K–12 encounters the Internet
First Monday

K-12 encounters the Internet by Paul DiPerna



Contents

Introduction
K–12 and the Internet
K–12 Focus Group
Conclusion

 


 

Introduction

In January 2002, The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, or NCLB; see http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/index.html) suddenly instituted new demands on parents, schools, educators, districts, and state policymakers in the United States. This law places an especially high premium on detailed information relating to standards, accountability, regulatory compliance, testing, and achievement. The new education law, broadly conceived as a federal accountability system emphasizing academic performance, adds a strict requirement for better understanding the academic inputs and outputs of students, teachers, schools, school districts, and states. There are highly noticeable effects such as rewards and punishments of schools and districts by means of publicity or funding allocation. But there are also more subtle effects such as shifting budgeting and finance scenarios for states and districts, the movement of students or teachers, the quality of data collection, management, and reporting systems, and installation of district technology infrastructure [1]. Because of the new political, economic, and social dynamics in the K–12 universe (K–12), there is increased need for more accessible information and efficient communications [2].

The exchange of information among the key K–12 decisionmakers — parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and elected school officials — is a huge challenge today. Quality information and communications are becoming more valuable as options increase for parents and accountability increases for teachers, schools, districts, and states. The Internet gives people access to nearly infinite content and information, but with all the additional information and choices, there are more decisions to make for Web browsers and users. Logistical help is needed for reaching people who can be reference points and explanation givers. Being Internet savvy alone will not suffice. The convergence of NCLB realities with the Internet’s ever expanding capabilities offers a window of opportunity to build a social network website service that is suited for K–12. In this working paper, I address three questions:

  1. How is K–12 information presented on the Internet?
  2. What are the informational needs in K–12?
  3. How might a social network Web site be useful to K–12?

 

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K–12 and the Internet

What is out there?

K–12 Web sites are mostly static, assumption–driven information delivery systems. These sites often provide only one direction for communications and primarily focus on outputs. Basically, they have a supply orientation. In March 2005, Google searches on the terms “education” and “k–12” produced what are the 25 most popular K–12 Web sites — popularity as defined by Google [3].

The two Google searches list a variety of K–12 sites (see Tables 1 and 2). Many were developed to support a prior existing organization. For example, long–standing organizations like the U.S. Department of Education, National Education Association, NASA, Education Week, and various state departments of education all have their own sites. Others are start–ups such as Awesome Library, Education World, K12, and Education Index.

 

Table 1: Google search on “k–12”, March 2005 — Top 25 Web sites
Notes: A “Hybrid” site serves any purpose and functional combinations that include access to links, content, or commercial products.
An asterisk (*) indicates the site appeared more than once in the Top 25.
Name
Address
Basic Function
General Purpose
Awesome Library http://www.awesomelibrary.org Directory Web site link provider
k12 http://www.k12.com Storefront Commercial product provider
NASA Quest http://quest.arc.nasa.gov Magazine Free content provider
ProQuest K–12* http://www.proquestk12.com Storefront Commercial product provider
K–12 Resources For Music Educators http://www.isd77.k12.mn.us/resources/staffpages/shirk/k12.music.html Directory Web site link provider
History/Social Studies Web site for K–12 Teachers

http://my.execpc.com/~dboals/boals.html

Directory Web site link provider
Busy Teachers’ Web site http://www.ceismc.gatech.edu/busyt Directory Web site link provider
Eisenhower National Clearinghouse (ENC) http://www.enc.org Magazine Free content provider
Yahoo! Education Directory http://dir.yahoo.com/Education/K_12 Directory Web site link provider
K–12Jobs.com http://www.k12jobs.com Storefront Career resource center
Mathematics Archives — K–12 Internet Sites http://archives.math.utk.edu/k12.html Directory Web site link provider
EduHound.com http://www.eduhound.com Directory Web site link provider
SCORE CyberGuides http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/cyberguide.html Directory Free content provider
American School Directory http://www.asd.com Directory Subscription content provider
Virginia Department of Education http://www.pen.k12.va.us Magazine Free content provider
Washington Department of Education http://www.k12.wa.us Magazine Free content provider
Georgia Department of Education http://www.doe.k12.ga.us Magazine Free content provider
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Career Information http://www.bls.gov/k12 Magazine Free content provider
Tenet Web: The Texas Education Network http://www.tenet.edu Directory Web site link provider
University of Pennsylvania — African Studies Center http://www.africa.upenn.edu/K-12/AFR_GIDE.html Directory Web site link provider
SchoolGrants http://www.schoolgrants.org Storefront/Directory Hybrid
A Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Instruments http://www.s-hamilton.k12.ia.us/antiqua/instrumt.html Storefront Free content provider
California Learning Resource Network http://www.clrn.org/home Storefront/Directory Hybrid
K–12 Science Education Resources http://www.eskimo.com/~billb/edu.html Directory Web site link provider
Utah State Office of Education http://www.usoe.k12.ut.us Magazine Free content provider

