In the aftermath of the deadly tsunami that devastated parts of South Asia and the east coast of Africa on Dec. 26, educators and their students are using online resources to help explain the geological, geographical, cultural, and political elements of the disaster.

Kathy Schrock, technology administrator for the Nauset Public Schools on Cape Cod, Mass., said she received many eMail messages over the holiday vacation from teachers asking for resources on the subject. “Teachers who wrote to me seemed to be more interested in first explaining how such a disaster occurs so in my [weekly eMail discussion group for educators] I listed sites at all levels that dealt with the geologic and safety forces behind the event,” she said.

Among Schrock’s recommendations: The Discovery Channel web site features interactive maps that plot the geographic events that led to the deadly tidal waves. The maps also familiarize students with the South Asian region. The British Broadcasting Corp.’s web site includes a Macromedia Flash animation demonstrating how tsunamis occur. And the National Geographic site has a feature called Forces of Nature, which includes case studies of specific earthquakes throughout history. At press time on Jan. 6, the content of these case studies had not been updated beyond the 2004 earthquake in Bam, Iran. Given the destruction wrought by the Dec. 26 tsunami, teachers can expect these materials to be revised in the near future.

Lace Hardwick, a social studies teacher at Spring Valley High School in Huntington, W.Va., is using the internet to study the distribution of American aid to the affected areas.

“We used the CIA World Fact Book to study how much [economic] aid the countries affected by the tsunami receive from the United States annually,” he said. His class then discussed those figures against recent criticisms that the U.S. has not given enough money to the tsunami disaster relief effort.

Hardwick said internet resources often provide up-to-the-minute information on current events, where perpetually outdated textbooks and print newspapers cannot.

As with most far-reaching world events, major news outlets such as the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting Service, CNN, the BBC, and others have devoted special sections of their web sites to comprehensive coverage of the tsunami and subsequent humanitarian efforts. In addition, most major news sources have developed in-depth reports on relevant cultural and economic issues. Many also include specific sections on pedagogy. The New York Times Learning Network features writing assignments for students, a lesson plan for teaching about natural disasters, a list of related web sites presented with children in mind, and a science Q&A. The BBC’s web site includes an expert’s guide on how kids can cope with frightening news.

Educators also are increasingly using web logs (blogs) in tandem with traditional news sources to provide students with additional perspectives on issues. Blogs are proving to be invaluable for getting first-person accounts of situations as they develop.

The Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog, for example, features multiple entries from the ground in affected countries. The entries are organized by date and include content about everything from local relief efforts, damaged property and infrastructure, and economic reports to related crime stories and a variety of other topics. The site also has sidebars that link visitors to a database of photographs of missing persons, aid organizations, other useful resources, and alternative language options. As a recent New York Times article noted, there is some controversy about the journalistic integrity of blogs. Given the blog’s just-in-time nature, the information contained is often not fact-checked or edited. Additionally, the personalized nature of the format lends itself to gross editorializing, speculation, sensationalism, and outright lying.

But in a Dec. 28 Ed-Tech Insider entry at eSchool News Online, Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J., defended the use of blogs in the classroom.

“How can the Times stable of maybe 20 reporters compete with thousands of writers, photographers, videographers, compilers, and researchers who are hell-bent on sharing information with the world?” Richardson asked. “This is the future of news, and I’ll be showing more examples of how this all works in the year ahead.”

Links:

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators

The Discovery Channel

BBC News: How Earthquakes Happen

National Geographic Online

“Forces of Nature”

CIA World Fact Book

New York Times Learning Network

BBC News: What to Do if the News Upsets You

Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog