NCTE Spring Conference in Boston

Spring Conference
in Boston

March 20-23, 1996

Some Very Wired People

Making Learning Happen on the Internet

The Wednesday Pre-Conference convened in the Yarmouth-Vineyard Room of the Marriott from 9-5.

Chair: Wayne Butler, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Stephen Marcus, University of California, Santa Barbara, California
Ted Nellen, Murry Bergtraum High School, New York, New York
Trevor Owen, York University, North York, Ontario, Canada
Beverly Wall, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut
Winifred J Wood, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts
Robert Yagelski, State University of New York at Albany, New York

Wayne Butler opened the session with basic introductory remarks about the language of the Internet and computers. He introduced the metaphor of the superhighway and how each participant represented a part of that journey.

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Turning 'Information' into Knowledge

Trevor Owen opened his presentation with a quote from "Helga," a secondary school student who was commenting on her experience working online in the
Writers In Electronic Residence (WIER) program. "It was an odd pleasure to be taken so seriously." He continued by explaining his students' use of compuer conferencing to communicate with other cultures from Baffin Bay and from Iceland. The exchange between his class and each group was an eye opening experience for both parties. Particularly entertaining was the Icelandic students' description of their likes, which Trevor read from his book, The Learning Highway. These included "singed sheep's head." This portion intrigued Trevor's students and engaged them in participating in this Icelandic delicacy when one tin of the delicacy arrived at Trevor's school. Trevor's explanation of its texture and culinary delights did not convert the audience that this was a delicacy. Trevor's presentation was truly entertaining, informative, and content rich. He introduced his dogmas which served as truths about using the Internet in the classroom. Helga's quote was used to close his presentation as Trevor stressed the word 'odd' as being an unfortunate feeling students experience when being taken seriously shouldn't be odd.

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Cyber English at an Inner-City High School

Ted Nellen used his school site,
Murry Bergtraum High School, in New York City to show how his students make their own web pages to serve as their webfolios. Internet projects were discussed and students' work was shown to demonstrate how he uses the Internet in his high school. Projects included reading the New York Times on line, reading short stories from Verbiage , writing an essay based on an editorial from Trinity College magazine, and Cyber Biographies. The work of students was shown and Ted showed the evolution of the webfolio and its importance to each student. Ted stressed that the webfolio empowered his students, gave them pride, and provided an impetus for involvement. Ted exclaimed the students surprised him as they displayed their ethics, responsiblity, and morals when it came to using the Internet. Ted quipped that on one day when he announced that the students would be hearing from students from Japan, they informed him that they had been communicating with these students for the last week. Ted wondered out loud, "When did I lose control of this class?"

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Using the Web to Teach Strong Women in Film

Winifred J. Wood provided a unique look into how she developed her use of the Internet in her class. Her class studies modern cinema. The downside of such a course is the lack of research sources and material in print. She fell into the Internet by default because it was on the Internet that her students could find research material. Discussion on-line was another step onto the Internet for her students. In spite of some of the trivial discussion of her students, Winnie showed how the students developed methods of staying on task and satisfying their assignments. In another situation, Winnie bravely highlighted the struggling of one of her students in developing her writing skills. Winnie has found a magnificent blend of the traditional demands of curriculum, especially at a school like Wellesley, and the freedom the Internet offers. The next obvious step for her students was to develop a web page which presented their work. Perhaps one of the most important elements of this presentation is the matter of the school's reputation being displayed with each student's web page. Winnie explained that Wellesley did not want works in progress to be posted. The posting of any project or web page occurs only when it is finished. This above all is perhaps one of the major obstacles for teachers as they use the web. Schools worry about their reputations as students post their web pages for all to see. We, however, were able to view this work in progress and it was wonderful. The evolution of the students as writers and critics was very evident.

