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Reflections on the Use of the Internet in Teaching

Internet Curriculum Applications -
EDUC 632

Work of Linda A.E. Cripps

At the 3rd Asynchronous Learning Networks conference in 1997, the focus of presentations was on the exploration of the technologies that were emerging and the intial experiments in application of them in education. Since that time, the internet has become a ubiquitous form of communication delivery present in every facet of life in the modern industrial economy. Clearly no longer the issue is whether or not the internet will be used in any particular educational context, but how to use the internet effectively within many different educational contexts.

This shift of focus is exemplified in the changes in basic "internet literacy" education that has occurred in the last seven years. In 1997, internet literacy training was focused on basic skill training in the tools of internet communication. Now it is more frequently found to be integrated into comprehensive Information Literacy Instruction (ILI) that is focused more on the critical thinking skills associated with the use of information. (Kasowitz-Scheer and Pasqualoni, 2002)

Early in its development, it was recognized that the internet would provide the opportunity to develop alternatives to education to serve special needs populations that were hindered from higher education by the former time and place constraints of traditional classes. In 1995, only one third of higher education institutions offered any sort of distance learning options. The 1998 Reauthorization of Higher Education Act (US Department of Education, 1998) specifically recognized the need to promote such opportunities in authorizing initiatives for both Distance Education Demonstration Programs and the Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP ) programs. This funding and others has spearheaded the proliferation of all sorts of alternative types of courses, especially online courses. However, as with the focus in instructional design, the focus in program design is also evolving. The concern is shifting from developing online educational programs, to identifying what makes an effective online educational program. This is evident in the emphasis the Web Based Education Commission report (Web-based Education Commission, 2000) gave to the issues of accreditation and other quality issues such as "articulating frameworks for what constitutes good online courses".

Along with establishing program competencies, the issue of identifying competencies and credentialing of online instructors has come to the forefront. Although this issue was bound to emerge eventually (Spector and de la Teja, 2001) focus on this issue has been raised at this time due to the speed at which online training proliferated which "result[ed] in hastily crafted online courses and inadequate preparation of online facilitators." This issue was raised first in industry training, but is relevant to post secondary education as well.

What has been recognized is that the basic processes for learning have remained unchanged at the fundamental cognitive level. The internet provides a different set of tools which require all of the following to provide quality instruction:

  • Effective use in instructional design
  • Appropriate place in program curricula
  • Adequately trained facilitators - teachers, professors, trainers

To use Mary Driscoll's model (Driscoll, 2002), the effective use of the internet in instructional design can occur in all major frameworks in which learning occurs: learning occurring in a context; learning be active; learning being social; and learning being reflective. In the terms of the semester's course explorations, most of the opportunities explored can fit into one or more of these frameworks. The internet can expand the frame of reference of the classroom experience to provide access to the "real world" contexts of life, through activities such as the virtual field trip. Although there are management issues in facilitating the collaborative aspect of the internet in an assignment, the use of discussion forums can provide an interactive social presence in learning that, when well managed, can sometimes exceed the freedom of expression in a F2F classroom. The student-centered nature of internet based learning makes it an inherently active and reflective process.

One of the potential inherent weaknesses in internet curriculum units is that they usually involve many separate bits of information. The instructional plan must clearly direct the process by which the student is to integrate and utilize all of these parts. However, in the integrative process, lies one of the facets of internet curricula that is potentially one of its greatest strengths. The process the student must use to make sense of an internet-based assignment requires the development of critical thinking skills in which they must occur in perhaps the most significant framework of learning: reflection where "generate connections between what they already know and what they are being asked to learn and constructing meaning from their experiences. When students become active participants in the knowledge construction process, the focus of learning shifts from "covering the curriculum to working with ideas"(Driscoll, 2002) A well designed internet-based assignment can challenge the student to "work with ideas" more frequently and in more potential directions.

The last criteria to quality internet based training is the most important - adequately trained facilitators, whether they be K-12 teachers, professors, or professional trainers. Many studies have documented the inadequacy most feel when confronted with using internet technology in their teaching contexts (Web-based Education Commission, 2000) and the fallacy of providing technology tools in the classroom without adequately funding professional development opportunities. In addition, similar to "internet literacy" for students as mentioned initially, effective training is in internet based instruction is not achieved by a one workshop that emphasizes technology tools. It involves developing a more comprehensive understanding of many tools with a multitude of uses, and of how to integrate them into a larger instruction whole. In addition, internet instructional training is not static. The greatest surprise to me personally, was how much how much basic internet tools and their applications had evolved since I began my initial online teaching certification in 1998 and completed it in 2000. One hopes that the next five years will not see the degree exponential change of internet technology that has occurred in the last five, but one is assured that there will be change - and with that the need for re-training.

Although need for professional development is ongoing and has been adequately documented, economic realities may not improve and this "training" gap could persist. Despite the degree of emotional enthusiasm of the Web Based Education commission, the public tax base may not prove to be the means by which the technology training gap is closed. It may be that the usual peer-based mechanisms in the education profession, in-house and other peer training, will disseminate the training that educators seek.


[1] Driscoll, Marcy P. (October 2002) How People Learn -and What Technology Might Have to Do with It ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Technology EDO-IR-2002-05
Retrieved May 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

[2] Kasowitz-Scheer, Abby and Pasqualoni, Michael (June 2002) Information Literacy Instruction in Higher Education Trends and Issues ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Technology EDO-IR-2002-01
Retrieved May 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

[3] Scriven, Michael and Paul, Richard Defining Critical Thinking. National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Online University Library
Retrieved March 22, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

[4] Spector, J. Michael and de la Teja, Ileana. (December 2001)
Competencies for Online Teaching ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Technology EDO-IR-2001-09
Retrieved May 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

[5] US Department of Education (1998) 1998 Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act
Retrieved May 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

[6] Report of the Web-based Education Commission to the President and Congress of the United States. (December 19, 2000) The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice
Retrieved March 22, 2003 from the World Wide Web:


This page was last updated on - 20 May 03.