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May 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 8

Only the Best: Hot Links to Good Resources

An interactive knowledge web on the Internet offers a new approach to finding the best curriculum and instructional materials.

Instructional StrategiesTechnologyTechnology
INFOGLUT! The phrase aptly describes the feeling of many educators looking for high-quality curriculum, instructional, or professional development resources. There is an abundance of resources on the market, but educators have relatively few tools for determining which resources are the best for the schools they work in and with.
Other factors complicate the picture. The development of state and district curriculum frameworks and standards means that educators are trying to align materials and resources with frameworks and standards from several levels. But there have been few attempts to link national content standards with state and district standards and frameworks; nor have there been efforts to identify particular curriculums or instructional resources that best match desired standards.
Further, providing access to high-quality materials in a timely and cost-effective manner is a perpetual challenge. How can developers speed up the process for making resources available while keeping costs down?
The ASCD Only the Best Web is a new effort to address these challenges through the use of an interactive knowledge web on the Internet. Developed by ASCD in conjunction with the Kentucky Department of Education, the OTB Web gathers and disseminates "only the best" curriculum, instruction, and assessment materials electronically via a secure site on the World Wide Web (WWW). After a year of development and testing by ASCD and Kentucky, the OTB Web was officially opened for participation by other states on March 1, 1996 (See "Joining the OTB Web Consortium").

Joining the OTB Web Consortium

Currently, only state or provincial departments of education, or the equivalent, such as the Department of Defense Dependent Schools, can be members of Only the Best. In order to participate, prospective members must agree to:

  1. Participate in the Web management and designate a senior staff member to the Web management advisory group.

  2. Establish connectivity to their schools and an HTML-compliant Web server.

  3. Collect curriculum, instruction, and assessment materials meeting criteria and place those resources on the OTB Web, where they can be hyperlinked to others.

  4. Allow ASCD staff to access the state's Web server in order to link documents.

  5. Pay a one-time membership fee to help defray the initial development cost of linking state materials to ASCD's documents, plus an annual fee for an unrestricted site license and a per-password charge to access ASCD documents and the national Web. (Participating states can reduce or eliminate the initial cost by contributing reviewed instructional materials to the Web.)

The cost of the site license varies by the number of users but will average under $5 per person per year for the typical state. ASCD anticipates that, with Kentucky as the model, other states will seek membership in the OTB Web consortium, thereby broadening the base of high-quality materials and increasing the capacity of states to deliver information services and professional development opportunities to their districts and schools in an extremely cost effective manner.

What's on the Web?

The OTB Web site provides access to electronic versions of an array of ASCD products and services, including documents such as journal and newsletter articles, the Only the Best database of highly rated software, the ASCD Curriculum Handbook, and other audio files and multimedia products (see fig. 1). The Web will include additional materials, such as national standards documents, when ASCD can obtain clearance and funding. In time, as uswers identify which services are of most interest and benefit, the OTB Web will offer video materials and professional development opportunities online, as well as topic conferences, bulletin boards, and educators' newsgroups.

Figure 1. Online with the Only the Best Web

el199605_betts_fig1.jpg
These resources will be connected through hyper-media links to exemplary state curriculum frameworks, lesson plans, and assessment strategies gathered by each state. The value of the site will increase as each state contributes its own materials. Ultimately, our vision for the OTB Web is that schools in the participating states will have access to carefully screened curriculum, instructional, and assessment resources, delivered at low cost, when the user needs it.
As part of the OTB Web, each participating state will create its own WWW site as an entry point to the OTB Web, and it will distribute curriculum materials within the state on a state or regional network (such as FIRN in Florida or TENET in Texas). State departments of education are responsible for connecting schools to the state network and to the Internet.
Then, each state will be expected to identify and upload 50 of its best curriculum resources onto the OTB Web. In order to assure a consistent level of quality across the network, a Web management advisory board has established a common set of criteria and standards, categories, and formats for selecting materials for inclusion. Each state manages the solicitation and selection of materials, based on the agreed-upon criteria.
ASCD then loads the selected materials onto the OTB Web server, where each participating state will have its own home page. ASCD creates hyperlinks between ASCD materials and each of the state home pages. ASCD also inserts "hot links" between Web material and electronic versions of publications (beginning with the Only the Best database of reviewed software) and to the lesson plans and other materials the states develop. With this feature, users can jump to related lesson plans, curriculum frameworks, or other materials provided by any participating state.
In addition, the OTB Web site has a sophisticated natural language search engine. Given a key word or concept, the search software ranks available documents by relevance, automatically summarizes them, and finds others that match the specification most closely. This means, for example, that a teacher can input an instructional goal, and the search engine will find related lesson plans and resources.
Other features enable users to contribute to and react to material on the Web. Interactive features such as e-mail, comment pages, surveys, and guest books provide opportunities for users to exchange information, share resources, and comment on the Web design.
If you have access to the Internet, point your Web browser at http://www.ascd.org/otb/otbhp.html to see a small sample of the more than 3,000 pages of materials that appear on the full site-licensed version. You can also obtain more information by sending e-mail to: OTBinfo@ascd.org.

Frank Betts has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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