Helping Early Childhood Teacher Education Students
Learn about the Internet. ERIC Digest.
by Hinchliffe, Lisa Janicke
Teacher educators in the early childhood education (ECE) and child development
fields can use the technological capacities of the Internet to expand the
boundaries of the classroom and enrich the learning experiences of their
students. The Internet is a vast system of computer networks that exchange
electronic data, thereby facilitating communication and access to information.
Many teacher educators are aware of the potential of the Internet but are
not certain how to integrate the Internet into early childhood teacher
education. This digest provides examples of projects which could be used
in a child development classroom to introduce students to Internet resources.
The URLs ("uniform resource locators," or Internet addresses, of websites
or Gophers) cited in boldface numbered items are listed in the Electronic
References section at the end of the digest.
A connection to the Internet and a willingness to learn are the foundation
for integrating the Internet into an ECE classroom; however, a few other
resources will help. Students must receive training in how to use the Internet.
Texts by Kovacs (1995) and Jaffe (1994) can help teacher educators design
appropriate training sessions. A guide published by ERIC/EECE (1995) provides
specific information about using the Internet and describes Internet resources
of interest to adults working with young children. Teacher educators can
also use materials made available via the Internet by other Internet trainers,
such as can be found in the searchable index at YAHOO!, titled COMPUTERS
AND INTERNET (11).
USING ELECTRONIC DISCUSSION GROUPS
Electronic discussion groups, or mailing lists, provide opportunities
for people to have conversations about topics of mutual interest via electronic
mail (e-mail). LISZT (8) is a searchable directory of discussion groups
which includes directions for subscribing. Examples of discussion groups
related to ECE are ECENET-L and ECEOL-L (on ECE in general), SAC-L (on
school-age child care), REGGIO-L (on the preschool approach used in Reggio
Emilia, Italy), and CYE-L (on appropriate environments for young children).
There are no membership charges for subscribing to a discussion group;
however, in order to participate in them, students need e-mail accounts.
E-mail accounts are available from many teaching institutions, community
computing networks (such as Free-Nets), or commercial Internet providers.
It is important for instructors to provide training in e-mail use rather
than assume students will learn to use e-mail on their own. The technical
details of using e-mail vary from system to system; the local network administrator
can usually provide assistance. Once students have access to e-mail and
discussion groups, they can undertake the following activities.
LEARN ABOUT E-MAIL ETIQUETTE. Students will need to understand Internet
etiquette, or "netiquette." For example, explain that students should "lurk"
read the discussions and observe the tone of the group before posting.
Discuss netiquette in class, and develop a list of guidelines that will
be used in their interactions with discussion groups. Additional netiquette
tips are offered by RINALDI (10).
FOCUS ON A SINGLE DISCUSSION GROUP. The number of messages posted to
and topics discussed on a single discussion group can be overwhelming.
Students new to discussion groups are likely to become frustrated if they
try to keep up with all messages on several lists. Divide the students
into groups and assign each student group a particular discussion group
to monitor. Every month have each student group summarize the major or
most useful interactions on its discussion group for others in the class.
These summaries can be presented orally during class time or distributed
by e-mail. By sharing summaries, students can learn how professionals share
information with one another and at the same time determine which discussion
groups are most relevant to their own personal interests.
ASK THE EXPERTS. Many people who belong to ECE discussion groups are
practitioners working with young children who are often willing to provide
information on good practice. Their expertise is a valuable resource for
students. Select a discussion group related to the topic of the course
research paper and have students join the group. In addition to using published
resources, students can solicit input from practitioners in ECE about their
topic. Explain to students that specific questions which show previous
research and careful thought are more likely to generate useful responses
from discussion group members. For example, rather than asking "How do
you mainstream children?" students might construct a specific request for
information: "I am trying to identify techniques to use in mainstreaming
a six-year-old boy with Downs Syndrome into a session of science experiments
with water. I have considered working with students in small groups rather
than as a whole class. What would you recommend doing so that he can participate
fully without disrupting the experiments?" Preview students' questions
before they send them to the discussion group. If possible, confirm with
the owner of the discussion group that the requests will not be disruptive.
