Like thousands of educators, Bob Douds has traded current textbooks for the internet in order to include Kosovo in his high school world history lessons.

The Pittsburgh teacher said even the most up-to-date textbooks mention little about the Yugoslavian province, making it tough for him to teach his students about unrest in the Balkans and the bombing of Serbian forces by NATO.

“The map in my classroom is from 1991,” Douds said. “It doesn’t even have Kosovo.”

But news web sites, like those for CNN and ABC, provide dozens of stories in an instant. Such web sites, as well as newspapers and magazines, provide intricate maps of the little-known province.

The crisis in Kosovo has given educators a striking example of the internet’s power and immediacy as a classroom resource. Unlike more traditional resources, the web offers up-to-the-minute information–as well as a unique opportunity to exchange viewpoints with others from around the world.

Ambridge Area, Penn., High School social studies teacher John Hess regularly surfs the web so he is better prepared to answer students’ questions about where U.S. involvement might lead. “They’re really wondering if we send troops in, if the draft would be reinstated,” he said.

Other teachers and students have gone high-tech to get current information about the air strikes and learn about the area’s longtime conflict. The internet has even let students and teachers communicate with people in the war zone.

“It allows us to get the news as the news unfolds,” said Steve Pokrajac, 10th-grade history teacher at Pittsburgh’s Bethel Park High School.

Pokrajac retrieved information about the air strikes from the internet and distributed it in his class just hours after NATO launched the first missiles in late March. Cyberspace also gave him short descriptions of the conflict’s key players and background on NATO.

“I’m no expert on Kosovo,” Pokrajac said, “so my job is to track what’s happening every day and present it to students.”

First-hand accounts

For a first-hand account of the bombings, two students in Hess’ class found chat rooms on the internet and conversed with people living in Serbia–a move Hess applauded because it showed another side of the story.

“The Serbs told them Milosevic is not the evil person the U.S. press makes him out to be, and that more people were rallying for him than opposing him,” he said.

Mandy Annand, a 13-year-old student from Canada, participated in a web chat with Serb artist and writer Andrej Tisma of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, through the ABC News web site with her social studies class. “Do you think that Clinton’s method of peace keeping is going to work?” she asked, to which he replied, “How can throwing of bombs make peace?”

Other participants gave students a different perspective. When asked through another chat if he thought Milosevic would back down before the bombing escalated, Azem Thaci, a 49-year-old ethnic Albanian refugee from Kosovo now living in Worcester, Mass., wrote, “I don’t expect him to back down in a week or two. He will wait until the West stops bombing and then proclaim victory (like Saddam Hussein) and will continue his campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

Whatever their personal feelings about the NATO action against Yugoslavia, students were treated to an exchange of views and information that couldn’t be found anywhere else.

Online guides

Like ABC News, hundreds of other online news sources and internet curriculum providers have created web sites devoted to understanding the conflict. One of the best is Homework Central’s “Kosovo Crisis Spotlight,” a comprehensive collection of resources ranging from real-time satellite images of Kosovo to a web page on Croatian poetry.

Emmanuel Skoulas, Homework Central’s Balkans specialist, said the site’s mission is to provide students and educators with free, immediate access to the tremendous amount of information about the Balkans available on the internet.

“Our spotlight on the Kosovo crisis is 10 percent news coverage and 90 percent thoughtful, balanced background information,” Skoulas said. “To fully grasp the dynamics of the conflict, you have to know about ethnic tensions which date back to well beyond the first century B.C.”


Homework Central’s Kosovo Crisis Spotlight