The World Wide Web might not be right for some of the business models people have tried to pin to it the last few years, but there's no question that it's still one of the greatest resources ever created for students who need help on a term paper or a science project. There's no limit to what you can find on the Web -- but sometimes students can be limited by not knowing where to find the good stuff.
When high school or college students turn to the Web for help, the most common starting place is likely to be a good search engine such as Google. It's a great tool, but Google's results are a popularity contest -- the engine cranks out the most commonly viewed pages, not necessarily the best or most authoritative or most relevant.
Search for "Dostoyevsky," for example, and many of Google's suggested links would probably be of little use to anyone writing a paper about the author. One chunk of the links offered, for example, ends up being people's online "favorite books" lists.
While there are still plenty of good free resources available on the Web, the demise of the dot-com boom is readily apparent to anyone looking for good, reliable and focused homework help sites.
"This site is no longer being maintained on a regular basis due to lack of time," reads a typical notice at one decent resource, Schoolwork.org. Another once-useful resource, Student.com, seems to be off line altogether. Many of the solid amateur-run sites feature broken links, to resources no longer available. Other sites, such as Britannica.com, sometimes drown their content in promotional offers and pop-up ads.
Still, here are some useful sites that have survived the decline:
Encyclopaedia Britannica (www.britannica.com)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica has long been one of the first places students turn to for homework help and, despite those annoying pop-up ads, the venerable encyclopedia remains useful in the digital age. Not only can Web surfers find all the information available in the hardbound edition of the encyclopedia, they can also look up words in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Collegiate Thesaurus. There's plenty of content available for free, though, like many Web sites, this one practically begs users to sign up for a $5-per-month subscription to the site, which buys an ad-free experience.
Internet Public Library (www.ipl.org)
Like many academic sites, this one isn't going to win any awards for snazzy visual presentation, but it sure feels like the nearest thing to an online version of your local library. It's an initiative of the University of Michigan School of Information and is staffed by professional librarians. While this might not be the first site to go to if you need an answer fast, taking the time to explore it can turn up the same delights and surprises you'd get from walking through the stacks at a good library. Try the music section, for example, and you'll find everything from a Library of Congress guide to 19th-century American sheet music to an online tour of the musical instrument collection of a museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. This is the sort of stuff you never find with search engines.
Cool and Useful Student Resources (www.teleport.com/(tilde)burrell/)
This is a collection of online references for a variety of subjects. The webmaster behind this homemade site has checked out scores of useful resources specifically for high school students and ranked them according to each site's quality and quantity of information and presentation. Unfortunately, it appears to be a bit of a ghost ship -- some of the links sometimes try to take you to great-sounding sites that have vanished from the Web.
Big Chalk (www.bigchalk.com)
This site offers a free search engine to help students look up reference material for virtually any subject. Even more useful, surfers can select their grade level and the engine will crank out the most appropriate links. This site is actually part of a pitch for educators to sign on to subscription-based education tools from this company, which bills itself as "The Education Network."
WWW Virtual Library (www.vlib.org)
The WWW Virtual Library, which calls itself "the oldest catalog of the Web," was started by Tim Berners-Lee, one of the Web's original creators. Unlike most search engines, this site is run by a team of volunteers who organize the links; think of it as a sort of Yahoo with a more academic focus. This site won't turn up the most links, but it will usually turn up only relevant ones. Sometimes, however, it can provide false leads -- a search for "Thomas Jefferson" turned up many links to articles published by Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
If you're in over your head in a class, sometimes the fastest Web connection and the most information-packed Web sites won't solve the problem. Maybe it's time to get some face-to-face assistance. TutorCafe will help students find private instruction on any class subject, arranging the results of your tutor search by price range and geographic area.
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