Why Use Online Resources?
While writing the Excellence in Literature curriculum, I had a choice in how to structure it. Should I write a large textbook with lengthy, encyclopedia-style entries for each of the context resources? Or would it be better to create a concise, easy-to-use study guide with links to context resources presented by experts in a variety of voices and styles?
Why I use online resources in Excellence in Literature
For me, the choice was easy. I chose to use linked resources for a variety of reasons.
- I am ever mindful of Charlotte Mason’s wise admonition that “we owe it to every [student] to put him in communication with great minds” because “mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated” (A Philosophy of Education, p.12). When knowledgeable experts have written or spoken well upon a subject, I prefer to introduce the student to the expert and and let mind speak to mind.
- It is more interesting to learn history from a historian than from an encyclopedia. And it can be a delight to learn about literature, art, music, and poetry by experiencing it, contemplating it, discerning patterns, and discussing it.
- I believe it’s important to look beyond modern voices in learning. C.S. Lewis, in his essay on reading old books, points out that great thinkers are generally much more understandable than modern commentators (less fluff, for one thing). He also emphasizes the importance of reading things that take us outside of the common assumptions of our own age. This doesn’t mean that we read or refer only to old things; it simply means that reading things from a variety of times and places will provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of literature, history, science, and the arts.
- During the years of homeschooling my boys, I observed that they preferred to learn as I always have — from a variety of sources and voices rather than from a single textbook that drones on in the same voice about everything. Not only is it more interesting to learn in this way, but it tends to provide a much more complete and balanced body of knowledge.
- Online resources can include visual arts, music, video, and written resources. This can expand understanding not only of the literature being studied, but also of a literary period, author, historical event, and the artistic and cultural influences related to a piece of literature.
- Online links can be easily added to or updated to include access to additional or better resources.
- A concise study guide seems more approachable and user-friendly than a door-stop sized textbook. Because the curriculum is self-directed, I wanted to include the most necessary things in the guides, but not make them so big that they are intimidating or difficult to use. Online resource links helped me do that.
Are there downsides to link-based resources?
The short answer is yes — there are both real and potential downsides. Links can move, change, or be broken. We are aware of this and continue to address it by keeping the links for each study guide module updated on its own page. In addition, we continue to add good context resources to this site in order to ensure that they don’t disappear.
A second potential downside is that it can be challenging to find knowledgeable, reliable experts among the millions of internet pages available. We are particular about the sources we choose, and have gradually accumulated a listing of generally reliable scholars and sources that we can count on.
A third potential downside is that students may become distracted while on the internet. This is a very real possibility for anyone who works online, and I believe it’s important for anyone who uses the computer to learn how to maintain focused attention. Two tools make it easier.
- First, it is always wise to have an internet filter to eliminate problematic sites (I consider it a necessary prerequisite for screen time).
- Second, I believe it’s also wise to have and use a focus filter such as Freedom to temporarily block distracting website and apps. It’s never too early to learn that screens are a tool and not a toy!
Despite the potential downsides, I believe that using online resource links helps me meet my objectives for this curriculum.
- It allows students to learn from a variety of interesting and knowledgeable thinkers;
- It presents information in multi-sensory ways;
- It keeps the primary focus on the literature we are studying, rather than on the text of a textbook.
In addition, having to actively visit each resource tends to keep students more engaged than they would be if they were reading an encyclopedia-style entry that drones on and on. For me, the pluses far outweigh the potential minuses. I hope they will for you, too.