Despite the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic dying down, many of the new strategies developed to use the internet as part of education seem to be here to stay. We’re back in person now at Northwest, but many teachers are continuing to use the internet for meetings and assignments. The internet can be used at any time, letting students learn at their own pace in the style that works best for them. Online content often has lower costs than physical material. Marginalized groups still face many obstacles to receiving an adequate education. The introduction of the internet to classrooms helped with some obstacles, but then created new disparities for students without computers or reliable Wi-Fi service that align with wealth gaps and communities of color. New inventions in technology show the same power structures, but computers can help work around issues such as distance, price, and ableism when available. The Northwest School provides devices for all students to mitigate these barriers to learning.
There are a variety of reasons students may want extra learning support, and the vastness of the internet as well as continuous advancements in technology mean that there are plenty of options. Upper School Humanities teacher, Scott D. says, “I think the internet enhances learning for most students. The resources available online for self-improvement and for deeper research when students are curious are so amazing!” He and eight other Northwest School teachers who contributed their thoughts agree that the internet supports student learning. Whether a student wants some extra study materials, a second explanation of a topic, or a different format for information given in class, a computer and an internet connection may provide widely available resources. These are some places to start:
A well known website with videos and resources for a range of subjects, Khan Academy’s mission is a free education for anyone. It is recommended especially often by science teachers at the NWS. Khan Academy has extensive resources for math and science. Though not as large as math or science, the Arts and Humanities section has helpful content as well. The target audiences range from pre-k to law school students with videos, articles, and practice exercises available in many languages. Khan Academy has seventeen full versions of the website in multiple languages, including Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. A few dozen more, including Vietnamese, Russian, and Japanese versions are currently in the demo or temporary stage, with the aim of eventually becoming full websites.
Here is the full list of languages available on Khan Academy.
YouTube Science Channels
YouTube also has helpful channels for science classes. YouTube has content on all subjects, but videos with visuals are especially helpful in science. Middle School Science teacher, Erica B. says, “Animations and such are inherently more engaging than a teacher droning on.” Veritasium and Crash Course were both recommended by teachers. Crash Course is fast paced and aimed at high school and college students. The channel currently has 39 courses covering a range of topics in science as well as some humanities, arts, and other courses. Veritasium is less structured and usually covers topics that are more relevant in day-to-day life, such as debunking common misconceptions and showing science experiments.
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with articles about almost every topic under the sun, infamous for being written by the public rather than verified experts. It is often represented in classrooms as an inaccurate shortcut to research. “Let’s be honest,” says Alicia K., Director of Library Services at the Northwest School Library. “We all use Wikipedia. But it’s your first stop, not your final.” Alicia manages the Library’s collection and works with teachers to plan and teach research projects. Teaching digital literacy is one of her many roles at the school. It’s true that anyone can write for Wikipedia, meaning that it should not be cited or quoted, but one of the encyclopedia’s requirements is that statements made in a Wikipedia page must have sources backing them up. This makes it a useful jumping off point to gather basic information about a topic and find other useful sources. It’s a great way to “pre-search”, as Alicia puts it. Every Wikipedia page has a list of references at the bottom. Specific facts through the articles often have inline citations that link to the exact source the writer pulled it from. Though it’s important to remember that the writers aren’t always experts and there is a chance they could write inaccurate or biased articles, Wikipedia has valuable information for starting research.
Many of these sources so far focus on math and science. Humanities teachers point out that their curriculums tend to dive into more specific topics, meaning few resources will be helpful over an entire year. That being said, Purdue Online Writing Lab, or Purdue OWL, has a valuable collection of guides for writing. It covers a broad range of topics, from plagiarism to creative writing to rhetorical devices. Their Common Writing Assignments section has guides and advice for a list of formats that students often have to write for school, such as argument papers and book reviews.
“I’d encourage students to come to me with a specific question and based on the class and unit I can send them resources,” says Isaac Meyer—eleventh and twelfth grade Humanities teacher—regarding specific units in his classes.
