Net Day was hailed as corporate America's response to one of President Clinton's State of the Union challenge of providing America's youth with the educational opportunities necessary to compete in the 21st century. It marked the date when corporate sponsors such as MCI and Sun Microsystems would wire over one-fifth of California's public and private schools (PR Newswire, 1996).
Since then, the Clinton Administration has continued to push for the wiring of every classroom in the nation by the year 2000. "It's easily achievable; it can and must be done," says vice-president Al Gore. The notion of computer-based networking as a necessary part of educational reform is not a partisan issue. A growing number of national leaders, educators and corporate representatives are embracing the cause. Even Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich has declared; There has to be a missionary spirit that says to the poorest child in America, "The Internet is for you; the Information Age is for you."
for a movie about Net Day
So what should be the goal for today's schools? Some believe that the
high school of the future should integrate computers and online material
with the traditional material. An extreme example of this type of integration
is the Cyber High School, which offered its first classes in September
1995. The school is designed to offer courses almost exclusively through
the computer network. It is best described on its web site.
CHS is designed to operate entirely over the Internet.
Lessons and tests are delivered by e-mail or on-line in real-time. Office
hours and 1-to-1 conversations are conducted via "talk", and
class discussions by IRC. Many of the resources used in the classes are
found on the Net - from historical primary documents, to Latin texts, to
scientific data, to English and American literature. Assignments and projects
include using Net technologies in their presentation. As newer applications
(voice, video) become more widely available to our students, they will
be integrated into the programs and procedures.
The official response to the question of missing social contact is: Teenagers will socialize. The only issues are in what manner and with whom they will socialize. In a traditional school, students have little control over whom they spend time with. They are assigned seats in particular classrooms with other students who live in the same general area. These students may or may not share similar values and interests. The school, however, is not the only medium of socialization. Family, religious organizations, athletic, social, and service organizations all act as agents of socialization. We believe that one of the advantages of CHS is that the student, and the student's family, have greater control over the students environment, and are thus able to make reasoned decisions about where and with whom they will socialize."
Using computers as a powerful supplement to education, well-suited to
our modern world, is quite different than banishing it to the virtual world.
Score! Learning Corporation is one variation of the former option. It consists
of shopping center facilities that allow kids to sit in front of computer
stations after school and use interactive learning software, covering subjects
from color matching to spelling to math. Cyber High School represents the
latter option. Despite its radical departure from any former notion of
a "school", it is seemingly a functional possibility that might
have advantages for certain individuals. Thus, the idea of having something
extra seems to be the trend, and a good one at that. However, some sort
of integrative balance seems to be the more holistically optimized way
The presence of computers and the Internet in schools is a relatively new phenomenon. Many of the district superintendents and school principles do not understand the Internet, with its wonderful and eclectic range of information. With no coherent national plan, schools and school districts are left to write their own guidelines and devise their own curriculum. In today's schools, they are using the technology in a variety of ways.
On one level, there are traditional schools where computers are not an active part of the curriculum. Their presence on the Internet is largely through a Web page. At many of these schools, the students develop and maintain their own web pages. Demographics of these schools range from a typical suburban high school to smaller rural schools. Armstrong Township High School in rural Illinois is an example. Armstrong Township High School uses the Internet mainly to communicate with the rest of the community. There are messages from the Superintendent, and profiles of the athletic programs. With these type of schools, Internet technology has no great influence on the teaching. Teacher training, funding, and most importantly, a plan of action, are needed to integrate computers in an effective way.
Other traditional model schools have actually put such plans and initiatives into motion. South Salem High School offers a House technology class that is basically a modern equivalent of home economics. A Web page designated for the class serves as an information source and a forum for questions and sharing. South Salem also participates in a Global Schoolhouse project, which uses the Internet to coordinate environmental service projects at 6 high schools around the world, including ones in Australia, Japan, and Israel. Student governing groups are formed at each school, and they communicate with a newsletter and real-time electronic chats.
