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Dept. of Education Tries a New Approach


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  • By Gabriel Margasak
    Washingtonpost.com Staff
    Friday, April 17, 1998

    The U.S. Department of Education's newest Web site offers users a dynamic guide to education resources on the Internet – a helpful step forward from the bureaucratic "Welcome to the Agency" approach that typified the first governmental forays onto the Web.

    Rather than offering readers a standard agency fact sheet, the new Federal Resources for Education Excellence (FREE) site collects and organizes links from more than 30 federal agencies by topic.

    As a result, parents, students and – most of all – teachers can use the site to easily find a good museum for a virtual field trip or print out practice calculus questions.

    Visitors to FREE looking for social studies resources can find links to original documents in the Amistad case. Visitors who search for information on "microgravity" can find their way to a NASA site featuring Microgravity Man.

    "It's helping teachers move from their traditional roles of 'sage on the stage' . . . to being co-learners and co-facilitators," said Baltimore teacher Teresa Wilkins.

    Wilkins, a teacher and technology coordinator at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Baltimore County, uses the site not just for herself but to help other teachers learn what's available on the Web.

    Those resources, including links to prepared lesson plans and sample questions in math and other subjects, do "a lot of the work for the teachers," she said.

    FREE's mission of bringing together educational tools scattered on pages throughout the federal Web goes back to an April 1997 memo from President Clinton asking federal agencies to "determine what resources you can make available that would enrich the Internet as a tool for teaching and learning."

    The department went to teachers from across the country to obtain input on creating the site, said Kirk Winters, a policy analyst at the department who works with the FREE site. The effort continues with a message on the site inviting teachers, federal agencies and other organizations to team up to develop new content.

    "We at the department want to make it easy to find a needle in a haystack," Winters said, speaking of the organization of the site.

    Winters, a former Kansas teacher, said there are nearly 100 people from federal agencies participating in FREE. He said the site will be updated frequently with input from participating teachers and agencies.

    Announcing the launch of the site last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a press release that the FREE site "...offers a glimpse of how government can use technology to serve citizens in ways barely dreamed of a decade ago."

    Educators from around the country have already volunteered to help.

    Kathy Akey, a media specialist for the 600-student Clintonville High School in Clintonville, Wis., has been working to police the site, making sure that the links are useful and reliable.

    Akey likes the fact that the site offers convenient access to practical content – something she said is particularly valuable in a time of tight school budgets, and to schools in rural communities. "The access to outside sources is important to us," she said.

    Another FREE feature: The Welcome, Students page provides direct links to "Kids Pages" on dozens of federal Web sites.

    (The U.S. Department of Education's original Web site can still be found at: http://www.ed.gov )



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