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					            Online communities - changing teacher practice
                                           Michelle Williams
                                             RITE Group
                                                 QUT

Introduction
I am concerned that teacher professional development does not necessarily mean that teachers
will use technology sensibly in classrooms. I say this because of another fear; that dumping
more technology into schools will not make better lives for teachers and better learning
experiences for students. Does this mean that connecting schools to the Internet is dejavu of
usual technology projects - lots of hype, lots of computer screens in front of students and no
real change? It might. However, I also believe that the circumstances we have at the moment
have great potential to pull all the pieces of the puzzle together at last. It seems to me, that
we have better rationales than ever before for integrating information and communications
technology into curriculum and for building sensible IT curriculum. The technology now
makes sense. How we address teacher professional development will be the key!

In this paper I will weave five ideas into a set of arguments about teacher professional
development. Firstly I am suggesting we need to have a balanced understanding of what
constitutes teacher work. Teacher work is no longer only about helping students learn. It may
well be that helping teachers use technology for non-classroom work is the most important
thing we can do if we are to expect teachers to know what makes sense to do with the
technology in the classroom. Secondly, I am suggesting the Internet is the imperative for us to
understand how we have to alter how teachers work. Teachers who use their technology as
part of the personal and professional culture will understand why we need different kinds of
schools and classrooms. Thirdly I will share a way of thinking about the Internet that changes
what professional development and curriculum ideas we consider, as we try to make sense of
a rapidly changing world in which schools are trying to survive. I will be suggesting that what
people online do is more important than what they look up. A more sophisticated view of the
Net is important to assuring that the Internet is not treated like all the other „Initiatives of the
Moment‟ that has been relegated to the historical „Hall of Previous Fads‟, with the same
kind of low impact results. To operational these ideas is difficult. I will share a model which
might help us understand why previous IT in schools initiatives have not been as successful
as we had hoped. Lastly I will draw attention to the changing work of professional
associations and suggest how national projects like NATCOM are important first steps in
helping the whole educational community make sense of these new ways of working. 1




Educators’ Work



1
  Natcom is a DEETYA funded project designed to help National professional associations develop Internet
activities for teachers. See http://www.ash.org.au/natcom
M Williams                                                         1997 OECD Conference


I want to begin by using the term educator rather than teacher. „Teachers‟ as a term, tends to
be associated with students between the ages of 5 and 17. In a global community that is
placing increasing emphasis on post-school education (See how valued TAFE courses of 30
hours are valued over 5 year programs our schools offer, if you don‟t believe), workplace
education, professionalism and leisure education; school education is now valued as a
component of a person‟s lifetime of education. I am going to return to this point a few times,
because as an educator, your education is essential to your value in the school or educational
system.

Jobs educators do
       teach students
       interpret curriculum
       develop resources
       counsel peers and students
       perform non-teaching responsibilities with respect to students
       complete administrative roles that make the workplace (a school) function effectively
       participate in strategic planning role
       contribute to systems management
       conduct personnel training
       contribute to advocacy roles

Skills behind the tasks
        collecting, analyzing and organising information
        communicating ideas and information
        planning and organising activities
        working with others and in teams
        solving problems
        using technology
        understanding the culture in which people live and work, govern and care
        managing projects
        managing teams of people
        practicing advocacy and marketing skills

You might recognise the first six skills descriptions. They are precisely the skills Mayer
(1992) invited us to include in all curriculum. An interesting question then is, that if these
skills are embedded in the culture of work and integral to the culture of educators work, why
do then we want to send teachers „to the workforce‟ so they can understand real work.
Perhaps a program which helped systems, principals and teachers value their work skills,
would do much for teacher morale and create a more sensible context for professional
development. It would also help teachers understand why these skills need to be developed in
their students. This is a reflection of the view that teachers will only commit to stories they
believe and if they experience work ethic in its own right, they will be much more likely to
share their personal experiences with their students. (Williams 1995)

What is interesting in thinking about this, is that most teachers do not use technology as part
of the culture of their work. I don‟t mean that they don‟t use it occasionally. I mean that
technology-embedded work is not a major and integral part of the culture of their workplace,
as it would be in any business I can name outside of the school gate. Perhaps, if teachers
understood more about the interrelationships between the culture of technology and the


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M Williams                                                          1997 OECD Conference


culture of their work, they might be able to tell more truthful and first-hand stories to students
as they prepare to enter the culture which is all about technology embedded in work. We must
make technology integral to teachers work, if we are to expect them to interpret the
curriculum which has technology-embedded work as a core structure.


