Articles on Professional Development

Advantages to Telecomputing:
Reasons to Use the Internet in Your Classroom

written by Yvonne Marie Andres

Copyright 1991 (updated 8/96)

  • Students enjoy writing more when they are able to write for a distant audience of their peers
  • Students are more careful about their spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary, when they are writing for a distant audience
  • Students enjoy communicating with schools from different geographical locations
  • Students are given opportunities to understand different cultures
  • Students begin to consider issues that are of global concern
  • Teachers are provided an opportunity to exchange ideas and resources with many other teachers very quickly and efficiently
  • Many futurists believe that electronic communications will become a necessity for business and education, by the year 2000, due to increasing transportation and building costs.

Students enjoy writing more when they are able to write for a distant audience of their peers.
For the past four years, I have taught Chapter I students (students falling within the lowest 25 percentile on the California Test for Basic Skills). One of the goals of the Chapter I program is to help students achieve at least 13 months academic growth in language and math within the average 9 1/2 month school year.

Most of these students have reading and writing skills that are at least four years below grade level. In the past traditional approaches to encourage these students to write were not very successful. At about that same time, we helped organize an educational electronic bulletin board that had the unique capability of sharing messages with other schools running the same software. One of the purposes of the educational network was to use the medium of telecommunications directly with the students. We began slowly, having the students exchange "computer pal" letters. From the very first exchange of letters, it became quite clear that students were highly motivated to write when they knew other students would be reading their letters. The students wrote letters that were on the average 1 1/2 to 2 times longer than previously when the assignment had been just to write a friendly letter for the teacher.

Students are more careful about their spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary.
In addition to being more motivated and writing longer letters, students took greater care to make sure their spelling, punctuation and grammar were correct. Students were more willing to go back and proofread and edit their writing.

An interesting and unexpected outcome occurred as a result of our experimentation with students and telecomputing. Along with exchanging files of students' writings, on occasion we allowed students to have live "real time" on-line chatting sessions. Students from Jefferson Junior High in Oceanside had electronic conversations with students from Lincoln Junior High in Oceanside.

Even though both of these two junior high schools are in the same school district, the socioeconomic makeup of the student populations is quite different. Students at the two schools felt they had little in common, and considered themselves rivals. However, an amazing thing began to happen as the students "chatted" back and forth. Suddenly, the students discovered that they shared many interests, thoughts and feelings. As the students and the teachers shared ideas, and as the communications continued through chatting sessions and the exchange of writings, the two schools began to develop a very close relationship. After only a few months of telecomputing between the two schools, the students referred to the other school as their "sister" school!

Students are provided an opportunity to understand different cultures.
As news of our successful writing projects spread, the educational network grew from 6 schools located in San Diego County, to include more than 85 schools from all over the United States, as well as schools in Puerto Rico and Argentina. Although in most cases, it was too costly to set up real time chatting sessions for the students between these distant locations, we saw the same camaraderie develop through joint writing projects.

Students, some of whom had never left their own neighborhoods, were suddenly asking for maps so that they would know where their new "computer pals" were writing from. Students learned that there are different, regional ways of expressing the same ideas. So, they took greater efforts to explain exactly what they were trying to say. Bilingual messages were exchanged and translated into both languages. Students were communicating with one another in a way that most adults were not even aware existed.

Students enjoy communicating with schools from different geographical locations.
In addition to FrEdMail, students collaborate with classrooms around the globe on the AT&T Long Distance Learning Network. Three hundred schools from around the world participate in various educational projects from creative writing, to computer chronicles, to science activities. Six to eight schools from different nations were grouped into individual Learning Circles. Teachers discovered that integrating technology into lessons they were already teaching offered an entirely new dimension to learning. Students from the Southern Californian town of Oceanside learned about vegamite from the Australian children, and ice hockey from the Canadians, and what a typical day was like for students in the Netherlands. They couldn't learn these things from books that someone else had written. They learned about the cultural differences and similarities from their distant peers!

Students begin to consider issues that are of global concern.
One of the writing projects that originated with one of the Australian schools, called for students to discuss their feelings on world problems. Most junior high students in Southern California are much too involved with their own problems to spend much time thinking about world problems. So, as teachers, we had to find a way to help our students develop a consciousness of the concerns that were of world importance.

The plan was to have students write about something they were experts on, first, the problems teenagers face. These writings were exchanged with all the distant schools. Then, the next step was for students to explore and write about problems their own community or neighborhood was facing. From there, it was a logical and easy transition for students to discuss world problems.

Though we could provide many other examples, one recent event captured the true essence of the global importance of telecommunications. One of the Australian schools who was participating in the AT&T LDLN had their computer terminal set up at the Australian 'EXPO 88, in the United Nations Pavilion. All of the messages that the students were exchanging were being displayed on a large screen, so that visitors to the pavilion could read them. A message of hope was posted by some Soviet children, stating that the Russian Pavilion "wished for a world without wars. If all people unite their effort, the threat of nuclear war can be eliminated." Students from Lincoln Junior High responded with their own replies for world peace. The Soviet Ambassador was so impressed that a real time chatting session was arranged, and children from Oceanside typed back and forth for an hour, via computer and modem, exchanging information about schools in California and schools in the Soviet Union.

Teachers can exchange ideas and resources quickly and efficiently.
It is readily agreed upon that there is an overload of information available today, and that it would be an impossibility for any one person to possess it all. Through the medium of telecommunications, teachers have the combined resources of all the other educators they are electronically linked to. If they have a question, they can post it on an educational bulletin board, and usually within hours they receive replies from other educators across the nation. Just as they easily obtain information, they eagerly dispense it to others. Educators who are involved in telecommunications frequently share their ideas and lesson plans with others on the network. The electronic medium becomes an enormous universal mind.

In addition, different models of computers can be used to exchange information. Computers have the potential of becoming the universal language. Different brands of computers can exchange and share information via telecommunications. Someday, with built in language translators, people from all nations will be able to communicate swiftly and efficiently.

TeleComputing will prepare students for a future world that is sure to include electronic communications.
In the future, many people may work at home. They will do their work on their computer and will send the work to their office by using a modem. When people work with their computers at home they will be said to work in electronic cottages. This type of situation will have many advantages. People will not have to drive to work. They will not have to work traditional hours. As their schedules can be more flexible, work habits will change. People have different peak working periods in their day. Individuals will be able to identify their own peak working times and design a more efficient schedule based on those times.

People will not have to live close to their jobs. During the industrial age people moved closer to the cities to be near the factories. In the future, people may choose to live away from the cities, with all their noise, pollution and traffic.

Telecommunications may also have a positive effect on the family unit. If parents are able to work from their homes, they will be able to spend more time with their children. Children will benefit from watching their parents work at home, in the same way that farm children learn many skills from observing their parents perform their daily duties.


In an era that has been labeled the electronic information age, telecommunications, and specifically telecomputing, will greatly enhance the learning and teaching experiences of students and teachers. Over the past four years we have documented many of those ways. The biggest obstacle to fully implementing this technology is a hesitation on the part of teachers and administrators to get involved in a form of communications that has not been traditionally part of the educational system.

However, telecomputing is attracting more and more attention with the start of every school year. Those teachers that have been able to integrate it into their lessons, usually continue to do so. It is those same teachers who are almost always the leaders and innovators at their schools, and their enthusiasm spreads to others around them. Telecommunications in the classroom has been referred to as a "grass roots movement." But, we have seen those grass roots transform into branches that may soon become mighty oaks, and maybe even the foundation of the educational system.

Written by Yvonne Marie Andres
First published in the FrEdMail Newsletter - Fall 1991