March 1994 "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.]

The information on this page is provided for archival purposes only. Most of the links that it contains have expired. More recent articles on similar topics can be found here: .

Information Collection Activities for Students of the Information Age

by Judi Harris

As participants in the Information Age, few of us would deny the importance of students and teachers having easy access to information of many types and in many ways. This is one of the reasons that Internet access is often seen to be so critical to students' success in the twenty-first century. Much effort is expended in many schools arranging for that access: planning connectivity schemes, purchasing and installing hardware and software, and providing for user support and training. Yet what is done with the information, once it is retrieved by students, is often not as carefully conceived, since getting school-based access to the Internet can be so economically, politically, and practically challenging.

Information that is actively sought and interpersonally shared in a context of mutual interest can make school curricula come alive for students. This is especially true when students perceive of themselves not only as collectors of information that has been requested by their teacher, but as generators, organizers, and analyzers of that information. Their motivation to engage in this active process is greatly enhanced when the information with which they are working is personally relevant and in some way locally or culturally specific.

Information collection activities are quickly gaining popularity among students and teachers who use the Internet, and seem to be especially successful when participants live in geographically distant locations with distinctly different local cultures. Information collections are one of three general types of educational telecomputing activities that have been or will be presented in this "Mining the Internet" series: interpersonal exchanges (last month), information collections (this month), and collaborative problem solving (next month). Each general class of educational telecomputing activities includes 5 or 6 different activity structures, and each structure has or will be presented with at least one example activity that has been classroom-tested and shared by teachers on the Internet.

It is my hope that by providing you with activity structures, rather than a potpourri of lesson plans, you will be empowered to design effective educational telecomputing experiences for your students that are curricularly-based and adapted to suit their particular learning needs. This idea (and an earlier version of these activity classes and structures) was first presented in the May 1993 "Mining the Internet" column. The sample activities that follow are expansions upon the content of that article.

There are five different educational telecomputing activity structures that can be considered to be within the information collection genre. They are information exchanges, electronic publishing, database creation, tele-fieldtrips, and pooled data analysis.

Information Exchanges

There are many examples of thematically-related information exchange that have been employed as popular telecomputing activities. Students and their teachers from all around the globe have collected:

This type of activity can involve many classes without becoming an overwhelming management task for teachers, and is a particularly powerful application of telecomputing tools because children become both the creators and consumers of the information that they are sharing. Projects like these typically begin with a call for participation that is posted by a classroom teacher, such as this message, posted by an American teaching in Japan:


Date: Thu, 23 Apr 92 23:27:51 JST
From: Hillel Weintraub <>
Subject: New Project-Call for Participants

Our new school year has just begun and I will meet my elective
classes for the second time tomorrow.  I am particularly interested in
getting one class involved with a project that I think they can enjoy
and learn from in an expanded way through telecommunication; it's a
project I've been thinking about for some time and feel it is ideally
suited for getting learners to thing about intra- and inter- cultural

I call the project, "What's So Funny?" and it basically will
involve having learners (in grades 10/11, ages 14-16) look at
humor, first from an individual perspective, then from a cultural
perspective and finally from an intercultural perspective, though
of course this will not be a perfectly linear approach; that is,
naturally the students will be moving back and forth among these
three modes. (personal, intracultural and intercultural)

I see this project as dealing with many kinds of materials,
most of which cannot be sent online, but the conversations ABOUT
the materials certainly can be shared on line.  For example, while
verbal or textual humor can be sent online, drawings and films will
have to be sent by regular mail.

SCHEDULE (tentative and general)

PART 1 :  APRIL- JUNE, 1992
Within each class: students begin to search for things that they
find personally humorous and discuss what humor is: "what's so
funny?"  Begin to look for cultural features of humor; that is, what
students THINK are funny only or especially to their own national
group.  Some research can be done by the students into sub-cultural
humor, as most of our countries have a wide range of groups that
could be interviewed.

Between classes through the network:  These first months
will just be to introduce ourselves and our schools and develop
reasonable size groups of 2-3 people in each setting.

A packet of materials will be sent from each participating school
to each of the other schools which will be used to start off the
communication within and between the classes when they begin in
September.  This packets will contain materials which are
particularly funny (and unfunny!) to the members of that group and
can include text, cartoons, video , whatever.

Students (and teachers) will be getting more comfortable with
telecommunications and will begin to have a sending and receiving
rhythm which should lessen crossed letters and long waits and
hopefully allow us to have some sustained conversations.  The
materials which each school will have waiting for them in
September should provide a lot of interesting discussions within
each class and between the groups.  I expect that there will be a
lot of questions about various materials and explanations.  I think
that humor is something that we take so much for granted that
when we begin to look at it and reflect our feelings and try to
express them to others, there will be a lot of confusion and need
for clarification.  (This is a quality that I think should contribute
to a good telecommunication project.)

