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Internet Primer
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Internet Primer

Most colleges and universities have computers available to students in labs or in the library. These are often hooked up to the Internet, and there is probably a knowledgeable person nearby to help you log on and answer any questions. You can use these on-campus resources for free, but they may be accessible only at certain times of the day and you will likely need to log in with a special user name and password given to you by your school.

If you can afford to have Internet access at home, you will choose from these methods:
  1. modem (through the telephone)
  2. DSL (high speed)
  3. cable

Whichever method you choose, you will need an ISP (Internet Service Provider) to help you connect. Many companies will allow you to pay yearly or monthly, and may “bundle” their Internet services together with cable or satellite T.V. costs, cell phone bills, or long-distance charges. Call around and get the best deal you can, for your particular needs. For example, you may want to have high-speed access if you plan to download large files often, or play online computer games. However, if you only plan to use the Internet for e-mail, you can likely get by with telephone modem service.


More and more students these days are choosing to purchase their own personal computer. There are many considerations to keep in mind when buying a computer; cost is certainly a big one for most students. You'll need to decide how important different features are for you and your needs. For example, would a laptop (notebook) computer be more convenient for you? Some students even take notes on their laptops during class. These computers are generally more expensive than desktop PCs, however. Do you only need a computer for basic word processing functions, or can you afford extras like DVD drives and CD burners? Again, shop around to get the best deal. You may even be able to get an excellent used computer at a greatly reduced price. But beware—many of today’s programs are no longer compatible with older computers.

Hooking Up to the Internet

Most colleges and universities provide Internet access to their students and faculty at an attractive cost, and if you have access to this service you should probably use it. If you need to hook up a computer to the Internet on your own, you must go through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). ISPs are companies that run the computers that enable you to get onto the Net; these computers are called servers. It works like this: when you log on to the Net your modem dials your ISP. When the modem is connected to the ISP, it actually connects to their modem on their computer (the computer at the ISP is called the server). The best- known ISPs are national ones like Sympatico and Rogers. But there are many smaller ISPs out there as well.

There are a few considerations to keep in mind in choosing among the many ISPs:
  1. Cost--Do they have a flat fee for unlimited Internet time each month, or will they charge you for each minute you are online? Some services have several different plans you can choose from; the best one for you depends on how much time you spend online each month. Be sure to shop around and find an ISP that offers the best rate plan for you.
  2. Traffic--Some ISPs get a lot of traffic and it can be difficult to get online (particularly the larger, national companies). Find out the "dial up" number (the number your modem calls to link up) of an ISP and call it at different times during the day to see if it's busy.
  3. Service--Some ISPs are courteous and prompt in answering customer questions and complaints; others have trouble in this area. Ask your friends and acquaintances for recommendations of ISPs that have good service.

Electronic Mail (E-mail)

E-mail is a way of transmitting messages across a phone line or cable to a specified other person's computer. To send or receive e-mail you must have a program called a mail browser (some common ones are Eudora and Microsoft Mail) and an e-mail account. When you send an e-mail to someone, you type in their e-mail address in the space provided. E-mail addresses consist of the individual user's name or identification, the @ symbol, and the name of their server and domain: username@servername.domainname.

After writing your message in the "body" of the e-mail, you can send it. The message is transmitted across lines to the recipient server which "sorts" the mail and sends it to the individual's e-mail address.

E-mail is generally somewhat informal and not very lengthy. E-mail can be used for everything from sending out memos, keeping up with friends and relatives, telecommuting, and exchanging documents and files.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about using e-mail:
  1. Try to check your mail every day, especially if you belong to a mailing list. It's amazing how quickly your "mailbox" can fill up with messages.
  2. Organize messages you want to keep in separate, labeled folders.
  3. Know your netiquette.
  4. Don't send anything too confidential or sensitive over e-mail; e-mail is easily accessed by others.
  5. Proofread your e-mail before you send it.

Surfing the Web

A key concept to understand in surfing the Web is "links." Links are highlighted words or images on a Web page that you can click on to go to other pages. Once you find a topic that interests you, it is easy to explore just by clicking on links. Keep in mind that some links will connect you to another page by the same organization; others will take you to another site completely.

A person or organization's Web site usually consists of many pages. The first page you come to when you type in a URL is called the home page. This page usually contains a menu for the entire site and lets you know something about the site's creators and purpose. The home page contains links to other pages within that site, and often to other sites of interest. With most browsers you can go back to a previous link by clicking a button that says "Go Back." You will not get "stuck" someplace you don't want to be, so don't be shy about exploring links.

Web sites can be developed by any person or organization on any topic. The amount of information available on the Web today is staggering and continues to grow. You can utilize the Web for general research, as an educational tool, as a shopping mall, to find a long lost friend, get a new job, or answer most any question you might have; you are limited only by your imagination.

