Learning with the Internet
The Internet, popularly called the information superhighway, is a network of networks connecting computers all over the world. The concept of Internet had a modest beginning in the late sixties when four computers were linked, permitting each of the users to communicate and share resources with the other three. A set of programming instructions, or 'protocol', was developed to break down files into small packets for reliable and manageable transmission. It is called the Internet Protocol (IP). Later, a second protocol, the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) ensured that files split into packets arrived in the receiving computer in the correct sequence. The TCP/IP protocols thus allowed communication between the computers connected in a network. The core of the Internet network consists of computers permanently linked through high-speed connections. When an individual computer gets connected to one of these computers, that is an Internet Service Provider, it can get linked to any of the nearly 50 million computers similarly linked to the Internet anywhere in the world. Once two or more persons establish connection between their computers using the Internet, they can literally talk to each other and even see each other. Information can be sent from one computer to the other and also accessed from any one of the computers permanently linked to the network. In addition to the use of the Internet for mail, called the e-mail, the other distinctive use of the Internet has been the creation of a bank of information contributed by its users.
The World Wide Web
The global club of Internet account holders have built a bank of information by putting their information on any one of the permanently connected computers, called the Web servers. Thus a World Wide Web (www) of information has been generated as a result of voluntary contributions made by millions of individuals and institutions from all over the globe. The www is dynamic. It is being continuously created and constantly upgraded by an innumerable number of contributors.
Files that can be put on the servers of the www are required to be prepared using the Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) . The distinctive feature of the HTML is that it allows placing of hyperlinks in files with text, graphics, animation, audio and video. The hyperlinks make the HTML-files interactive. The HTML-files can be opened using browser software. The most common browsers are the Microsoft Internet Explorer and the Netscape Communicator. The files on the World Wide Web can be opened from any of the computers connected to the Internet using the Web browsers. The Viewers of HTML-files by clicking the left-button of the mouse on the hyperlinks can move to selected locations within the same file and to any of the files in the World Wide Web. This facility enables the user of the Internet to get access to the www, which now has become the world's largest information library.
Information put up on the World Wide Web carries with it the characteristics of its contributors. Therefore, the web of information woven by millions of human brains is immensely rich in colour, design and patterns of ideas. The www is of human interest as information on it is an expression of what its contributors want to share with the rest of the world. Never before in the history of mankind the world has seen such an explosion of information democratically contributed by persons irrespective of their nationality, religion, colour, creed, academic or professional backgrounds.
It is quite likely that what has been described in the preceding paragraphs might appear to someone who has not used the Internet a figment of imagination of human mind. The fact is that it is all true.
The global networking of computers has become possible because of the satellite-based telecommunication technology. As information signals move electronically with the speed of light, which is 300,000 km per second, connections between any two computers in principle can be obtained almost in real-time. Unlike the cost of physical journey, which is proportional to the distance travelled, the cost of journey of information on the Internet is independent of it. The effort involved in connecting two computers inside a room is the same as would be required for connecting them had they been separated by half the circumference of the earth. The world has thus shrunk in both space and time and become a global village. Learning in this global village, therefore, has to undergo a paradigm shift, as the traditional mode of learning, which is around specific information, will be ineffective in coping with the information explosion that is continuously going on.
Education in the Information Age
When the world is entering fast in the information age, the crucial skills required are the information processing skills, the inter-personal skills and the learning to learn, for now each person has to be prepared for living effectively in a learning society. Each person has to be a lifelong learner for it will be necessary to update oneself for coping with the changing nature of occupations. Process of education, therefore, has to be reoriented for developing these skills in each learner. The foci of learning have to shift from the teacher to the learner. When sovereignty of the learner is recognised the role of teacher will be that of a guide to student's learning than of a sage-on-stage in the classroom. Learners will construct their own knowledge instead of acquiring one-time knowledge from their teachers or their textbooks. This type of learning will have to be flexible and modular. The Internet lends itself as an effective instrument for this type of learning as it can be used with ease for accessing the global library of learning resources from the www and as a means to communicate with other fellow learners and experts.
As already mentioned information available on the Internet covers all types of conceivable topics from all subject disciplines at all levels. It may be appreciated that as information in multimedia form can be put on the Web, it can consist of combinations of text, graphics, animation, audio, video and simulations. These files cover every conceivable topic of human interest. Education is an important component of the www as teachers, educators and institutions have put on the Web a variety of learning materials for their students. For example the World Lecture Hall contains links to such pages created by an informal world-wide faculty, who are using the Web for delivering class materials for students. The address of this resource, in Internet parlance called its Uniform Resource Locator (URL), is
On this site links to URLs of a very large number of web-files on almost all subjects and courses taught at secondary and tertiary levels are available. The URL given above is illustrative only. A very large number of many other sites on the Web may contain similar or even better information. In addition to students' learning materials and lesson-plans for teachers, information for researchers are available on the Web, as almost all journals have been put up on the Web in their Internet versions.
