The Good and Bad News of Net Access in Schools

In this week's "Cybershake," we take a look at what the latest survey says about teens and Internet access at their schools. Plus, we note that the Net has reached a new milestone: Its 36th birthday.

Back to School and the Net

School is back in session, or it soon will be in the United States after the traditional Labor Day holiday. And according to a new survey released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, tech-savvy kids will have reasons to rejoice -- and lament -- as they return to classrooms this fall.

"About 16 million students in middle and high school now use the Internet [in schools] compared to 11 million who were using it in schools just five years ago. That's a 45 percent increase," says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Project. "It's a testament to school systems themselves and also the availability of the Internet at many schools."

Still, while it may be good news that Internet availability and usage has increased among students, the Pew survey did note some sticking points.

Despite the fact that nearly all schools in the United States have Net access, for example, Rainie says 32 percent of all teens do not take advantage of it at all. And while 86 percent of teens polled believed that the Internet helps teens do better in school, some 37 percent say too many of their peers use it to cheat on schoolwork.

But perhaps even more interesting, the young and tech-savvy students say their enthusiasm for Net-based education isn't shared by their instructors -- even though they wish it were.

"We hear from students that they wish teachers would understand that the Internet is a wonderful place to find material that would be relevant to the curriculum, relevant to assignments, and they wish teachers would build more assignments around Internet use," says Rainie. "They know that when they do their own work online, there are great Web sites that help them learn things and help them complete assignments and they wish their teachers were a bit more aware of that."

Rainie says that part of the problem is that while Net access has become nearly ubiquitous in U.S. schools, training and instructing teachers on how to use the technology hasn't been nearly as widespread.

"Teachers are mostly quite wary of engaging the Internet because it's extra work for the teachers to figure out what's good online," says Rainie. "Teachers are also sensitive to the fact that some of their students don't have access to the Internet at home and this would make assignments particularly hard for them to fulfill."

The findings of the Pew survey were compiled from telephone interviews of 1,100 teens and parents conducted last October and November. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

The complete report, The Internet at School, can be found online at the Pew Group's Web site:

-- Richard Davies, ABC News

The Internet, 36 Years Old Today

The Internet entertains us with music and video. It helps us communicate with others around the world and lets us shop for almost anything, no matter what the hour.

The global network of computer networks has come pretty far -- and pretty quickly given its humble beginnings as the ARPANet.

"It was a project that was developed by the Pentagon and it was a precursor to what we know as the Internet today," says Suzanne Kantra, technology editor for Popular Science magazine. "But it was not able to do the kind of networking that we do today."

The ARPANet was designed to keep top U.S. research labs, universities and the military's Advanced Research Projects Agency -- the "ARPA" of ARPANet -- connected to each other, even in the advent of a nuclear attack.

"It wasn't fast and it wasn't really meant to go beyond a very small select community," says Kantra. "It was really developed for the military."

But when the Cold War ended, the ARPANet with its robust operating principles was expanded with further development by more universities and commercial networks, becoming what we now know as the global Internet.

And while the power and popularity of the Net has grown over the last 36 years, we haven't seen everything yet, says Kantra.

"They [researchers and computer network developers] are working on new protocols and new architectures which will enable sort of that next generation [Internet]," says Kantra.

Research labs and universities are already experimenting with something called Internet2, a computer and communication network that moves digital data along at hundreds of times the speed of today's fastest Net connections. And security and safety features will be built into Net2, so computer viruses and cyberattacks will hopefully be nonexistent.

-- Larry Jacobs, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.