Park High School in Pleasant Hill, CA is another example of a high
school capitalizing on new technology within a more traditional model.
They have an impressive collection of technical goodies with which to do
this, which raises obvious questions of funding. College Park has turned
the Internet into a valuable reference resource. Teacher and student e-mail
addresses have been compiled into on-line directories, and projects completed
by individuals in both groups are also accessible electronically. The home
page also offers subject-specific and general indexes of valuable academic
links, as well as a search engine.
A major issue which administrators and teachers need to confront is who is going to be using the technology. In its initial stages, Internet access in schools has attracted math and science classes. At Independence High School, Higaki attributes this trend to the attitudes of the teachers. "While we encourage teachers in all curriculum to introduce their classes to the computer lab, the only teachers who have brought their classes are the math and science teachers who had previous exposure to computers and the Internet" (Higaki, Interview).
Not all schools are pushing for universal access within the schools. In West Virginia, an Eisenhower Math and Science Education Act grant helped 24 schools to train their teachers in using the Internet. Teachers were selected based on their involvement in math and/or science education and their desire to use the Internet (cited from: http://www.ael.org/~ci/focus/wv4.html). Computers and the Internet have largely been dominated by technically oriented people, and there has not been a great push to open up the medium to non-technical people. If the Internet is going to become a universal tool to be implemented in a tax-funded public school system, then an active effort will have to be made to ensure that teachers in all subject areas are comfortable with the technology.
Central Virginia Governor's School for Science and Technology represents one extreme. "At CVGS, the use of technology is infused throughout the curriculum. Technology is utilized in three ways: to increase productivity, to enhance learning in the classroom and to expose students to emerging technologies." E-mail, on-line searchers, and productivity software (word processing, spreadsheets) facilitate the first goal. The other two are effected through seminars which allow use of advanced technology labs and demand a final product. There are nine different labs, including Biotechnology, Holography, and CAD.
Although the model used at CVGS is an ambitious attempt to integrate
computers into the educational curriculum, one is forced to wonder whether
non-technical students will be suffer from the changes. Although desktop
publishing seems like one potential growth area for all students, if time
and energy are not devoted to trying to apply computers to all subjects,
then our society will continue to bifurcate.
The first step towards creating a coherent and focused policy for computer-based
education is to have teachers and administrators who know both the abilities
and the limitations of the technology. Of the schools who have the networking
infrastructure, very few have adequate training programs for their employees.
For example, the Arkansas Public School Computer Network (APSCN) provides
some basic Internet training, but their offerings are far from sufficient.
Of a staff of 31 (including 9 time-limited appointments), only one person
is dedicated to instructional support. (Cited from: http://k12.cnidr.org:90/web.future.html).
Currently, teachers and administrators have a limited understanding of
the Internet and the World Wide Web. They do understand that there is a
vast warehouse of information, and they are also aware of the large amount
of adult material on the Net. "We perceive the biggest problem with
the Internet connection to be the vast amount of inappropriate material
which is readily available" (Interview quotation). While understanding
the nature of the material on the Internet is essential in formulating
a policy, so is having a solid understanding of the infrastructure of the
Net, knowing its demographics, and also understanding that a large amount
of the information is unverified and inaccurate.
The question of administering an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) is the most compelling to school administrators. The Internet gets a lot of press coverage in the areas of pornography and terrorism. There are a lot of stories about how children can gain access to inappropriate images, or a malicious terrorist can find instructions on building bombs. Schools such as Independence High School have experimented with content controlling devices such as Surf Watcher ®. These schools have found that content is too varied to be able to censor all of the undesirable material.
Administrators realize that the Internet is too volatile and students
are too clever to completely shield them from inappropriate material. "We
try to block the inappropriate sites, but the kids are too clever. If it's
out there, they will find it" (Higaki, Interview). Clancy J. Wolf,
Ed. D., who studies educational technology and its application in the classroom
believes that the Internet should be an extension of the school libraries
and media centers. "A considerable literature exists regarding intellectual
freedom in these settings. The American Library Association has both
a Library Bill of Rights and a Media Center Bill of Rights that discourage
censorship and promote collections of varied views" (Wolf).
