Leveraging Learning for Generation I

Impact of the Internet is only just beginning

When former Yale University librarian Rutherford Rogers told a New York Times reporter in 1985, "We're drowning in information and starving for knowledge," he was referring to the incredible increase in the number of books published each year.

A decade and a half later, his words are just as applicable to the explosion in technology and the information accessible through technology. The potent tools of technology and the Internet can be used to manage this explosion and the learning process.

The truly revolutionary impact of the Internet is just beginning to be felt. In the old economy, geographic distance needed to be mastered to learn. In the new economy, distance has been eliminated, and combined with the compression of time, has created powerful implications for the knowledge-based economy.

Technology platforms and the Internet have created tremendous opportunities for new education paradigms, ushering in a new economy driven by knowledge and access to information. Where the resources of a physically based economy were coal, oil and steel, the resources of the new, knowledge-based economy are brain power and the ability to acquire, deliver and process information. Those who are effectively educated and trained will survive economically and thrive in our global, knowledge-based economy.

Ubiquitous PCs combined with high-speed bandwidth will facilitate anytime/anywhere learning and student management. The Internet will advance the power of the individual to a degree not seen since the invention of the printing press. The Internet—just like the printing press—is a great democratizer. It vastly improves the access, quality and speed of information, enabling the individual to acquire knowledge like never before. As with any democratizing force, the Internet will propel power toward the individual and take it away from institutions and formal bodies.

Spending Outlays

Internet access in schools is bounding forward, driven by its compelling value and policies to promote Internet connectivity. Internet access is now in 96 percent of schools, up from just 3 percent in 1994. In the near future, it is expected that nearly every classroom will have Internet access, according to Quality Education Data, a Denver-based consulting firm. To date, 64 percent of classrooms have Internet-connected computers, and the student-to-computer ratio has improved to 6-to-1.

Technology has the potential to lead American education into the 21st century, but first we need to bring schools into the 20th century. Until recently, the technological revolution had largely sidestepped our education system.

Schools are spending on programs they believe have value, assisted in part by state, federal and corporate grants such as the e-rate and the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund operated by the federal government. Our K-12 schools spent nearly $7 billion on instructional technology in 2000, much of it on Internet services. Teacher training accounted for only five percent of school technology spending, according to "The Knowledge Web 2000," a report by Merrill Lynch. Only 20 percent of teachers say they feel well prepared to integrate educational technology into classroom instruction.

The lack of teacher training is an impediment to making technology ubiquitous in schools. Helping teachers effectively use technology in instruction goes way beyond simply teaching them how to use Microsoft Office. Fundamental changes in classroom strategy and management are required.

Educators need quality programs, resources and staff development to fully apply the Internet to the teaching-learning process. Traditional teaching methods transported throughout the Internet do not take advantage of the vast information available on the Web. With an easy-to-use instructional format that teachers can adapt for their own programs, the Internet can be an integral part of learning.

Instructional programs on the Internet should be guided by the following standards:

  • Consistent instructional lesson format geared for students in all grades K-12;
  • Immediate feedback for student, parent and teacher;
  • Instruction customized to student progress;
  • Inclusion of parents in the teaching-learning program;
  • Connections to national and state learning goals;
  • Appropriate Internet links as an integral part of each instructional lesson;
  • Supporting tools that link information and planning between student, parent and educator; and
  • Lessons that teach students the value and appropriate use of the Internet.

The majority of Internet users said in a recent survey entitled "Children, Families and the Internet 2000," by Grunwald Associates that they primarily use the Internet to research, gather product information and access news. In other words, they use the Internet to learn. Most of what these users have done so far is simply gather information by reading. Going forward, broadband technology will propel more interactive and content-rich Web experiences. Students will have access to these channels at school and continue to use the service in the home through a premium broadband offering.


Gaining Comfort

The number of U.S. households on-line is expected to more than double from nearly 30 million at the end of 1998 to nearly 70 million by the end of 2002. By then, 90 percent of homes are expected to have PCs and 64 percent are likely to be connected to the Internet, according to Quality Education Data. Early Internet users tended to be toward the upper end of the income spectrum. In 1999, however, this profile shifted, indicating that Internet usage is spreading from the highest income earners to the general population.