Professional practice

Lave and Wenger (1992) use a term Community of Practice, to describe how communities
of workers engage in the craft of their profession. In their work they also talk about the
survival of professions and crafts. They researched how newcomers and old hands must learn
how to participate in the community of practice and that craft renewal was a significant
contribution to craft development and change. They concluded that „talk‟ is the essential
ingredient of professional communities. Talk and participation, is the expression of the spirit
of professionalism that sets one professional community apart from another. An outsider
might think that an educational community must be a hard place to live, given the complexity
of educator work. Educators would not think so, because their craft, that of teaching learners,
is very similar to the craft of being a teacher. The skills are precisely those embedded in our
curriculums ( Mayer Key Competencies). Thus teachers already have the skills necessary to
participate in their profession and yet the attitudal shift required to make a community of
practice spirit alive is not as strong as it needs to be. Teachers close the door on their
classrooms at 9.00am and have so few opportunities to participate in professional dialogue. I
would like to propose that participating in the community of practice is not only a right, but
a responsibility of being a contemporary educator - it is part of the work ethic of being an
educator. This idea too, might impact on how we define professional development.


Professional development mistakes - why can’t teachers come first?

If we are serious about getting teachers to use technology, and we admit the model of “do it
for the sake of your kids” has not worked, perhaps the model of „do it for you‟ will. I don‟t
believe for a minute that teachers don‟t believe in their students. However I do believe they
don‟t understand the curriculum (and non-curriculum) imperatives for using technology.
„Teacher‟s first‟ therefore, is a theme I say every chance I get. Though, this is not about
teachers doing things before their students. It is more than that. It is about caring for teachers
as a principle, and helping them use technology for their own work. Any teacher who knows
any craft, hobby or interest shares that passion with their class. If teachers are not passionate
enough about using technology for professional work and participating in the community of
practice of professionals, then they will tell lies to students anyway - perhaps by ignorance,
perhaps to protect their abstinence, but always by omission. I will return to this theme later.


The curriculum imperative

Lets dwell for a second on the curriculum imperative. I have had to do some soul searching
recently about the “computers in the curriculum” push. I did this because
        a) I was losing energy in trying to convert the unconvertible




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M Williams                                                          1997 OECD Conference


       b) I believe it is okay to teach about computers anyway. Computer Studies as a
       discipline is well established in schools, is the third largest curriculum in the country
       and is integral to our “clever country” we would like Australia to be.
       c) I was questioning why learning a content area required a computer anyway.

I was struggling with the questions teachers gave me about how to learn curriculum content
with technology. “I already have „too much to cover‟. Can technology make it easier,
quicker, more effective?”

The answer lies, for me at least, in the understanding that curriculum contain both content
and process objectives and that it is the processes of the curriculum which can be computer
assisted, not just, if at all, the content. It is the processes of collecting, analyzing and
organising information, communicating ideas and information, planning and organising
activities, working with others and in teams (sound familiar) that can be computer assisted.
Aren‟t these the very same processes teachers need to use in their work? How can teachers
who do not do this work with technology, know how to plan and implement
technology-processes in their curriculum areas or even know why they should. I don‟t believe
telling them this, is enough. It is something they need to experience. They also need a
first-hand window on how other professionals in the community, experience
technology-embedded work.

Speaking of experiences, I would like to share another story.


Redefining the Internet

              “I was just not physically connected - I was mentally connected.”

                                                      Glen, teacher from the Computers in the
                                                      Curriculum Professional Development
                                                      Project

This comment emerged in some research conducted at QUT about how teachers experience
professional development. A core belief of the program in which this teacher participated,
was that teachers needed to experience and then reflect on the professional development
approach. I would like to share a little of the story which surrounds the program which
caused this comment.




