A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

[Consumer Guide]

National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students

Number 14
September 1995

An Introduction to the Internet

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a worldwide network of computer networks that connects university, government, commercial, and other computers in over 150 countries. There are thousands of networks, tens of thousands of computers, and millions of users on the Internet, with the numbers expanding daily. Using the Internet, you can send electronic mail, chat with colleagues around the world, and obtain information on a wide variety of subjects.

Three principal uses of the Internet are:

How Do I Explore the Internet?

To access the Internet, you'll need a personal computer, a modem (or direct link to a network), telecommunications software, a telephone line, and an Internet account. Don't worry--this is easier than it sounds, but it still helps when you're getting started to have a few good books on the subject, or better yet, a friend who's an experienced "cyber surfer." Many universities provide Internet accounts to their faculty and students at little or no cost. Commercial vendors will provide Internet service for a fee. Make sure that you access your Internet provider with a local telephone call--otherwise, long distance charges will apply.

The easiest way for new users to navigate the Internet may be through the "gopher," a navigational system that uses a series of menus to organize and provide access to information. Unfortunately, "gopher," while easy to use, provides text-only information. It is much more rewarding to take full advantage of the multimedia opportunities available on the World-Wide Web (WWW). This system organizes information to provide for linkages to related documents (hypertext links), which allow users to move quickly and easily to related documents.

Software such as Mosaic and Netscape give users a graphical interface and (theoretically) allow for effortless "point and click" travel through cyberspace. If you want to use programs such as Mosaic and Netscape, you will need an up-to-date personal computer and a fast modem--the faster the better--but most users find the rewards worth the extra investment.

What Information Is Available?

A world of information awaits potential users, everything from job listings to travel guides to exotic locations to movie reviews to full text versions of many of the classics. On a single session on the Internet, you can

As these examples show, the Internet contains a wide variety of information, much of it free. Because of copyright issues, the free material is most likely to be material in the public domain, material for which the copyright has expired, or government documents. You won't find a free copy (legally, anyway) of the latest best seller on the Internet, but you will find on-line newspapers, catalogs for mail-order companies, movie review databases, and a wide variety of government publications. Some sites will have both WWW sites and gopher sites. If you have the choice, start with the WWW site--it's usually much more interesting.

Examples of a few of the governmental resources available on the Internet are:

The strange looking text we've listed after each site, for example http://www.ed.gov/ or gopher.ed.gov, is the site's "address" on the Internet. With this address, you can connect directly to the location. The address also provides a clue to the location of the site. For instance, sites ending in "gov" are government sites, those ending in "edu" tend to be universities, and ones with "com" at the end are commercial sites.

What Is the Catch?

If the idea of vast quantities of information on-line for free sounds a bit too good to be true--well, you're partly right. While we think that the benefits of using the Internet far outweigh any problems, you should realize that there are a number of traffic jams, roadblocks, potholes, and accidents just waiting to happen on the information superhighway. For example:

And finally, remember that the Internet is changing daily. If you're reading this Consumer Guide more than a year after its publication date, you should probably toss it in the recycling bin, call (800) 424-1616, and see if an update is available!

This Consumer Guide, which was prepared by Judith Anderson, is part of a series published by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. To be added to the Consumer Guide mailing list, send your name and address to Consumer Guides, OERI, U.S. Department of Education, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW, Room 610, Washington, DC 20208. Consumer Guides are also available on the Internet at gopher.ed.gov or http://www.ed.gov. This document is in the public domain and may be freely reproduced in part or in its entirety without permission. Please credit OERI.

AR 95-7026

This Consumer Guide is produced by the National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education

Richard W. Riley, Secretary of Education
Sharon P. Robinson, Assistant Secretary, OERI
Judith I. Anderson, Acting Director, At-Risk Institute


[Consumer Guides]

This page last modified on May 20, 2002. (gkp)