In his 1996 State of the Union Address, President Clinton said, "In our schools, every classroom in America must be connected to the information superhighway with computers and good software and well-trained teachers." As the next century approaches, technology is catching up with the USA. Almost every person is affected by or exposed to it through some medium. The Web has sped up this process and made it a main-stream reality for many families as well as a media centerpiece for the government. The Clinton White House has a long standing record with embracing Technology, from their Silicon Valley visit and TV spot with Silicon Graphics to their appearance at Sun's Net Day.
How did Net Day really get started? The Chief Science Officer at Sun Microsystems, John Gage was attending the 1995 Federal Networking Committee Advisory Commission Meeting. The meeting centered around the reduction in the Department of Education's funds and the cost of wiring schools estimated around $10,000. With ridiculous estimations of that amount- obviously there would be no way to wire any school district, let alone all American schools as President Clinton wanted. John Gage listened to the argument and realized that those estimations were based on contracted workers fees and that a group of volunteers could easily do the job with very little training as long as the corporate sponsors could provide the materials. After much calculation and discussion within Sun, they devised the "kit" and volunteered their services. And so the mission to wire 8000 of the 13000 schools in California was launched.
Now what did this really achieve? Schools received the wire and connections to at least a Local Area Network or greater connection in most of their classrooms. What's missing with this picture? The wiring is only half the hardware needed. According to John Gage the added requirement is the computer. As stated in an internal interview at Sun, John Gage stated,
"[Schools]need computers in the classroom, and we believe that most schools have access to some machines. The wonderful thing about the WWW browsers is that they run on all computers, so you no longer have this barrier of, is it a PC or is it a Mac? So we think that computers are a problem that's solvable by the school, each with their own set of circumstances. The other part is reaching from the school to the outside world. And for that part we are working with the telecommunication companies and Internet service providers to get cheap or free access for schools. There are a lot of cost-effective ways to get the telecommunications part of this going once the wiring is in place."
Sun, as a corporate sponsor, urged all Sun employees to volunteer for Net Day by going to whatever school in the state where they think they can help the most. The corporate benefit? John Gage says it best with, "Students in these classrooms are tomorrow's citizens and customers. And the capabilities we build in the classrooms are how they'll learn to be parts of companies such as Sun and Sun's customers - companies that utilize the things we make in building new industries, new markets, and new commercial relationships."
But Sun was not the only one to jump to the call for educational technology- many other companies jumped on the bandwagon. AT&T, Adobe, Anderson, Applied Materials, Apple, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NASA, Novell, Oracle, Siemens, Silicon Graphics and Symantec are only a few of the notables involved. As the Net Day syndrome continues and more and more schools get connected the fundamentals of the technology era will be set- now all the schools need are a few computers!
Schools are just beginning to cope with the new technology which is dominating society. Administrators and teachers are scrambling to get the training as local businesses and volunteers help to install the hardware in their schools. As more and more schools gain access to powerful computers and online services, many questions remain unanswered. Who will benefit the most for the new technology? What is the role of the technology in schools? What is the role of the administrators and teachers in the changing face of education?
Computer networks and the Internet are being used in a variety of ways in schools today. In many cases, the result is a disjointed and ineffective mess, with teachers unable to understand how their clever students are abusing the technology. In order for schools to get the most out of the Internet and related computer networks, the teachers and administrators need to understand the technology. If they are familiar with the potential of the computer networks, then they will be able to better guide their students. Also, schools need to define their goals early. Current implementation of computer networks in schools is random and without aim.
Most importantly, everyone involved in education must understand that computers and the Internet are not a panacea. The onus of effective teaching still remains within the realm of those designing the lessons. The networks can act as an expedient if administered with direction and leadership. The efficacy of the new networks will depend on an open mind from the older generation of teachers and vigor and energy from the younger generation.