One-Stop Web Shops for Educators Build Coherence Out of Confusion
Educators who use the Internet in their schools often say they long for a single index to all the Web resources they need, that ultimate “one-stop shop” of high-quality online materials that are free, organized by grade level and curriculum area, and aligned with state academic standards.
Many Web sites are attempting to fill that role, or some large part of it, but they rarely offer educators what they need. Indeed, some sites get no further than providing endless lists of Web links, with the coherence of a pile of pick- up sticks.
Two promising attempts to bring focus and quality to online resources for educators are NetDay-Compass and the Knowledge Loom.
NetDayCompass.org was launched last month by NetDay Inc., the nonprofit group known for spearheading the wiring of classrooms around the country for access to the Internet. Now, NetDay is refocusing its mission to include what happens after the wiring is in place.
Most notably, that involves the organization’s “digital divide” initiative to bring high-quality technology programs to school districts in poor communities. A $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education is financing the effort. (“NetDay Switching Its Emphasis to Needs of Poorest Communities,” April 26, 2000.)
The Web site was inspired by that initiative, said Julie Evans, the chief executive officer of NetDay, based in Irvine, Calif.
“Our project directors encountered a host of questions about online resources,” she said. “There is a lot of information online, but as far as having access to it in systemic ways, that’s more tantalizing.”
In the not-too-distant past, she said, district technology administrators would ask where to string wires through a wall. “Now,” she said, “they ask, ‘Where do I find the resources to make an impact on district decisions about technology?’ ”
Beyond that, Ms. Evans said, school administrators and technology planners needed a resource that opens their eyes to how other districts have solved practical problems.
Launched in October, the free, privately financed site lists more than 400 Web sites that are categorized under the headings of best practices and real stories; planning; infrastructure; grants and funding; and classroom support.
The sites have been identified and selected by an in-house researcher, aided by recommendations from NetDayCompass.org visitors, who are mostly from districts participating in NetDay’s digital-divide initiative.
The real stories—of how educators have applied technology ideas in their schools—are important to the mix of resources, Ms. Evans said. “People needed more than information—they needed models that they could emulate,” she said.
They also wanted other educators’ opinions of those models. That’s why the site has a “rate a resource” feature, in which users review and comment on resources they have tried—an idea lifted from Amazon.com‘s online book reviews. “It’s a lot more meaningful for a principal to know that another principal has made a comment” about a resource, Ms. Evans said.
Weaving Coherence: The Knowledge Loom is another Web site that aims to give online resources to school administrators, technology planners, and teachers. Weaving Coherence: The Knowledge Loom is another Web site that aims to give online resources to school administrators, technology planners, and teachers.
The site is produced by the Northeast & Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University, under a grant from the Education Department. Knowledgeloom.org was founded to highlight “the best of the best” on the Web, said Cathy Lalli, the Knowledge Loom’s content manager. Partner organizations, such as the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse and the Appalachian Regional Educational Lab, provide educational and technology materials they’ve collected or developed. The Knowledge Loom staff edits and supplements those items and organizes them into topical areas.
Professional development was the first topical area, launched in February. The site has since added the topics of middle school math; technology leadership; early literacy from a national perspective; and early literacy in the Northeast.
Next month, the site will add a section on “school, family, and community,” to be followed by one on “cultural relevance in teaching.”
Topics are influenced by the priorities of the Education Department, Ms. Lalli said.
The presentation of each topic varies. The middle school mathematics section, for example, addresses the subtopics of integrating technology into math instruction, effective professional development, inquiry and problem-solving , and “assessment that informs practice.”
Each subtopic has common elements: an overview; a section addressing policy, “success stories"; research; and resources.
Like NetDayCompass, the Knowledge Loom uses “success stories” to help educators translate ideas into practice. With a few computer clicks on the middle school math section, for example, teachers can find a dice game that can be used to develop students’ prediction strategies. It is accompanied by a first-person account from a 7th grade teacher in Massachusetts who tells how she used the dice game to teach math concepts.
Ms. Lalli said such “success stories” are not a substitute for empirical research, which the site also offers when available, but they do help show the way to educators when research is lacking.
“People needed more than information; they needed models that they could emulate,” Ms. Lalli said. For example, the “what’s working” section has a 4th grade teacher’s account of how her class used teleconferencing technology to write a state-history report in cooperation with a class from a different school. For school administrators and technology planners, this section offers an array of actual school technology plans to review.
At this point, the ultimate one-stop shop for education information still remains an elusive ideal. And it’s unlikely that anyone will ever design a truly perfect site. But the Knowledge Loom and NetDayCompass are helping make the search for information a little easier than sifting through a pile of pick-up sticks.
A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2000 edition of Education Week as Technology Update