Moreover, the number of K-12 students with access to the Internet has grown from virtually zero in 1994 to 10 million in 1996 and is projected to grow to 40 million by 2002. The number of kids ages 2 to 12 using on-line services at home is expected to grow from 4.3 million in 1998 to 10.1 million in 2002. Children ages 8 to 18 spend more than 19 hours per week watching TV, 10 hours listening to the radio, five hours reading, 2.5 hours on the computer for fun and about one hour on the Internet. Those with Internet access at home, however, spend about five hours on-line per week, according to Quality Education Data.

Today's students are the Internet Generation—Generation I, as some have dubbed them—and are as comfortable on a computer as on a bicycle. The combination of the Internet and education is not only a natural progression for Generation I, it is a necessity in today's economy. In K-12 education, this means not only providing children with an understanding of technology, but also helping them learn new things in new ways using technology. When asked to choose which media to take to a desert island, 33 percent of children ages 8-18 picked a computer with Internet access, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The ability of the Internet to create community expands the school-to-home connection, increasing the level of communication between parents, teachers and students and positively affects student achievement. The ability to support digital content can expand dramatically the accessibility of this content. This, coupled with the fact that the cost of Internet access devices is plummeting and may soon be close to zero, soon should erase the digital divide in the near future.

America's youth have embraced the computer and the Internet as their own and they will ultimately drive change in our classrooms. Half of all children age 8 or older use the computer every day and nearly 75 percent have a computer at home. In fact, 8 percent of these children have three or more computers at home. These remarkable statistics for a relatively new technology point to the Internet's status as the new media for the 21st century student.

To Generation I, the computer's technology is practically invisible. Like the telephone, it has become a household appliance. Connected kids may like cool, fun content, but parents see greater value in the Internet than simple entertainment or communication. For parents, computers are about education. Households with children have greater PC and Internet penetration levels than do households without children, and the biggest reason is to help kids learn. More than 80 percent of intended family household PC buyers cited their children's education as the primary reason for purchase. Indeed, the Internet is an important research, homework and study resource for these students. Of those using the Internet, 88 percent said they did so for special reports and 50 percent said they used it for nightly homework.

Widespread Benefits

The Internet's powerful network effect and the intense appeal of technology to children are combining to create significant opportunities for change in our educational centers. Schools with family-as-customer mindsets are creating on-line communities of parents. The Internet allows for unique instructional techniques, and as its presence grows the benefits will not be limited just to individual students who are learning more and better but should also extend to society at large. Changes this dramatic may not have been seen in classrooms since the introduction of the Socratic method or the Gutenberg printing press.

Thirty-five percent of school-age children spend one or more hours on-line at school per week, up from 22 percent the year before. Well-funded schools still can sponsor live field trips to the world's historical and cultural sites, but schools with fewer resources now can participate as well, with virtual visits to the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo or tours of the stained glass at Chartres Cathedral in France.

Content that has not been simply reprocessed but has been rethought for Internet delivery is content that adds value to the teaching-learning process. The real value in on-line educational content is not in simply putting existing content on-line, but taking advantage of the Internet's unique attributes to create new content. The Internet benefits instruction by increasing student motivation, encouraging higher-level thinking, involving parents, giving teachers tools to improve instruction, using the resources of the whole wired world, expanding learning time and preparing kids for the future.

In the future, it may be that assessment will be hardly separable from content. In its most connected form, ongoing on-line assessment would determine what content a student receives and when. Looking forward, the design of tests will change, incorporating audio and visual components, computer simulations and a variety of test-response possibilities.

Once you go to the Internet, you no longer are constrained by physical presence. The Internet acts as a major enabler, linking people to anytime-anywhere learning and as a catalyst to help revolutionize our educational system. The key to realizing the potential of the Internet is to reconceptualize how knowledge is obtained and leverage the advantage of this technology.

Martha Angulo, a former superintendent, is the founder of e-Tutor, developer of an interactive, Internet-based curriculum. She can be reached at e-Tutor Inc., 8430 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, Ill. 60631. E-mail: mangulo@e-tutor.com