What effect does classroom use of the Internet have on the teacher-student relationship?
National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP Bulletin; Reston; Apr 2000; Merritt V Hemenway;





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The Internet is having a powerful impact on our society, but its role in education is just beginning to be developed. One question is of particular interest to educators: If students can gather information on such an immense variety of subjects, what happens to the teacher's role in a classroom where the Internet is available as a teaching tool?

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Copyright National Association of Secondary School Principals Apr 2000

The Internet is having a powerful impact on our society, but its role in education is just beginning to be developed. One question is of particular interest to educators: If students can gather information on such an immense variety of subjects, what happens to the teacher's role in a classroom where the Internet is available as a teaching tool?

Traditional classrooms are dominated by the teacher. With the Internet, the availability of information outside the classroom is wide open. This article reports on the effect using the Internet has on the teacherstudent relationship. The research was conducted starting with a random survey to 150 California high schools to develop a list of teachers who use the Internet concurrent with classroom instruction at least once a week. Followup telephone interviews were conducted with 25 of the teachers to assess the classroom structure that has developed since the introduction of the Internet as a tool for learning. This report summarizes their comments presented in telephone interviews with these teachers. The comments of teachers are consistent with the calls for educational reform contained in Breaking Ranks.

Results of the Interviews

In summary interviews, teachers were asked to describe the differences in their classroom since they began to use the Internet. An English teacher from a suburban school reports:

Students are highly, highly, highly engaged. They truly love literature. It has become more than words on a page, part of a whole. Conversations in class are about literature. I provide "guided questions" to be sure, but they give the feedback, what works for them.

Students have become the teacher to the teacher. They see things from a different perspective than the teacher; this allows them to see things in a new way.

A science teacher reports: "Kids are comfortable with the new technology, they even use it in other classes. It is different in that it is not me lecturing, they explore on their own. They now get up and move about the class. Science is more real for them."

Another science teacher reports the difference in adding computers with large screens to his classroom is the excitement of technology: "They are able to discuss ideas, whereas before they were too individual."

A history teacher at a small rural school reports "It has created an era of willingness to work. Students are more excited, more anxious to do projects. They are more accurate and it is a much more enhanced educational experience." He reported the value of the Internet as a resource for the 65 students in his school, which has a small, dated library as a resource and no daily metropolitan newspaper available.

A history teacher reports:

High school kids foster better, quicker communication and sharing of information. Written stuff means processing information better than just orally, better and at a higher level. This gives students more confidence about their work. Quicker and easier resources mean better learning performance. The downside is the ethical issue, it is easier to plagiarize. Our school won't accept a final product without steps, no final drafts alone. Students must show evidence of work. One other thing, our school requires more oral presentations to explain and make sure the students deliver their own work. Learning is much more independent from the teacher.

An English teacher comments that "Kids find using the Internet more fun, engaging in learning, and they are comfortable at it. They use it at home already ... They are more motivated, and have creative choices." A teacher of microbiology reported her enthusiasm about the ability of the Internet to enhance classroom spontaneity. When students or the teacher raise questions, there are numerous websites that can provide answers. She is mindful of the CDC website as well as other sites that can enhance "the teachable moment."

A teacher of English speaks enthusiastically about the change in the classroom since she received her grant for Internet-connected classroom computers. "When I got into teaching I had the Mr. Chips concept of the teacher role. Now with the new concept I never lecture. It is kid-to-kid learning, almost individual instruction as they all learn at their own pace. I guide them toward how to find information. I play the role of the coach." She highlights the "teachable moment" that is enhanced by using the Internet and speaks of "serendipity learning" in her classroom. One of the real challenges she speaks of is dealing with the different student skills within one room; as she puts it, "I have some kids hacking NASA, while others can't figure out how to save their files." Fundamentally, she explains that the locus of control has changed, even though it has become more tiring to be a teacher because you have to respond to so many different learning situations.

A history teacher noted, "We use the same amount of group work, but the students have increased analytical skills in the depth of their searches. Good information and bad information is the same. It is what and how they search that has changed." A teacher of religion at a parochial school adds, "The difference is more active learning." A teacher in continuation school also emphasizes the improved attitude the students have toward research since the introduction of the Internet into his classroom. He adds that the students are more active and love the immediate responses they get with the Internet.

A journalism teacher offers that the change is not just in the classroom but in a very broad picture of education. "Technology is pushing change in more than using technology. It is forcing curriculum changes and scheduling changes." He says limited discussion began in departments and has broadened into the formation of a magnet school. He adds, ``Training is an issue. Integrating in curriculum is an issue." An English teacher notes, "The difference is problematic. The quality of the student work is better. Interested students do much better work. Disinterested students don't do it either."

A science teacher reports:

The learning rate is much more accelerated. Students grab the concepts better in a media-rich environment, especially the computerized lab. The data are good, and relationships become clear quickly. They can get to the point Faster. Plus, they are more visual, and they are more interdisciplinary also.

They see that the world is connected, not compartmentalized. Political, social, economic factors all enter into their study.

A science teacher noted the students now offer more detail in their assignments. She notes "the better work may be due to the increased use of word processing, which also makes student work much nicer and easier to read." She adds, "It is easier to catch their attention because they see examples, many of them, that are better than the words of the textbook."

A business teacher notes that "Kids love computers. There is more information there than they ever realized. They ask for extra time to research for other classes. To help them find what they are looking for, we sometimes ask to see an outline so that we can help." She notes that at the end of the semester awards banquet, students often use a PowerPoint presentation complete with photos and music in addition to their written business plan.

An art teacher emphasized that the students need structure in completing assignments using the Internet. She notes, however, that four computers in her classroom make it really fun. Her class is a "hands-on" class and students can be on the computer completing their research while their art project is drying, or the glue on a mosaic is setting. "Students in my class are doing five things at once. It takes very high energy, but it is great."

A Model United Nations teacher speaks positively about the advantage of using the resources of the Internet in his history class. "Students can do papers without a struggle. I now expect more from them. For any conference they attend I expect them to produce a paper. I expect more now." He adds that the students have compiled huge notebooks containing the most up-to-date information research on the topics that they have gathered about countries throughout the world and their concerns.

A history and computer teacher notes, "The biggest difference is that I can now assign essays with outside research because it is so accessible. I don't have to wait a week for mom or dad to take the student to the library. I can demand more of the research." She adds, "It is neat. If the students find interesting information and prove their point logically, it is OK with me. For example their conclusions on the causes of the Civil War can differ from mine, [but] that is OK."

A drama and English teacher notes that at his previous school it was hard to get students to use the computer. At his current school, the students find the computer easy to use and have a good grasp of how to use it.

However, he noted the increase in plagiarism as a major concern because of the Internet. He also notes problems with the current blocks on his school's computer; students cannot access the school's own website because it contains the word "high." He noted he has more to learn, as he is only in his first semester of using the Internet. He did admit that one student used e-mail to research a question and it worked out well. In general he found student assignments are more individual as a result of using the Internet.

A social studies teacher responds to the question of whether there is a difference with, "Yes, the ability to produce quality digested material in economics and government classes." He builds a major project of the class around researching a state problem and a field trip to the state capital. He notes that it is the role of the teacher to help the students digest the material, which is, in effect, a side-by-side task while sitting together at a computer terminal. He sees great importance in going through the material on the screen with the students and teaching them what to look for on the Internet.

Another teacher emphasized the enthusiasm the medium has on students. He notes, "I am impressed with the high turn-in rate for assignments." His students have the option of choosing the course that uses the traditional textbook or the Internet. His rate of completing homework is 100 percent submitted for the class that uses the Internet, while it is 50 percent for students who use the traditional textbook as a resource. He adds, "I don't know if it is the work I assign, or the fact that they choose the class on the Internet." He is excited that these students have complete portfolios of the work they have accomplished in his class.

Only one teacher interviewed reported no significant difference in the classroom since he started using the Internet although he began using it just this semester. He commented, "Training is limited, we need more on how to use the tools. I don't have a sense of what is valuable, what I want them to produce, or how I would evaluate what I want them to do. This is our first semester and we're figuring out whether it's worth the time. We're not sure of the payoff yet."

One other teacher in his first semester of using the Internet as a resource in his classroom noted that he has learned from students who previously had access when they did their assignments at home. He added that they are just beginning to learn the full use of the resource and are spending quite a bit of time learning how to print with networked printers, and on both platforms available in his classroom. It is noteworthy that the other teachers interviewed had more extensive use of the Internet in their classes.

The stories of the effects of the Internet on the classrooms in our survey paint a picture of a continuum of change that ranges from radical classroom atmosphere to simple changes in the students' attitude toward learning. In each of these classrooms there is little dispute that students are approaching learning in a different way. Many issues need to be refined before the Internet becomes a transparent tool of the new millennium, but its availability as a tool is moving the role of the teacher along the path from the holder of information to the motivator and guide of student learning.

The Internet is a dynamic, broad-based, relatively inexpensive tool of communication and information gathering. When used properly it allows for collaborative learning, multi-media learning experiences, and in general, better addresses the natural learning intelligences of the high school student. Students can begin the process of making sense of the data in the world around them, guided by the teacher, rather than having the teacher offer the data and how to make sense of it. They learn appropriate ways to gain from this learning resource that will be updated minute-by-minute throughout their life span. The results will enhance lifelong learning skills. These are considered very important for students living in the next millennium.