Infrastructure

Education Department Extends Its Reach on the Internet

February 24, 1999 3 min read

For the past decade, the Department of Education has been expanding its presence on the Internet with the goal of helping teachers broaden their students’ horizons.

Today, more than 13,000 educators worldwide receive frequent e-mail updates on grants programs, trends, and projects. Thousands more computer-users retrieve lesson plans and classroom-activity tips from various parts of www.ed.gov, the department’s World Wide Web site.

Now other federal agencies are getting into the business of educating educators via the Internet. The Environmental Protection Agency offers lesson plans on acid rain; the Department of Justice provides model lessons on computer-crime prevention.

The National Archives and Records Administration offers guidance on using archival materials in the classroom. Even the Central Intelligence Agency is involved: It shares its intelligence about foreign languages with a Web site featuring foreign-language newspapers and other instruction aids.

“Internet-based customer service is something that’s evolved,” said Kirk B. Winters, a policy analyst at the Education Department and a co-chairman of a working group of 40 federal agencies that develop and support educational Internet sites. “Before this administration, the departments weren’t using the Internet as much. It’s been like night and day.”

Focus on Access

The Clinton administration’s efforts have coincided with the enormous expansion of the Internet, and the White House has strongly promoted the global computer network’s educational potential.

In April 1997, President Clinton asked federal agencies to determine what “resources you can make available that would enrich the Internet as a tool for teaching and learning.”

In response, Mr. Winters said in an interview, the working group was formed, and now hundreds of federally supported education resources available on the Web. About 400 individual sites are also accessible from one section of the Education Department site called Federal Resources for Educational Excellence, or FREE, at www.ed.gov/free. The FREE Web page averages 5 million page-visits a month, according to the department.

Mr. Winters credited the administration with focusing on improving technology in education through access, high-quality content, training and support for teachers, and modern equipment. “President Clinton really pounded the pulpit for the four pillars of technology,” Mr. Winters said.

The Education Department itself began focusing on the Internet in the early 1990s, when it contracted with an Internet provider that linked the department with its regional offices. Today, the department also maintains an e-mail list that has subscribers as far away as Japan and New Zealand.

Catherine Cardina, an assistant professor in the health-science department of the State University of New York College at Brockport, has pointed elementary and secondary school health educators to such FREE links as that of the Educational Resources Information Center. ERIC offers a database of education literature.

“The feds have model sites that they are continually revising,” she said.

Alcione Ostorga, a parent-educator at the Cypress Hills Community School in New York City, is a fan of the Education Department’s ed.gov site. “I especially use the section on grants for school programs and information for parents and teachers.”

“However, I also think the information on the president’s priorities is vital,” added Ms. Ostorga, one of the founders of the 72-student K-4 charter school in Brooklyn. “It gives me a glance on issues that will be coming up in the near future or the moving forces behind the present issues.”

Faster Service

With its FREE links, the Web service is an improvement on the old days when the general public had to send off for documents and publications from a federal warehouse in Pueblo, Colo.

“You would have to wait six to eight weeks for it to arrive. Now we’re striving to make sure reports are available on people’s desktops right there through their computers,” Mr. Winters said.

He said the Education Department is working on technical fixes to make sure that the Web links are more up to date and easier to maintain.

“Technology is an amplifier,” Mr. Winters said. “It amplifies whether something is good or needs improvement. It is not an option to not communicate efficiently and work well with people.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 24, 1999 edition of Education Week as Education Department Extends Its Reach on the Internet

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