 

 

Table 2: Google search on “education”, March 2005 — Top 25 Web sites
Note: A “Hybrid” site serves any purpose and functional combinations that include access to links, content, or commercial products.
Name
Address
Basic Function
General Purpose
Education World http://www.education-world.com Magazine Free content provider
U.S. Department of Education http://www.ed.gov/index.jhtml Storefront/Directory Hybrid
EDUCATION Index http://www.educationindex.com Directory Web site link provider
Education Week http://www.edweek.org/ew/index.html Magazine/Directory Hybrid
National Education Association http://www.nea.org/index.html Magazine/Directory Hybrid
Education Place http://www.eduplace.com Storefront Commercial product provider
Family Education http://www.familyeducation.com/home Magazine/Directory Free content provider
Education Planet http://www.educationplanet.com Storefront Commercial product provider
Yahoo! Education Directory http://dir.yahoo.com/Education Directory Web site link provider
Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com Magazine Subscription content provider
Peterson’s http://www.petersons.com Storefront Commercial product provider
Department for Education and Skills [U.K.] http://www.dfes.gov.uk Storefront/Directory Free content provider
Ask Eric Service [dead link] www.askeric.org NA NA
EnviroLink Network http://www.envirolink.org Magazine/Directory Hybrid
Texas State Education Agency http://www.tea.state.tx.us Storefront/Directory Hybrid
K–8 Kids’ Place http://www.eduplace.com/kids Storefront Hybrid
BBC Learning http://www.bbc.co.uk/learning Storefront Hybrid
ivillage — Pregnancy and Parenting http://parenting.ivillage.com Magazine/Directory Free content provider
International Society for Technology in Education http://www.iste.org Magazine Free content provider
California Department of Education http://www.cde.ca.gov Storefront/Directory Hybrid
Gateway to Educational Materials http://www.thegateway.org Magazine/Directory Hybrid
CNN.com — Education http://www.cnn.com/EDUCATION Magazine Free content provider
ProQuest K–12 http://www.proquestk12.com Storefront Commercial product provider
NASA Education http://education.nasa.gov/home/index.html Storefront Free content provider
National Association for the Education of Young Children http://www.naeyc.org Magazine Free content provider

 

In terms of function, the most popular sites act like a magazine providing content (e.g., Education World), storefront offering products (e.g., Pro Quest), or directory providing links (e.g., Yahoo! Education Directory). Common among media outlets, government bodies, and non–profits, “hybrid” sites combine two or three of these functions (e.g., Education Week, U.S. Department of Education). The magazine, storefront, and directory functions are largely supply–oriented, relying heavily on assumptions about the user.

A search tool is a common feature that supplements magazine, storefront, directory, or hybrid Web sites. A search utility asks for user input. Depending on the tool’s sophistication, it can provide things like school report cards, databases, articles, reports, and hyperlinks. SchoolMatters.com, Just for the Kids, GreatSchools.net, the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core and Nation’s Report Card, and many of the state departments of education have searchable sites offering plenty of useful education data [4]. It is still clear however, the main purpose for these sites is to directly provide information and content, not satisfy situation–specific needs or services.

Limitations of Supply–oriented K–12 Web sites

The following example is an attempt to demonstrate the problematic learning curves of supply–oriented sites. When it comes to organization, language, and functions, K–12 sites are cumbersome for the average adult Internet user. They make broad assumptions about the user’s purpose, interests, and his or her navigational skills and instincts. This characteristic is a severe limitation. The user has limited amount of time and energy. Even with sites like School Matters and Just for the Kids, it takes substantial time to learn how best to use them. Consequently, the current generation of K–12 sites unintentionally build barriers to access.

A parent’s perspective will be used here. A mother named Ruby has a fourth grade son who has Attention–Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He is having difficulty in his math class. Ruby wants to learn what activities can help her son.

