May 1993 "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: .

Using Internet Know-How to Plan How Students Will Know

by Judi Harris

The previous seven "Mining the Internet" columns were written to help you to find treasure on the Internet, in the forms of informational and interpersonal resources. As you read those articles and explored the Internet services that they described, those of you who are teachers may have wondered how to effectively integrate use of such informational and interpersonal riches into your students' academic explorations. The purpose of this article is to help you to plan for that integration by presenting 15 different types of educational telecomputing activities.

Many of us who roam the Internet are "idea collectors." We are intrigued by the notion of a functioning, de-centralized, democratic, and geographically unbound system that encourages the free exchange of thought. We tend fill diskette after diskette with files from FTP archives, newsgroup postings, and LISTSERV messages containing information that we believe can be used or shared. (Whether or not that actually happens depends mostly upon the extent of our organizational skills...and the capacity of our hard drives!) When I engage in "electronic prospecting," I collect ideas on how to use telecomputing tools in educational contexts; specifically, the structures of on-line educational activities.

Recently, I've sorted through my many files of Internet-based activity ideas, and have found that they can be classified into 15 structural categories. I will present the categories here, with sample project descriptions for each. I do this hoping that reading about these activity types will help you to plan effective telecomputing explorations for your students that are fully integrated into their curricularly-based courses of study.

Person-to-Person (or -People) Exchanges

The most popular type of educational telecomputing activity is one in which individuals "talk" electronically to other individuals, individuals "talk" to groups, or groups "talk" to other groups. Since all teachers with Internet access can use electronic mail, many of these project types employ Email (sometimes via LISTSERV discussion groups) as the common context for exchange. Other teachers and students use newsgroups and Internet-connected bulletin boards for projects such as the ones listed below.

1. keypals

This is probably the most commonly-used telecomputing activity structure, similar in form to surface mail penpal activities. While student-to-student keypal exchanges involve more managerial work than many teachers have time to devote, group-to-group exchanges, especially those with a particular study emphasis, can evolve into fascinating cultural explorations without overwhelming activity facilitators with the transfer and processing of electronic mail.

One class from Iceland, for example, posted an open invitation on a LISTSERV group, outlining their plans for electronic cultural exchange based upon a study of Europe.

Date: Tue, 2 Feb 93 19:34:10 GMT
Subject: Europe:  An Iclandic Perspective

Dear teachers .  Grandaskoli in Reykjav-k Iceland, has 460 students 6-12 
years old.  The 12 years old are now ( 25. jan. ) working on the subject 
"Europe, our continent"  until  the first of April.  To help the 
students to get a better view on  the day to day life in these countries 
their teacher has decided to work  with them in computer contacts.  We 
are hoping to contact children who are 10-15 years old.
The students will need information on the following issues.

Please describe a typical day in the life of a kid in your age.  The 
school, the length of the school day, lessons, homework, subjects, 
clubs, sports , hobbies and other interests.  Attitudes towards reading 
books, watching TV, computer games.  The nearest surroundings; short 
description on cities, towns or countrysides and information about 
interesting or historical places that might interest tourists.

These questions can be answered individually or in a group, where the 
pupils can choose between items.  If we get any respond, our  pupils 
will use the information in many different ways f.ex. making graphs, 
writing essays and giving lectures.
Our pupils will then send a "Thank you" letter and give similar 
information about Iceland.

Afterwards it's possible that our pupils keep on their correspondence 
through the computer or otherwise.

I sincerely hope that someone will be able to take part in this subject.

Valgeir Gestsson  
Library, computer and science teacher
Grandaskola Reykjavik Iceland.

Keypal activities are also perfect conduits for language study. Here, for example, is the introductory message (with translation) from a group of students who live near Paris, and wished to learn about classes from other parts of the world in which other students study computer use.

Date: Tue, 15 Dec 1992 08:41:17 +0100
From: "R.Rolland" <UROL001@FRORS12.bitnet>
Subject: presentation

Nous sommes  des eleves  de quatrieme  technologique et  avons entre 
treize et seize ans.  Romain Rolland est un college mixte, situe a 
CLICHY SOUS BOIS, dans la banlieue de PARIS.  Les eleves  d'une classe 
technologique doivent  travailler sur  des projets en faisant beaucoup 
de technologie et d'informatique.
Nous voulons communiquer avec vous, pour mieux vous connaitre.

