Where We Are Today?
It has been estimated* that in October 1995, the world-wide consumer Internet consisted of between 23.4 million and 35.4 million users on more than 10 million computers in 173 countries. In the twelve months since then, the number of users and Internet hosts is believed to have doubled, and the number of domains quadrupled. This trend is expected to continue. Despite a shift away from US dominance to Europe, Canada and Mexico, with notable increases elsewhere too, the United States and Canada then accounted for no less than 68% of the Internet hosts worldwide; Western Europe had 22%; and the rest of the world shared the remaining 10%.
The lives of millions of people are changing rapidly: speedy and timely access to information has brought a world of opportunity to communities that once had difficulty seeing beyond their municipal boundaries. Remote parts of the world are now accessible. Some classrooms have been turned into laboratories of experiential learning using new, interactive instructional tools. Networks of interconnected people are exchanging ideas across cultures and political boundaries. Potential adversaries who might never meet anywhere but on disputed grounds have a new and peaceful forum for productive dialogue.
But what are millions of people in a world of billions? And who has access to the world? And what are some classrooms when almost half of the earth's population (or nearly 3 billion people) is under 25 years of age? Who are the interconnected people who can reach across space into the cultures of foreign civilizations?
Reliable global demographic data are scarce, but 1995 surveys of North American Internet users showed
Trends do show that the average user age and income are dropping and gender distribution is evening out.
Nevertheless, Internet use is not officially restricted, and regardless of terms like "global" and "worldwide," it is neither: there are still many impediments to its universal applicability, like cost, accessibility, and technological know-how.
What Is Being Done About It?
Many programs and enterprises are breaking down the barriers to Internet access around the world. They specifically target educational groups as primary benefactors of interconnectivity. Some interactive technology design leaders that have spearheaded programs are:
United States Government officials also have pledged to get involved. Among many other initiatives:
For students, one of the most exciting applications of the Internet in education is as a prompt for virtual expeditions, explorations, investigations, and discussions, all of which provide occasions for shared inquiry. Unique interactive educational tools have been developed that offer special learning opportunities and first-hand experiences to students around the world through sites on the World Wide Web. Students can vicariously experience things over the Internet that are otherwise out of reach. These tools enhance a curriculum by focusing on social studies, history and current events, creative writing, global issues, community problems, and cross-cultural understanding. Some examples are:
Some adventures like these also have been turned into interactive adventure educational tools, like those found in CCCNet's Project Zone of innovative, collaborative, curriculum-based projects that combine the unique features of the Web with solid instructional content.
In addition, there are many other groups that use the Web as tools for collecting and disseminating information about educational resources on and off the Internet.
These efforts have been aimed at increasing the reach and appeal of the Internet, for if we do not encourage and provide universal access to it, we may fall short of realizing some of the many potentialities of students, of our society and our world.
There is a great deal more work to be done. The statistics show the degree to which online access is limited to certain populations in North America and even more so in other parts of the world. No effort should be spared to continue the processes of
* Estimates are from Matrix Information and Directory Services, Lawrence H. Landweber and the Internet Society, the CommerceNet/Nielsen Internet Demographics Survey, Network Wizards, the Georgia Institute of Technology's Graphics Visualization and Useability Center, Internet World and the United States Department of Education.