In 1975, if you wanted to know the population of Papua New Guinea, you'd probably go to the library. You'd walk, drive or take a bus. Once there, you'd ask the librarian where to find the encyclopedias, pull out the "P" volume, locate "Papua New Guinea," and read through the entry until you came to the number you were after. An hour's endeavor, give or take.
In 2012, you type "Population Papua New Guinea" into a search field and discover that, according to the World Bank, the country has a population of 6,858,266 people as of 2010, and that the population has more than tripled since 1960. All of that in 0.19 seconds.
The sheer volume of information available on the Internet is staggering, and the speed at which it can be accessed is even more so. Internet in the classroom puts the entire world at kids' fingertips, allowing unprecedented exposure to world cultures, geography, history, news and images. What once could be learned only through class trips and exchange programs is suddenly a matter of choosing the most effective search terms, and typing.
That breadth and speed can change the classroom experience. Internet access facilitates what has come to be called the "teachable moment," referring to a specific, time-sensitive issue -- a current event, or even a comment made in the classroom -- that opens the door to a timely lesson that would, most likely, not come up in any other way. Once, this type of moment might pass unexplored, or spark a brief discussion. In the Internet age, however, teachers can take full advantage of a teachable moment by finding images, news stories, local interviews, graphs, statistics, videos, music and every other imaginable piece of media or experience related to the topic at hand in a matter of minutes.
It's tough to argue that Internet access doesn't benefit kids' education. Beyond the plethora of information it delivers, it provides opportunities for kids -- especially those who don't have Internet at home -- to develop Web skills they'll undoubtedly need in life. The wealth of teacher resources on countless education Web sites helps teachers build better lesson plans, including related media that hold their students' attention and expand their minds.
It can, however, be argued that classroom Internet access may bring some brand-new complications into a once rather structured, and even insulated, world ...