During the last months, I would like to encourage each class
to create something to send to the other schools: this could be an
original or traditional comic play,  a series of interviews in the
community, some original drawings or jokes.  The purpose of these
would be to deepen that group's understanding of humor in some
way and to build upon what they have learned during the preceding
4-5 months.

The materials prepared by each class would be sent to each
other class.

The materials received from the other schools would be the basis
for discussion within the class and among the classes during the
first weeks of January.    I'm not sure of the best way to close this
project, nor do I see any need to decide about that in advance; it
could be a matter of discussion among each class and all the
classes as to what would be the most valuable way to close this.
Some possibilities: to try to create some sort of multimedia
record such as a videodisc or a video or a collection of textual
materials or some kind of hypertext/multimedia collection, but
this would be a matter of time and interest.  It could also be done
in a continuation of the project in the following year by some of
the same students.

Sharing information that is intrinsically interesting to children on an international scale is an excellent way to engage students in cultural exchange.

Electronic Publishing

Another type of information collection and exchange can occur with electronic publishing of a common document, such as a newspaper, poem, or literary magazine. For example, David Egan, a social studies and history teacher at Cold Spring Harbor High School in Long Island, New York, coordinates an international student news magazine called The Contemporary through the I*EARN (International Education and Resource Network) project. Students do the majority of the work on the document; the student editors are Carolin Alexander, David Hollman, and Elissa Lee. The Contemporary is published two times during each school year, with hope that "through peer education students can be made more aware of the problems our world faces and how young individuals can become more active participants in the broad movement to improve the condition of our planet."

The Global Schoolhouse Project (formerly the FrEdMail Foundation) takes a slightly different approach to electronic publishing. In their yearly Newsday project, participating teachers and students publish different newspapers locally, but take many of the stories for those local publications from a "newswire" shared electronically among all participating sites. The stories posted to this newswire are, of course, researched and written by students from all of the participating classes.

Project Name:  NEWSDAY                         (c) FrEdMail Foundation
               (Thanks to Greg Butler           August 16, 1992
               for the general information included here.)

Date:          November 6, 1992

Purpose:       To address and improve:
               * Academic skills - reading, writing, editing,
                 revising, interviewing, literature appreciation and
               * Social Skills: cooperative learning, leadership,
                 listening, discussing, encouraging, sharing.
               * Technical Skills: word processing, file management,
                 keyboarding; telecommunications: terminal software
                 commands, uploading and downloading.

Summary:       NEWSDAY is a multi-curricular project in which students
               in each participating school produce a local newspaper
               based on the news dispatches submitted on the NEWSDAY
               news wire by cooperating student correspondents.
               Students become news gatherers and reporters, editors,
               layout and graphics artists, and publishers.
               Participation on a national and international scale
               leads to understanding of broad issues which transcend
               local concerns.  This project can involve your students
               in weeks of cross-curricular activity.

               Schools may use a wide variety of methods to produce
               the papers, ranging from simple word processor cut and
               paste to full DTP packages.

               Participants will receive a newspaper produced by each
               of the other participants in the NEWSDAY project.

Grade Levels:  Upper elementary, junior high, high school.  Material
               coming off the news wire will appeal to all age levels.
               This is an excellent project to encourage profitable
               inter-grade participation.

Content Area:  Many content areas may be included during NEWSDAY.
               By deciding what kinds of articles and features to write,
               you can include a focus in almost any content area.
               Possible content areas:
               Writing             Reading                  Language
               Art                 Social Studies           Science
               Environmental Science

Number of      Minimum of 10, Maximum of 30.  If fewer than 10 schools
participants:  register NEWSDAY will be canceled.  When 30 registra-
               tions are received we will open registration for a
               another NEWSDAY section.

Newsday Theme: Cultural Diversity

Project        Nancy Sutherland, FrEdMail Foundation
Coordinator:   PO Box 243, Bonita, CA 91908

In this way, students from participating schools in different cities, states, and countries experience an operationally realistic simulation of how many local newspapers are created and published.

Database Creation

Some information exchange projects involve not only collecting, but also organizing information into databases that project participants and other students can use for study. One such project is a statewide collaborative exploration of Texas history in which the documents that result from students' site-based research were added to an Internet-accessible Gopher. (For information on Gophers and related information location tools, please see the August/September "Mining the Internet" column.)

    		==> PLEASE JOIN US! <==

 ...for a collaborative investigation of *Texas history*
 		from 1830 - 1900,

 ...completed by students exploring and sharing
 	information about **your community.**

By contributing to Armadillo, the Texas Studies Gopher, teachers and
students from communities located all over the state will explore the
history of the period from 1830 (before the Revolution) through
Statehood, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and beyond, to the dawn of
the 20th century.

