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Harnessing the Power of the Web - Finding Network Projects
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Networked Projects incorporate many features of traditional Project-Based Learning (PBL), but they also include participation of people outside the traditional classroom. In a typical networked project, students in separate locations conduct activities that require the exchange of information. They may research, experiment in their own settings, question expert adults, and learn from one another. Participants usually communicate via e-mail, an accessible and almost ubiquitous resource, which also means many of these activities are accessible to an increasing number of classes, since the "bandwidth" requirements are low.

Itís the Audience

Most teachers report that students are interested and eager participants in these projects. Student interest in learning and adopting traditional literacy skills will renew, because e-mail requires them. These projects create a variety of opportunities for students to practice and apply other skills and complex learning strategies.

The power of these projects comes from connecting your students with a real audience, giving an authentic flavor students embrace. This insight was expressed in the process-writing movement by authors such as Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins, and Donald Murray, who taught:

Students will write when they have a sympathetic, interested audience and they
have something to say.

In a landmark 1989 article*, telecomputing pioneers Margaret Riel and Moshe Cohen reported that when students write for a distant audience of their peers,

  • they are more fluent
  • they are better organized
  • their ideas are more clearly stated and supported
  • their content is more substantial and their thesis is better supported
  • they consider the needs of their audience

* Cohen, Moshe, and Margaret Riel, "The Effect of Distant Audiences on Studentsí Writing," AERA Journal, Summer 1989, pp. 132-159

Over the years many teachers have reported that when students use telecommunications to engage with real people in another location, they enjoy writing more; are more willing to write, proofread, revise, and edit their work; and are more careful about their spelling, punctuation, grammar, and vocabulary. Combine student projects, Web publishing, and the communications power of the Internet, and teaching is transformed: Classroom walls will tumble down. Students interact with real people in the real world using methods and tools people have used for years. Learning becomes authentic and purposeful. Students find new meaning in classroom experiences. You and your students will rediscover and share an excitement to learn.

Simple Technology

Sophisticated networked projects can be conducted with fairly simple tools. Many powerful projects in the past ten years have been managed with nothing more than the tools listed here.

  • Computer
  • Modem
  • E-mail
  • Printer

In networked projects your students share and exchange knowledge, research, and/or information with experts and other students in distant locations.

You will learn alongside your students, using resources outside your classroom, school, library, city, state, and country. Your students will also become teachers as they contribute and help to create learning resources for students, teachers, experts, and others around the world.

The remainder of this section helps you locate, choose, and participate in a basic networked project.

Join the NetPBL Discussion Board Subscribe to the NetPBL Mailing List
Harnessing The Power Of The Web
Finding Networked Projects
Choosing a Project
Evaluating a Project
Golden Rules of NetPBL
Making Networked Projects

Back to NetPBL Main Page


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