The Gateway to Educational Materials: An Evaluation of an Online Resource for Teachers and an Exploration of User Behavior

Article excerpt

Gateway to Educational Materials (GEM) provides an online, indexed database of lesson plans designed for teachers. This set of studies evaluates this resource and explores characteristics of teachers who use it. Specifically, the authors sought to determine if teachers possessed the technological skills needed to use The Gateway. and if they were successful in their quests for educational materials. Results of the study indicated that the participants tended to lack sufficient searching skills, and that novice Internet users among the teachers had particularly pronounced difficulties. These results suggest specific additions to teacher preparation programs and continuing education efforts.

TEACHERS AND AN EXPLORATION OF USER BEHAVIOR

The Gateway to Educational Materials (GEM) is a web site (1) created through the efforts of several groups, including the United States Department of Education, The National Library of Education, and a team from Syracuse University. The goal of the project is to provide teachers with a broad range of educational materials on the World Wide Web (WWW or Web). These studies evaluated The Gateway as an online source of educational information, and explored technology preparedness among in-service teachers.

Today, teachers have discovered that the Internet can provide resources for planning episodes of guided learning. Rich educational materials abound on the Internet at little or no cost, many of them of high quality. However, potential users of these resources must first find them amidst the millions of pages available on the Web. Current web-wide commercial search engines (such as Alta Vista, Excite, and Lycos) scan entire web documents for keywords entered by the searcher. These searches locate high numbers of documents, many of which have little relationship to the original search criteria. In addition, relevant documents must then be assessed for quality and applicability to the user's situation. Unfortunately, teachers have little time or opportunity to spend searching the Internet for these materials.

In 1997, President Clinton encouraged federal agencies to initiate projects that used the Internet as a tool for teaching and learning, as part of his programmatic emphasis on education (White House, 1997). Following the President's mandate, the United States Department of Education's National Library of Education, along with the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) Clearinghouse on Information and Technology, began The Gateway to Educational Materials (GEM) Project. Their goal was to improve educators' capability to access Internet-based lesson plans, curriculum units, and other educational materials used in the classroom. The GEM Project produced The Gateway, an online search engine for educational resources. Funded by the United States Department of Education through the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology, this project teamed a range of public and private information providers, national educational organizations, regional education laboratories, and state education departments.

Description. The Gateway was developed based on research about the types of educational resources readily found on the Internet, Internet-based educational resources important for preKindergarten through 12th-grade planning, and research about information-seeking strategies used by educators to locate instructional resources on the Internet (Small, Sutton, Eisenberg, Miwa, & Urfels, 1998).

The Gateway allows users to search for educational materials in a variety of formats, including lesson plans, educational web pages, books for sale, and web pages for national museums by subject, keyword, or grade level. In addition, the interface of The Gateway allows users to browse through hierarchical lists organized by subject, keyword, or grade level. Equally important, the resources found. through The Gateway have been reviewed, accepted, and cataloged by experts within member organizations. …