Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Using The Internet Responsibly With Your Students

In the past 11 years ( I can't believe I've been teaching that long ), I have noticed dramatic shift in the role of Internet resources in facilitating and communicating with students. I can remember my first experiences with the Internet..or the Information Super Highway as we called it...in high school. I was in college during what I call the "Internet Boom" when the World Wide Web went from being a misunderstood novelty to an essential part of everyday life. By the time I started teaching, the Internet had found a way to seep into at least some part of all our lives. But I also remember being cautioned of what not to do early on in my career....don't communicate with parents or students via email....don't let your students rely on the Internet for research...along with all kinds of urban legends about what was out there.

NOW....email is an essential tool for communicating with parents and students. Class web-pages have become one of the best resources for students who are out sick who don't want to fall behind. Blogging has become a great way for students to share ideas with their classmates, teachers, and the rest of the world. Web-based research hasn't tarnished learning by leading students away from books, but has opened the door for opportunities they would not otherwise be afforded. And most importantly, becoming proficient with Internet tools prepares students for the world they will be competing and living in. The process of researching through technology is just as valuable ( if not more valuable) as the content being searched for. While most students feel that non-technology based research will not benefit them in their personal or professional lives, the skills used in researching through technology...web-based or not...are almost immediately viewed as valuable and applicable.

I am trying to incorporate web-based communication into my teaching as much as possible, without reaching a point that I am leaving some students behind. Regardless of how well they can navigate through technology, you can't guarantee every student will have access to the Internet everyday. My Lex-Connect class pages have my current class notes and resources on them as well as interesting links and photo galleries. Sometimes just simply showing them my page in class can peak their interest. I'm also starting to use discussion threads and extra credit assignments as well on my pages. I'd like those to evolve into a true blog for my classes. Another idea that I'd like to try is hosting classroom help sessions through a chat room. A teacher could easily open a chat room for one hour a few nights a week for student concerns.

Regardless of how much you want your students to explore learning opportunities through technology, you have to be cautious. Any work turned in to me which has come from the Web must have proper citation. I also caution students about certain web-sites or search engines which may not be appropriate. Teacher modeling can be one of the best tools to fight the "evils" of the Internet. I would have students use registered names for any blogging activities for my class, and I always read comments before posting them for public viewing. Before involving students in any activity like that, I would send home information to parents, making them aware of the penalties for inappropriate behavior or misuse.

My student samples will be a timeline (produced through open mind), and a "virtual poster" (produced in Power Point). Virtual posters are single Power Point slides which have been designed to look like hand made posters. Just like a traditional poster, the students much portray the main ideas of their project on a single slide. I have always had my classes produce time-lines and posters, but these will be much easier to save and use in the future.

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