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Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Beverly Wall, who directs the
Writing Center at Trinity College, raised the important critical decision teachers and students have to make when they use the Internet: the validity of the information on the site. In print publishing, print material is scholastically reviewed, well documented, and usually from a reliable source. In addition, print resources do not change once published. However, the Internet provides a place where anyone can publish, which raises problems of validity, bias, and mutability. When a student uses an Internet resource, the teacher may not see the same site when reviewed to check the student's research. To demonstrate this, Beverly provided a wonderful example. Using an Alta Vista search, she was able to generate a number of websites related to Bob Dole's Presidential campaign. Two and displayed the moniker: Bob Dole for President. Both looked legitimate until both were visited. One was definitely bogus. Bob Dole has nothing to do with the fruit company of Hawaii. Even though this may seem obvious to some, pity the poor student who exclaims in wonderment: "I didn't know Bob Dole was the same Dole as Dole fruit." The laughter will most assuredly let that student know he/she has made a mistake. Or maybe worse yet the student will blurt this out later on in a more embarrassing situation. The point is that the web does not provide the assurances that print publishers have traditionally provided. But with appropriate research strategies, Beverly pointed out that this problem can be overcome. With the two Bob Dole websites, for example, a third source such as All Politics, sponored by CNN and Time Magazine, can serve as an objective screen to help the student sort out the truth. Another important problem in student research is the fact that a site can change on a daily basis. So if a student cites a web site today the teacher may find a different site tomorrow. A suggestion was made that the resource be downloaded, but then copyright problems arise. Research on the Internet will be tricky until further safeguards and methods are incorporated.

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Cautionary Tales

Bob Yagelski's presentation focused on some of the obstacles educators face when they try to enter the Information Superhighway. Drawing on his experiences in working with secondary schools in Indiana and New York, Bob identified five "potholes" on the Informatioin Superhighway that can frustrate the best efforts of teachers of English to use the Internet and World Wide Web to enhance their students' literacy learning. These five "potholes" included (1) lack of access to technology; (2) institutional constraints, such as scheduling, bureaucracy, and curriculum guidelines; (3) lack of technology training; (4) lack of money; and (5) lack of careful thought about the relationship between technology and literacy. The last "pothole" was the focus of Bob's presentation. Bob argued that the most important consideration we must consider, as we integrate technology into our English curriculua and pedagogies, is what our students need in terms of literacy skills and knowledge. Technology should serve and enhance our efforts to fulfill our students' needs and not become its own reason for being.

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Get Your Kicks on Route 666: The Beast on the I-Way

Stephen Marcus concluded the day-long workshop with great humor and insight into some very real problems and potholes (or "sinkholes") in the Information Highway, including flaming, pornography, mayhem, and sexual predators.

Stephen provided television news video presentations of BBS accessiblity to pornography, interviews with a young man who provided recipes for explosives that maimed some kids who accessed his site, and accounts of pedophiles on the Internet. In discussing e-mail and listservs, Stephen provided information on how an on-line community could not eradicate a flamer and the community fell apart. In another situation, a high school student sent extremely rude and unpleasant e-mail to elementary students who were asking for some on-line help with classroom projects. When pressed about the reasons why he behaved so, the young man responded that he assumed that behavior that was standard in some parts of the Internet were okay to use in other areas of the Net. Stephen's discussion of this included teachers' perspectives on the "crime," the "punishment," and educational potential in the whole affair.

Stephen provided resources and handouts for addressing many of these issues, as well as "netiquette" and the improving of on-line writing skills. He also provided a sample "Acceptable Use Policy" and discussed some of the acceptable uses of acceptable use policies. Stephen presented a good look at the dark side of the Internet, which he presented with great videos and greater humor. It was good we could laugh in the face of the ugliness Stephen paraded before us.

Back to the Beginning

Wayne Bulter, Ted Nellen, and Rick Bascombe worked the Tufts room which had two computers connected the Internet, courtesy of Alliance of Computers and Writing. Teachers came by to get some workshop training and to surf the net.

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The 21st Century Essay

Thiela Schnaufer of Blue Ridge High School in Greer, South Carolina featured the
Blue Ridge Project her school affectionately calls BRP, pronounced 'burp'. This project is a realization of their commitment to reevaluate education and to implement a hypercard/multimedia designed project into the curriculum to realize a better delivery/participation educational framework. Technology has made this new thinking possible. This well planned project involves the entire school community: administration, teachers, students, and parents. They were careful to define their new framework and then to stay within that framework. What was empasized by Thiela was how they underestimated their students. As the teachers challenged old pardigms and created new paradigms the students became major players in that and in their own education. Their work is well documented and provides teachers interested in doing simialr projects with a fine example.