Approach #1: Ruby uses a search engine like Google or Yahoo!, on any combination of the following terms: ADHD, fourth grade, math exercises. What are some challenges with this approach? One is time. This time–pressed mom has to sift through at least one or two search results pages just to see which links might be most relevant. When Ruby believes some sites to be germane and reliable, it will also be worth her time to compare sites with one another based on the quality of the displayed information. This process can take at least 10–15 minutes upwards to hours. Google and Yahoo! may offer wonderful and extremely powerful search technologies, but they do not address a second difficulty which is Ruby’s limited knowledge of ADHD. Her knowledge base affects how she judges these sites. Search engines give limited context and insight for the choices they list, and they offer little help for when it comes time for Ruby to make selections. Their search precision power decreases as the specificity or complexity of questions increase. Unless individuals have a great deal of time on their hands, or they have very simple or general questions, a search engine approach is often not very effective.

Approach #2: Ruby goes to a well–known comprehensive education site provided by the U.S. Department of Education (at www.ed.gov). This site is elaborate and highly organized, offering loads of useful information through publications and database search tools. Like so many K–12 sites today, however, it can puzzle a novice user. After starting with more than twenty link choices on the home page, Ruby narrows her options down to four: (1) a specific portal for parents to enter; (2) Quick Click to “Math”; (3) a search tool; and, (4) a research and statistics center link. Option 1 leads to six more choices, with three seemingly viable sources for information: (a) “Parents’ Guide”; (b) “More Options for Parents”; and, (c) “Publications for Parents”. Ruby goes to the Parent’s Guide, a single PDF document, and it is limited in scope by only relating to the new NCLB law. No help for Ruby’s question — she has dug a dry well. Ruby goes back to Option b — called More Options for Parents — and she views all the resources it offers, giving her more than 15 choices for further browsing. Nothing is targeted about this approach, and it is easy to get frustrated. The number of choices generated and multiple rounds of decisions become staggering. Today’s K–12 sites frequently cause some hair–pulling for those researching specific situations.

Approach #3: Ruby tries the Education Week’s site (at http://www.edweek.com) as a possible secondary source for information. Serving as a weekly print medium and as an Internet medium, Education Week is widely regarded as the leading comprehensive news source for K–12 education. When Ruby gets to the Ed Week home page, she is presented more than 40 link choices. This does not include any of the advertisements or solicitations. Some links have brief explanations, such as for news stories, while others have none. At a minimum, there are more than ten very broad categories or links. Ruby goes to “Special Education” under the “News” heading. This leads to eight story links about special education. One happens to be related to ADHD. This story is a human interest one and is intriguing, but not at all related to Ruby’s parental needs, and specifically addressing her son’s math problems. Another dry well. Using the article search tool, she finds some other resources, but a new process of trial and error will begin again. How long will it be before the Ed Week Web site specifically gives precise information for Ruby’s situation? Like most sites, content is updated daily, but searching for the content specific to this mother’s question will continue to be a low probability game.

Approach #4: Ruby heads to a general ADHD Web site, called SchwabLearning.org (at http://www.schwablearning.org), which she discovered previously on Google. With little context information about this site, she has to make assumptions about the site’s credibility and completeness. Ruby clicks on a tab/section called “Resources”, and she is presented a smattering of information and links. The quantity of available information is impressive, and the intentions behind this site are obviously sincere and noble. Even though plentiful content is a necessary condition for a highly effective site, it is not sufficient by itself. Web site functionality (from the user’s perspective) should be treated with as much regard as the availability of content. The haphazard display of so many supply–oriented sites deter further action because they are confusing and take too much time to figure out. Adults are strategic with their time and energy. How to get where you want to go should be obvious on a site, and it should take no more than a few clicks to get desired information.

These are anecdotal experiences, but considered together they suggest calls for simplicity, precision, timing, context, and insight. Even while using the most powerful site–based search tools and search engines today, there are still huge efficiency problems for getting people their situational information when they need it.

Perspectives, timing, situational questions, and the value of sharing human experience

Despite many of the recent innovations on the Internet, two critical questions are not adequately addressed by today’s K–12 sites — what is the perspective of the user? What is the experience of the user? K–12 sites make assumptions about what their users would like to know. This places a large burden on the user to locate his or her desired information through a series of trials and errors.