De quelle classe etes vous ?
Ou se situe votre college ?
Faites vous de la technologie ?
Travaillez vous le samedi matin, le mercredi ?
Quels sont vos loisirs preferes ?

Nous voulons  aussi communiquer avec vous pour que vous puisiez nous 
aider dans nos recherches sur le theme du jeu.  


We are a group of pupils, aged from 13 to 16 in 4eme technologique. 
ROMAIN ROLLAND  is a mixed located in CLICHY SOUS BOIS, in the suburbs 
of PARIS. In a technology class, pupils must develop projects related to 
technology and computing .  We want to communicate with you, in order to 
know you better.

- What is your class ?
- Where is your school located ?
- Do you take technology courses ?
- What are your favorite activities ?

We also  want to communicate with you to get information on the subject 
of games.

As engaging and easy-to-implement as projects such as these are, please don't stop reading here and race to your lesson planbook! There are many other powerful activity structures to follow.

2. global classrooms

In this variation upon the "group-to-group keypals" activity structure, two or more classrooms (located anywhere in the world, of course) can study a common topic together, sharing what they are learning about that topic during a previously-specified time period. For example, two American Literature classes in two different schools studied The Glass Menagerie together in 1991, discussing the play by electronic mail.

In a larger-scale effort to involve many classes in HIV/AIDS awareness, Rhea Smith from the Jenkins Middle School in Palatka, Florida, organized a month-long series of activities designed so that her students "help[ed] teachers, parents, and children to understand the dangers of the HIV/AIDS virus and formulate a plan to remain HIV/AIDS negative." The "electronic schedule of events" looked like this:

Schedule of Events:

    Feb. 1st-15th Registration
    March 1-5     What is the HIV/AIDS virus?
    March 8-12    AIDS and Education
    March 15-19   AIDS Testing
    March 22-26   Your student oath to remain HIV/AIDS negative 
                  and The Wall of AIDS messages

Suggestions for discussion and action for each week of activities was included in the plan. For example,


On April 7th Jenkins Middle School students will be having an AIDS 
Awareness Day along with the Opening Ceremonies of the new AIDS Voice 
Mail system. We will have eyewitness news and other major TV news and 
newspapers here.

We would like to have a wall of AIDS messages from students, teachers 
and professionals. The theme is "I am HIV negative and here are the ways 
I will remain HIV negative for the rest of my life." Please have your 
students construct a message on this theme or an important AIDS message 
they would like to share with everyone. These messages will be 
decoratively displayed on a huge wall for viewing by media, students, 
parents, community members, and visiting guests.

<> -----------,

Students and teachers participating in this month of thematically-related activities shared their discussions on FrEdMail bulletin boards and through electronic mail.

3. electronic "appearances"

Electronic mail, newsgroups and electronic bulletin boards can also "host" a special guest, with whom students can correspond either asynchronously, as is most commonly done, or in "real-time" (with the guest and the students typing back and forth to each other synchronously, using a chat feature that is available with many electronic mail systems).

4. electronic mentoring

Internet-connected subject matter specialists from universities, business, government, or other schools can serve as electronic mentors to students wanting to explore specific topics of study in an interactive format. The Cleveland Freenet's Academy One project hosts, for example, an activity called Spotlight on People, which helps students communicate with leaders, inventors, authors, and other professionals who are well-accomplished in their fields. In another mentoring project, undergraduate students at the Oranim Teacher's College in Israel served as mentors on the subject of prejudice when communicating with high school students for two academic semesters from England, Australia, the United States, Ireland, and Israel. Finally, a "matching service" called the Electronic Emissary, sponsored by the Texas Center for Educational Technology and the University of Texas at Austin, helps volunteer subject matter experts from all over the world and teachers and their classes find each other, structure a mentoring project, and share what they learn together by communicating with electronic mail.