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Learning about the Holocaust and its Literature in the Age of Telecommunications

H oney Kern of Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York and Gideon Goldstein of Tel Aviv, Isreal. This
project began in 1991 and began from the lack of knowledge Honey's class had in regards to the Holocaust. In posting their information to a gopher site, Gideon pointed out some mistakes and offered his assistance in learning more. The project involves e-mail, web page making, teleconferencing, a magazine, and a two week field trip to Poland camps and to Israel during passover and Easter. This project has grown over the years and has included schools around the world who have joined this project. A mirror web site has been established in Australia .

Honey presented some examples of e-mail from her students which demonstrated writing skills and how this project, which involved their students, improved their writing and reading skills. As other schools joined the project, students became aware of abuse to kids from around the world. The project evolved then to include abuse in other parts of the world and challenged the kids to get involved and to do something to change the situation.

Gideon stressed that the project survives on participation and now the project includes schools from the United States, Israel, Australia, Germany, Poland, Argentina, Cambodia, Romania, and Russia. An interesting exchange emerged between students from Germany and students from Israel. The students involved in this exchange were the grandchildren of their WWII ancestors. The German students expressed their disgust with the Neo-Nazi movement and were interested in learning more of their own past which had been kept from them, especially those from the old East German community.

This project is on-going and is always interested in new members.

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Virtual Reality: The English Classroom of the Future, Here Today

R eesa Eisler of Lincoln Public Schools, Nebraska; H. Kirk Langer of Lincoln Public Schools, Nebraska; and Michelle Langer of Lincoln Public Schools, Nebraska. The project
Virtual Communities involves a 7th grade class using Lois Lowry's The Giver to understand community. The students read the book and present information about Lincoln today and project ideas about Lincoln in the Future. The project revolves around the students gathering information about the communities in The Giver, Lincoln Today, and Lincoln Tomorrow. Such topics included: communication, economics, education, environment, ethnic diversity, families, government, health, law, leisure, lifestyles, occupations, religion, and transportation. The students provide the appropriate information for each of these categories as they apply to each community: The Giver, Lincoln Now, Lincoln in the Future.

The team which taught this project included two teachers and a computer technician. The project needed to be interdisciplinary and multicultural. In addition the project needed to be real. Combining the novel with their city satisfied all of their needs. The use of the WWW was crucial in presenting the project to others and making it truly community oriented.

If you teach The Giver, this is a must see site.

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English and the Internet

David Berry of Orange Grove Middle School, Tucson, Arizona; Steve Purcell of Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia; and Hilve Firek of Concord, North Carolina. David opened the session by showing a local Tucson News station's news report of his class. The project his kids work on is called
OGRE . OGRE is the Orange Grove Review of Books. This is a fine collection of book reviews created by the students of Orange Grove. This project was born from the amount of reading and writing David's students were doing. The books the students were reading were from the Newbery List as well as from the Caldecott List. As students completed their readings, they would go through the task of writing and peer review. Final reviews would be posted. The site also provides the opportunity for other schools to provide their own book reviews. David encourages other schools' students to read his students' work and to send comments.

Hilve provided an invigorating discussion of resources for teachers. Her links begin with a Holocaust resource followed by useful links for all educators. Some of the examples included: Charlotte's Web which is a community based provider in the public areas, like libraries for equal access by all. The site and project is a good model for other communities. Classroom Connect provides both a great publication and web site for educators at all levels. The Global Schoolhouse also provides great resources for the educator. To find other educators, try Web66. Hilve demonstrated that the task of using the Internet is not a daunting one if one uses the right resources.

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Concluding Remarks: Very Wired People

The general impression of the entire experience of working with educators from around the country who use the Interent in their classroom was very positive and electrifying. The sharing of ideas, explaining procedures, demonstrating projects, and providing guidance was an overwhelming display of pure virtual comraderie in a real space. Perhaps the overwhelming and dominant thought which emerged from all sessions discussing the Internet and our students was how we underestimated our students at first. All presenters provided a statement which exclaimed pride in their students' ethics and degree of maturity when working on the Internet. All teachers used Acceptable Use Policies but found they never had to enforce any. This is a surprising fact, in and of itself. When one raises the stakes and expectations, students will rise to the task. I believe that the NCTE technology committee came to realize the importance of providing more space and machinery for future shows, so that more hands on demonstrations can be used. All in all this was a virtually magnificent exchange of ideas with some very wired people.

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