The focus of study will be upon the location of each participating
classroom's school building, and the community surrounding it.
Students will be asked to research and write about the local:

 	~ agriculture,
 	~ climate,
 	~ culture and languages,
 	~ ecology (characteristic),
 	~ economy,
 	~ entertainment,
 	~ famous people,
 	~ folklore,
 	~ landscape,
 	~ latitude, longitude, and elevation,
 	~ plants,
 	~ politics,
 	~ population characteristics,
 	~ sanitation,
 	~ and transportation

...during the 70-year period from 1830 through 1900, then post a
document about their community's history on the Armadillo Gopher for
other students in other communities to read.  Each participating class
will post one document summarizing their work on the Gopher.

Then, volunteer classrooms from anywhere in the state will become
responsible for comparing, contrasting, and summarizing information
about each of the community attributes listed above for each of the
following Texas geographic regions:

 	~ the Coastal Plain,
 	~ the Central Lowland,
 	~ the Central Hills,
 	~ the Edwards Plateau,
 	~ the High Plains,
 	~ and the Basin and Range.

Each of these documents, also, will be posted for everyone to use on
the Armadillo Gopher.

By participating in this collaborative "electronic event," we hope
that students will:

 	~ become knowledgeable about their community's
 	history during a very important time in the state
 	of Texas,

 	~ discover the many relationships between
 	historical conditions and local ecology,

 	~ use a variety of computer-mediated and non-
 	computer-mediated learning tools for research,

 	~ and experience the study of history as a dynamic,
	collaborative, and exploratory endeavor.

 		.-=:> TIMELINE <:=-.

 by October 29, 1993:  	Register to participate in
 			Phase 1 (see below)

 November 1 - December 10, 1993:
 		Participating students research topics listed
 		above in relation to the communities in which
 		their schools are located

 by December 17, 1993:	Post completed documents on
 		the Armadillo Gopher; directions on how to do this
		will be distributed electronically

 by January 28, 1994:	Register to participate in
 			Phase 2  (see below)

 January 31 - February 25, 1994:
 		Participating students read the documents
 		posted on the Armadillo Gopher from a
 		particular ecological region, comparing and
 		contrasting the community attributes listed
 		above among communities within the region.

 by March 4, 1994:	Post completed summary
 		documents on the Armadillo Gopher

 		.-=:> REGISTRATION <:=-.

 Would you and your students like to join this exciting
 project?  If so, please send an electronic mail message
 to:	Judi Harris (jbharris), stating:

 1.	your name, electronic mail address, surface mail
 	address, and telephone number,

 2.	the grade and class (subject, etc.) that you teach
 	that you would like to involve in this project,

 3.	your school's name and location in Texas,

 4.	your local Educational Service Center number (along
 	with the names of the Tenet Master Trainers in that
 	ESC, if you know them),

 5.	and in which of the two phases of the project (1
 	and/or 2) you would like your class to participate.


	   Hope that we will "hear" from
 	many classrooms across the state!
	                       _____    _____
	                   /\_/     """"     \
	                  / o |     ||||      |
	                 /    |     ||||      |\
	                /__)_/\     ||||      | \
	                       \____""""_____/   )
	                         ))       ))
	                         "        "
Note that successful projects of this genre are well-structured; they have a definite time schedule, requirements for participation are clearly stated, and teachers are asked (often by filling out a registration form) to commit to following these guidelines.


Organizers for the Global Schoolhouse Project encourage Internet-connected teachers and students to share observations and experiences made during local fieldtrips to museums, historical sites, parks, zoos, etc. with teachers and students from other cities, states, and countries. Nancy Sutherland maintains a monthly schedule of fieldtrip information posted by schools throughout the Internet, and sends this schedule to interested teachers, so that if an upcoming fieldtrip will yield information pertinent to a particular class' curriculum, questions can be sent to the children scheduled to take the trip to answer while on the outing. Electronic fieldtrips can also be taken and shared without leaving the classroom, as students exchange information about the places in which they live.

"Fieldtrips" (actually, expeditions) taken by adult or child experts are also shared on the Internet. For example, a group of students from three states actually participated with oceanographers in a research expedition on the Mediterranean Sea. They sent back their daily logs via the Internet as part of Project Marco Polo.


