Using the Internet as a Tool
Published on January 21, 2006 By Larry Kuperman In Internet
This article is written for my co-teachers at the Jewish Cultural School Link and to illustrate how technology in general and the Internet specifically provides tools to enhance the educational experience. Aside from providing examples, I will also include links to software programs and web sites that I find useful.

What can you, as educators, do on the internet? You can do up-to-the-minute research, link to current events, link to sources and research sites, include pictures, sounds and multimedia files and offer interactivity. You can, via email and blogs (more about that later), provide an interactive means of communications with students and parents.

With that as the preface, let’s begin to look at some of the tools available.

Browsers

If you are on the internet (and you are not reading this if you aren’t!) you are using a web browser. Most people use Internet Explorer, the browser that is bundled as part of the Windows operating system.

You can enhance the functionality of Internet Explorer with Microsoft’s MSN Search Toolbar, which is a free download from Link
Features of the Search Toolbar are listed as:
Tabbed browsing - Easily switch between web pages, within the same window
Form Fill - Automatically completes forms for faster shopping and web site log-ins
Pop-up Blocker - Block bothersome pop-ups and, adjust settings as needed
One click access - Check your Hotmail, MSN Messenger, MSN Spaces or My MSN

Many of these same features will be included in Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) which will be bundled with Vista, the next Windows operating system.

A popular alternative to Internet Explorer is Firefox, a free alternative browser from the Mozilla Foundation. You can download that from Link
Firefox is described as:

A Better Web Experience
Firefox 1.5 has an intuitive interface and blocks viruses, spyware, and popup ads. It delivers Web pages faster than ever. And it’s easy to install and import your favorites. Packed with useful features like tabbed browsing, Live Bookmarks, and an integrated Search bar, Firefox will change the way you experience the Web, for the better.

Firefox can be customized to your individual preferences by downloading and installing “extensions.” I personally use: Forecast Fox, AdBlock Plus, TabX, Tab Mix Plus, NoScript, IE Tab and a spellchecker. There are LOTS of others.

I also have added several search engines to the Firefox search bar, which brings us to:

Search Engines and Tools

The most widely used Search engines are Google and Yahoo. I use Google as my primary source as a matter of personal preference. You can search for News, Images, shop at Froogle or search the Web. Yahoo also offers a variety of search options.

Note: Something that you should always bear in mind is that Yahoo and Google are for-profit companies. That doesn’t mean to imply that they are “bad” but a certain amount of potential bias should be taken into account.

Another tool that I find invaluable is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is self-defined as “Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia written collaboratively by many of its readers. Lots of people are constantly improving Wikipedia, making thousands of changes an hour, all of which are recorded on article histories and recent changes. Inappropriate changes are usually removed quickly.”

Some articles on Wikipedia will contain a flag, warning that:

The factual accuracy of this article is disputed.
Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.


As a rule, all sources should be checked. Books, magazines and television can contain inaccuracies as well. Wikipedia, like blogs, lets disputants post their responses.

Other tools that I find valuable are Dictionary.com and Answers.com. I reference them as “tools” rather than sites, because Firefox lets me add them to the Search bar.

Blogs

If you have followed along thus far, you are using your browser to access search engines and tools to gather facts and materials. What can you do with them?

You can use them as part of your classroom lessons by printing out the information, using images to enrich the materials, all the traditional things. Or you can post your work on line.

Some people think of blogs as being only personal diaries, but this is not necessary the case. A blog is defined as “A website that displays in chronological order the postings by one or more individuals and usually has links to comments on specific postings.” It is, by definition, interactive.

The Technorati top Blog sites (“as measured by unique links in the last six months”) includes blogs related to politics, gadgets, software and more. I blog on these topics, as well as current events, schoolwork and more. If someone finds a post of interest, they can post a comment.

Political blogs came to prominence with the Dan Rather debacle. Blogs can be and often are interconnected (one linking to the other) to form the Blogosphere.

Blogger.com, Typepad.com, Blogeasy.com and other sites let you set up your blog for free. Myspace.com lets you set up a community blog, linked to friends and associates. I use JoeUser.com. Link

Posting materials on the web makes them, in my not-so-humble opinion, more interesting because you can link to, as opposed to merely quote from, original sources. Blogs take on another dimension because of the ability to elicit and include comments.

Security

I don’t think of cyberspace as being a dangerous place. Yes, you can see things that you don’t want to. Is that different than television? If you blog and get comments, not everyone will agree with you. Is that different than speaking publicly?

But you do need to take certain precautions to avoid viruses, worms, Trojans and other “nasties.” There are a variety of easy ways to protect yourself.

Every computer needs to have an anti-virus program. You can download a free anti-virus program from a number of sources, including http://www.free-av.com/ or http://www.avast.com/eng/avast_4_home.html.

There are free anti-spyware tools available as well. You can download Spybot S&D (Search and Destroy) from http://www.safer-networking.org/ or get Adaware from http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/

Many internet service providers offer complete suites of ant-virus, anti-spyware and even anti-spam software to users.

But get SOMETHING, use it and update it regularly.

Gadgets, Gizmos and Hardware

I really find my USB drive invaluable. It is a portable drive that works like a computer hard drive. You can store data, files and text easily and take it with you.

Soon you will be able to take your most important files, including browser, office tools and email with you wherever you go.

See http://portableapps.com/ Link

The coolest part of the Portable apps suite is that you do not have to install them on your host machine, you run them off your USB drive.

Email

You can and should use email to communicate with students and parents. I use an email group that allows me to send messages to parents and students by typing in a single address.

More and more and more people use web-based email. Popular free web-based emails include Hotmail, from Microsoft, and Gmail, from Google. As a resource for teachers, this means that you can access your email from any browser. So you can send emails from home or school and check for responses.

Summary

Using these tools will let you research more, share lesson plans and sources, access that information from anywhere and communicate more efficiently.

Comments
on Jan 26, 2006
I personally believe free, basic (dial-up) Internet service should be included with your phone service...but that's just me.

Great article. There's stuff for us non-teachers as well! Thanks!


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