First of all, a major problem for even the most experienced researcher is time. K–12 sites tend to display as much information on as few pages as possible with little regard for best functionality or user time constraints. This clutter of information contributes to additional searching and increased time costs. As a result, time can be a critical barrier and even deterrent for getting online information. There is a lot of useful K–12 information on the Internet, but the average user needs help with locating, judging credibility, accuracy, and completeness, and ultimately understanding that information.

Secondly, as people get more involved and invested in a situation, they have more complex questions. Automated telephone customer service is a useful analogy. Say a person would like to ask a situational question for using her frequent flyer miles on a particular airline. She wants to see what is possible for a number of different cities at various times of the year. This is a large question domain that begins with “frequent flyer miles”, and it is likely to have lots of twists and turns in a phone dialogue. When initially making telephone contact with the airline, the customer is offered a number of options, many times without the chance of speaking to a human. The options are usually broad–sweeping and unlikely to lead to the specific answers needed. After selecting a number for the first round, another round of options are presented. This merry–go–round can go for three or four rounds before the option of actually speaking to a customer service agent. Many individuals have felt this frustration before, and some may actually hang up before getting full answers. K–12 site users are likely to have similar experiences online. One key difference is that a site does not usually have an obvious contact to offer good guidance for a particular situation.

Do people often have multi–layered situational questions? This is a critical consideration for providing a service. Situational questions are common in life. There is value for sharing human experience and knowledge, especially among those who are loosely acquainted but have met some threshold for trust. Informal information exchanges are important when it comes to people’s personal and professional lives. Networking with casual contacts is an effective way to gather new and varied information in a relatively quick manner. An Internet site that empowers social networking and possesses a core competence in K–12 matters could be useful in this way. Such a site would serve as an intermediary, providing useful contacts to satisfy people’s needs for timely, relevant sources of information [5].

What is a social networking Web site?

A social networking Web site (SNW) provides a model for creating a demand–oriented service that allows the user to effectively search for people who share mutual interests, or who may have valuable information, experience, or insight. They have the capacity to develop limitless online social exchanges. SNWs bring efficiency to social interactions, and as a result, they have created countless online communities in the last decade [6].

SNWs have various kinds of search, communications, and transactional functions, but the basic idea is that these sites bring two or more people together in a convenient manner. A person can look for others by targeting online profiles either through mutual contacts (“friends”) or customized search parameters. These are methods of networking and matching. Another method is customizing a search on one or more preference categories, specifying what is desired within a given category. Depending on the level of detail, a person can search for others based on one category (e.g., zip code) or multiple categories (e.g., gender, favorite sports, favorite movies, likes to cook, etc.). SNW networking, matching, and searching utilities have improved and become more powerful over the years while still remaining relatively simple. As a result, SNWs construct online communities very quickly [7].

The SNW has two important roles affecting user behavior within its online community. First, a SNW functionally serves as an intermediary, providing users as contacts, content as specialized information, and reputation/accountability systems to aid value judgments. In this role, the site points a user toward timely and relevant sources for information and other goods. Secondly, the SNW structurally creates free markets of human intermediaries — revealing those users whose experiences and judgments may lead to important sources for information (online or offline) and other goods. A successful SNW taps into a previously underserved supply and demand market, and as a result, mediates frequent social exchanges within the online community [8].

How could social networking serve Ruby?

How could a social networking Web site serve Ruby? It should be pretty straightforward and intuitive. Ruby clicks on a K–12 SNW with its standard preference matching service, and she is exposed to a community of engaged adults. Ruby customizes her parameters on the search tool, and she finds others who are knowledgeable of ADHD issues — those who have ADHD children, teach ADHD children, and do ADHD research. If she desires, Ruby can be very specific and customize for her son’s age and math issue, but that may not be necessary. After she gets her search results and judiciously glances over the online profiles of SNW members, Ruby sends a few people very brief e–mail messages asking for help (created, sent, and stored all on this site). It is likely she will get some response within a couple days. The time to do this can take as little as ten minutes, much swifter and more straightforward than other approaches, and the results are likely to be much more precise and on target for answers. At the least, Ruby should hear about other experiences similar to her own with the possibility of building one or more informal contacts. A friendship or professional relationship may build, and as Ruby gets more comfortable with the correspondence, she may begin to use her regular e–mail address rather than the SNW’s third party e–mail system.

In July 2004, I conducted an Internet–based survey asking about themes and ideas important to indivudals who are actively involved in K–12 matters. I present the survey’s main findings in the next section.

