August-September 1992 "Mining the Internet" column, The Computing Teacher

[Electronically reprinted with permission from The Computing Teacher journal, published by the International Society for Technology in Education.]

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Electronic Treasures by Electronic Mail

by Judi Harris

What would you need to find buried treasure?

  1. a map,
  2. tools to do the digging,
  3. a container to transport what has been found,
  4. and a way to travel.

What if that treasure were information, accessed electronically through a network of networks? Analogously, you would need:

  1. the locations of the electronic "treasure troves,"
  2. the skills to access the different kinds of treasures at each electronic site,
  3. ways to transfer the information that you acquired online to other documents,
  4. and an account that allows free exploration of the network.

This year-long series of articles on "electronic prospecting," or mining the Internet, is designed to help you to acquire the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to locate and infuse use of information resources found on the international educational network of networks currently called the Internet. The phrase mining the Internet is one that we are borrowing with permission from a document and an "electronic event" written and conducted, respectively, by Computing Services personnel at the University of California, Davis.* We are indebted to them for sharing their helpful documentation and a powerful analogy with the Internet community.

Treasure Types

There are four basic types of information exchange possible on the Internet. Stated in terms of the types of connections that can be made, they are:

  1. person-to-person connections,
  2. person-to-group connections,
  3. person-to-computer program connections,
  4. and person-to-information archive connections.

These four different types of "human connections" are made possible asynchronously (not-simultaneously-in-time) on the Internet by four different types of telecomputing tools:

  1. electronic mail,
  2. computer conferencing,
  3. interactive Telnet sessions,
  4. and non-interactive file transfer (FTP) sessions.

Electronic mail, stated simply, is a text-based cross between a personal letter and a telephone message. Computer conferencing ("Usenet NEWS" on the Internet) is a text-based cross between a newspaper and an asynchronous town meeting. Interactive Telnet sessions allow users to directly access programs running on remotely-located computers, such as searchable information databases, and use them. FTP sessions allow users to access and copy large files of information from remotely-located computers.

In practice, you could use electronic mail to share learning activity ideas with other teachers in other cities, states, or countries, or help your students to share information for a project that they are completing collaboratively with students in other locations. You could use computer conferencing to participate in a group discussion of current educational issues with other teachers with similar interests, help your students to review and respond to other students' writing, or participate in a group simulation activity. You and your students could search bibliographic, scientific, literary, or lesson plan databases located on computers anywhere on the Internet with interactive Telnet sessions. You and your students could also acquire full-text versions of children's books or other historical, legal, or technical documents with non-interactive file transfers, or FTP sessions. As numerous as these possibilities may appear, this is but a partial list of the many ways in which Internet resources can be used in K-12 contexts. Future columns in this series will describe how to access many specific examples of these types of resources, and will offer suggestions as to how to infuse their use into K-12 curricula.

Chartering the Vehicle for Internet Travel: Acquiring an Account

The Internet is actually a network of more than 3000 computer networks, with most sites, or nodes, located at educational institutions. Recent estimates indicate that there are now between two and five million people in the world with access to the Internet, most of them associated with colleges and universities. Of these, approximately 1 %, or 20,000 - 50, 000 users, are K-12 teachers (Harris & Grandgenett, 1992).

Gaining access to the awe-inspiring array of interpersonal and informational resources on the Internet is as easy (or difficult) as acquiring a user account on a computer that has a distinct address. This could be a mainframe computer at a college within your local calling area, a minicomputer at a local university, or a powerful desktop computer, such as an IBM 386 PC. Although many K-12 educators with Internet access have accounts due to the generosity of local college and university computing centers, increasing numbers gain entree through statewide or regional Internet-based educational networks, such as Tenet in Texas and VaPEN in Virginia. The best way to acquire an Internet account is to gather your patience, persistence, politeness, and persuasiveness, then call computing services representatives with your request at the following office types, and in this order:

  1. your school district's central administrative office
  2. your regional educational service center
  3. your state's department of education technology center
  4. university computing centers within your local calling area
  5. college computing centers within your local calling area
  6. scientific research centers within your local calling area

Be sure to communicate your awareness that providing you, a K-12 educator, with an Internet account, would be a much-appreciated favor on the part of the granting organization. Emphasize the many ways that you and your students could use the interpersonal and informational resources available on the Internet for powerful, forward-thinking teaching and learning in many disciplines. If necessary, communicate your knowledge that the National Science Foundation is openly encouraging decision-makers at Internet sites to make this valuable type of information access freely available to local K-12 educators.

The question that arises in the minds of most educators at this point is: "What will it cost?" The answer is: "It depends." Individual sites pay a flat annual fee to the governing board of their regional portion of the Internet for access, based upon the size of their user base, not the amount of network activity that their account-holders generate. There are additional hardware, software, and maintenance (salaries for networking specialists, etc.) costs to the institution that vary according to the sophistication of the machines and connections that exist there. For most universities, colleges, and research centers, however, the additional cost of a few local teachers who use Internet resources are negligible, since these services are often already provided for the faculty, and sometimes staff and students on campus. Large numbers of K-12 personnel wanting Internet access can tax already-busy campus computer-based information systems and personnel, though. Whether or not you can secure an account will probably depend upon whether there is a plan in your state to provide Internet access for K-12 teachers and students, and how much the administrators at the local college or university computing center are interested in and able to provide telecomputing facilities to the general community. The important point to remember is that the Internet is organized around a fundamental idea that information should be exchanged without restriction in a free and open environment.

