Case Studies of K–12 Educators Use of the Internet: Exploring the Relationship Between Metaphor and Practice

May 1, 1996

Very different images and representations of the Internet exist. The Internet as "superhighway" - by far the most commonly used metaphor - calls forth a trail of associations. Superhighways imply fast, efficient, travel; well mapped roadways that are easy to enter and exit; and many thousands of individuals effortlessly zipping from one point to another. In contrast, the Internet is sometimes described as an ocean. Oceans call forth a very different set of associations: exploration, discovery, murkiness, mystery, uncharted territory, and perhaps the threat of drowning. As the network of networks, the Internet does not lend itself to literal representation, it is abstract, complex, and hard to pin down. Consequently, metaphors play an important role in structuring our relationship to and our experience of the Internet, and influence the ways in which we are invited to engage with its resources.

In this research we investigate the kinds of representations and associations that educators are building of the Internet and the ways in which these representations vary depending upon the circumstances of use. We set out to explore how such factors as prior experience with technology and teaching, availability of training and/or collegial support, administrative commitment, as well as the type of Internet connection and the availability of navigation tools might effect educators experiences and attitudes toward the viability of the Internet as a K-12 resource.

We contacted a subset of those respondents from the CTE national telecommunications survey who reported that they used the Internet for more than just electronic mail. Because we were interested in examining a range of practices and circumstances of Internet use we contacted classroom teachers, technology specialists, and district coordinators/supervisors, who represented different grade levels in different geographic regions. Educators were contacted electronically, over the Internet, as well as through the CTE newsletter and the Cleveland FreeNet. All responses were voluntary. This study is based on the responses of 18 educators, 9 women and 9 men, who have spent an average of 19 years working as educators. Nine of the respondents were classroom teachers, four were district technology supervisors/coordinators, three were technology specialists at the classroom or school level, and two were librarians/media specialists. Although we aimed to represent all regions of the country in our sample, in the end we did not have any representatives from California or the Pacific Northwest, but other regions of the country were well represented. The breakdown was as follows: five from the Midwest, four from the Northeast, four from the South, and two each from the Mid Atlantic and Southwest states. All but two of the eighteen interviews were conducted over the Internet. The remaining two were conducted over the phone.

After reading through all of the replies it became clear that the respondents were offering a range of interpretations of their experience with the Internet in response to the question: "How did your initial vision or understanding of the Internet mesh with the realities of Internet use? Is your vision supported, modified, or drastically revised?" Based on their replies, we were able to group respondents according to their statements about the potential benefits and difficulties of using the Internet as a K-12 resource. We then investigated whether these differences appeared to be related to the following set of contextual variables: number of years working as an educator; number of years using computers for instructional purposes; number of years using the Internet; institutional support; collegial atmosphere; and type and amount of training about the Internet. Based on this analysis respondents fell into one of four groups: enthusiastic beginners, evolving understanding, cautiously optimistic, experienced enthusiasts.

The rest of this report describes the characteristics shared within each set of teachers; how the teachers use and perceive the Internet; and what benefits resources, such as support and training, administrative and pedagogical flexibility, and access to technology, provide them.


Katherine Culp
Margaret Honey