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April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

How I Found Out About the Internet

The story of one educator's leap into cyberspace may help others traveling the electronic superhighway.

Last June I made the traumatic leap from teaching in a middle school to what I thought was the real world. To my delight and frustration, I have found myself in cyberspace, an often-used term for the Internet. Here's how I learned about the beginnings of the National Information Infrastructure.

My Magical Mystery Tour Begins

My story began when I took advantage of my school district's offer to buy out my contract after 20 years of dedicated service: 10 years teaching 7th grade math, and another 10 as a computer instructor/coordinator. With my educational technology background and my network of colleagues in Nebraska, I felt confident that I would find a job.
After learning that the Nebraska Science and Math Initiative had an opening, I applied and was hired to assist Wayne Fisher of the Nebraska Department of Education, who was directing a project to provide Internet accounts for teachers. More than 3,000 teachers had signed on in the first year. As a result of the wonderful things these teachers were doing in their classrooms, Fisher was busy working to implement a new state law that empowered our regional Educational Service Units (ESUs) to levy taxes to provide (1) Internet access, and (2) training to all K–12 schools in Nebraska. This system—NEnet—has seen host computers installed and is issuing accounts at 15 ESUs. Two groups of three are sharing machines. Training of Nebraska's 20,000 teachers began before the 1993–94 school year. While many schools will take advantage of dial-up capabilities provided to local ESUs, direct connection by school districts to the ESUs is being strongly encouraged.
My first assignment was a baptism of fire. In order to support the Wetlands Project—a new distance learning effort—I needed to learn all about the Internet. This project was sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, broadcast by Nebraska Educational Television Network, and coordinated by the Nebraska Department of Education. The project staff asked 26 schools from 17 states to submit data over the Internet about water quality in their local wetlands. I learned much about telecommunications by working with TERC of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the developer of Alice Network Software, which we used for data submission.
The Internet is, literally, a labyrinth of computer networks, hence the name Inter-net. The term is often used to describe a community of people who use these linked networks to communicate with one another around the planet. According to some estimates, the Internet reaches more than 134 countries and is hooked up to more than 15 million computer stations. A subset of this information community is the National Research and Education Network (NREN), proposed by then-Senator Al Gore in 1993. Internet is also used to refer to the seemingly infinite resources that are available from these networks.
The Internet had its origin about 20 years ago in an experiment by the Defense Department to link computer resources across the United States “that could withstand partial outages (like bomb attacks) and still function” (Krol and Hoffman 1993). In its evolved form, largely supported by the National Science Foundation, Internet is used by university and college students and professors to share and study scientific research data.
Only recently have elementary and secondary teachers been connected to the Internet and discovered its value. Through E-mail, for example, K–12 teachers can share information with colleagues, thus combating the traditional isolation that many of them feel (Honey and Henriquez 1993). But in order to get E-mail, teachers first have to obtain an account. (This is where you get your “login name” and “password.”) Some universities have given accounts to teachers and allowed them to dial-up to their modems to use these accounts on the host UNIX computers. (Accounts are also available from commercial providers.)
In the Nebraska pilot, the Science and Math Initiative helped purchase a UNIX computer so that we could issue accounts to teachers. Working with the Wetlands Project, I created accounts and distribution lists for the participants. These lists enable one person to send a message to an entire group using a single “address,” such as pawloski@nde.unl.edu. This is a combination of my login name, the name of our UNIX computer, the university where it is housed, and an extension to indicate that it is an educational institution.
The Wetlands Project is a story in itself, but in the middle of it, I acquired another project. Prairie Visions is a successful consortium of art educators, artists, higher education, and museums that promotes discipline-based art education. With funding from the Getty Center, Sheila Brown, the project coordinator from the Nebraska Department of Education, developed ARTnet, a statewide network of Nebraska educators and collaborators, which would be part of NEnet. Our plan was to use the peer coaching model (Joyce and Showers 1988) to promote effective curriculum reform through telecommunications. I needed to learn more!

All About the Internet

Early in November I went to Tel Ed '93 in Dallas, where I learned much more about how teachers had been using the Internet to change the way they teach (Bank Street 1993). At this conference sponsored by the International Society for Technology in Education, I was able to share our plans and efforts with colleagues who had been working on similar projects in their states and countries. I took home much more than I left.
Then, in December, I attended the Internet World and Document Delivery Conference in New York. A future plan of Prairie Visions, as one of six regional Getty Centers, is to become a national resource repository for curriculum development through an expanded version of ARTnet, and I wanted to learn more about distributing documents through the Internet. The conference was very informative on such topics as copyright considerations for publishing electronically.
  • Telnet is a feature that allows users to work on another computer across the country, while sitting at their personal computers at home or in the classroom.
  • FTP (file transfer protocol) is a quick and reliable way to transfer files from one computer to another.
  • Gopher is a very popular document search-and-retrieval system that combines features of electronic bulletin boards and fully indexed databases of computers out on the “Net.”
  • NetNews allows “Internauts” to access news groups, which are like the cork bulletin boards of old. These new electronic bulletin boards enable people to post messages for others to read and respond to.
  • Listserves enables users to add themselves to a mailing distribution list for particular interest groups.
All of these features add up to some pretty extensive training for educators. While many teachers have adapted well and in a short time, these individuals may be the more technically adept. Fortunately, significant developments in client software—the programs users have on their personal computers—can drastically reduce the amount of training necessary for teachers to become adept in all features of the Internet. The caveat is they require more than the standard dial-up connection. This is why the government is asking the major telephone access providers and cable companies to provide free or reduced tariffs for dedicated data lines to classrooms, as part of deregulation of the evolving electronic communication industry.

Joining the Information Exchange

This brings me to what I've learned to be the two most critical issues in connecting educators in America: (1) procuring up-to-date computer hardware, and (2) obtaining a high-level connection to the Internet.
For example, Mosaic (public domain or free) and The Guide (at a minimum development cost) are user friendly integrated packages available for Macintosh and Windows platforms. They do, however, require more than the standard dial-up connection. These two software packages require a Macintosh or a 286 (or above) IBM-compatible system.
While schools cannot easily upgrade from their invested base of Apple IIs or old XTs, they can connect to the Internet—but only through raw text formats. These formats are awkward and confusing, even for someone who is fairly technical. The Internet connection for a K–12 teacher is most often from a modem dial-up link to the host computer that has the school's account. An upgrade to a direct, almost 24-hour connection of the school's local area network (LAN) is, as I mentioned above, a requirement of the better software.
One way to become better informed is to attend conferences about the Internet. Because other states are going through similar experiences, a lot of sharing takes place at these meetings. State departments of education are either coordinating efforts for educational networks, or they know who is. A helpful resource I found at these conferences is the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) at (510) 548-0799, or through E-mail: info@cosn.org. CoSN, which is a national consortium of educational, institutional, and commercial organizations, promotes the deployment of the National Information Infrastructure to serve the needs of K–12 educators.
Good luck in your efforts to learn about the Internet. I have found one powerful tool in my quest: Just ask. The free exchange of information is what the Internet is all about.

Joyce, B., and B. Showers. (1988). Student Achievement Through Staff Development. New York: Longman.

Honey, M., and A. Henriquez. (1993). Telecommunications and K–12 Educators: Findings from a National Survey. New York: Bank Street College of Education.

Bob Pawloski has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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