How the Internet Shaped the Education Field
There was a time when children walked to the local one-room schoolhouse, sat in front of a teacher for hours on end and turned in work on writing boards or paper. As times changed, different technological advances entered the classroom.
First, there were scannable tests, then there were computers and today there are online schools from kindergarten all the way through graduate school. Virtual schools exist in almost every state these days, many operating as charter schools or hybrids —part online, part in person. When it comes to higher education, there is a 150 percent increase in the number of students choosing distance learning for at least part of their course of study.
Even for schools that aren’t 100 percent online, there are some advantages to using the internet in education.
1. Access to Simulations
Not every school has the budget for things like baby pigs and frogs for dissection purposes. Enter online simulators — now, students can participate in an online dissection. While not exactly the same as an in-person one, it does still teach what body parts are located where and what they look like.
Biology isn’t the only place education has benefited from online sims, either. An architectural student can study three-dimensional buildings, an artist can create models — there are any number of other possibilities.
2. Videos From Experts
The internet is filled with videos. Now, teachers aren’t just limited to what they can purchase on DVD, but they can also show videos from National Geographic, YouTube, MIT and the world’s top scholars. On top of that, they can play videos from experts in just about any subject imaginable.
Smartboards have expanded how teachers can use the internet. Installing one of these boards in a classroom allows teachers to pull up videos, documents, images and interactive features that students would otherwise miss out on.
3. Reach Students on Their Level
There is no denying that today’s younger generation is technology-oriented. The average child gets his first cellphone at 10 years of age and may juggle a phone, television and tablet all at the same time. Because students relate so well to technology, the internet allows teachers to reach students through platforms they understand.
For example, many classrooms now place tablets or notepads into the hands of every student. These may also take these devices home, allowing for learning on the student’s own time. This can be a particular benefit in low-income neighborhoods, where students otherwise might not have access to a computer.
4. Parents Stay Informed of Grades
Another way the internet has shaped education is by keeping parents more informed. Thirty years ago, a student failed his math test and a note was sent home to the parent. Parents didn’t always get these notes or pay attention to what they were signing.
With the internet, gradebooks are kept online and parents of students in grade K-12 can log on and check grades on each assignment, tests and even behavioral reports. This allows parents to take a more interactive role should they wish.
It’s a bit trickier with higher education, as the student will have to offer permission for the parent to check grades. At a minimum, though, students know almost immediately how they did on a test or assignment and can track their GPA over time.
5. Expert Speakers
There is a reason the global e-learning market is an estimated $107 billion. Students see the advantage of learning online, such as studying in a familiar environment, and doing the work on their own time around jobs and other commitments.
Another advantage of e-learning is the ability to get expert speakers on nearly any topic. With the ability to use VoIP through services such as Skype, teachers now have access to top-notch speakers from all over the globe. This is an advantage for classrooms of any level.
For example, if a high school English teacher is going over “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in class, she can patch in the premiere Shakespeare expert from the local community college to add his input on this and other works.
6. Overcoming Communication Gaps
The internet is another way for teachers to communicate with students and parents. Instead of worrying about a lost assignment sheet, teachers can upload copies to a website page, along with notes and updates for students and parents.
Have an upcoming field trip and need volunteers? As a teacher, you can post a signup sheet right on Google Documents and see at a glance who is signed up and how many more volunteers you need.
Many K-12 websites have an announcement area and then offer pages for each teacher to utilize as she sees fit. This can help get the word out about upcoming assignments, offer additional information to help parents and allow students and parents a chance to get to know teachers better.
Predictions for the Future
When you look back at how drastically the internet has changed education in the last 20 years or so, it isn’t hard to see that the trend for distance education will likely continue upward. The growth of online distance learning enrollment has seen a steady increase for more than 13 years, with a 3.9 percent growth in 2015.
This type of growth will likely continue in both K-12 and post-secondary education, as faster internet comes to more areas and schools seek to reduce overall costs. It is much cheaper to school students at home, at least part of the time, than to transport them back and forth
For higher education, distance education affords the opportunity to accept more students than a traditional classroom can hold and attract those who otherwise might not stay on campus. The growth of e-learning is a trend that is almost certain to continue in the coming years, especially as education systems become more and more defined and efficient.