Teaching with the Internet

Siva Kumari
Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning,
Rice University

In training a child to activity of thought, above all things we must beware of what I call "inert ideas" - that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilised, or tested or thrown into fresh combinations.

- Alfred North Whitehead in the Aims of Education (1929)

The Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) in particular have become increasingly common household terms as evidenced by the wealth of references to them in the popular media and on television programs in the US. The popularity of the WWW has spread to the educational community as well. The Internet is increasingly being used as an educational tool in K-12 schools with access. There is a sharp increase in the number of schools connected to the Internet. Professional development opportunities for teachers to learn to use the Internet are ever increasing and the number of books that specialize in educational resources on the Internet are filling bookshelves. Recently Cyberschools are coming online under the auspices of public school districts. Online courses are being conducted for K-12 students. One can safely predict that in the short term larger number of teachers are going to grapple with effective ways of integrating the Internet into the classroom. " The Internet and the countless possibilities associated with the Internet are quickly reshaping the way we conduct business, and redefining the way we relate to one another" ( Nielsen Media). We can extend this statement to relate to K-12 education as well.

Literature reviews reveal a growing number of case studies, project reports and experiences related to the use of the Internet in K-12 education. Practitioner journals are replete with how-to articles about the use of the Internet in the classroom, participation in online projects and creation of web materials. A multitude of online and paper-based resources reference online materials for almost every subject in the K-12 curriculum. The potential of the Web is emphasized, explored and sold repeatedly to the educator. There is an overwhelming amount of practical literature available to the teacher interested in using the Internet in the classroom. However, there is very little that emphasizes effective instructional strategies needed in creating or using Internet materials in the classroom.

In this paper, I will analyze lesson plans created by teachers primarily to integrate the Internet into their classroom activities. These lesson plans are a result of two projects that focused intensely on training K-12 teachers to integrate the Internet into their curriculum and create online lesson activities. The paper starts with a brief description of the two projects followed by a discussion of the instructional strategies used in the lesson plans.

Brief Description of the Projects

The OWLink Project: Initiated in June of 1994, this project links five diverse Texas K-12 schools to each other and to Rice University via an ATM based fiber-optic network. Each of the classrooms is equipped with twelve multimedia computers as well as two- way interactive video equipment. Teachers participated in training during the summer in the use of multimedia computers, the Internet and the teledistance equipment. They were also instructed in creating online lesson plans.

The two-week training program resulted in teacher produced Internet based curricular units. The teachers from the diverse Texas sites collaborated to produce inter-disciplinary units that allow students to extend their everyday educational experiences and engage in learning activities that include:

The GirlTECH Project: Funded by the NSF, the project started in the summer of 1995. Twenty teachers were provided with an IBM Thinkpad ® computer and Internet access through Rice University. In a four- week training program, teachers learned to use the Internet and create online lesson plans. In contrast to the OWLink project in which teachers returned to classrooms with Internet-ready multimedia computers for students use, GirlTECH teachers were returning to classrooms where their project computer was the only one available for students. As a result of this constraint, lesson plans created by these teachers were distinctly different from those created by the OWLink teachers. They were created with a single student in mind rather than groups of students with simultaneous access.

Integrating the Internet into classroom activities

When introduced to the Internet, teachers were overwhelmed and excited by the tremendous educational potential of the Web. Once they moved beyond the initial intimidation of navigating the Web, they focused on their specific teaching needs and were concerned with customizing the Web to answer the learning needs of their students. Teachers chose fundamental concepts or proven problem learning areas as a basis for exploration and experimentation with the Internet.

Oliva (1992) defines an instructional strategy as "methods, procedures, and techniques the teacher uses to present the subject matter to students and to bring about effective outcomes" (p. 403). Teachers chose instructional strategies that were best suited to the Internet. They were focused on the needs of their students, the school and state mandated curriculum and instructional problems associated with some fundamental concepts. In addition to these traditional techniques, however, they focused on the educational opportunities of the Internet to rethink their instructional strategies. Teachers focused on the following characteristics of the Internet in creating their lesson plans:

Teachers re-evaluated their roles as content providers and gravitated toward becoming facilitators in these electronic environments. They viewed the Internet as a dynamic teaching and learning medium with which to facilitate learning, enhance comprehension and provide rich contextual learning environments for their students. Teachers immediately recognized that students are more familiar and adept with these technologies than they themselves are and sought to take advantage of these student skills to rethink teaching as a collaborative journey. Teachers started to think of themselves as directors of student learning, providing guidelines and pathways for students to attempt. Students were now expected to take an active part in exploring these pathways, venturing on new ones and taking responsibility for their learning. The constructivistic philosophies of the teachers took precedence over the more traditional approaches when integrating the Internet. Teachers with more essentialistic philosophies used this medium quite differently than those with interdisciplinary and student-centered approaches. Those teachers with constructivistic or student-centered philosophies adapt easily to the Internet and are able to immediately identify enriching learning opportunities. Those with more traditional approaches found it more difficult to create lessons and adapt to this new hyperlinked environment.

Interdisciplinary Learning Approaches

Teachers in the OWLink project, whose lessons are discussed in this section, collaborated with their colleagues to teach across distances, subject areas and grade levels. This experimental teledistance project, which has as a primary goal to cause rethinking traditional teaching and learning approaches, has produced some interesting interdisciplinary projects and change processes. The projects link high school students with students from the third through eighth grade in exploration of concepts via the Internet.

Problem Based Learning Approaches

Problem-based learning approaches emphasize connections between school content and its application to life outside of school. They provide the learner with opportunities to explore concepts and study examples of the concept available in the world around us. The internet provides a wealth of information for teachers and students to use in this way. Teachers and students can access data to explore a concept in real life, download data, modify and process it for different contexts.

Following are a few examples of lesson plans that use the problem -based approach in mathematics. These have been further subdivided into three curricular perspectives outlined by McNeil. ( 1995)

The Instructional Systems Approach

This traditional approach where the teacher is in control and is responsible for student learning uses objective driven instruction. The teacher is the knowledge giver and the students are the recipients.

This traditional approach requires less creativity on the part of the teacher in using the web. However this approach lends itself less to rethinking teaching on the part of the teacher. They are certain traditional content oriented objectives that could make use of the wealth of information the web as seen in the following examples.


"Computerized electronic technology makes possible not only the wide and rapid distribution of information, but its manipulation, analysis, synthesis, and recombination as well. Through these operations, new knowledge is created that helps us understand ourselves and our world in new ways" (Gibbon, 1987, p.2). Lesson plans discussed above take advantage of the Internet to provide students with learning environments to do just this. Students in the process of interacting with this medium learn valuable skills needed in the information age. They learn how to read visual images and information, judge the value of data, download information and process it to suit their needs. Teachers whose lesson plans are represented above are truly re-envisioning the way they teach. Exposure to the Internet causes a paradigm shift in teachers. No longer are they bound by textbooks, no longer do they have to distribute information to their students in previously standard formats (paper and worksheets), instead they can open up a world of electronic learning opportunities for their students and prepare them for learning in information rich contexts.

Although wide spread implementation of the Internet in the classroom is not a common occurrence in today's schools, knowing that this change is inevitable, it is very interesting to watch these pockets of successful experimentation. Training the teachers in the use of the Internet is important but it is equally critical to challenge them to rethink and re-envision teaching and learning. Inter-disciplinary curriculum, collaborative learning and the production of knowledge are central themes of the lesson plans discussed here. These processes require students to acquire important skills: evaluating, processing, discussing and presenting electronic information. Changes in instruction, changes in curriculum and changes in teaching technologies are all evident in these classrooms (Gibbon, 1996).

"The most obvious benefit of the electronic classroom is that it achieves what progressive educators could only dream of: a union of work and play......There is no certainty that the electronic classroom will actually fulfill this promise, but it is this hope that makes the realization so attractive" (Ravitch, 1987, p. 28). Teachers whose lesson plans were discussed here engage students in meaningful learning activities that are of high relevance to students. The Internet is serving as a solution to engage students and teachers as equal partners in an educational journey in these electronic settings.


Gibbon, S. (1987). Learning and instruction in the information age. In White, M.A. (Ed.), What curriculum in the information age. New Jersey: Lawrence Elbaum Associates.
McNeil, J. (1995). Curriculum: The teacher's initiative. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Nielsen Media Research. (1996). Recontact study March/April 1996: Executive summary {On-Line}. Available: http://www.nielsenmedia.com/commercenet/exec.html
Oliva, P.F. (1992) . Developing the curriculum. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
Ravitch, D. (1987). Technology and the curricukum: Promise and peril. In White, M.A. (Ed.), What curriculum in the information age. New Jersey: Lawrence Elbaum Associates.
Whitehead, A. N. 1929. Aims of Education. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.

Siva Kumari
Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning
Rice University
Houston, Texas skumari@rice.edu

Siva Kumari manages Project OWLink, a tele-distance research project in Houston, Texas. She is an Instructional Technology Consultant in the Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning at Rice University.


Siva Kumari 1996. The author assigns to the University of New Brunswick and other educational and non-profit institutions a non exclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author grants a non-exclusive license to the University of New Brunswick to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the conference papers, and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.

N.A.WEB 96 - The Second International North America World Wide Web Conference http://www.unb.ca/web/wwwdev/ University of New Brunswick.