Search Engines

Now that you have a basic idea of the workings of the WWW, how do you go about finding Web sites that may interest you? A good starting point is to use one of the popular directories on the Web called search engines. A search engine allows you to type in keywords on the topic that you are interested in. It then retrieves any sites that contain that word.

Some of the larger and more popular search engines are:
  1. Google –
  2. Yahoo! -
  3. MSN -
  4. Excite -
  5. Altavista -
  6. Hot Bot -
  7. WebCrawler -

To use a search engine, type in one of the addresses listed above. When the home page for that site comes up you will notice a "search" box in which you can type a keyword or phrase. The search engine will then bring up as a list of sites all the information that it has available on that topic. Sometimes you will need to narrow your search; for example, if you type "psychology," you may have hundreds or thousands of site listings returned. On the other hand, if you are too specific, you may not have any sites returned as a result of your inquiry. This does not necessarily mean that no sites exist. If you don’t get the results you want, try a different keyword.

Internet Pitfalls

Although the Internet brings a wealth of resources and information to our fingertips, it is not always a positive addition to our lives and work. Here are a few situations that you may want to pay particular attention to.

False Information – Of the millions of web sites “out there,” only a few contain academically sound information. If you need information for a research paper, never rely on the Internet. Use only academic sites that include essays that have been peer-reviewed by other experts in the field.

Plagiarism - Using the Internet brings up the issues of both academic plagiarism, which may lead to you receiving a zero in your assignment, course, or program, at best, and copyright infringement, for which you could be fined thousands of dollars. Whenever you borrow ideas or words from the Internet, make sure you cite your source properly. Using images from the Internet may not be allowed at all, so always contact the webmaster to ask permission to use an image from his or her site.

Carelessness – Because you use your computer in private, you may let down your guard and think that whatever you do on the Internet is “anonymous.” However, it’s not. Be very careful what you put into the Web, because it may come back to haunt you!

Laziness – The Internet can encourage academic laziness in particular (and probably physical laziness as well!). “Researching” for your essay by cutting and pasting information from a web site will not only result in a low grade but could very well result in a well-founded accusation of plagiarism. Also, the philosophy of “one-stop shopping” that the Internet encourages may prevent you from finding valuable sources in the stacks of your library, or in other places in your community.

E-mailing often leads to laziness in the use of standard English conventions of grammar and spelling, which can become a bad habit that may creep into your academic writing. It can also give recipients of your messages a poor idea of your skills and even your personality, so watch what you write—especially to your instructor! Although your friends may understand your short-form text-messaging techniques, not everyone will. A good message should not read like a code that needs to be deciphered.

Addiction – You may not think of it this way, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. If using the Internet or checking your e-mail or instant messages gets in the way of doing other, important things in your life, then you should seriously consider limiting your Internet use. If your friend walks into the room to share something important with you and you don’t hear a word he says because you’re too busy watching the computer screen, your personal relationships may suffer.

E-mailing Your Instructor

While many instructors have no problems with replying to student e-mails and some even love to receive them, be careful to ensure that your messages to your profs are clear and courteous. Here are some tips to help you get the reply you want:

  1. Include a clear subject line that indicates what your message is about as well as the course code for the course you are in
  2. Address the message to your instructor, using whatever method he or she prefers in class (e.g. Hello Professor Brown, Hi James, Dear Dr. Taylor, etc.)
  3. State your full name and the course you are in, right away. Your instructor teaches many students in many classes, and although he or she will try to remember as many names as possible, you cannot assume that yours is among them. Instructors find it very difficult to reply to messages when they don’t know who they are from. For example, if you do not specify your name and your e-mail address is, your instructor won’t have much to work with!
  4. Be clear! Use proper grammar, no short forms (such as TTYL or IMHO), and state your question simply and clearly. For example, instead of “Waz up with that assignment, dude???” write something like “I’m not sure about the guidelines of the assignment. How long should the essay be?”
  5. Thank the instructor for his or her time before closing. Replying may not seem like it would take a long time, but instructors get many messages a day and between teaching, prep work, marking, and meetings, they may end up replying to you after hours at home.
  6. When you receive a reply, acknowledge it, and politely accept any constructive advice that may be given. This is not the time to argue with your instructor or to be sarcastic. If you have a problem with the reply, arrange to meet face-to-face during his or her office hours, to discuss it.
  7. If you have not received a reply by the next day, don’t send another one asking why he or she has not replied. Allow sufficient time for a reply and if the information you need is important or time-sensitive, e-mail your question well in advance of any due dates or visit the instructor during her office hours instead.

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