The internet has had a profound affect on society. Not since the invention of the automobile or the telephone, has an invention had as great an impact ton the daily lives of people. The internet has two major components that have shifted the way people live, one is purely the amount of accessible information and the second is the speed at which one can access that information.
Throughout history, information has been a powerful tool that guides society and also defines social places with in that society. In ancient times, the clergy and the wealthy were the only ones that had access to written documents. The invention of the printing press helped to spread the collected knowledge to more people. As information was shared, society changed from predominately agrarian to industrial.
Now with the advent of computers and the internet, we have shift to the informational society with more emphasis on the collecting, sharing and understanding of information. The workforce has moved from skilled labor positions to informational, computer driven positions. The speed at which this has occurred is been unprecedented. It has left our schools far behind in preparing our youth for positions in the workforce. This is the first time in history that experts are unable to predict what jobs will be in demand in the next 10 years.
The internet has created a real opportunity and a real challenge for education. It has created vast resources for information, as well as global learning opportunities for students and staff alike. However, it has also spurred the need for formal education centered on internet usage. Internet safety, netiquette, site evaluation skills, plagiarism and copyright laws, have needed to become part of the classroom curriculum. There is a real need for the Internet to be infused into the curriculum. To that end, teachers and administrators have needed additional training.
Districts are also wrestling with a new set of demands when it comes to internet access. Who should be allowed access, to what sites? Should everyone have access? Is the school responsible for internet usage of the students beyond the school day? In the past there existed a more defined line between school time and non school time. Now that has changed. As far as the information that is now available, in the past schools had an established set of text and materials to pull information from. It was easy for the district to select and use the defined sources. Now with the internet, there is no defined information. The information is fluid, ever changing. This has created a huge conundrum for school district. How do you monitor the internet usage?
Personally, my life has been changed by computers, the Internet and email. The primary change is that it is the basis for my career in education. I have been involved with the online delivery of educational material as well as internet education for a long time. So part of my position is keeping up with the changes, advancements, laws, regulations and issues that arise with the internet. My home life has changed in that I am saving time shopping online, paying bills, requesting forms and documents as well as finding the information that would have previously had me at the library, on the phone or deep into the encyclopedia and other reference material. It certainly has made homework time with my kids a lot easier. I was also able to locate relatives and trace family genealogy through online searches.
Life for the typical K-16 learner has changed tremendously for those with access to the internet on a daily basis. Learners have at their fingertips all of the resources that they need to become self directed learners. They no longer need to rely on or wait for the teacher to confirm their understanding of concepts. They also have a new resource for feedback and collaborative activities. Some of these activities stem from the student’s use of online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Other resources that they use are text messaging, gaming and Blogging sites. Students are more connected with an even broader range of other students than ever before.
For the K-16 learner there are many advantages. But those advantages can only be realized through the proper usage of the internet. The learner needs to have the basic skills required to affectively harvest the internets resources. They need to be taught how to evaluate sites, how to interact safely and how to utilize aspects that are appropriate for the task at hand. The internet can provide a wealth of networking opportunities both domestic and global, but peer to peer in person interaction and sharing needs to also be addressed. The internet is a tool. It is not the “Solve all, be all” of education and should not used in isolation.