Avoid having several students ask the same question of the same group.
BE THE EXPERT. Many requests for information are posted daily to discussion
groups. Assign students to select a question that interests them and then
research and write a response. Preview responses before students send them.
Responses should include references to the information resources that were
consulted as well as an explanation that the response is part of a course
requirement, so that the original requester will not expect such researched
responses to every question.
SUMMARIZE THE CONVERSATION. A copy of each message sent to various education-related
discussion groups is archived in the ASKERIC VIRTUAL LIBRARY EDUCATION
LISTSERV ARCHIVES (2). Each discussion group has its own chronologically
arranged archive. Students might browse discussion group archives for topics
which generated more than ten messages and can write a summary of the discussion
and points of consensus that emerged. For example, students could summarize
the JANUARY 1995 ECENET-L (3) discussion about Power Rangers. These summaries
can be distributed to class members or reviewed by the teacher educator.
USING WORLD WIDE WEB AND GOPHER RESOURCES
The World Wide Web and Gophers are depositories of publicly accessible
information that can be used to supplement course textbooks or readings.
The Web is a hypermedia environment consisting of text, graphics, audio,
and video. Gophers are menu-based resources of text files. Web and Gopher
sites, such as ERIC/EECE'S WEB SITE (5), can be accessed using Web browser
software that is graphical (such as Netscape) or text-based (such as Lynx);
gophers can also be accessed using gopher software. The local network administrator
can provide information about the availability and use of this software.
Using the World Wide Web and Gophers, students can try the following activities.
CREATE AN INFORMATION PACKET. Parents and guardians are important partners
in educating young children and often request information from early childhood
educators. Have students create a parent information packet on topics of
their choosing using full-text resources from, for example, ERIC/EECE'S
WEB SITE (5), the NATIONAL PARENT INFORMATION NETWORK (NPIN) (9), and other
ERIC SYSTEM WEB SITES (6). Possible topics include kindergarten readiness,
children and the mass media, sibling interactions, and discipline.
SEARCH FOR LESSON PLANS. Students developing lesson plans on particular
topics can search the Web for examples. Two possible "search engines" to
use are INFOSEEK (7) and ALTA VISTA (1); a more complete list is available
in the searchable index in YAHOO!, titled COMPUTERS AND INTERNET...SEARCHING
THE WEB (12). No search engine available can do a comprehensive search
of all web sites. Most search engines allow keyword searching, but the
level of search sophistication varies from one search engine to another.
In general, using the phrase "lesson plans" and a keyword describing the
topic area will retrieve good search results. For example, to look for
lesson plans for a science unit on flowers, use the keywords "lesson plans"
SOLVE A PROBLEM. Many ECE programs require students to observe children
and staff interacting in an ECE setting such as a preschool. Instruct students
to keep a record of the problems that they see when they are observing.
When the students return from observing, divide them into groups and have
each group search the ERIC DATABASE (4) and use ERIC/EECE and other Internet
resources to research possible solutions to one of the problems observed.
As a group, the students could discuss the possible solutions, select their
preferred solution, and present the problem and solution to the entire
class. If appropriate, the proposed solution could also be presented to
the staff working in the ECE setting.
BE AN INFORMATION PROVIDER. In addition to using the information posted
by other people, students can be involved in projects to provide information
via the Web. To create a website, students will need access to a Web server
(available in many postsecondary settings) and knowledge of HTML (hypertext
markup language, the formatting language for creating web pages). A class
of students could create a web site for their class or work with a local
or campus child care center to create a web site for the center.
The Internet is a vast community of people and resources. By integrating
Internet use into early childhood teacher education programs, early childhood
teacher educators enhance the educational experiences of their students
and prepare them to be active participants in the global ECE community.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education (ERIC/EECE).
(1995). A TO Z: THE EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATOR'S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET. (1995).
Urbana, IL: Author.
Kovacs, D. (1995). THE INTERNET TRAINER'S GUIDE. New York: Van Nostrand
Jaffe, L.D. (1994). INTRODUCING THE INTERNET: A TRAINER'S WORKSHOP.
Berkeley: Library Solutions Press.