ERIC Identifier: ED359044
Publication Date: 1993-03-00
Author: Roempler, Kimberly S. - Warren, Charles R.
ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education
Computer Networks for Science Teachers. ERIC CSMEE Digest.
Computers and the technologies associated with them are major forces in the
virtual shrinking of the globe. Through computer networks, students and teachers
across the United States and around the world are interacting to share
experiences and to investigate local problems in a global context. Formerly
reserved for use by scientists, researchers, and computer buffs, computer
networks now have capabilities that make them extremely useful to science
teachers and their classes.
A network links computers via standard telephone service. Electronic mail
(e-mail), data, software, and other messages can be sent and stored to be read
sometime later by the receiver. With a modem and a computer, one can "meet"
science educators with common interests in almost any area of the country or the
world, 24 hours a day. Educators can easily be on the cutting edge of the use of
instructional technology through the use of computer networks.
This digest is designed to provide educators some basic background on
computer communications and to provide a few examples of computer networks that
are easily available to them and their students.
THE POWER OF COMMUNICATION
Telecommunications can add
vitality and excitement to the classroom. Students and educators see subjects
come to life as they study topics such as tropical timber resources,
environmental crises, or the AIDS pandemic. Through telecommunications, classes
can be in contact with individuals and organizations who address these issues on
a day-to-day basis.
Science classes can also communicate directly with other science classes
around the world to conduct research or explore and share ideas. This kind of
across-the-globe networking can be an exciting project for students of all ages.
In one recent effort, for example, elementary school students from across the
United States measured daily precipitation and the acidity of collected samples
of rainwater. This information was shared on a computer network with classes
from many parts of the country, and a daily acid rain map was created. Other
activities have included on-line science fairs and on-line surveys. Networks
have allowed the creation of an exciting "global classroom" both in its content
focus and its participation.
THE ADVANTAGES OF ELECTRONIC MAIL
A common complaint of
science teachers is the feeling of isolation from other professionals with
similar interests. Computer networks allow teachers to "reach out and touch
someone." Teachers can share ideas and activities through the use of electronic
bulletin boards. Networks can also serve as resource retrieval databases. Data
retrieved from computer networks can be analyzed by students. Computer
networking improves communication and data exchange by allowing participation in
ongoing computer conferences as well as private e-mail. Increased productivity,
creativity, and professional activity are some of the results of using computer
Using a computer network can save communication time and money. One has the
freedom and flexibility to use the service in a timely manner--whether it's six
in the morning or midnight. Sending correspondence via e-mail can be more
productive than trying to get someone over the phone, because mail is held for
retrieval until the user logs on.
DEALING WITH NETWORKING CHARGES
The costs of networks vary.
Startup expenses can include the costs of a computer, modem, software, and user
fees. For a long distance network, on-line time can be quite expensive. There
are, however, several ways to cut some of the costs. Because the networks can be
used at any time, using the service in the evening and on weekends can cut costs
considerably. To decrease the time needed on the phone, some networks allow
messages to be composed in advance, off-line, and then transmitted
electronically. This is called uploading. Uploading results in less time on-line
and therefore lower phone charges.
Different terminal systems can also affect costs. Some computer networks use
"smart terminal" systems while others use "dumb terminal" systems. A "smart
terminal" system, where the microcomputer is pre-programmed to run the network
computer, runs quickly and efficiently and results in lower phone line charges.
"Dumb terminal" systems require all work to be done on-line and are therefore
Many teachers do not have time to interact frequently with computer networks
while at school. Fortunately, most computer networks are available on a 24-hour
basis making this type of communication exceptionally flexible.
NETWORKS AVAILABLE TO SCIENCE TEACHERS
EcoNet, PSINets, INTERNET/BITNET, and ERIC OnLine systems are examples of
computer networks that have much to offer science educators.