New countries
(Adapted from Williams 1996)

I want to tell a story about what it is like to begin an engagement with a new place you
have never been before. When first visiting a new place, we act like tourists, gaining an
impression of the place from brochures and glossy coffee table books. We imagine what a
visit might be like and plan the visit on that limited understanding. We usually then fulfill


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M Williams                                                           1997 OECD Conference


our prophesy by undertaking the visit to take photos of the monuments and architectures
which are part of the only story we know. However if we were to visit the place because of
work or business requirements we would need to find out very different information about it,
and build a very different prophesy of what it will be like for us to work there. We would
want to know about the people, customs, habits, business protocols. The tourist picture would
be irrelevant to our needs.

Regardless of purpose for the visit, we would need to find out what the new place was like.
One of the following scenarios is likely.

       Read about it before you visit                   (filtered information)
       Ask other tourists that have been there          (filtered information)
       Go and visit                                     (limited but first hand
                                                         experiences)
       Go and live there                                (more sophisticated first hand
                                                         experiences)

It is difficult to predict what it is like to live in a new space. Some things you will predict
accurately from the information you can gather but mostly, you will incorrectly predict the
experiences. It is likely that reading about it or having a short visit will be insufficient to help
you understand the culture of the country form the inside. From a short visit to a country it is
unlikely you will understand commerce, trade and business operations. It would be difficult to
understand how the communities of the country are affected by political forces, what cultural
values and social customs are significant to how you live in the country. It would be difficult
to predict how to do commerce, or how to participate in the community or understand the
lifestyles of the people.

This is ironically, much the same predicament that teachers face constantly. Teachers will
teach „about‟ the new country and aim to help students prepare to live there. More than that, a
teacher‟s task is to build meaningful curriculum experiences for some students who have a
better understanding of the country than the teacher, to the point where some have visited the
country regularly. This is the dilemma facing the teacher who also needs to help those
students who only have heard „weird‟ stories about the country and believe these stories to
be true representations of the country.

Perhaps a way to describe a country is in terms of communities of people who live there: the
communities, lifestyles, business practices and ways of living. These communities store their
cumulative wisdom in books, magazines, films and videos. It is from these texts that outsiders
build pictures of what a country is like. However it is the first-hand talk of the streets that is
perhaps the most powerful public view of what a country is like. In saying this, it is likely
though, that peoples personal experiences and relationships they form there, that make the
difference. This people-centred definition of a country is one that residents of the country
would build. It made sense to us to describe the billion people who use the Internet everyday
in the same terms.

Representation of a country


             People


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M Williams                                                        1997 OECD Conference



                     Communities

                       Places, artifacts,
                       purposes - political,
                       Contexts
                       cultural, social
                     Cumulative wisdom


Representation of the Internet


                 People
                     Communities

                       Places, artifacts,
                       purposes - political,
                       Contexts
                       cultural, social
                     Cumulative wisdom

This model of the Internet says that the most significant element of the Internet is that it is
made up of communities of people and that interaction with these communities of people will
be an important way to understand what their country is like.

This model rejects
      the giant CD Rom in the sky model
      the network of networks model
      boundaries and classifications we usually apply to geographical places

The model says clearly
(1)   There is a bigger picture to the Internet than looking up stuff.

        You need to understand a little about the community who built that archive; their
        biases, how they select and value information, that multiple contributors are more
        likely the model than a single author, that publishing is bottom up rather than top
        down

             the outside anonymously looking up information is a low level use of the net
(2) Sitting on
   ensuring that users remain as tourists having at best a first level understanding of the
   country and its communities.

(3) We need to connect students (and their teachers) to the communities of people we are
   teaching about.
                                                Williams and McKeown 1995, Williams 1996


An interesting reflection is that we already have a clear understanding of this imperative. The
first things we did when telecommunications was possible in Australia, was connect


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M Williams                                                           1997 OECD Conference


students with others through Keylink projects. When the Internet came along, we seemed to
place more emphasis on information than communicating. We adopted with enthusiasm, the
image of “people alone looking up stuff” and created a whole group of young tourists. The
more energetic people build stuff for others to look up but they never really imagine
interacting with their audience. Because we now have a critical mass of teachers,
curriculum developers and others in our educational communities online, there is now much
more evidence of the balanced activity. Projects around the country are fulfilling the
demands that teachers want things to „do‟ on the net for themselves and for students,
rather than to „look up‟ information.


