evaluating Sources on the Internet
Plagiarism
Effective Use of Internet Resources for Teachers
The Internet Lesson
Do's and Don'ts
Bibliography
Links



INTRODUCTION

Author James Michener took pride in the written word. His books have become classic examples of careful research, meticulous detail, and powerful prose. In This Noble Land, published just before his death, Michener reluctantly observed that he had come to believe that the computer would have as profound an influence on human civilization as Gutenberg's printing press. Indeed, for the first time in human history, virtually all aspects of information are readily available, no longer subjected to the severe limitations of distance and time.

For the World History teacher, this is an exciting time to be an educator. Effective use of the Internet and its resources can offer today's students incredible resources and serve as a powerful motivational tool. The computer is destined to become as indispensable to the twenty-first-century classroom as the chalkboard was to the previous century.

WHY USE THE INTERNET?

Although the Internet has been around for decades, its widespread availability to the general populace has been a reality for only a few years. It can be an unruly, chaotic resource—lawless and dangerous—while at the same time awe inspiring and brilliant. For teachers, it is imperative that we use the Internet as a gateway to the world's libraries, archives, art galleries, and museums, and that we make our students critical, thoughtful users of electronic resources.

The Internet is especially good for finding certain types of information.

  • Pictures—art, maps, flags, costumes, architecture, political cartoons, and so on.
  • News—breaking stories disseminated quickly (although not always accurately).
  • Government information—statistics, public records, government offices (federal and state, and often on the local level), and laws.
  • Reference materials—quotations, primary sources, encyclopedias, libraries, and museums.

GUIDELINES FOR USING THE INTERNET

One of the quickest ways to disaster is to assign students blind Internet searches. Lesson plans should never call for students to just access a Web browser and surf for information. The Internet effectively removes the traditional educational filter of information so there is no guarantee of quality, accuracy, or content. While the library has prescreened books and the classroom teacher carefully selects materials that promote learning, anyone can publish information on the Internet.

EVALUATING SOURCES ON THE INTERNET

  1. Who sponsors the site?
    One way to tell who sponsors a site is to check the address (URL) of the page. The most reliable sources of information for students are resources that end in .edu since they come from academic institutions. Also excellent sources are government repositories (.gov) and organizations (.org) such as museums, libraries, and galleries. The military maintains its own sites (.mil) as well. Web sites that have a ~ in the URL should be approached with caution since they are maintained by private individuals, while .com sites are commercial in their nature.

  2. Who wrote the article?
    What are the credentials of the author? Students should look for professional affiliation and/or the biography to ascertain the qualifications of the author.

  3. How accurate is the information?
    Students should note if there is a bibliography attached to the material on the Internet. If data and other specific details are given, they should check to see if the sources are referenced. This is one way to check the validity of the information they are using.

  4. Is the information timely?
    Reference material can become outdated very quickly. As in printed material, Internet articles have a copyright date which tells students when the work was published. By checking the Site Map or About This Site page, students will be able to determine if the information is current, when it was last updated, and if anyone is responsible for monitoring the site.

  5. Is the site biased?
    Commercial sites may provide information, but they may not give all points of view. Some sites are really advocacy-based; they promote a particular view. Sites sponsored by universities or government agencies are more likely to present a fair article. However, bias is not always easily detected. Some sites may look legitimate, but may promote an extremist point of view. The more controversial the issue, the more likely that this will occur. Presentation of varying opinions is one indication of fairness and reliability.

  6. Has the site won any awards?
    This is not a guarantee, but it does indicate recognition of quality. Of course, the issue of who gives the award is also important. If the site is linked to other pages, this is also a sign of acceptance by others.

  7. What about the site's appearance?
    Problems such as broken links, misspelled words, and poor graphics may signal a lack of quality of the site. The professional look of a site may be one sign of its reliability.

