The arduous after-school ritual of doing homework may be becoming a little less painful for students, experts say, thanks to the wealth of educational resources available on the Internet.
In addition to online research tools like encyclopedias and dictionaries, a relatively new breed of sites now exists tailored specifically to help students with their homework, from daily assignments to research projects.
"I think it's absolutely making a difference," said Diane Reed, technology teacher in residence at the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology.
Some sites offer collections of links to useful Web sites, organized by subject area. Others allow students to engage in question-and-answer sessions with a virtual tutor. Still others offer topical instruction on everything from factoring a polynomial to revising a research paper.
The sites expedite the process by finding answers more quickly, said Nan Halperin, a spokeswoman for bigchalk.com, an education site that includes a homework help tool.
"Students have a lot of homework and the Internet is a lot faster," she said.
Karen Chandler, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said the Internet is effective because of students' affinity for technology. "They're much more likely to use it in certain circumstances than they would be to use an actual book," she said.
In Jacksonville, however, parents and educators had mixed feelings about the issue.
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Pam Cooney of Arlington said she believes her children will take advantage of them. "I'm sure that they're going to use it," she said. Cooney's daughter attends Arlington Middle School and her son goes to Terry Parker High School.
On the other hand, Susan Randall, whose son attends Wolfson High School, said she thinks the Internet is a valuable resource for longer-term school projects, but for day-to-day assignments it might be more trouble than it's worth.
"For routine homework, it'll probably take more time to look it up . . . than to sit down and do it," she said.
Karen Starrett, director of instructional technology for Duval County public schools, said her office has not explored the value of homework help sites.
She cautioned that all material available on the Internet may not be authentic and that creators "may not be knowledgeable on that topic. …