 

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K–12 Focus Group

The original purpose of the 2004 online survey was to gather information on how best to craft an interactive Web site that might provide users with K–12–related contacts or references of mutual interest [9]. The survey sample was not random and should not be considered representative of any defined population. This was a focus group effort — not a scientific survey. There were 158 questionnaire respondents. From the outset I tried to classify the perspective (or multiple perspectives) of each respondent. Seven “perspective groups” emerged. Perspective groups are not mutually exclusive — a focus group respondent was permitted to indicate as having more than one perspective on K–12 education matters (e.g., some researchers were also teachers and parents) — so summing the percentages of the groups do not total 100 percent. Due to constraints of the questionnaire construction, interactions of perspectives can not be analyzed.

The focus group was fairly diverse in life experience (see Table 3). More than 40 parents and 50 researchers answered the questionnaire, representing the two largest perspective groups. Nearly a third of the sample indicated experience as a parent; a third also indicated experience as an academic researcher; 22 percent as a journalist; 18 percent have taught; 14 percent have worked in government as policymakers; 11 percent as administrators; and, 5 percent as grantmakers for a philanthropic organizations.

 

Table 3: Snapshot of K–12 Focus Group — by perspective group
Note: N=158.
Perspective Group
Percent of sample
Parent
(n=46)
29
Teacher
(n=29)
18
Administrator
(n=17)
11
Policymaker
(n=22)
14
Researcher
(n=54)
34
Journalist
(n=35)
22
Grantmaker
(n=8)
5

 

It was important to see what perspective groups were considered most desirable as resources for information (see Table 4). No surprise that people wanted to correspond with other members within their own perspective group, their peers, at least 45 percent for each perspective. Represented by the shaded green cells, researchers and policymakers stood out as being very attractive to all perspective groups. Apparently the people in this sample wanted access to expert knowledge and the public’s decision makers.

 

Table 4: K–12 contacts or references — ranked across by most desirable perspective group
arrow
Parent 63%
Researcher
59%
Policymaker
50%
Teacher
50%
Administrator
46%
Parent
39%
Grantmaker
22%
Journalist
Teacher 72%
Researcher
69%
Teacher
59%
Policymaker
52%
Administrator
45%
Parent
38%
Grantmaker
14%
Journalist
Administrator 76%
Researcher
76%
Policymaker
53%
Grantmaker
47%
Administrator
42%
Parent
42%
Teacher
35%
Journalist
Policymaker 82%
Policymaker
77%
Researcher
59%
Journalist
59%
Grantmaker
55%
Teacher
50%
Administrator
45%
Parent
Researcher 76%
Researcher
72%
Policymaker
50%
Administrator
46%
Teacher
46%
Journalist
43%
Grantmaker
33%
Parent
Journalist 54%
Researcher
54%
Policymaker
51%
Teacher
49%
Parent
49%
Administrator
46%
Journalist
31%
Grantmaker
Grantmaker 88%
Researcher
88%
Policymaker
63%
Journalist
63%
Grantmaker
50%
Teacher
50%
Administrator
38%
Parent

 

Unfortunately there are obstacles to accessing experts and policymakers — high demand and low supply erect barriers for communication. Large bureaucracies impede information channels. The traditional means of communication — postal mail, telephone, fax, and even e–mail — are often times not effective, and tend to be labor– and time–intensive. Experts and policymakers have very low incentives to respond to requests from unknown individuals. These intimidating barriers can eventually deter the efforts of ordinary parents or teachers.

Finally, the last multiple choice item in the survey provides a clue for the potential in an information sharing service (see Table 5). Overwhelmingly respondents (with the exception of journalists) would like to use a system of matching up Web site users by their online interests and preferences as a desirable way to contact people regarding their K–12 questions. This kind of social networking technology is an integral part of most SNWs.

 

Table 5: Web site features described as “appealing” or “very appealing” — by perspective group (percent)
  Preference matching Webmail Discussion board Chat room Instant messaging
Parent 68% 50% 34% 5% 8%
Teacher 72% 52% 36% 12% 12%
Administrator 47% 29% 29% 7% 14%
Policymaker 67% 39% 22% 11% 17%
Researcher 68% 36% 26% 4% 4%
Journalist 43% 43% 48% 4% 9%
Grantmaker 57% 43% 29% 0 0

 

The survey’s findings suggest three general informational needs among K–12 perspective groups. First, the green shaded cells in Table 4 illustrate a demand for expert or specialized knowledge. People desire lines of communication with researchers and school officials. Ranging from parents to researchers, people want to have fairly conclusive evidence to support their decisions. Such expert access may help determine what class difficulty level is appropriate for a son or daughter, or maybe choosing the best research design to start a new project. A second need appears to be peer support. This seems most apparent among teachers, but other groups also expressed at least 45 percent or greater interest in connecting to others within their perspective groups. A third need is an efficient means to obtain valuable information. Simplicity is important. The overwhelming support for a social networking Web site tool is an indicator — the first column in Table 5. As stated earlier, time is a major cost to adults. Not only must information be relevant to the given situation, but it should be fairly easy and quick to get.

On the Internet, existing K–12 Web sites tend to assume people’s needs, rather than allowing them to develop and communicate their own priorities. Supply–oriented sites are the norm in K–12, and unique perspectives are not sufficiently taken into account. As a result when a person is actively engaged in a particular K–12 issue (personal or professional), he must go through a trial and error method to discover what part of a site may actually provide useful answers to questions. To compound the efficiency problems, many K–12 sites reflect some kind of ideology whether related to instruction, curriculum, governance, finance, school choice, special education programs, or a wealth of other topics. The bottom line is that people currently have limited access to a range of K–12 perspectives and experiences.

 

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Conclusion

Today individuals require a new kind of Web site service to meet their K–12 needs. The U.S. No Child Left Behind Act has increased a demand for improved K–12 information and communications. Even the most prominent K–12 sites are limited due to inherent functional constraints. They are supply–oriented, not effectively addressing the informational demands of this era. Such common limitations motivated the research and writing for this paper. In this exercise I had four objectives: (1) argue that information, communication, and transactional needs are increasingly complex and frequent; (2) illustrate how K–12 sites are generally assumption–driven and supply–oriented; (3) demonstrate that a supply–orientation is not effective for the complex situational questions in K–12; and, (4) explain why social networking is functional for satisfying logistical goals of access and efficiency.

Why go with the social networking Web site model?

The advantages of SNWs are five–fold. First, they are more likely to save time and energy than supply–oriented sites. Instead of spending a couple hours doing trial and error excavations, the user may take 10–20 minutes doing a few custom matching searches, type a few e–mail messages, and then logoff. Secondly, SNWs lead to more precise results than using a search engine or some supply–oriented site. Individuals have a capacity to reason and share experiences. Reasoning and sharing are inherent to the SNW model. Reasoning and shared experience allow for customization and tackling situational questions. Third, the social networking Web site fosters an environment that encourages informal learning. While expanding knowledge bases, social networking sites facilitate contacts to help bridge understanding and enhance judgment. Research has shown that casual acquaintances, sustained by “weak ties”, are more likely than strong relationships to offer pathways to new and varied information [10]. Fourth, rather than posing as direct competition, social networking will complement supply–oriented sites. The simplest use of a social networking site is to find reference information. As relations develop, users may be pointed to primary sources, whether they are other individuals, K–12 supply–oriented sites, or off–line K–12 organizations. Finally, to some degree, relationships should prosper. This would be beneficial at the individual level in terms of resources, peer support, elaboration, corroboration, collaboration, mobilization, or organization. Communities should also benefit as SNWs foster social exchanges and carry potential for K–12 civic–building.

Social networking sites are capable of addressing some of K–12’s inefficiencies in terms of communications and transactions. The social networking site is a mechanism that could allow parents, teachers, researchers, and others to get timely and relevant information serving their needs, interests, and priorities. End of article

 

About the author

Paul DiPerna is a social science researcher in education policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. For the last year he has been analyzing online communities as social systems, and Web sites as social and governance institutions.
E–mail: pdiperna [at] brookings [dot] edu

 

Acknowledgments

Earlier versions of this paper were read by Elana Mintz, Alan Murphy, Judy Smith-Davis, Michael Petrilli, Kate Mazukelli, Barbara Schneider, Jason Palmer, Tom Loveless, and Patrick Gavin. Their comments resulted in significant improvements.

I would also like to thank the following people for helpful discussions and suggestions: Sunil Dasgupta, Joe Geraghty, Christy Horn, Rodney Ferguson, Jonathan Rauch, Matt Dull, Katharine Kravetz, Bruno Manno, Jim Harvey, Claire Hollywood, and Joe Carney. I am grateful for their unique perspectives.

