Teaching Internet literacy using on-line teaching methods

by Dr. Stephanie A. Burns



There are thousands of people now using this website every month. Sometimes on the order of 10,000 or more. When the website began the early visitors and I, as a collective, had the opportunity to make a difference to many people who had thus far successfully avoided this new world of the Internet - whether that was through fear, apathy or confusion.

Myself and a group of volunteers united as a project team to create the best Internet Literacy course for teachers, parents and anyone else, young or old. This program was launched in 2001, and today is available to organisations.

When I developed this project I wrote an article to describe what I was striving to accomplish, and how visitors to my site could help. That article contained, in retrospect, some very interesting ideas. For that reason, I have reprinted it here. Of course, the opportunity to participate in the project is long gone, but never fear there will be more projects like this in the future.


Let's build an Internet Literacy Program, shall we!

Hi Everyone,

I am planning to create a course and I could use your help. This course will focus on Internet literacy and will be for people who:

cannot figure out what is going on or what all the fuss is about.

feel that because they totally missed the computer age there is no hope for entering the Internet age.

must become Internet literate as a demand of their job.

is too scared to even think about using the Internet.

might use the Internet if they didn't have to touch a computer.

are pretty comfortable with technology but knows there is a whole world of unchartered territory, that if they knew, they would be more .. well, more everything.

knows they are actually missing something important, historical and essential.

cannot understand the younger generation's fascination (and ease) with technology.

are responsible for influencing and educating others in the use of technology.

and on and on.

I have decided to take on the challenge to design a course to help this segment of our community. The project team should, to my mind, be a joint (big joint) effort from a large and diverse number of us who are using this medium today (even if we only use it a little).

I want to do my bit to ensure people not only know what there is out there, but are comfortable in going out there and getting it. And I especially want parents and teachers to be able to help their children to take advantage of this phenomenon.

Children today should see Mom, Dad, Grandma and their teachers all comfortably going to the computer when, what the internet has to offer, is the best solution to the problem or situation at hand.

In addition to the technology and internet lessons I plan to embed in the course learning strategies that can be applied to all subsequent learning endeavours involving technology.

Let's face it, we are all in it for the long haul and our ability as learners will matter greatly.

I think I am in a unique position to construct this course, however .....



Interactivity and education.
I wanted to show people
what could be done.

















This is where you come in

I want to do this project as part of a team. A very big team - like 100 people big, even 1,000 people big! I need information and ideas from those of you using the internet now - even if your only comfortable use is coming here to my website or getting the morning headlines.

As part of this team you will be asked to participate in various research and testing activities during different stages of the design. You will work with me to gather data, to evaluate ideas, edit sections of the script and to solve problems.

You will be the first such design team in history! I am very serious about this project and I want the best people on it.

You will also be the first design team to work out of the Burns Construction Company office (we have temporary office space down the hallway to the right of my desk). It's still sparse (I think the electricity has been turned on). You can go have a look when you finished reading here. The items we will need to work together, project books, schedules, archives books and so on will be delivered to the virtual office in November.

If you choose to join this team (which you can do by tackling the first project task below) you will sign a confidentiality agreement and then be given a password to access the project book for this job that will be placed in the Burns Construction Company office. We will work together via this project book and via email.

You will know that you are working on a team, and you will have quality interactions with other team members.

How much time? A little bit every now and again. Let's guess and say 20 to 30 minutes a week starting the first week of December until we are complete in the new year. What you will need is time to read, go to places on the net and come up with ideas.

Those who will have the privledge of first testing this new on-line course will be selected by drawing numbers from a hat.

The first job of any good project is data gathering. And that is where we will begin. You will get to know the other members of our team in due course. First, we have to see who wants to participate. At the end of this piece there are a series of questions. Each question has a data entry box.

By completing this task, I will know you wish to join this team. Those who decide to join the team will get further details about the design and methodology in response to your submitting the questionaire below.

I will send one email each week to all members of the team as it develops through November. This email will be brief and keep you aprised of how the team is shaping up. Then we will go to work in December. I do not plan to run any on-line courses for the public during this period so I can focus on this project.

The deadline for joining this team is November 30th. And this article will be removed/changed at that time.

To reiterate, this is a real project.



Most of my days are spent at my computer designing new environments and tools for on-line teaching and writing new on-line courses.


If you are keen to know more about my time in the computer industry, I have put a few articles written about those days in the biography section of the website. They are really quite funny to read nearly 25 years on!

Being involved at the infancy of on-line teaching is so like the early 80s when desk computers first started to really hit the mass market.



The historical context

I have in one way or another been involved with "teaching parents and teachers", "using and designing technology", "teaching technological/computer literacy" and "analysing learning processes" for most of my 25 year career.

