From Visions Magazine, Jan/Feb, 2002


Ever since Steffen Schmidt joined ISU's Political Science Department in 1970, he has been poking and prodding. Poking at new ideas. Prodding students. Simultaneously enticing debate, laughter, and excitement about learning.

Today, Schmidt is embracing the Internet as a way to engage students in new ways. In Schmidt's CyberPolitics class, for example, students use the Internet on three different levels to write what used to be called a "term paper." They use the Web to choose, they use the Web to research, and they use the Web to communicate their topics.

First, students choose a topic that addresses how the Internet has affected an area that interests them. They, might, for example, choose to study how the Web has affected human rights. Or civil liberties. Or terrorism. Or commerce. Or politics. Second, they research their topic on the \\ch -an activity that takes very different skills from using a library; says Schmidt.

"I teach students to cross check, verify, and rate their Web sources. By separating the wheat from the chaff - by understanding what is true and reliable - they learn more about research methodology. It gives them a critical thinking challenge."

And finally, students use the Web to communicate the results of their inquiry. Rather than preparing a research paper for the eyes of their professor, they prepare a Web site for the eyes of the world. Knowing that their material will really be used is an exciting motivation, says Schmidt. And preparing material for the Web involves skills that a traditional term paper does not, including kinesthetic and aesthetic skills.

Schmidt also uses the Web to enhance class discussion. Students are asked to enter into an online dialogue with other class members about a specified question before they come to class. "Students who don't say a word in class become very articulate when they've had a chance to write something that others have looked at beforehand. The Web is the best thing I've seen to help encourage students to participate."

The Web experience reaffirms what Schmidt has known all along: that every student can be stimulated and challenged.