Reflections - culture of the Internet

Now for some of us who include the Internet as part of the culture of our lives, we have some
experience on which to base a “critical” look at what others see about the Internet. Internet
vendors, the popular press, books and other sources tend to focus on the information model of
the Net. It is visible. It is a real thing you can show, display, demonstrate, take pictures of,
sell!. It is no wonder that school administrators (and the system level decision makers who
decide what happens in schools) want to put the Internet in the school‟s look-it-up places.
Some imagine that students will all be looking up the same place at the same time. The
pedagogy teachers adopt and what they do is already predetermined by the decisions of the
dis-connected. The information model determines how the anti-net lobby see the net - it‟s
the nasty place where kids can look up bomb making, how to commit suicide and pictures of
naked people. This too has created pedagogy and determined what we have placed energy into
and what teachers do and don‟t do with students.

 I find it very difficult to defend the Information model of the Internet. If I don‟t believe in the
information model of education and the information model of work, I can‟t then ask schools
to accept the information model of the Internet. The communities definition of the net seems
to make more educational, cultural and organisational sense to me. More than that, the
communities definition of the Internet places the WWW into perspective - it is, after all, only
a part of the whole. This gives a whole new perspective to understanding what web
publishing and use of the web is about. It seems like a sensible way of thinking about how
this technology fits into what we are trying to achieve in schools.

Community web sites are important models for educational groups to consider. Communities
which offer support to say, sufferers of rare diseases, use their web site quite deliberately. The
web provides a way of collecting together a small but intensively powerful community of
people. It may offer contemporary information, legal advice, local contacts and ways of
talking to people with similar concerns or needs. They usually have evidence of list
communities, chat rooms and other devices which provide the infrastructure which makes the
community work in the way it needs, to fulfill its purpose. Often the web is a management
device for the group itself and a collection point. It also plays an advocacy role drawing
attention to their work, helping the community become more tolerant or supportive of the
issue.

As a result of the Natcom Project (Potter and Williams 1997), professional association webs
are reflecting this model. The web is a service to its community. They also act a place to
collect members resources, have directories of expertise, provide advice on events and


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M Williams                                                         1997 OECD Conference


demonstrate the connectivity of the professional association to other teacher communities. If
the association also hosts a number of interactive online communities, the site describes how
to participate, where you can „watch‟ the conversations, the events you can join and so on.
Professional associations in this country have adopted the communities model of the net with
enthusiasm and this is evident in all they do and think about. This philosophical
interpretation is up front in their shop front.

Community-modeled webs are an infrastructure for their community. What we need to help
our students and our teachers think about, is the role such online communities have on how
people work, who they work with, the projects they do together regardless of geography and
the things they think about. What is interesting to reflect about when thinking about these
examples of the Internet, is that what you might look up, or what you might send students to
the library to look up, must be contextualised by the communities which host those sites. In
these cases the web does not replace other community devices, it supplements and extends
the other stories from the community that students access in other mediums.

In the same way that we seem to be determined to send students to look up stuff, we want
kids to web publish with the same kind of loose rationales; because you can. Web for
communities have a purpose and it is more likely that these will survive long after
vanity-publishing loses its appeal. That is not to dismiss the significance of the web
publishing of individuals. Those sites which serve a community need are well used, known in
the online community and an important indicator of a shifting information landscape. We
need to understand what this shifting landscape is and how it will continue to shift. Many
assumptions no longer hold. Connecting together a billion people is powerful stuff and we
need to helps students and their teachers understand this cultural shift, and to take advantage
of it as well as protect themselves. Perhaps what students and teachers look up is not as
important as thinking about what they are contributing to by the processes of looking and the
processes of publishing.