Google itself was a groundbreaking tool for students when it first launched and remains so today. The company is only twenty-four years old but has revolutionized how people interact with information. It’s so influential that “google” is listed as a verb in Merriam-Webster dictionaries. It allows students access to an estimated 50 billion web pages according to the World Wide Web Size website, but that comes with the downside of rampant misinformation. This does not cancel out its usefulness, though; it just means that users need to know how to navigate results. Google is still home to countless credible sources. Growing up surrounded by the internet, many of today’s youth already have a good filter for misinformation. The Northwest School also incorporates skills for evaluating information into its curriculum. Alicia K. is the main organizer for this. “I teach research, information, and digital literacy skills to students in a scaffolded approach so that by senior year, students are independent researchers and critical evaluators of information,” she explains. The Google search engine as well as subsidiaries such as YouTube have their problems but they are priceless when used along with critical thinking.
Between the Seattle Public Library and the NWS Library, there are dozens of otherwise paid databases that students can access at no cost. Databases are invaluable tools for gathering sources and evidence in class projects. The Northwest School tries to avoid duplicating databases that students can already get access to through SPL, so looking through both the school and the public library’s database subscriptions gives the most sources. “I put a big emphasis on students also having their own library card,” says Alicia. Library cards with SPL are available to people who live, work, or attend school in Seattle, so any NWS student can get one (apply for a library card). Some databases that are recommended by Humanities teachers are ones with collections of primary historical sources such as ProQuest and JSTOR. Museums archives are also a helpful place to look.
Other subjects at NWS do not use databases as often, but Gale Science in Context has collections of publications that show science in real world contexts, helping make the connection between classroom learning and current events. JSTOR and ProQuest can be helpful for science as well since they have collections of publications from scientific scholarly journals.
There are many more databases available, some incredibly specific, such as the Dictionary of American Regional English which records how spoken English varies across the United States, and also HeritageHub, a collection of obituaries and death notices in the United States since 1704. These can both be accessed through the SPL. Whatever research project a class might assign, databases can provide relevant resources. One important note to make, though, is that database search functions are a bit different than Google. They need more specific words and no natural language such as questions to find relevant information. “My advice is not to go there first,” says Alicia. Databases become easier to navigate when you already have a good idea of keywords related to the topic you are researching.
“Technology has been a game changer for our community,” says Kelly Marshall, Director of Learning Services at the Northwest School. She works with neurodivergent students and students with learning differences in Northwest’s accommodations-based program that aims to allow all students to get the same challenging curriculum “in a way that levels the playing field with neurotypical peers,” says Kelly. Technology has opened up many new options for students who process information differently than the exclusionary teaching methods standard in schools. NWS can provide access to audiobooks and text-to-speech software for students that prefer audio to visual learning. Grammar and spell checkers allow students to better express themselves through writing. Many students use organizational tools to keep track of deadlines and give reminders. However, “learning differences” is an umbrella term that many people fall under, so there is no one-size-fits-all way to use computers in accommodation. “Each student has a unique learning profile and will use a combination of tools that works for them,” explains Kelly. For individual students that are interested in finding a way to make classes work better for their learning differences, the Learning Resources Department is happy to discuss. “Our department works with students to find what works best for their learning style,” says Kelly.
The internet makes learning more accessible for many, offering millions of free web pages with information that couldn’t have been found without physically going to a library or talking to an expert just a few decades ago. ”Sorting the good from the bad takes a lot of practice and can be very hard if you don’t know the subject matter,” says Isaac M. It is easy to stumble across misinformation on the web, but he also says “there are fantastic resources out there covering content and skills that are pitched at a huge variety of levels. You can pretty much always find something useful if you’re willing to put in the time.”
The internet is a mixed bag, but it opens students up to a world of information that maximizes learning when used effectively and can supplement classroom learning.