Commercial Online Services: Benefits for Educators

Article excerpt

Commercial online services offer much to the academic community. While current fervor is on the Internet-and most services now have links-additional benefits exist for members of commercial services. Foremost is convenince, but the other is the membership themselves, who readily share expertise and advice.

While most commercial services are broad-based, each is strong in specific areas. Following is a brief overview of the major commercial online services, highlighting those aspects of interest to educators.

* CompuServe

The largest general online information service in the world, CompuServe's strengths lie in its technical support forums, education-specific forums, a huge array of databases, its current and archival news, and a worldwide membership of two million plus.

For technical support, this is the place to go. Over 850 vendors supply technical support for their products in forums; shareware is plentiful too. Alone this can be worth the cost of the service.

Of the some 900 different special interest forums, a number are devoted to education. The Education Forum is a semi general-interest spot; Students' Forum is for learners and the Educational Research Forum discusses recent findings. In specific disciplines, there is the Foreign Language Education Forum, Science/math Education Forum, IBM Special Needs Forum and more.

Over 2,000 research and reference databases are available, including those from Dialog. To search over 850 bibliographic and full-text databases, IQuest offers fully indexed historical data updated daily.

* America Online

AOL, as it's known, is purposely tailored for the home user. The friendliest user interface in town is AOL's distinction and strength, and Education is one of the nine Main Menu choices. From here, one gets to a wide range of activities, forums and mini-networks devoted to the process of teaching and learning.

One can sign up for tutoring sessions, public or private. For papers, use the Academic Research Service, Compton's 30-volume encyclopedia set or Barron's Booknotes.

For adult and higher learning is the Electronic University Network, which provides credit-by-exam college courses, degree programs and corporate training. AOL's Online Campus holds eight-week-long classes. And for that "coffeehouse" feel, one can go to meeting spots and chat-Bull Moose Tavern for politics; Afterwards Cafe for the arts or International House for foreign culture and language.

AOL boasts a number of mini-networks devoted to specific areas of education. These are umbrellas under which one finds links to professonal organizations; searchable databases of publications, software, etc.; staff development opportunities; discussion forums and message boards; and more.

The Teachers' Information Network, for example, includes NEA Online, AFT Online and ASCD Online. Joint projects are in both The Electronic Schoolhouse and Multimedia Exchange. Teachers' University offers six-week inservice seminars.

For administrators, the National Principals' Center contains many of the same elements of the Teachers' Network. AOL also has services sponsored by the National Staff Development Council, National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

AOL also links to: Scholastic Network (K-12), Smithsonian Online, Library of Congress Online, CNN Online, National Public Radio Online and more.

* PRODIGY

Distinguishing itself from other services, PRODIGY offers two flavors: regular, for home users and Classroom PRODIGY. On the regular service, several areas off the Main Menu merit a look.

Reference holds the Academic American Encyclopedia, Consumer Reports and two features on U.S. politics. News supplies current headlines, AP Online and more. Home/family/kids offers NOVA science activities, Carmen Sandiego geography adventures, etc. For an extra fee, Homework Helper, by Infonautics Corp. …