Understanding and believing in this definition means we must rethink the professional
development models for teachers. We can not tell teachers about the net. We must provide
ways for them to experience it, for themselves, and not only on behalf of their students.
They need ways to gradually understand the cultural shifts at work and to reflect on the
changing curriculum structures which are a natural progression of what is happening in the
world outside the school gate. We need to help them understand why they need these
experiences in the first place. At the same time we need to provide access where it counts.
Boxes in front of these teachers‟ students is NOT the answer and with the benefit of
hindsight, never was.


Curriculum projects - community style professional development

Throughout the country, a number of people are building curriculum projects for teachers to
do with their students. These projects are important for us to focus on, not only because they
are good examples of curriculum interpretation based on a community definition of the
Internet, but because they represent new models for professional development. These
projects have embraced a key idea; that teachers who are participating in their projects need to
talk to other teachers. They need to talk to the partners in their projects, so that the activity
works in their classroom. They also need to share experiences and problems with other


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M Williams                                                          1997 OECD Conference


teachers participating in that or similar projects if this project and others will work. This is a
change in the culture of how teachers usually work and is different to the closed-door
working style of most teachers. Within these projects, they are tentatively beginning to share,
to ask for support and help and to build new relationships and practice within their altered
and more vibrant community of practice. See the archives of the Forums area of
oz-TeacherNet or the archives of the teacher communities of the oz-TeacherNet curriculum
projects for examples of changing culture of teacher practice.
(Http://owl.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet). For some, these projects represent the first time they
have cooperatively planned curriculum with another teacher. For others they represent a wider
audience for accessing teachers ideas than they had before. Regardless, they all learn about
classroom ideas and curriculum interpretation in ways they would not have before.

Online curriculum projects are powerful activities in the landscape for the next few years. Not
only do they provide models for what makes sense to do with the Internet in classrooms, they
provide a way for beginning and more experienced teachers to experience new pedagogies
and to experiment in new ways of facilitating learning. Early attempts at designing projects
have helped us understand that projects are probably more powerful experiences for the
teachers than for the students. (McKeown 1996, McKeown 1997). The design of projects like
Travel Buddies, Book Raps, Project Atmosphere Australia and others change what teachers
do with technology in classrooms. These projects give teachers first hand experiences of what
it is like to integrate technologies within project based learning, within writing and social
projects, science and second language programs. Without realising they do, teachers change
from didactic models of teaching to helping students learn by actively constructing and
participating. They become so excited about their students enthusiasm for learning they
can‟t wait to tell the world. They begin to tell stories online with the only people who
understand what that means - other teachers who do crazy things like them.

Teachers telling stories about what they do is imperative over the next few years because we
will have a few outstanding leaders who will alter what we think this technology is for. It is
unbelievable to witness ACCE Educator of the Year Cheryl Walters move an audience of
grown up teachers to tears with her stories of kids new understanding of others in one minute
and laughter the next as they try and understand what it is like to run an environmentally
conscious but bankrupt farm from inner Sydney or generate minus 50 degrees inside a
Antartic House in a tin demountable during the summer term - all while connected via a
single stand alone machine and a phone line. Her audiences understand what it is like to
connect students to the world and why we should. Similar powerful stories are told all over
the country. At the CEGV conference a few weeks ago, Muriel Wells from Victoria excited
an audience beyond belief with antics of her globe trotting travel buddies. Sel Kerans of
Queensland tells stories about teachers trying to forecast weather and how they deal with all
those incredibly tricky „why‟ questions, only 8 year olds can dream up. These stories are part
of repertoire of tales told to teachers by Lindy McKeown of oz-TeacherNet. Her sharing of
first hand experiences have shifted how thousands of teachers think about using the net in
classrooms. The challenge we have is to nurture more story tellers.

The projects also represent a new way of learning about technology. For most teachers doing
any kind of project, regardless of experience, the project will cause some just-in-time training
to occur. They will experience logistical problems, have technical difficulties, and simply not
know how to solve them. The connected-but-alone teacher will not have an audience of peers
encouraging them not to give up. They will not have a remote but vital teaching partner


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    M Williams                                                                   1997 OECD Conference


relying on them to be involved. They will not have any way of finding out today (tonight for
most teachers), how to fix problems or learn how to do things. There is no doubt in my mind
that getting teachers to do these projects is the best technology training they will get, not
because they learn some technical skills but because they will experience a new way of
learning that might, just might alter how teachers teach their students.