This working paper has not been through a formal review process. The views expressed in this piece should not be attributed to the staff, officers, or trustees of the Brookings Institution. I take sole responsibility for any errors or misrepresentations.

 

Notes

1. A recent Education Week survey of state education officials suggests a number of NCLB influences. For the story and results, see David J. Hoff, “NCLB Focuses on Data Tools,” Education Week (5 May 2005), pp. 12–17.

2. In a new era of educational accountability, the quality of information about students, schools, and districts is very important. Regarding the role of information in the politics of educational accountability, see Terry M. Moe, “Politics, Control, and the Future of School Accountability,” In: Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West (editors). No Child Left Behind? The Politics of School Accountability. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2003, pp. 80–106. For a theoretical discussion on the importance of information for parents when it comes to choosing their child’s school, see Julian R. Betts, “Does Economic Theory Hold Lessons on Why and How to Implement School Choice?” In: Julian R. Betts and Tom Loveless (editors). Getting Choice Right: Ensuring Equity and Efficiency in Education Policy. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2005.

3. Google is the most popular search engine on the Internet. “Technology Overview” on Google’s site explains why we see the rank order of results following searches. For more specific information about Google’s page–ranking system, see http://www.google.com/intl/en/corporate/tech.html.

4. SchoolMatters.com: http://www.schoolmatters.com; Just for the Kids: http://www.just4kids.org; GreatSchools.net: http://www.greatschools.net; Common Core of Data: http://nces.ed.gov/ccd; Nation’s Report Card: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard; Council of Chief State School Officers’ “map” of state departments of education: http://www.ccsso.org/chief_state_school_officers/state_education_agencies/index.cfm.

5. Launched in 2005, SchoolParentNet (http://www.schoolparentnet.com) is a new social networking Web site that may provide a test for this idea.

6. Esther Dyson has provided some insightful overviews of the social network Web site industry. See Esther Dyson, “Social Networking for Business,” at http://www.release1-0.com/release1/abstracts.cfm?Counter=2164883; Esther Dyson, “Are You a Member of LinkedIn?” at http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-5262596.html. For some colorful commentary, read Esther Dyson, “Social Social Networks: Deodorant for the Soul?” at http://www.release1-0.com/release1/abstracts.cfm?Counter=7592224.

7. Jim Cashel, writing in the “Online Community Report”, describes “search communities” as being a very promising type of online community. SNWs produce searchable communities. See http://www.onlinecommunityreport.com/features/10

8. Social scientists have investigated the importance of intermediaries in markets. See Vincenza Odorici and Raffaele Corrado, “Between Supply and Demand: Intermediaries, Social Networks, and the Construction of Quality in the Italian Wine Industry,” Journal of Management and Governance, volume 8 (2004), pp. 149–171. Odorici and Corrado cite earlier research on intermediaries: Paul Hirsch, “Organizational Effectiveness and the Institutional Environment,” Administrative Science Quarterly, volume 20 (1975), pp. 327–344; Paul Hirsch, “Processing Fads and Fashions: An Organization–Set Analysis of Cultural Industry Systems,” American Journal of Sociology, volume 77 (1977), pp. 639–659; Ronald S. Burt, “The Social Capital of Opinion Leaders,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, volume 566 (November 1999), pp. 37–54; and, Ezra Zuckerman, “The Categorical Imperative: Securities Analysts and the Illegitimacy Discount,” American Journal of Sociology, volume 104, pp. 1398–1438.

9. SchoolParentNet (http://www.schoolparentnet.com) is the closest prototype for this kind of site.

10. See Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology, volume 78 (1973), pp. 1360–1380. This article is also included in the early comprehensive volume on social network analysis: Samuel Leinhardt (editor), Social Networks: A Developing Paradigm. (New York: Academic Press, 1977). Granovetter used social networking theory to explain how people find employment: Mark Granovetter, Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974). Evidence for the strength of weak ties in family planning decisions is given in William T. Liu and Robert W. Duff, “The Strength in Weak Ties,” Public Opinion Quarterly, volume 36, (1972), pp. 361–366. Granovetter updates his social networking model in Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited,” Sociological Theory, volume 1 (1983), pp. 201–233. The weak ties model has been recently supported by experimental research reported in Peter Sheridan Dodds, Roby Muhamad, and Duncan J. Watts, “An Experimental Study of Search in Global Social Networks,” Science, volume 301 (8 August 2003), pp. 827–829. For a review of the academic literature, see Laura Garton, Caroline Haythornwaite, and Barry Wellman, “Studying Online Social Networks,” Journal of Computer–Mediated Communication, volume 3 (June 1997), at http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol3/issue1/garton.html. IBM suggests business applications using social network analysis in Kate Ehrlich, “It’s Who You Know: Inside Social Network Analysis,” at http://www.research.ibm.com/thinkresearch/pages/2005/20050706_think.shtml .

