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A World Wide Web of Learning

This week, the World Wide Web (WWW) marks its 20th anniversary. CERN, the force behind the movement, stated on its first WWW site: "The project is based on the philosophy that much academic information should be freely available to anyone. It aims to allow information sharing within internationally dispersed teams, and the dissemination of information by support groups."

On April 30, 1991, CERN released its code as "royalty free," or Open, as it's commonly called today. It changed the world.

Since then, the WWW had its part in facilitating artistic creation and scientific thinking, giving rise to new industries and overthrowing governments, and many lesser things—or grander things, depending on where you stand on the issues—like the cat video phenomenon. The list of superlatives is too long for this blog.

But how has it changed education?

According to a Pew Internet & American Life survey, How Teachers are Using Technology at Home and In Their Classrooms:

  • 92% of these teachers say the internet has a "major impact" on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for teaching
  • 69% say the internet has a "major impact" on their ability to share ideas with other teachers
  • 67% say the internet has a "major impact" on their ability to interact with parents and
  • 57% say it has had such an impact on enabling their interaction with students

Also by Pew Internet & American Life, How Teens Do Research in the Digital World, reveals that 95% of the teachers in this survey report having students "do research or search for information online," 77% of these teachers say the overall impact is "mostly positive," but find that students do not have good research skills and can become easily distracted.

In the spirit of why the WWW was created, educators and students alike must keep two things in mind: in the global innovation age, part of the formula must be to keep the "world" into the World Wide Web, and also to share new information.

Most young researchers don't know how search engines work, and how they filter and prioritize search results. One way to develop better Internet research skills, including how to search for sources beyond American and English sites. It will open a world of perspectives.

The Internet was created to share information; students should not simply retrieve information. An important factor is not simply to take a research question as is; students should add their own dimension to it: Why should they care? Why should others care? When students generate their own research question, they have deeper ownership of it. They should use web tools to conduct new research. For example, students should use email or video conferencing or other tools to conduct interviews and to learn new facts and perspectives. They can use survey tools to conduct opinion research. And in the original spirit of the WWW, they should share their findings.

How would you, as an educator, challenge your students to meet the real-world vision of the WWW?

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