5. impersonations

Impersonation projects are those in which any (or all) of the participants communicate with each other "in character." At the University of Virginia, for example, educational history professor Jennings Waggoner "became" Thomas Jefferson via electronic mail for several local elementary classes studying Virginia history. In Characters Online, an Internet-based project sponsored by the Nebraska State Department of Education and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, undergraduate preservice teachers used electronic mail to impersonate the main characters from books that students in elementary classes in eastern Nebraska were reading with their teachers.

Students can also write messages or public postings in character for other students to read. In the California Missions project, coordinated by Nancy Sutherland from the FrEdMail Network, 21 fourth grade classes in California (one for each of the 21 California missions) wrote and shared fictitious journal entries that described the lives and aspirations of people who participated in the missions in the early and middle 19th century. Ray Medeiros, from Dighton Middle School in Somerset, Massachusetts, organized a collaborative exploration of Colonial America by posting an article on a FrEdMail bulletin board that began like this:

Have your students ever read the heartwarming letters written by post-
Revolutionary war settlers Patricia and Peter Carpenter of Pittsburgh, 
Pennsylvania? Or those of their children--David, a fur merchant, and 
Sara, who married a Susquehannock Indian? Probably not, because my 
students at Dighton Middle School made them as part of an American 
history project we would like to share on-line with 3rd through 10th-
graders around the country.

Registration information, a project overview, and materials are in the 
attached file.

In the context of his project, Colonial Computing, students at different sites formed fictitious Colonial families, and exchanged letters that contained historically accurate details of Colonial American life.

Information Collections

Some of the most successful educational telecomputing activities involve students collecting, compiling, and comparing different genres of interesting information.

1. 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:

Subject: International Folk Games Project

ORILLAS, a multilingual network for teachers and students interested 
om cross-cultural learning, announces a new group project:
        _____ How to play the game _____
    _____ Group report on playing game _____
  _____ Interviews with peers or adults _____
           _____ Illustrations _____
              _____ Memories _____
      All grade levels and languages welcome!
        We'll share the games and student
      writing with all participating classes.
     We hope you and your students will join us!
"Cuando la escuela presenta el folklore a los ninos esta' dandoles el 
mensaje de que reconoce la riqueza cultural presente en el hogar.  Esta 
validacion de la familia y la comunidad es de maxima importancia..." 
[ Alma Flor Ada, prize-winning author of Spanish-
language children's literature]
"Studying folklore in the schools gives students an appreciation of the 
richness of their cultural heritage. This validation of the family and 
community is of maximum importance..."
Kristin Brown, Enid Figueroa & Dennis Sayers
ORILLAS Co-directors

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

2. 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."

A Vision, a similar I*EARN project at Cold Springs Harbor High School, is a "global literary magazine," coordinated by Maureen Ackerman, David Egan, Niko Clifford and Brian Fox. The goals of producing A Vision are "to provide a worldwide forum where students can express their thoughts and feelings through poetry, prose, art and photography as a means of advancing cultural sharing and understanding" and "to produce a magazine of this work so others may benefit from the sharing that has gone on." In a similar project for younger children, budding science fiction writers contributed to an anthology put together as an adjunct to an on-line Solar Sailing Simulation coordinated through the Cleveland Freenet's Academy One project during the fall of 1992.

Electronic publishing can also be accomplished with many students working on the same piece, rather than the same collection. Students on the FrEdMail network, for example, have collaboratively created a "Global Peace Poem" (conceived and coordinated by Yvonne Andres and Mary Jacks) that has circled the globe several times as each class of students in each location added a stanza after having read the verses that other classes had previously appended to the (electronically epic) poem.

3. 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 the Seasons project, developed by Nancy Sutherland and Al Rogers.

Project Name:  SEASONS - Spring              (c) January 27, 1993
FrEdMail Foundation
	This project was developed by Nancy Sutherland and Al
	Rogers of the FrEdMail Foundation.

Date:          Feb. 15 - May 17

Purpose:       To bring to students an awareness of the seasons,
	how they change and progress, how they vary across the
	nation and around the world, and how to use the
	newspaper to determine what those changes are in local
	and distant places.

	To use a database to collect, organize, and query
	information in order to draw conclusions and answer
	questions about the data.