Internet is being utilised by schools, colleges and other educational institutions for offering courses in distant mode and as support to their teaching-learning programmes. Smart schools have been opened in several countries of the world . Students of smart schools learn by carrying out projects by accessing relevant information from the World Wide Web, process it for solving problems and provide value addition to it. For enabling this type of learning teachers identify relevant resources from the www, supplement them with their own contributions and prepare navigational maps on the information superhighway for their students. Students are informed of their assignments using the Internet, as their teachers find it more effective to reach out through the Web. Students are expected to return their assignments to their teachers by using e-mail. Thus, in virtual classrooms a paperless learning has become possible both for on-campus and off-campus students. Students are encouraged to communicate with each other using e-mail and are given opportunities for entering into conference using the chat mode and the video conferencing, if Internet connections with sufficient bandwidth for high-speed communication are available to them. Smart schools give smart education based on the concept of autonomy of learners. For availing this type of learning it is necessary to be information technology literate .
As an illustrative example of Internet based courses in India, a brief description has been given of such courses offered by the School of Computer and Information Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). The author's own basic experience in using the Internet for creation of a Web site for the NCERT and setting up on the Web a modest resource on school education in India provide an example of web development as a hobby.
The IGNOU Courses
The School of Computer and Information Sciences, IGNOU, offers Internet based courses concurrently with their traditional distance courses. These courses are Master in Computer Application (MCA), Bachelor in Computer Application (BCA), Certificate in Computing (CIC), Diploma in Computers in Office Management (DCO) and Certificate in Network Oriented Computing (CNOC). Some salient aspects of the CIC course are described next for giving an idea of the Education on the Net programme of the IGNOU.
Of the 20,000 students enrolled in this course about 1000 have opted for the course over the Internet. These students are from Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Allahabad and other cities where the Internet access points have been set up by the IGNOU. Each wired-group student with an individual password can access the online resources of the course from the Home Page of the IGNOU: http://www.ignou.edu
The online resources are periodically updated and in addition the Web is used for posting assignments, interaction with the faculty using e-mail and in the chat mode. For offline learning material is also given on CD-ROMs. The faculty points out links to the sites where resources relevant to their students' course are available. The major limitation of this mode is the low bandwidth access to the Internet, which comes in the way of downloading graphic and video files at a reasonably fast rate. Also, students have to pay in addition to the course fee charges for online access to the Internet. In spite of these limitations these courses have become pointers for spreading the use of Web based interactive teaching and learning in the country.
An Experimental Home Page
In order to get a firsthand experience of preparing files with text, animation, graphics and sound background etc. the author obtained a free site on the geocities-server. A URL was allotted. Initially a space of 2 MB was made available, which subsequently has been enhanced to 11 MB. The URL of the Web site is
On this web site a variety of information has been put up. It contains articles of the author and other information such as a profile of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), data on school education in India from the 6th All India Educational Survey, journals published by the NCERT,a lesson-plan on Newton's Third Law of Motion, announcement of the 1999 International Seminar on Researches in Primary Education and many other types of information.
To a person who has not used the Internet before a likely curiosity will be to know how one locates a file or files of interest. The answer is that search engines make it possible to locate in the www information one is looking for. Many search engines are available on the Internet. A popular search engine is the Altavista. It can be opened by the URL http://www.altavista.com/ If a user is interested in NCERT the natural key word for locating sites on NCERT will be NCERT. The search engine gives as outcome many web sites. One of the sites revealed by the Altavista site search is the Home Page created by the author. The search finding is reproduced in the following:
The purpose of sharing this experience with the readers of this article is to bring out the user-friendliness of the www and its effectiveness in dissemination of information by individuals and organisations. As information on the Internet is uncensored its quality has to be decided by its users. Information of both high quality and extremely poor quality may get revealed side-by-side by search engines. It is in this context that the ability to discriminate between good information from bad information becomes crucial in using the Internet. There are many other subtle features of the Internet. It has not been possible to describe them in this article as they can be learnt from many good sites on the Internet. Implications of the Internet for education in India is taken up next.
Recognising that Information Technology will be a frontier area of knowledge in the 21st Century and a critical enabling tool for assimilating, processing and for providing value addition to all spheres of knowledge, the Government has provided for a national campaign appropriately called the 'OPERATION KNOWLEDGE'. This is an important component of the Information Technology Action Plan. Among many special schemes that are being worked out under this campaign, three schemes - Vidyarthi Computer Scheme, Shikshak Computer Scheme and School Computer Scheme will enable every student, teacher or school to take advantage of attractive financial packages for buying computers. Computers and the Internet are planned to be made available in every school, polytechnic, college and university. All universities, engineering colleges, medical colleges and other institutions of higher learning in the country as well as Research and Development Organisations are expected to be networked for improving the quality of education. The networking of the institutions would also strengthen the programmes of distance education and thus the reach of educational opportunities will get extended to learners of all ages.
It is possible that this article has left out many interesting questions unanswered and what has been given might at best be partial answers. The scope of this article was limited to providing to readers an elementary introduction to the Internet and a glimpse of its use for education. Many exciting possibilities of using Internet for education in schools and colleges in India are now on the anvil. Whether the monolithic educational structure will be able to restructure itself for taking advantage of the new learning tools, only time will tell.
The author is thankful to Professor M.M.Pant and Ms. Namita for giving an online presentation of the Education on the Net courses of the IGNOU. He is thankful to Professor Utpal Mallik of the NCERT for his constant interest and wholehearted support to the author in exploring use of information technology in general and the Internet for education in particular.
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