This is a book about communication. The authors tell half a dozen stories about teachers and students who, because of recent advances in telecommunications, are able to move ideas back and forth across time, space, and culture. All of this is quite remarkable -- not the electronic "handshaking" and movement of bits of information, but the intensely social activity that this technology supports. Young children learn to provide enough detail to make unfamiliar ideas comprehensible to other children thousands of miles away, and adolescents are able to tailor their language so that it is informal and engaging and still useful in persuading peers of the greater legitimacy of one or two competing claims. Teachers swap accounts of classroom triumphs and failures -- and even discuss basic beliefs about teaching and learning -- with relative strangers. Each of the six stories told here makes it clear that teachers and students are attempting to connect, often across considerable geographic and cultural distances. They are informing, entertaining, and persuading, and as they use computers to accomplish all sorts of social purposes, they belie the stereotype of computer users as isolates relating to machines, but not to other people.
The connections made are both similar to and different from non-electronic connections. Many of the conversations -- full of wit, intimacy, grace, fear, bias, and joy -- could have occurred on the playground or at the mall. What is quite different, however, is that children in Joliet, Illinois seldom meet Yup'ik Eskimo children on the playground, and adolescents going to the mall near rural La Center, Washington rarely meet peers with a wide range of experiences and diverse views on such topics as gays in the military or evolution. Teachers, who spend most of their days in isolation from other adults, seldom find colleagues with whom they can talk openly about teaching. Children, adolescents, and adults have an opportunity to make contact on the Internet with persons who they simply would not encounter otherwise. It can be a formidable cognitive task to encounter someone else's experiences indirectly and attempt to understand them. Each of the teachers in this volume is providing extended opportunities for students to learn to do just that.
Each of the six teachers featured in this volume is a quite extraordinary educator working in a rather ordinary setting. Their conversations about conceptions and actions, and their reflections about their own practice sit at the core of this book. Each has agreed to continue conversations with the authors, with each other, and with readers. E-mail and web addresses are listed in the book.
Contents: C. Bruce, Foreword. Preface. List of Contributors. Part I:Introduction. Introduction to Internet Conversations As Intensely Social Activity. Part II:Internet Communication in Six Classrooms. Ruth Coleman's Fifth-Grade Classroom: Involvement Strategies. Chris Meier's Fifth- and Sixth-Grade Classroom: Village Stories That Entertain and Teach. Hugh Dyment's High School Classroom: Talk Between Equals. Kathy Plamondon's Seventh-Grade Classroom: Social Activity on an E-Mail List. Daniel Wilcox's High School Classroom: A Collegial and Public Kind of Teaching. Kathy Nell's Fourth-Grade Classroom: Literature and Social Studies Activities On the Web. Part III:Patterns. Continuity Across Classrooms.