 

Appendix A

Brief definition of terms
(some terms adapted from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page)

Chat room — A chat room is an online forum where people can communicate online by broadcasting messages to people on the same forum in real time. Sometimes these venues are moderated either by limiting who is allowed to speak (though not common), or by having volunteer moderators patrol the venue watching for disruptive or otherwise undesirable behavior.

Chat session — More structured than a chat room; normally moderated by a host. For example, this format of online chat is often used by for Q & A sessions on news media Web sites.

Discussion board (also called Message Board, Bulletin Board) — For the purpose of exchanging information only. A Web site where users may post text communication for one another; it is not time–sensitive. It is not intended to be in real time.

Instant messaging — An online service that alerts users when friends or colleagues are online and allows them to communicate with each other in real time on a private online chat window.

Social Networking — A term describing an online process, not purpose. Encapsulates Web technologies that allow users to search and find others as contacts, fitting closest to their specified preferences and criteria. Contacts can be given a rating of how closely they fit the user criteria. Common to social, dating, and professional sites.

User — One who uses a computer system, software application, or Web site. Users may need to identify themselves for the purposes of accounting, security, logging and resource management. In order to identify oneself, a user has a user account and a user name, and in most cases also a password. Users employ the user interface for access to a system or site, and the process of identification is often referred to as “log in”.

Webmail — E–mail received and sent only locally on a particular site. Other e–mail accounts remain unaffected.

 

Appendix B: Sketch of K–12 perspectives.
Note: Appendix B represents a classification inferred from the online survey conducted in July 2004.
People Institutions/Organizations
  • administrators
  • advocates
  • business leaders
  • entrepreneurs
  • grantmakers
  • journalists
  • lobbyists
  • nonprofit leaders
  • parents
  • policymakers
  • principals
  • researchers
  • school board officials
  • students
  • superintendents
  • teachers
  • advocacy organizations
  • consulting firms
  • colleges and universities
  • Congress
  • data service companies
  • education management organizations
  • education technology companies
  • federal courts
  • foundations
  • governors’ offices
  • learning service companies
  • news organizations
  • professional associations
  • professional development companies
  • school boards
  • school districts
  • schools
  • state courts
  • state departments of education
  • state legislatures
  • test preparation companies
  • test publishers
  • textbook publishers
  • think tanks
  • U.S. Department of Education

 

 

Appendix C: Sketch of K–12 interests.
Note: Appendix C represents a classification inferred from the online survey conducted in July 2004.
Values & Goals Macro Topics Micro Topics I Micro Topics II
  • access
  • accountability
  • achievement
  • choice
  • communications
  • diversity
  • efficiency
  • equal opportunity
  • evaluation
  • implementation
  • infrastructure
  • innovation
  • investment
  • partnerships
  • protocol
  • results
  • standards
  • assessment
  • facilities
  • finance
  • governance
  • legislation
  • mass media
  • research
  • resources
  • safety
  • teaching
  • technology
  • transportation
  • academic subjects
  • assessment
  • basic skills
  • bilingual education
  • certification
  • child development
  • charter schools
  • civic education
  • classroom management
  • curriculum
  • gifted education
  • graduation
  • homework
  • instruction
  • lesson plans
  • problem–solving skills
  • professional development
  • special education
  • testing
  • textbooks
  • vocational education
  • after–school programs
  • college admissions
  • community service
  • counseling
  • entrepreneurship
  • grants
  • mentoring
  • scholarships
  • summer school programs
  • tutoring

 


Editorial history

Paper received 1 February 2006; accepted 7 April 2006.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2006, First Monday

Copyright ©2006, Paul DiPerna

K–12 encounters the Internet by Paul DiPerna
First Monday, volume 11, number 5 (May 2006),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_5/diperna/index.html





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