The Internet: Changing the Face of Education

This past summer when Brian and Stacey Douville learned that a job transfer meant they would need to move from Nashville to Charlotte, one of their first priorities was to find good schools for their three boys ages 4, 6 and 8. Not knowing anyone in the area, the Douvilles turned to the Internet for help. “I made one trip out to decide on some areas we liked, then when I got back to Nashville, I went online to research the schools,” says Stacey.
From Nashville, Stacey was able to compare the vision and resources for two local districts via the school systems’ Web sites. After narrowing down her search to public schools within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), she went to http://www.greatschools.net where she researched the test scores and parent comments for individual schools. Stacey’s research online helped the Douvilles decide on a few schools they thought would be good possibilities for their boys. When Brian and Stacey made their next trip to Charlotte to buy a house, they were able to limit their search to neighborhoods near those schools and quickly found a place to call home.

While it may seem amazing that the Douvilles and many families like them are able to choose where to send their children to school largely based on information they gather on the Internet, what is even more remarkable is that this is only one way in which the Internet is changing the face of education. From creating easier forms of communication to providing new avenues for collecting research and in some cases even taking the place of classrooms altogether, computers have quickly become an indispensable part of education for parents, students and school staff.

Communication
One of the aspects of education that has been affected most significantly by computers is in the area of communication. It has only been within the past few years that parents’ e-mail addresses have become as vital for teachers to have as phone numbers. Lisa Albaugh, a 3rd-grade CMS teacher says, “I wouldn’t have been able to e-mail my (students’) parents when I first started teaching, but now I find it to be the quickest and easiest way (to communicate), especially with everyone’s busy lives.” Whether they are discussing questions about a homework assignment or discipline issues, many parents and teachers now rely on e-mail more than phone calls to interact with each other.
Kari Cope, a high school English teacher at Covenant Day School, even communicates regularly with her students online. Besides e-mail she says, “My students often turn in papers and assignments by putting them on our server at school. I pull them off the server; grade them, making comments with a stylus on my notebook computer; and return them to students via the server.”
In addition to e-mails, many teachers are keeping students and parents informed through class Web sites, which tend to list daily schedules, homework assignments and even the teacher’s school supply wish list. “I like going to the teacher’s Web page,” says Stacey Douville, “because (my 3rd-grader) doesn’t always give me all of the details about school.” With weekly Web site updates, Stacey is able to help her 3rd-grader stay on top of his homework. By knowing what the class is doing each week, she’s also better able to ask her son questions about what is going on at school.
CMS Superintendent Dr. Peter Gorman also makes use of the Internet to keep the lines of communication open between members of the school community. “Students, parents and community members have a right to have a school district that is transparent and available to share information and resources,” he says. To that end, Gorman has his own site (http://pages.cms.k12.nc.us/superintendent/) on the CMS district Web site where people can go to learn more about him, his schedule and the CMS Strategic Plan. Gorman maintains a blog and responds to e-mails through this site.

Gathering Research
Not many years ago, the Douvilles and families like theirs would have been at a loss to collect research on schools from such a long distance. But eight years ago, Bill Jackson founded GreatSchools.net in order to help parents make informed decisions about where to send their kids to school and several similar sites have followed. School districts have also recognized the desire their communities have for information about their kids’ education, so they have developed not only Web sites for the district as a whole but also individual school sites and often times teacher sites.
Collecting research is now easier than ever for students online as well. Digital databases like AskERIC and sites like http://www.learnnc.org and http://www.ncwiseowl.com provide students with unlimited amounts of information for school assignments.

Lesson Planning
Parents and students are not the only ones who are benefiting from the amount of research available online. Albaugh says, “I think that the Internet has allowed me to become a stronger and better-rounded teacher. I have so many resources at my finger tips. Plus, (teachers) can share ideas and strategies with other educators across the map.” At sites like http://www.teachers.net, teachers can enter a topic and pull up dozens of lesson plans and ideas to use for free in their classroom.

Educational Enrichment
Not many years ago, teachers were limited in the help they could offer students who needed extra practice in a certain subject or who wanted to learn more about an area that was only touched upon briefly in school. Besides offering extra worksheets or tutoring sessions, there weren’t many options for kids. Now, teachers can direct parents and students to sites with additional activities, games and homework practice like http://www.mathfactcafe.com. Students can even take online classes when their schools cannot offer the subjects they need. The North Carolina Virtual Public School (http://www.ncvps.org) offers high school and college courses online.

Problems with Progress
Despite the many ways that computers are increasingly benefiting education, there are also a number of pitfalls school communities face because of the recent advances in technology. While most schools are now equipped with computers and online access, according to the National Center for Education Statistics there continues to be a “digital divide” between students of different demographic and economic lines. Students who are white, living with well-educated parents, and whose family income levels are high are more likely to use computers and the Internet than their fellow students.
In addition, cheating has become a greater problem for school communities because of the increased access to information online as well as the ability to cut and paste large amounts of text. In a study on “The Internet and School” by PEW Internet and American Life Project, 37 percent of teens say they think too many of their classmates are using the Internet to cheat. To combat this issue, sites like http://www.turnitin.com enable educators to identify plagiarism.
While the Internet has given school communities greater access to research, some parents and teachers worry that children can no longer find information besides what is online. Albaugh explains, “It is . . . very easy now for the students to do research (but) they don’t know what an encyclopedia is. I had to do a lesson on it.”
An even greater concern presented by the vast amounts of information that exist online is protecting children. Dr. Gorman admits that some educators expressed concern initially for student safety online. Fortunately, filters that block student access to inappropriate content as well as having students and parents sign a computer use agreement each year has helped in this area.
While advancements in computer technology have presented some problems for schools, for the most part, the ways in which the Internet is changing the face of education have been positive. By providing more efficient ways for people within school communities to communicate and creating additional avenues for educational enrichment, computers are enhancing the way our children learn.

Tips to Protect Your Child Online
• Use filtering software to limit a child’s access to inappropriate content.
• Password protect computers in the home so young children must ask an adult for access when they need to get on a computer.
• Place the home computer in a room where adults are often present, like the kitchen, so a child’s online activity can be monitored.
• Bookmark sites that children often visit. This way kids can go right to sites that parents have already checked out and approved.

Websites to Evaluate Local Schools and Their Performance
http://www.ncpublicschools.org/ — contains an NC report card on each public and charter school in North Carolina as well as the latest news on education in the state
http://www.cms.k12.nc.us — includes information about Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools
http://www.greatschools.net/ — provides specific information on almost any school in the country including test scores, parent reviews and demographic breakdowns for each school
http://www.schoolmatters.com — gives information on schools relative to performance, demographics and how much money each is allocated
http://www.psk12.com/rating/index.php — ranks schools in 29 states according to performance on standardized tests
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7761678/site/newsweek/ — ranks the top 1,000 high schools in the country

Internet Usage Facts
• Most children age 3 and over use a computer — 91 percent. Many of them use the Internet — 59 percent.
• Even young children go online — 23 percent of kids in nursery school use the Internet.
• Private school students are more likely than public school students to go on a computer at home, but public school students are more likely than private school students to go on a computer at school
• There is no difference between boys and girls in their overall computer and Internet usage.