Person-to-Person Contact

Your account, once acquired, will have a unique Internet address. Although the forms of Internet addresses vary, they are constructed similarly. Let's take a look at my Internet address as an example. It is:

Each part of the address is separated from the other parts by either a . (usually called a "dot") or a @ (usually pronounced "at"). In the example above,

To communicate with anyone else on the Internet, all you need to do is to send an electronic mail message to their Internet address. Virtually every machine that allows account-holders access to the Internet has an electronic mail system for people to use. Although electronic mail systems differ in the keystrokes that are used to compose and send messages, all require users to specify, by typing:

  1. the network address of the person to whom the message will be sent,
  2. the subject of the message,
  3. and the text, or contents, of the message.

If an electronic mail message is addressed properly, composed, and then sent correctly according to the operating instructions of the "Email" software being accessed by the user, a copy of the message will, within minutes, be sent to the "electronic mailbox" of the addressee. It will wait there (much like an unopened letter sitting in the mailbox for your home) until the addressee next accesses his/her Internet account, reads the message, and decides whether or not to respond.

There are, as yet, no comprehensive "electronic white pages" for the Internet. (There are, however, some very powerful user-search services available through Telnet sessions, which will be presented in the November column.) Sally Laughton, a teacher at North Cross School in Roanoke, VA, and Art St. George, a networking specialist at the University of New Mexico, have provided some very helpful resources for K-12 teachers wishing to contact other teachers for collaborative teaching/learning ventures on the Internet. Copies of their four regularly-updated "Teacher Contacts Lists" can be sent to you at your Internet address. These lists contain names, electronic addresses, locations, and biosketches of several hundred elementary, middle-level, and secondary educators, plus others interested in exploring Internet use in K-12 contexts. Many of the biosketches also list individual educators' online project ideas and requests for classroom partners.

Electronic mail can be used to request files such as these automatically from computers with Internet addresses. To request these four useful files, send an electronic mail message to this Internet address:

Leave the subject line of the message blank, and in the body of the message, then type these commands for the University of New Mexico's computer to execute:

	get teacher1 contacts
	get teacher2 contacts
	get teacher3 contacts
	get teacher4 contacts

Send the message as you normally would send an Email message on your system. Within a day or two, you will receive four electronic mail messages that contain long lists of people interested in communicating with people like you who are interested in using Internet-based telecomputing tools in K-12 contexts. If you would like to add your name, address, location, and biosketch to the list, send an electronic mail message to Sally Laughon at: .

Curricular Infusions

Electronic mail is probably the most well-explored telecomputing tool in instructional contexts at all levels. It has been used for projects ranging from comparative culture studies to foreign language practice to writers' workshops to scientific data compilation and analysis, helping students to collaboratively explore everything from folk games as reflections of culture, to grammatical rules, to the use of metaphor in original poetry, to the severity of pollutants in different places along a common river. Excellent examples of powerful ways in which electronic mail can serve as an interactive learning tool in many different disciplines are discussed in Roberts, Blakeslee, Brown, and Lenk's Integrating Telecommunications into Education and Andres, Jacks and Rogers' TeleSensations: The Educators' Handbook to Instructional Computing. Even more infusion ideas can be collected from the Internet itself, through the use of LISTSERV groups, newsgroups, education-oriented Telnet sites such as NASA's SpaceLINK, and FTP file transfers. These resources and much more will be presented in future articles in this Mining the Internet column.

Your electronic mission, should you decide to accept it, is to secure an Internet account for yourself before you receive the October issue of The Computing Teacher, and begin sending electronic mail to other educators who, like you, recognize the great power and potential of people sharing ideas with each other. By doing that, you will be acting as an "electronic pioneer" of sorts, blazing online trails of convenient interpersonal contact and collaborative spirit among professionals who, for much of our history, have been relatively isolated practitioners.

* - (c) The Regents of University of California, 1991. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint or adapt these documents for non-profit purposes by educational institutions is granted provided this copyright notice is included and the following authorship is acknowledged:

	Computing Services
	University of California, Davis


Andres, Y. M., Jacks, M., & Rogers, A. (1991). TeleSensations: The educators' handbook to instructional telecomputing. Bonita, CA: The FrEdMail Foundation [P.O. Box 243, Bonita, CA 92002].

Gargano, J., and others. (1991). Mining the Internet [Machine-readable data file]. Davis, CA: University of California, Davis, Computing Services (Producer). Davis, CA: University of California, Davis, Computing Services (Distributor).

Harris, J., & Grandgenett, N. (1992). Writing apprehension, computer anxiety and telecomputing: A pilot study. Journal of Instructional Technology for Teacher Education, 1 (1), 115-125.

Roberts, N., Blakeslee, G., Brown, M., & Lenk, C. (1990). Integrating telecommunications into education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

[Judi Harris,; Department of Curriculum and Instruction; 406 Education Building; University of Texas at Austin; Austin, TX 78712-1294.]

Other "Mining the Internet" columns are available on the Learning Resource Server at the College of Education, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.