PLAGIARISM

When citing information found on the Internet, students should provide appropriate citations. Teachers should never accept, "I found it on the Internet," as a response from students. Students also must be aware of plagiarism and copyright issues since all materials on the Internet can be easily downloaded or cut and pasted into documents. For documentation purposes, students should use the MLA format.

EFFECTIVE USE OF INTERNET RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS

Each year, technology becomes more accessible and less difficult. Several organizations now offer template-driven Web sites for teachers to maintain their own class Web page. For an example of this, see SchoolNotes.com. This is an extraordinary resource for teachers since it allows them to maintain a calendar, post assignments, and list quality Web pages. Lesson plans can be constructed from Internet resources and utilize data that would be impossible to find in traditional locations. It also allows teachers to control where students are going.

THE INTERNET LESSON

Not All Lesson Plans Succeed

The first question all teachers should ask when constructing a lesson plan is, "Will the use of electronic sources help students learn the material?" Frequently, the answer is "No." In my World History classes, I use James Michener's book The Source as an outside reading to support our curriculum. Throughout the year, the students are expected to read selected chapters corresponding to the time period we are studying. For instance, during a unit on the Spanish Inquisition, they are assigned the chapter "The Saintly Men of Safed." It does a wonderful job in personalizing the brutal persecution of Jews in Spain and in much of Europe. Still, although a gifted novelist, Michener is writing historical fiction, and I felt that it was important for the students to understand that some of the material is developed wholly from the author's imagination.

I assigned the students a library project asking them to research the chapter and its detail to determine its historical accuracy. Immediately, they all rushed to the computers and began to search the Internet for information, only to be frustrated by the lack of detail and acceptable resources. Ironically, just a few feet from the computers, our library had several shelves of books that could have answered all of their inquiries. The next year, when I repeated the assignment, electronic resources were forbidden and the project proved far more successful.

Successful Internet Lesson

Conversely, when we were studying the Renaissance I found that electronic resources were invaluable. I developed a very successful research assignment which required students to work with a partner in developing a project for a classwide "history fair." Each team was required to produce a three-panel, freestanding display board which amounted to a visual essay. Their center panel focused on the life and events of a key Renaissance figure while the side panels were devoted to a new technology, invention, artwork, piece of literature, or significant architectural site. I encouraged students to use primary sources and all projects were required to have a complete bibliography as well as citations for any illustrations.

I provided the students with a list of outstanding resources to assist with their research, including: The Louvre; The University of Kansas's History Central Catalogue; The Prado Museum; and Museums around the World. These resources provided a wealth of documentary information along with outstanding paintings, artwork, and other materials suitable for downloading and for use on the students' exhibits. This material was supplemented by other printed resources found in the school library. (Again, students were reminded to give appropriate credit for all of their sources.) The projects were truly outstanding and the history fair was a great success.

DO'S AND DON'TS

Do…

  • Use the Internet to access primary source information and to stimulate critical thinking.
  • Encourage students to work on collaborative projects for classroom presentations.
  • Incorporate technology into lessons when it makes instruction better.
  • Instruct students about plagiarism and copyright issues.
  • Require appropriate citation of electronic sources for all papers and projects.
  • Make students critical users of electronic resources.
  • Provide students with addresses of major historical indices, libraries, archives, and museums.

Don't…

  • Eliminate books and printed material from instruction.
  • Encourage blind Internet searches.
  • Use technology unless it improves instruction.
  • Use the Internet as an electronic worksheet for simple retrieval of factual information.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Kirk, Elizabeth E. "Evaluating Information Found on the Internet." Milton S. Eisenhower Library, John Hopkins University. 1996.

Rothaus, Richard M. Guide to the Internet for History, 2nd ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longmen, Inc., 2000.

LINKS

Net.TUTOR
A great tutorial for evaluating Web sites and citing Internet sources.

The Internet Public Library
Internet catalog of information and resources.

University Libraries Guides
Guides for citing electronic information.