Subjects:	Science, social studies, math, language arts

Grade Level:  3 - 8

Summary:       Students will use the weather section of the local
	newspaper as well as their own measurements to daily
	chart the temperature, rain fall, time of sunset and
	sunrise, etc. to determine weather patterns and how the
	seasons change and are affected by such things as
	elevation and latitude. Students will enter this
	information in a standardized data base template.
	Articles found in other parts of the paper may also be
	valuable in providing information.

	Students will also provide a brief SUMMARY of their
	observations of the seasonal changes. Both the SUMMARY
	and the DATA BASE will be shared with other
	participants and used to chart weather and seasonal
	changes throughout the nation or world.

	This project will be run once each semester - in the
	spring and fall.

Number of Participants:  approximately 30 classrooms

Project	Nancy Sutherland, FrEdMail Foundation
Coordinator:	P.O. Box 243, Bonita, CA 91902

Registration:	The first attached file is the registration form.
		Please fill it out and email it to:

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.

4. Tele-FieldTrips

The FrEdMail folks 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 share information about the places in which they live. A fifth-grade class in Blacksburg, Virginia, for example, sent the following request for information on islands out to a number of different LISTSERV groups, appending a list of specific questions for other classes to answer.

Date: Mon, 19 Oct 92 9:49:41 EDT
From: Beck Class <pfebeck@radford.vak12ed.EDU>
Subject: Need Help on Islands

We are students in Mrs. Beck's class at Price's Fork Elementary School 
in Blacksburg, Virginia USA.  We are studying islands of the world and 
we want to find out what your island is like.

Here are the islands we are studying:

Corsica		Japan		Tonga
Cuba		Ascension	Tasmania
Haiti		Galapagos	Iceland
Antarctica	Cyprus		Fiji
Marshall Isles	Coats		Revillagigedo

If you live on any of these islands now, or if you have visited one of 
them, please help our fifth grade class learn more about these islands. 
If you could answer some of these questions for us, we will print them 
out and use them in our class.

Thank you very much.  We are very honored to be talking with you.

A similar request for information from students who live near an ocean was sent by Donna Edington, a teacher from Danville, Illinois, who said, in part:

An eighth grade class at North Ridge Middle School in Danville, Illinois 
is seeking collaboration from a class that lives on the coast.  These 
eighth graders live on the great plains where corn, soybeans, and 
livestock are mostly what they see.  None of them have been to the 
ocean.  They have some questions about the ocean, living by the ocean, 
living off the ocean, etc. that they would like answered.  

"Fieldtrips" taken by experts (actually, expeditions) are even shared on the Internet. The International Arctic Project, a "multi-national expedition across the Arctic Ocean by dog sled and canoe," is described and updated by teachers involved with the World School for Adventure Learning through the "Kidsnet" LISTSERV group. During a recent expedition undertaken by two explorers from the United Kingdom, participating classes received weekly detailed descriptions of the progress of the team, what they experienced, and the challenges that they faced. When the successful explorers returned to the U.K. for a heroes' welcoming party, there was a wall of electronic mail waiting for them from children all over the world who had, in a sense, been vicariously experiencing the expedition.

5. pooled data analysis (including surveys)

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.

Collaborative Problem-Solving

Problem-solving can take on exciting new dimensions in educational telecomputing environments. Activities can be either competitive or collaborative, but examples of existing projects indicate that teachers and students seem to prefer the latter.

1. information searches

In this type of on-line activity, students are provided with clues, and must use reference sources (either electronic or paper-based) to solve problems. For example, Tom Clauset of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, developed the GeoGame, in which each of 20 participating groups of students provides the same eight pieces of information about their school's location (i.e., latitude, time zone, population, direction from capital city, etc.). The coordinators of the game then scramble the city names, and all groups use reference materials such as maps, atlases, and books to match the cities with the information sets. The winning class is the class with the most correct matches.

2. electronic process writing

Students in Trevor Owen's English classes in Montreal, Quebec (Canada) regularly post the poems that they have written to newsgroups sponsored by Simon Fraser University, so that other students in Canada can offer feedback in an electronic version of process writing sessions. Mr. Owen has also been able to enlist the assistance of professional writers, such as the poet Lionel Kearns, to offer constructive criticism...and to receive some of the same, in response to pieces in progress!

