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Planning for a Web-based Curriculum
The Internet's Benefits for the Educational Process

Published in the May 1998 issue of Curriculum Administrator
© 1998 - Gary S. Stager

The Internet and it's progeny, the World Wide Web, offer you and your students genuine opportunities for learning in a distributed environment. Toddlers now identify WWW as readily as they once recognized A&P or the golden arches.

The Internet has had a dramatic impact on most aspects of our society in just a few years. A similar impact should be expected within educational institutions. I know, you’ve heard the hype before. Edison even suggested at the turn of the century that motion pictures would make school 90% more effective. However, distributed digital communications is here to stay.

The Internet will benefit the educational process in the following five ways.

• Unprecedented access to information
The boundless quantity of information on the web gives students unparalleled access to information when and where they need it. This benefit has received the most attention by schools interested in making the net conform to traditional school practices. The ability to conduct research is often touted as the best feature of the web. I agree if we define research as a quest for knowledge and search for truth, not the ability to cut and paste a handful of facts and clip-art into a school project. The abundance of discrete facts and data available online makes other primary source materials, including books, even more valuable. The world’s great literature and big ideas won’t be available in digital form for generations, so be sure your “media center” budget contains adequate funds for books as well as digital materials.

• Opportunities for collaboration
Teachers and students can join project or interest-based online communities of practice. Traditional classes are governed by the number of desks you can fit in one physical space. The net allows any number of kids, teachers, authors and experts the opportunity to discuss a topic or collaborate on a common goal regardless of geography, age or bell schedule. I no longer need to require a text by a living author who will not agree to interact with my students online. As a result, my students have enjoyed access to an assortment of renowned experts. The traditional isolation felt my many educators may now be reduced.

Remember, cooperation begins at home. If your students rarely speak with one another or collaborate on authentic tasks in your classroom, the online project with Belarus will not succeed.

• Learning occurs everywhere at all times
Kids already have access to all sorts of information outside of school via TV, books, magazines, parents and friends. The Internet provides even greater opportunities for learning away of school. Pepperdine’s Graduate School of Education now requires every student to be online and has reduced face-to-face contact time by 40-60% while increasing genuine contact time by as much as 500%. Students have access to instructors, peers and class resources all of the time, not just during a weekly class. The interpersonal interactions have been more personal, social, thoughtful and constructive than traditional modes of classroom delivery. As one student remarked, “class now travels with me all week.”

• Democratization of publishing
This is the most powerful benefit of the Internet. The Bills, Gates and Clinton, have web sites and so do I. Anyone with access to a computer can publish on the net. This allows your students to share their work with a global audience, teachers an opportunity to communicate with parents and the ability to use the web as your secretary. My web site contains articles, links, materials and software that I believe may benefit other educators. They have access to my materials without requiring me to mail them or find a publisher. The fifth grader with a new math theorem can share it with their peers in research universities and the school literary journal may actually be read by interested students on the other side of the globe.

• Participate in history
The current information and communications explosion is an important moment in world history. You and your students may make genuine contributions to this progress or at least share in the excitement. It’s worth remembering that the World Wide Web didn’t exist when Bill Clinton was inaugurated.

Thinking about the Future - The “Stager Switch”
What if we wired (networked) homes and not schools? Networking your school is great, but the reality is that Internet access from outside of school out paces efforts to connect schools. What sorts of opportunities would this shift afford schooling? If kids access discrete facts and discuss Moby Dick or discuss the Battle of 1812 with hundreds of peers, teachers and experts during nights, weekends and holidays what will be the role of school? Perhaps school could be the place with the great orchestra, kilns, microscopes, drama, soccer teams and creative play under the supervision of loving educators who build rich social learning environments in which kids construct meaning.

Here’s to the future!

Gary Stager is a veteran educator, consultant and teacher developer who has worked around the world for the past 21 years. He currently teaches at Pepperdine University and is Editor of ISTE’s Logo Exchange journal. Gary has spent the past thirteen years working with Australian schools where every kid has a laptop and recently was named Outstanding Educator by the New Jersey Educational Computing Conference. Gary was a presenter at the October 1997 Classroom Connect Conference in Anaheim and may be reached via his web site at: or at:

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