Online curriculum projects are powerful for teachers because teachers learn by doing. They
experiment, have successes and failures, tell each other and in doing so contribute to the
learning of others. Most importantly however, they are defining a new way to be a teacher.
The teachers who believe they learn first, plan and then do will not survive in modern
classrooms which are connected to the outside world. Bringing people into classrooms via
telecommunications brings uncertainty, changes what happens in the classroom, excites the
students and exasperates the “in-control” teacher, creates a whole set of new things for the
teachers and student to learn and alters the curriculum interpretations. Teachers who
participate in curriculum
projects are contributing to an alteration of teacher practice and altering what it is like to
participate in the community of practice which is trying to understand its new way of
working.


What professional development?

What then makes sense when designing professional development programs for teachers and
what will help those teachers who are unreluctant to alter their pedagogy and curriculum
interpretation? If we believe that it is important to help teachers understand how
communications technology is altering how the modern (western) world, and thus understand
the need for new look schools and classrooms, we should connect them to world, any way we
can. The worst thing we can do is put connected boxes in front of their students, for this will
widen the gap between technology-fobic teachers and their technology-literate students. The
best thing we can do is give teachers connected computers and help them connect to people
who will help them understand.

Our professional development needs are not about training in the keystrokes and menus2. It
is about understanding the culture of technology-embedded work. It is about understanding
how connecting people together is altering how people work, what they work on, how the
globe‟s environment depends on it and how the pace of medical research depends on it.
They need to understand the impact of globalisation on nation states and how trivial national
economics is when the worlds banking systems sit beyond the boundaries of national politics.
They need to connect to the world and compare their work practice to that of other
professions. Teachers without computers on their desks and without computers in their homes
will never understand.

Our professional development needs are also about learning how to be a modern professional
and how to participate in the new community of practice. We will only learn this by doing.
The immediate task is to help teachers work differently, help them connect to other teachers,

2
  This is also danger zone territory. It not only represents terrible training models which teachers are too willing
to duplicate in their classrooms, but it mis-represents what is truly important learning for teachers (and their
students).


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M Williams                                                         1997 OECD Conference


and help build professional community amongst our teachers. Understanding this was a
milestone outcome of the Natcom project (Potter and Williams 1997). Professional
associations nationally have a clear understanding of their role in this. They are not building
archives for teachers and students to look up. They are building things for teachers to do as an
important first step in building new ways for teachers to work.

If technology should be embedded in curriculum processes because it reflects technology
embedded work, we must help teachers use technology. They need access to the technology.
No! Better than that, they need ownership of the technology! Teachers need computers built
into their salary packages. They need Internet access as part their professional development
options. They need computers at home and at work. They need ways to learn how to use
them. They need at least sales tax exemption on computers. It is difficult to imagine how the
community, schools, and federal and state governments can pressure teachers to do anything
with technology, given the poor resourcing of the workforce.

       Imagine how fast we would develop technology embedded curriculum and
       how quickly we would have the most sophisticated, modern and
       meaningful technology-embedded curriculum activity in the world, if for
       one year, we did not put any more technology into schools and we gave
       each teacher one connected computer!




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M Williams                                                       1997 OECD Conference



References

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation.
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Potter David and Michelle Williams (1997) Natcom Evaluation: report to DEETYA.
Http://ww.ash.org.au/natcom

Williams, M (1995). Virtual communities as a distance education strategy. Crossing
Frontiers, Proceedings of 12th Biennial Forum of ODLAA. Vanuatu: CQU. Pp 70-75.

Williams M. (1996). Piecing telecommunications IT together - NOT! Other more important
pieces. Keynote Paper to ECAWA State Conference.
Http://www.cowan.edu.au/ecawa/resource/pad/confer/ecawa96.htm

Williams, M and Lindy McKeown (1996). Definitions of the net that teachers experience.
Australian Educational Computing. Volume 11, Number 2, December 1996. Pp 4-9.




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