Science Line, a National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) sponsored
electronic bulletin board, allows a user to scan and download a variety of
science and general interest programs, including public domain and shareware
software, the latest information on summer programs and NSTA projects, official
information files from government agencies and organizations, text on computer
techniques and scientific papers on topics like cold fusion, teacher aids such
as gradebook programs, and interesting classroom demonstrations.
EcoNet is an international computer network related to the environment and
education. EcoNet serves environmental educators as part of its broad mission to
provide information services to the international environmental community. As a
central program of the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), EcoNet allows
users to send messages to another continent, gather the latest information on a
wide variety of environmental topics, interact with other members of the
environmental community around the world, look for a job in the environmental
field, or find a foundation that might fund a project. Both Science Line and
EcoNet require on-line time because they are "dumb terminal" systems.
PSINets, initiated in 1985, are People Sharing Information Networks.
Different PSINets have been established in various states (e.g., Iowa, Georgia,
and Ohio) with the cooperation of IBM and the Council of State Science
Supervisors (CSSS). Typical conferences currently available on these networks
include: (1) curriculum materials, (2) announcements, (3) forums, (3) surveys,
(4) projects, (5) phonebooks, and (6) activities for students.
At the state level, PSINets have found great success. In 1991, for example,
every school district in Ohio was offered inservice training on the use of
PSINet networks, and more than half received the necessary software to use OHNet
(the Ohio PSINet). A toll free number was established by the Science Education
Council of Ohio and the Ohio Department of Education. This number has allowed
science teachers and administrators to access the network without telephone
charges. Through OHNet, Ohio teachers are informed about local, state, and
national science education resources, trends, and curriculum developments.
PSINets are networked to national PSINets such as the National STS network,
the Council of State Science Supervisors PSINet, and PSINets in other states.
Communication between sites across the country and around the world is made
possible through this network of networks. Many states are operating PSINets at
PSINets are examples of "smart terminal" systems. PSINet uses a unique IBM
software package that allows a user to run the network server computer from
one's own microcomputer with greatly decreased on-line time. Typical daily phone
calls between the user and the server last less than two minutes. Plans for the
growth of PSINet involve a software version for Macintosh computers and a link
INTERNET and BITNET are academic computing networks that are becoming
available to teachers in some areas. The computer network in the state of Texas
links hundreds of teachers through an INTERNET system. Commonly accessed through
local universities, BITNET/INTERNET systems can be interfaced through the use of
several different software packages. These systems have many international
connections and can link a user with a variety of resources such as databases,
library holdings, and other networks.
SUNINFO, a campus information system at Syracuse University that uses the
SPIRES/PRISM interface, allows INTERNET users to access the last five years of
the ERIC Database. A full-text file of over 850 ERIC digests is also available
to INTERNET users through the Extended Bulletin Board of the Office for
Information Technology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For more
information about these and other ERIC OnLine systems, contact ACCESS ERIC:
The computer networks mentioned in this
digest are only the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of local, regional,
national, and international computer networks. Most computer networks can set up
an account and a password over the telephone. Research and history involving
networks tell us that successful networks share three things: (1) involved users
on the system; (2) active paper mail support; and (3) occasional face-to-face
meetings between users. Networking will expand educators' horizons on both the
personal and professional level.
For more information, contact:
National Science Teachers Association
1742 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Institute for Global Communications
3228 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, California 94115
(415) 923-1665 (FAX)
ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources
Syracuse, New York 13244-2340
Contact your state science or mathematics consultant at your respective
department of education or:
National Director PSINet
Center for Teacher Education
Des Moines, IA 50311
Gerlovich, J. A. (1991). A cooperative national
computer conferencing network for science and mathematics education--PSINet.
Journal of Chemical Education.
Office of Technology Assessment. (1989). Linking for Learning. Washington,
Rohwedder, W. J. (Ed.). (1990). Computer-aided environmental education,
monographs in environmental education and environmental studies, 7. North
American Association for Environmental Education.