AskERIC Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary
By Colleen Seabury, Digital Reference Specialist, AskERIC
“Got an Education Question?” The first educational site registered on the World Wide Web, AskERIC (www.askeric.org) will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in November 2002. A special project of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology, AskERIC has been providing education information with a “personal touch” by connecting users with resources related to educational theory and practice for the past decade. Through its Question-Answering Service, AskERIC has responded to over one quarter of a million e-mail questions, sent in by individuals from all over the United States and the world. In response to users’ requests for information, the AskERIC Web site has grown to include a Resource Collection with over 3000 educational links, access to the ERIC Database, a lesson plan collection, a question archive, a mailing list archive, and a monthly newsletter. The AskERIC Web site currently averages over 117,000 visitors per week and has received over four million visitors (and over one quarter of a billion hits) to date this year alone.
Through the AskERIC Question-Answering Service, users can tap into the expertise of specialists from all 16 ERIC Clearinghouses. Anyone looking for information about an educational topic (e.g., educational research, teaching methods, education statistics, assessment, special education, technology integration) can submit a question to AskERIC. Users can ask a question by completing a question submission form on the AskERIC site or by sending an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Once received, all questions are sorted by topic and distributed to clearinghouses and support components in the ERIC system. Usually within two business days, an ERIC Expert replies to the user with resources that may include citations from the ERIC Database, Web sites, discussion groups, and organizations. Most responses also contain the search strategies used to locate the resources so that users can conduct further searches on their own.
How did the idea for AskERIC originate? Bob Stonehill, former director of the ERIC System, said it best. “The idea for AskERIC came from Mike Eisenberg, former director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology at Syracuse University and his colleagues Nancy Preston and David Lankes. They toyed with the idea of an Electronic Librarian, but it wasn’t really an electronic librarian. It was a live human being at the end of an e-mail message who would do whatever it took to provide the response. It was a way of building support for the Internet and for Internet applications.”
For many users, AskERIC was their first experience in using the Internet to retrieve information. The AskERIC Gopher site debuted in February 1993, serving as a free electronic library. Some of the resources available on the Gopher site included the e-mail Question-Answering Service, ERIC Digests, ERIC Monographs, InfoGuides, and Lesson Plans. In December of that year, the AskERIC Virtual Library was launched as one of the first 100 Web sites in existence. Three months later, the AskERIC site was reorganized into the AskERIC Virtual Library. With this reorganization, users could now access the ERIC Database through the AskERIC site. During this time, AskERIC received two notable honors: AskERIC was a finalist for the 1994 Computerworld Smithsonian Award in Education and Academia, and in 1995 GNN Communications named AskERIC as the best professional K-12 education site. AskERIC continued to add resources and change its look over the next few years, with redesigns of the Web site in 1996 and 2001.
AskERIC has prided itself on providing Web content to assist educators in their classroom practice. A popular section of the Web site is the AskERIC Lesson Plan collection, which contains over 2000 lessons submitted by teachers, librarians, and postsecondary students. The lesson plans are organized into 13 main subject areas and include activities for preschool, K-12, and higher education. Some lesson plans contain teacher-created handouts available in .pdf format. Since 1998, a Web-based lesson plan submission form has been in place to help streamline the process used for cataloging lessons with GEM (another U.S. Department of Education project) metadata. The AskERIC Lesson Plan collection continues to grow with new lesson plans added every month.
In addition to the Lesson Plan collection, the AskERIC site contains a Question Archive and a Mailing List Archive. Added in August 2000, the Question Archive contains over 150 sample responses to frequently asked questions received by the AskERIC Question-Answering Service. Each sample response in the Question Archive includes resources that a user would receive from an ERIC Expert (e.g., citations from the ERIC Database, Web sites, discussion groups, and organizations). Sample responses include the following: “Do you have any resources on classroom management?,” “How can school counselors positively impact academic achievement?,” and “What are some tips and techniques for teaching distance education classes?” In addition to the Question Archive, AskERIC keeps a searchable archive of over 25 educational mailing lists. Having a searchable archive allows users to browse through past discussions. At times, users might find it helpful to post a question to a discussion group to ask colleagues for opinions and advice. Both the Question Archive and the Mailing List Archive serve as useful tools for locating introductory information on educational topics.
When the AskERIC site was redesigned in January 2001, additional Web content was added. Along with a new look, over 3000 links to educational resources were added to the site, forming the AskERIC Resource Collection. Links to these resources, which include Internet sites, discussion groups, and organizations, can be found on the homepage. A monthly AskERIC Update Newsletter was also added to the site, keeping users informed of new additions to the Lesson Plan collection, Resource Collection, and Question Archive. The newsletter also features helpful tips for searching the ERIC Database on the AskERIC site. The most recent addition to the AskERIC site is a real-time reference service. Through AskERIC Live!, users can receive searching assistance by “chatting” online with a librarian (i.e. an ERIC reference specialist). This venue provides a direct way for users to receive assistance when they are searching the ERIC Database or the AskERIC web site.
AskERIC has experienced many exciting changes during the past 10 years and is always looking for ways to adapt its services and Web content to meet the needs of the education community. AskERIC looks forward to expanding its resources during the next decade, with a continued emphasis on providing high quality education information with a personal touch.
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