Classwebs: Cultivating the Internet for Learning

By David Warlick


What is the Internet's place in K-12 education?  This question is often asked and answered by school administrators, teachers, parents, and government officials.  The question comes from the needs to finance the infrastructure that pipes the Internet into our learning environments; the cost of maintaining that infrastructure; and the need to help educators learn to use and utilize the technology. 

In answering this question, we must take into account the condition of our classrooms.  At any one time our teachers are managing learning for 20 to 30 (and sometime more) students, each with unique experiences, intellectual strengths and weaknesses, and styles of learning.  Teachers are charged with assuring that each student exits the classroom at the end of the year with specific skills and knowledge, capable of applying those skills and knowledge in real world situations.  Increasingly, teachers are also being asked to prepare students for high stakes exams, which determine their schools' ranking, teacher pay bonuses, or whether the state takes over the school.

With this much being asked of our teachers, the puzzle that makes up their classrooms leaves little room for broad nebulous technologies, no matter how impressive and global they are.   This is especially true when that technology also presents the teacher with a new set of problems and challenges to address, including:

  • Evaluating information from the Internet,

  • Supervising student use of the Internet to protect them from offensive or otherwise inappropriate information,

  • Protecting each student's identity on the Internet,

  • Precious time that is often wasted surfing the net for information, and

  • Dealing with brand-new issues of plagiarism and copyright.

In order to positively and productively integrate Internet technology into our busy and over stressed classrooms, we must mold it to fit.  Teachers must be able to package the Internet to meet the needs of students, the demands of the curriculum, and the instructional style of the teacher.  They must be able to craft learning experiences for their students and plant them as web pages on to the Internet. When the Internet becomes a shapeable media for teachers, then it becomes a mortar that can bind those puzzle pieces together, making a seamless learning environment.  A tall order, admittedly.

It is almost rare to find a school district or even school without a web site.  Classroom web sites have been fewer in comparison, especially those designed for student use.  The reasons are many!

  • Few teachers have the skills to create and maintain a web site nor the time to develop those skills.

  • Few school districts provide web space for classroom sites.

  • There are few models for teacher-constructed educational web sites.

  • The potential benefits for teacher constructed online learning environments have not been openly or thoroughly explored.

  • There is still not enough equitable access by students to the Internet.

Baring any major backlashes against the current spending on instructional technologies in our schools and assuming the continued growth of the Internet in our homes, the last issue will be solved -- the Digital Divide will be bridged.

The remaining four issues are complex and require buy-in, collaboration, and time.   There remains a gap between teachers' technical skills and the requirements for building and maintaining webs.  But this gap is rapidly narrowing, not a result of staff development, but because of the efforts of a variety of web services that are making it easier to create online environments, bypassing the need for learning code and even the need for server space.  (More about this later)

Many teachers are still confounded by what exactly their students should be doing at their Internet-connected classroom and lab computers.  They know and use the World Wide Web and e-mail, but the idea of students lose and unguided on the information highway searching for information is scary.

  • A teacher-constructed educational web page can give students a place to start that is designed to send them to specific Internet resources related to the topic at hand.
  • Perhaps even more important is the fact that the teacher can wrap around those links a context in the form of text and media. This context illustrates for the student what this web
    page and activity have to do with me, my world, and my future.
  • Finally, a teacher constructed web page can help students do something with the information they are using, to examine the information, draw conclusions, and to do that collaboratively with other students in a potent communication environment.
ClassWeb A ClassWeb is...

a web page/site designed and constructed by a teacher for a specific group of students to achieve one or more instructional objectives.

ClassWebs can be extremely flexible in design and construction, but they should:

  • Utilize unique qualities of the Internet -- rich information resources, collaboration, contributive expression,
  • Proactively point the student toward educationally appropriate Internet resources,
  • Provide safe and secure workspace for students to conduct their work, preferably interactive space,
  • Provide a context for what the student is learning,
  • Be constructed more easily and in less time than it takes to prepare a paper work sheet.

ClassWebs are virtual learning spaces for students that provide access to
selected information, encourage collaboration with peers and experts, and
include opportunities for students to express their knowledge and
experience to authentic audiences.

An Example A seventh grade social studies teacher is bringing closure to a unit on China. He has introduced Confucius on several occasions during the unit.  As a final activity, he assigns students to scan some of the Analects of Confucius, a document of sayings either directly attributed to him or to others who taught Confucian philosophy after his death. Each student is asked to select one or more of the Analects and then write a short essay
(one or two paragraphs) that describe how the idea relates to today’s society.

As a ClassWeb, the assignment would take the form of a web page with information about the assignment, access to Net-based information resources (in this case, the Analects of Confucius, and the context for what they are being asked to do – the “why”. Finally, workspace is provided, a tool for processing their learning. In this case, students are asked to use a message board. They are each assigned to post at least one original article describing how their Analect applies to contemporary society. Finally, students are asked to respond to at least two articles posted by classmates, expanding on their ideas by describing how that Analect has applied to their lives. On the next page is an image of how such a ClassWeb might look.


msg1.gif (2869 bytes)

msg2.gif (1980 bytes)

example.gif (175157 bytes)


How was
Using HTML code or even a WYSIWYG editor like Microsoft FrontPage to
construct and install this web page could take hours, assuming that your
district has message board software that you could purpose for your
ClassWebs. In truth, this page was constructed and available on the Net in
45 minutes, and that includes the online research to find the Analects.

The Confucius In Our Times ClassWeb was created using bigchalk
community tools ( This company offers a
wide variety of content services and products and ties them together through
their community tools, which are free. Essentially, bigchalk, and a number
of other online services (listed below), provide web-based tools that enable
teachers to create web pages by selecting templates, and then entering the
content (including images) into a web form. With most services you can
also add interactive features such as web forms, chat rooms, and message

When you are finished, all of the content and interactive tools reside on the
bigchalk server, so you do not have to worry about uploading files. If you
find that you misspelled a word, or that you could have described the
assignment in a better way, you can easily return to the form and edit the
contents for imitate revision of the web page.

Here are some other services that offer community tools for teachers:

High Wired
Family Education Network
School City
* Since the article was written, has changed its community tools in a way that has made them less ideal for the construction of ClassWebs.  I have found that Server.Com is a more useful tool for this purpose.

It is important to note, that most of these services operate under a traditional (but valuable) model for web publishing aiming their products for school and classroom web pages – institutional web pages. What is needed, is a web service that is explicitly designed to help teachers create online learning tools for students. One such tool is TrackStar (, from SCR*TEC. This is a series of tools designed for teachers to help them create web tours and online worksheets. However, more progress needs to be made to produce tools that integrate the context building, Net-based resources, and interactive/collaborative tools together into a single product.


Conclusion ClassWebs are about solving problems. They overcome the challenges of the Internet, allowing teachers to shape the technology to their specific needs.

ClassWebs are not intended to replace anything, except inefficient and ineffective use of Internet technology in education. If the work can be done with a paper worksheet, chalkboard, overhead projector, or textbook, then those are the appropriate technologies to be used. ClassWebs do provide easy access to the information-rich World Wide Web, then enable us to wrap around those links the reasons why our students are accessing that information and what they are to do with the information, and provide interactive/collaborative workspaces where students contribute and construct their own knowledge by reflecting, composing, and crafting their work.

To learn more about ClassWebs, visit the ClassWeb support site at:

…and join the ClassWeb mailing list by sending an empty e-mail message

Author's Bio David Warlick, is an instructional technology consultant from Raleigh, North Carolina. He is an internationally recognized conference speaker and workshop facilitator, and the creator of Landmarks for Schools (, one of the Internet's earliest educational Web sites. Warlick is also the author of Raw Materials for the Mind, a book about the unique educational opportunities available through the Internet. He can
be reached by e-mail at: