As the world becomes more and more digital, the Internet has become more ingrained into our culture and its effect on education has begun to be felt. The teaching of classes on the World Wide Web has started in small steps, mainly through the posting of class syllabi on a school's website. The next step will come soon, but what is it?
The transfer of a classroom to the 'Net, is not an appropriate response to these advances. Teaching a class involves a certain amount of interaction between teacher and student and among the students in the classroom that the Internet cannot duplicate successfully. The technology may, one day, be available to create cyber-classrooms, but it is doubtful that a classroom atmosphere could be recreated in cyberspace. Entering a neutral space where students come together to work with a teacher to a common goal of education is not available by watching a computer monitor.
In journalism, working with a professor with an intimate knowledge of journalism is a valuable key to learning how to be a good writer. It is a given, that outside the classroom, the students who struggle to maintain attention in their seats will be distracted while trying to learn at home, destroying the value of the knowledge being taught.
So if not a full transfer from the classroom to the computer, then what? Providing a set of tools and a useful amount of background information for a class may be the correct usage of the 'Net for education. The Internet may be more deeply entwined with journalism than with any other education discipline (other than computer science.) The useful nature of the Internet as a communications and information tool gives it a value to journalism like no other technology.
Yet, the Internet is kept as a separate entity to journalism in many schools. The idea that computer-aided reporting is different from basic reporting to many schools is disturbing when considering the importance of the 'Net to journalism. Why a superior research tool would be left out of a discipline so dependent on knowledge is incomprehensible.
A basic suite of researching tools available on the Internet should be provided in any on-line class website. These should include the main search engines for specified, topic-based queries. These searches are quick and simple and allow for streamlined queries.
More complex searches should be done on meta-engines. These are clearinghouses of search engines where multiple queries can be sent at one time. These are very useful when multiple sources of information are needed or when multiple viewpoints or opinions are wanted. The downside is the amount of information to be waded through. Access to valuable databases should also be made on academic journalism websites to speed info searches. The official nature of this information makes it much more valuable to a reporter.
A question that teachers must ask themselves is how much of the class content should be posted. University classes cost a lot of money to the students in the class, so giving away the class material is not fair to the students who paid, nor economically sound to the university. Yet a decent amount of information that would supplement class meetings would be helpful to students, as well as interesting to potential students. So where is the line drawn?
Providing a good amount of background information for the class topics is a good way to make the class more understandable to students. In addition to background, providing current material that relates to class information can help better ingrain the lessons into the students brain. Multimedia has been shown to be a powerful learning tool and by harnessing this to help a student gain a better understanding of a concept, the technology is used to its best end.
A concept that could also utilize technology to its highest possibility is virtual office hours. Though the professor cannot always be available to answer the questions of students, a bulletin board on the class website gives a chance for the student to post a question to the class to discuss or direct the question to the teacher for a more authoritive answer at a later time.
Viewing the website as another resource for the class, similar to a textbook, is the best way to look at a site as part of the class. The site should be used to support the class sessions and help get information across to the student that was taught in the classroom. Similar to how the cyber-newspaper is most likely just an additional source of news and not a replacement for papers, class websites should be used as part of the class and not as a separate entity.