3. parallel problem-solving (including contests)

With this kind of activity, a similar problem is presented to students in several locations, which they solve at each site, then share their methods electronically. For example, Carmela Federico of New York, NY, presented an architectural challenge on-line as follows:

What's the tallest structure you can build out of 3/4" wide popsicle 
sticks that can:
1) support a Grade A Large egg and
2) withstand the Big Bad Wolf Test (the biggest lungs in the room
      blow on it as long and hard as possible; if the structure
      stands, it passes)?
We at the Playing to Win Saturday Science Project challenge you to come 
up with interesting, strong structures to perform this engineering feat!
*Use only Elmer's Glue for adhesive.
*Egg must be hard-boiled, with the shell intact (with yolk inside).
Submit your winning and unusual designs -- both written descriptions and 
either a picture or gif file -- to:
      (which is WNET's Learning Link, based in NYC)

In a similar multi-site project, representatives from Tidewater Technology Associates challenged students to "design and construct a launching pad and rocket with recovery system," then "using water and compressed air, launch the rocket, using a raw egg for a payload." They were further instructed to "recover the payload intact" and "use ground-based triangulation to determine the rocket's highest altitude."

4. simulations

On-line simulations are perhaps the telecomputing projects that require the most coordination and maintenance, but the depth of learning possible and task engagement displayed by participants can convince project organizers to spend the additional time and effort necessary to make them work. Notable examples of successful on-line simulations include Centennial Launches, sponsored by the Cleveland Freenet's Academy One project, which is described in a recent electronic newsletter as follows:

CENTENNIAL LAUNCHES: Simulated Space Shuttle Program - 
At the core of these launches is a permanent full-scale mock-up of a 
space shuttle (called the "Centennial") complete with "Mission Control" 
which is located at University School in Shaker Heights, Ohio (Cleveland 
area).  Schools around the world take various roles in each simulated 
space shuttle mission.  These could include being another shuttle (doing 
a docking maneuver), secondary mission control, alternate landing sites 
(weather stations), solar disturbance observatories, and so forth.
Coordination and communications between the shuttle's mission control 
and other schools will be conducted through distributed conferences on 
the individual NPTN systems.  Electronic mail is sent back and forth, 
hourly reports are posted, even real-time electronic "chats" can occur 
between mission control, astronauts, and supporting units.

An exciting series of simulations in international events and issues and global conflict resolution is sponsored by Catherine Schreiber-Jones and David Crookall, of the University of Alabama. Called Project IDEALS, these simulations place participating students in the roles of "high-level negotiators representing various countries at an international conference," who must, for example, "hammer out the text of a treaty governing the emissions of CFCs, the use of the ocean's resources, or the future of Antarctica." These exchanges are supported by remote access of sophisticated simulation management software called Polnet II, which is located at the University of Alabama.

5. social action projects

It should be no surprise to global citizens living in the end of the 20th century that the Internet can serve as a context for "humanitarian, multicultural, action-oriented telecommunications projects" which involve the future leaders of our planet: our children. The PLANET Project ("People Linking Across Networks") involves a consortium of six large Internet-accessible educational networks from which representatives are working together to create collaborative, meaningful social action projects in which children have primary responsibility for learning about and helping to tackle global issues of critical importance.

During the first months of operation, PLANET participants wrote petitions to the United Nations to protest conditions in Yugoslavia, brainstormed ideas about how to address the starvation and political unrest in Somalia, and planned for and carried out fundraising efforts to raise money to help to purchase "rope pumps for villages in Nicaragua that do not have access to clean water." The potential for multi-disciplinary, forward-thinking, truly collaborative learning in becoming involved in projects such as these is awesome. As David Nafissian, PLANET Across-Network Facilitator, has written, "a single voice crying out is difficult to hear. But our collective voice can make an impact!"

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.

As you may have noticed while reading about these projects, the ideas behind them are simple, yet powerful. Their power rests in the interconnectedness that participants experience while they are communicating across what were once geographic and temporal boundaries to collaboratively realize a shared goal. This, along with the energy, enthusiasm, commitment, and patience of the teachers and students who help to bring these plans to life, is probably the key to their inspiring success.

[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.