The Bread & Butter of the Internet. ERIC Digest.
by Lankes, R. David
An increasing amount of national attention is focused on connecting
K-12 schools to the Internet (Clinton, 1996), while at the same time, there
is some debate on the benefits of using the Internet in the classroom.
Most teachers know the Internet is a source of information, but they may
not know how it works, or how to get it. The Internet is steeped in obscure
acronyms and cute names. What other environment could brag about creating
Veronica, to help Gopher users locate PDF files faster than FTP? By understanding
the basics of how the Internet works, one can cut through the names, letters
and numbers, and focus on using the Internet to improve teaching and learning.
THE INTERNET MODEL
Many teachers find the Internet and its terminology very confusing.
A framework, or model, is needed to put these concepts and terms into context.
The Internet can be broken into four basic levels (Lankes, 1994):
(1) Engineering Level--The infrastructure that allows information to
move from one computer to another.
(2) Application Level--The software that allows users to gather and
(3) Information Service Level--The combination of information with hardware
and software that allows users to meet their information needs.
(4) Use Level--The level where users use the information they find on
Educators can use this Internet model to help plan inservice agendas.
For example, teacher training sessions can focus on the Information Service
Level (finding lesson plans on the Internet) or on the Application Level
("Netscape Navigator: How to Use It"). Technology planning committees can
use the model to help focus task forces--one to examine applications, another
to determine appropriate use policies.
THE ENGINEERING LEVEL
The engineering level is the technical part of the Internet. It is the
infrastructure, composed of hardware and software, that allows information
to flow from one point to another. The engineering level includes:
--Computers to create messages (information) to be sent over the network
--Media to transfer information over wires, fiber optics, infrared,
--Protocols to format the messages and send them to appropriate computer
addresses. The protocol (or language being spoken) on the Internet is called
TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol).
The engineering level includes modems, routers and protocols. If the
engineering layer is working properly, it is transparent to the user. Using
the "Information Superhighway" metaphor, the engineering level is the "road"
the information travels on.
When teachers use the Internet to look for information, they are using
the applications level. Applications level software such as Netscape Navigator
or Microsoft's Internet Explorer don't contain any information in and of
themselves, rather they are tools that allow teachers to link to Internet
sites that contain the text, pictures, and other media that they can use
in the classroom. Some basic Internet applications include:
--Electronic mail can be used to send memo-like messages to people connected
to the Internet anywhere in the world. Mailing lists or Listservs can be
used to send one e-mail message to hundreds of other users who share common
--Telnet allows users to access and control programs on remote computers.
With telnet, educators and students can use the most powerful computers
in the world without leaving their classrooms.
--FTP (File Transfer Protocol) allows users to transfer files to and
from a remote computer. A teacher can use FTP to get software and files
from a vast collection of computer archives on the Internet. FTP can also
be used to transfer World Wide Web files from a local computer to a remote
server so that information can be shared with the world.
--Gopher allows users to navigate the Internet in a menu-like fashion.
With Gopher, one can move through information systems easily by selecting
numbers from a menu. Gophers combine information from a number of sources,
often worldwide, and present it all together on one menu. A user can traverse
the world and never realize it.
--The World Wide Web allows users to navigate the Internet in a hypermedia
format. With web browsers, a user can see information in a multimedia format.
Text can be linked to pictures, pictures to animations, or animations to
any digital information.
All Internet applications use the Client/Server model in one form or
another. The user's computer is a client to a remote server. The client
is responsible for formatting information, controlling user interaction,
and managing all the resources on the user's computer. The server just
holds information and sends it to the client when requested. The client/server
paradigm gives the user control over the information being retrieved, and
allows better use of the network and the user's computing resources.
In the "Information Superhighway" metaphor, the applications are the
cars and trucks that travel the road.
INFORMATION SERVICES LEVEL
Teachers and students use the Internet to find information. In the Information
Services Level, organizations (schools, publishers, businesses, etc.) use
the Applications Level to provide information to end-users. Schools can
become "Information Servers" by sharing their student works, and curriculum
ideas with other educators on the Internet. One example of an information
service on the net is AskERIC <http://www.askeric.org>.
Schools can use the same technology as Fortune 500 companies to build
internal Internets, called intranets. Intranet technology is a hot topic
in the corporate world, and schools can serve their communities by sharing
what they know about this technology.
In the "Information Superhighway" metaphor, Information Services is
the cargo in the cars and trucks that travel the road.
How educators apply information found on the Internet to the classroom
constitutes the Use Level of the Internet. Security of information, acceptable
use, and intellectual property are all Use Level issues. What works in
one community may not work in another. For example, should schools allow
free and open access to the Internet for all students, or should they restrict
what students can see on the Internet?
In the "Information Superhighway" metaphor, the Use Level deals with
why the cars and trucks are on the road, and what happens to their cargo
when they reach their destinations.
The Internet is dynamic. New applications and new trends will make the
Internet more real-time, more interactive, and more exciting. A constantly
changing computer environment will present significant challenges to educators
as they attempt to integrate revolutionary technology into an evolutionary
teaching process. Teachers will learn about new software, and administrators
will debate the merits of applying new technologies to the educational
mission of the school. By understanding the basics of the Internet, educators
will be better prepared to face the complexities that will surely follow.
Clinton, W. J. (1996). "State of the Union Address." Internet WWW page,
at URL: <http://www2.whitehouse.gov/WH/New/other/sotu.html> (version
current at January 1997)
Lankes, R. D. (1994). The Internet Model. "Information Searcher," 7(1),