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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Bandwidth Backup: Saving Students Time Online

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

At a recent teacher's conference, I presented a session called "Maximizing Technology Efficiency in the Classroom." We had lots of fun setting up home page aggregators, synching our schedules, and getting a handle on all our bookmarks.

One topic that kept coming up was how to help students make efficient use of Internet time when only a few computers are located in the classroom. I think there's a larger issue, of course, and that is, what are we really doing with computers in the classroom that speaks to higher-order use and advancing student learning? However, the hard fact is that classroom computers are limited in number, and sometimes limited in the time available to use them, so here are a few quick and practical tips to make the most of your students' time online:

First, set the default home page on your classroom computers to something appropriate. Chances are, it's set to your school's home page or your school district's main welcome page. If your students actually use these pages frequently, that might make sense. Most school and district home pages I've seen, however, are made more for those outside the school looking in -- parents, community members, visitors, and so on.

How about changing your default home page to something immediately useful to your students? Last year, we changed all the home pages in my daughter's fifth-grade class to a Google personalized RSS page. That way, every time a student launched the Internet on any classroom computer, he or she could immediately get to work without having to scroll through bookmarks.

Email me for a sample classroom RSS page that's already set up using Google's iGoogle page. You'll need a Google account to view it correctly, but you can view a PDF screenshot if you don't have a Google account. Set up your RSS page, and then you can easily change the content to fit your grade level and current topics of interest.

Every precious moment counts, and setting the default home page on your classroom computers helps students get to information quickly and starts them off on a fast track the minute they sit down at the keyboard.

Another easy way to keep students focused on a few specific Web sites is to use TrackStar or a similar tool that lays out the path you want students to take when exploring Internet sites. Obviously, they need to learn to be good searchers as well and learn to navigate the Internet without a restricted path. However, many times, as teachers, we want students to go to just a few specific Web sites and accomplish just a few specific things. TrackStar is a free tool that does just that. Decide which sites you want students to visit, provide a short annotation and the specific link, and tell your students the ID number associated with your new track.

TrackStar guides your students through the sites you chose and provides guiding questions along the way, all within one browser window. It's a nice time-saving tool that also helps students stay focused on the task at hand. For an example I use with school leaders, visit the TrackStar site and view track number 261157.

Do you have advice on how to make students' use of computers in class more efficient? Please share your ideas with us.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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