On July 24, twenty-one teachers and students, selected through
the National Geographic Society's Geography Teacher's Alliance will
board the USNS Kane (a US Navy  oceanographic research ship) in the
Mediterranean.  For three weeks, these teachers and students will be
immersed in ocean science and geography studies as they travel to
Italy, Malta and Tunisia.  Supported and taught by navy and civilian
personnel, the Project Marco Polo explorers will participate in
activities that cover ship operations, geography, science, navy
operations, history, astronomy, nautical science, journal writing, and
lesson writing.  While the ship is underway between countries, the
teachers and students will conduct biological and geological studies
at deepwater stations.  In Italy, Malta, and Tunisia, they will
compare and contrast these geographically close yet vastly different

This year, Marco Polo participants will send a daily journal back to
shore via the Internet.  Anyone who has a connection to Internet,
either directly or through a gateway (CompuServe, America OnLine,
Applelink, FrEdmail) can receive these daily reports, and send
questions simply by subscribing to the MARCOPOLO@CERF.NET electronic
mailing list.  (note that MARCOPOLO is one word)

The daily reports will be written by the 9th grade students from
Maryland, Florida, and Georgia who are aboard the USNS Kane.

Finally, some tele-fieldtrips can be taken either directly vicariously via a variety of telecommunications networks, using robotic devices that can be controlled remotely via the Internet. One example of such a forward-thinking project was called Live...From Other Worlds.

"LIVE FROM... OTHER WORLDS" is a mini-series of 3 interactive
television programs, currently targeted for broadcast on December 1st,
December 3rd and December 7th, 1993 and airing LIVE at 13:00 hrs.
Eastern, 10:00 hrs. Pacific and 08:00 hrs. in Hawaii.  This
demonstration project will focus on a fascinating scientific topic:
how robot explorers open up areas of this world and others for
discovery. It will show how "telepresence" research being conducted
by NASA extends human eyes and minds to the depths of the Antarctic
oceans as a prototype for techniques by which humans on Earth will in
the future be able to probe the planet Mars. "LIVE FROM... OTHER
WORLDS" will be supported by print and computer materials for students
and teachers.

The project will use the rapidly developing capabilities of space
technology and satellite television distribution to bring remote sites
and dynamic researchers directly into classrooms across America in a
series of electronic field trips.  The students' guides on these
voyages of discovery will be a diverse group of dynamic and eloquent
researchers, men and women often in their late 20's and early 30's,
who have made scientific achievement their entry ticket to a lifetime
of discovery.

The interactive component of the programs will allow some students to
question these researchers, live and on-camera.  In order to permit an
additional degree of interactivity not practicable during the
broadcasts alone, computer-based "discussion centers" (via mail lists
and newsgroups) will be used.  This will allow other pupils and
teachers to contact scientists seen during the programs through
electronic correspondence for further information and with follow-up
questions, . The Email feedback will be organized by PBS LEARNING LINK
and by NASA's K-12 NREN Initiative (National Research and Education
Network).  The on-line networks will also allow researchers in
Antarctica and in America to post daily updates on their activities,
allowing students a very personal window on what careers in science
are really like.  In addition, an archive of relevant materials will
be kept on-line using modern Internet tools (anonymous FTP, Gopher and

[material deleted]

A high point of the three programs will come in the second program
when a group of students at NASA's Ames Research Center in California
will be able to "drive" a robot camera system -- a Remotely Operated
Vehicle or "ROV" -- 10,000 kilometers away, deep under the Antarctic
ice.  The first program will show why Antarctica serves as an analog
for "other worlds" in space, and how technology being researched there
can assist in the exploration of the planet Mars.  The third and final
program will show cutting-edge NASA research on "virtual reality",
robotics and telepresence.  Again an opportunity will be provided for
live student interaction with expert researchers and advanced

As you can see, some of the more ambitious and technologically sophisticated educational opportunities integrate use of many different types of tools and communications networks to assist students' explorations of curricularly-related topics.

Pooled Data Analysis

Information exchanges are particularly powerful when data are collected at multiple sites, then combined for numeric and/or pattern analysis. The simplest of these types of activities involve students electronically issuing a survey, collecting the responses, analyzing the results, and reporting their findings to all participants. Pooled data projects have also included:

Clearly, this type of project holds much promise for involving students in large-scale research efforts that use mathematics to answer complex and interesting questions.

An Educational Telecomputing Archive

Would you like to learn more about any or all of these innovative educational telecomputing projects? If so, there is an Internet file archive subdirectory made just for you. Use the ftp command (described in the December/January "Mining the Internet" column) from your electronic account, or the ftpmail gateway service (presented in the April "Mining the Internet" article) via electronic mail to anonymously access the Texas Center for Educational Technology's server at this address:

Once connected, look in this subdirectory path:

pub/telecomputing-info/ed-infusions find additional details on many of the activities mentioned above.

In the next "Mining the Internet" column, I will share examples of educational telecomputing projects that can be classified as six different types of problem-solving projects. Until then, if you would like to share your ideas for telecomputing activities with me (and with other visitors to the archive), please send your activity descriptions, via electronic mail, to me at the address listed below.

[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.