From 1979 to 1983, I owned and ran a company called S.E.C.T. which stood for "Source of Educational Computer Training" (go figure, we were young!). I recognised that in the absence of a learning process to accompany the new personal computing technology, we would turn millions away from intelligently using what the new technology offered. I was already consulting for organisations who were having difficulty introducing the new technology to non-technical staff. I was also consulting with some organisations whose employees over the age of 50 were choosing earlier retirement rather than returning to the classroom to learn computer skills.

In general though, people were very curious about this new emerging technology. The media was all over it. As many as 40,000 people would attend an Expo - even in small cities. But the motivation was just that - curiosity. Most people attending conferences didn't have a clue what they looking at, let alone what to do with it.

That's where my company and I came in. We were charged with making it all make sense through a series of lectures offered to attendees at the Expo. This ensured that when people roamed the aisles of the Expo they felt less like an idiot and could at least utter phrases like "ah, I see you use floppy discs." Or ask questions like, "Why did you choose the Z80 over the 8086?" Not that the answer made any sense!

So, I traveled with the Expo as it toured America. My role to conduct two alternating lectures, twice each day! One on basic literacy and the other on applications. Each lecture was two hours in length, and there was always a packed house. In some cities like New York, people who couldn't get a ticket due to the lecture being sold out, would sit on the floor outside the curtained classroom and take notes. My other role was to conduct interviews for the media about this emerging new phenomenon.

But what I was doing was just a drop in the bucket. For everyone I influenced to become comfortable with a computer and its applications, 10,000 others were turning into computer "disbelievers" and "phobics" do to the lack of an industry effort to embed a learning process. Computer companies in those days could sell computers whether they eventually got used or not. Most people of that generation still do not like computers! They don't get them. They remember being frustrated when they tried to use them back in the 80s and that was it. Now many of these people have 20 years of well-polished rationale and well-honed methods for functioning without a computer on their desk or in their office.

Back in the early 70s we had a good idea that computers were going to change the world forever. By the early 80s we knew it for a fact. And, they have. But they have done so on the backs on only a relatively small percentage of the population. Most people in business, industry and education are still not comfortable with computers and technology! Many people still don't know how to program their VCR or do anything more than make a phonecall on their mobile. I know that sounds just weird to those of you who are comfortable with technology, but trust me on this one.

The point I want to make is this. Computers have changed the world and yet have done so without involving the majority of those working in our culture. If you really didn't want to become computer literate, you could find a way to remain illiterate and survive.

The internet is about to cycle us back past the point where new technology will (indeed is) changing everything about the world of business, industry and education. With this change in technology, it is time once again to address the issue of providing a learning process, so that those who want to come along have the means to do so. In this situation, I think it would be professional suicide to not do so (unless you are really really old and just don't think you'll be around for much more of the future.)

I know first hand as a user and as a teacher, the frustration of learning to use a new tool. I also know the effect of frustration on the process of learning ... essentially it leads to abandonment.

It is not a good idea to miss the technology train this second time around. Who wants to grow older and feel totally aliented by the world they inhabit?




I can help

I know how to teach people how to use new technology and new tools. I know how to make it fun and intriguing, and I know how to assist people to persist through the hard, boring and confusing stuff.

I also know how to construct the event as an on-line learning event (that is part of the reason for all of the testing I have been doing). Because of the internet, accessibility to a program like this makes it worth constructing. I am certainly not going to get on airplanes and teach this in every city live (been there, done that!).

Anyone with access to email and the internet, a number that grows daily, will be able to fully participate in this program.

I am going to construct a learning event that will result in skill and comfort in using the internet and associated technologies, to the user's own best advantage. There are a million opportunities for those comfortable with the internet - and I don't just mean endless hours of web surfing or drawing up genealogy charts (not that there is anything wrong with that!).

What you will want to do with it will be different from what others want to do with it. But to do anything with the internet, we have to know what all the fuss is about and we have to know how to navigate through this new world.

I'm also going to make sure that people have a chance to become really well-informed. That they know not just how to get somewhere on the internet, but how to do really important things like downloading programs, plugins and files, make certain they have the latest versions of their software, know how to still get value even from a poorly designed site!!, know how to use the blind carbon copy feature of their email program and why that is so important!!

You know the stuff that all of us who use technology forgot that we had to learn to do!



Your part

In the margin there are a series of questions. If you wish to participate in this project, look at the questions and type your responses in the associated message box. When you are done, simply click the "Go ahead and send it" button and I'll have it on my desk in just a couple of minutes.

After pushing the SEND button just wait a moment till you receive a new page. That page is your way of knowing that I have received your message.

On that page I will tell you a bit about the design project, the timing and my goals for the course. That is the least I can do for those taking the time to contribute.

This is also where I say goodbye to any of you who will not be able to participant due to either time constraints or other factors. Thank you for reading about this project and I look forward to sharing with you the outcome.

Go well. Stef


  Below this point was a questionnaire. It has been removed to avoid confusion.



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