Appendix A — Internet Basics

Reproduced with the permission of the British Columbia Standing Committee on Educational Technology (SCOET), now part of the Centre for Curriculum and Technology Transfer.

Are you REALLY on the Internet?

What about you? Are you really connected to the Internet? Most people don’t realize that you can tell a lot about the kind of connection you have by what you can do with it. Can you send electronic mail to other people on the Net? If you can then you have basic access. But if you can’t do anything else then you may be missing out on a number of services that are changing the way people work, teach and learn.

Basic access to the Internet opens you up to the universe of electronic mail, and approximately 30 million people you can correspond with. It also provides access to hundreds of e-mail discussion groups covering subjects that include education, training, curriculum development, media, politics, communications policy development, business and virtually every existing or developing technology.

But the Internet is much more than just e-mail. Can you use Gopher to browse directory listings and information from institutions and organizations around the world? Do you have access to Mosaic or Netscape to cruise the multimedia pages of the World Wide Web? The Web brings vast amounts of information right to your desktop, providing communication tools with more intuitive interfaces, enhancements for colour, images sound and video, both real time and pre-recorded. Fourteen million people have this type of multimedia access to the Internet.

It is a real challenge for post-secondary institutions to offer fully interactive multimedia Internet access to faculty, staff and students. Multimedia access requires more powerful communications facilities than are needed for the transmission and receipt of an institutions’ e-mail or even multiple simultaneous Gopher sessions.

Full colour graphics, formatted text, video and sound are the elements being transferred with these services. For institutions with minimal connections to the Internet, all it takes is a handful of Mosaic users to bring traffic on their local networks to a grinding halt. High bandwidth access to telecommunications services is, however, not always available, especially in remote regions of the province. But things are changing. As the power and utility of these information systems continue to grow, more is being invested in the necessary infrastructure to carry all of this information to and from our institutions.

Growth statistics for the month of February produced by John Quarterman, Editor, Matrix News, (, indicate that the Internet has been nearly doubling in size every year for the past six years. Commercial use of the Internet has exploded recently and thousands of companies, from multinational manufacturing companies to local cafes and bookstores, can now be found on the Internet alongside the research and educational organizations that have been there for years. And it is only a matter of time before interactive Internet access is offered to homes through local cable or telephone companies. So I’ll ask you again, are you really connected to the Internet?

– Mike Quinlan

Internet Basics

I. Three ways to get CONNECTED

  1. Get connected at work.
  2. Dial in to a computer that is an Internet host using terminal emulation software, SLIP or PPP.
  3. Dial in to a centralized commercial service bureau (e.g. AOL, Delphi, BIX) that provides Internet access.

Getting connected at work is the easiest solution because there is usually someone there to do the necessary configuration, and (hopefully) to help you learn. Dial-up access to the Internet can be acquired through most post-secondary institutions for staff, some students, and in some cases, the general public. Dial-up access is also available through Internet service providers that have appeared over the past two years, such as Free-nets (BC has at least eight), and commercial providers. People in most major centres can take advantage of commercial service bureaus, but they are generally the most expensive because they charge a premium for access to their services and even more for access to the Internet.

SLIP and PPP (Serial Link Protocol and Point to Point Protocol) are programs that provide more powerful dial-up access to the Internet. SLIP and PPP essentially connect your computer’s operating system to the Internet letting you run more than one Internet application at a time using graphical, mouse-driven software. Other communications software connects you with a single terminal window and a blinking command prompt.

(For a listing of local access providers in your area, pick up a copy of Jim Carroll’s Canadian Internet Handbook).


The most common method of communication on the Internet is the exchange of electronic mail. With an Internet address, you can correspond with millions of people around the world. The first thing you need is an account on a computer that is an Internet host. Next, you need to familiarize yourself with the software that you will be using to send and receive e-mail. Regardless of which software you use (or are required to use) the basics should include the following:

  • A method of indicating who the message is going “To:” using some variation of “”
  • A means for creating short forms or “aliases” for long e-mail addresses.
  • A place to indicate a “Subject:” for the message heading.
  • A place to indicate who should receive copies (“cc:”) of the message (if any).
  • An editor of some kind to allow you to compose your message and make changes. You should also be able to save this document outside of your mail program for use elsewhere, or import text from other documents for inclusion in the message.
  • A means of “sending” the message when you are finished composing and editing, or canceling if you change your mind at the last minute.

Electronic mail is no longer restricted to the exchange of text messages. Many e-mail packages allow you to send and receive any type of file that you can store on your computer along with your text message (e.g., a colour graphic, a spreadsheet, a database file). These are called “attachments.”

E-mail Etiquette

Electronic mail is a rapid, efficient, inexpensive and very convenient method of correspondence. The unreachable – presidents of institutions, busy academics, reclusive artists – can now be reached as telephone tag is reduced or eliminated and distance becomes irrelevant. Mail messages can also be edited and forwarded to others, or filed into a database for future reference.

Tips to consider:

Are you using the correct forum for communication? Would a telephone call, fax, or long formal letter be more appropriate? You may want to follow up an important e-mail message with a telephone call, fax or hard-copy by traditional mail to ensure that your correspondent has indeed received your message. For e-mail to truly facilitate communication, the correspondents must be on-line frequently. E-mail becomes stale very quickly.

Many correspondents pressed for time simply scan a lot of their e-mail, deleting some messages and filing others to be read later if they have time. To ensure that your message gets read, give it a relevant and appropriate subject heading, keeping the text direct and to the point. Bullet any lists.

Be careful with the use of capital letters. Just because you capitalize a word doesn’t increase its importance to the reader. Your correspondent may actually think that you are shouting!

Signatures are also helpful when communicating in a professional capacity. A good signature should include your full name, title, place of employment, phone and fax numbers, e-mail address and WWW home page URL (if you have one!).

A liberal use of white space is appreciated by most readers as the human eye fatigues quickly looking at lengthy lines of text. Your computer monitor may be extra wide, but that doesn’t mean that your correspondent’s is! Make sure that your text wraps properly for the more common 80 column screen. Always construct your message with the readers comfort and attention span in mind.


How to get more e-mail

Once you are comfortable using e-mail you might want to subscribe to one or more electronic mail discussion groups. There are thousands of discussion groups (called Lists or List Servers) on the Internet distributing vast amounts of information to subscribers. You can even create your own. Participants make important contacts while engaging in useful discussions and exchanges of information. But finding the right list can be a challenge. Word of mouth or electronic mail may provide a lead to a discussion group on a specific topic of interest, or you may want to ‘go out on the net’ to see what is available.

The Educators Guide to E-mail Lists is a collection of lists of interest to educators. It is sub-divided into categories such as history, humanities, science, and literature. To get a copy of this guide, ftp to: and look in directory pub/ednet for file educatrs.lst

For more lists:

If you have access to Gopher, search Gopher Directories using the search tool VERONICA for the keywords: Gopher Jewels. Within a Gopher Jewels directory, you should find reference to a List of Lists directory. Look through that directory for discussion groups of interest. If you don’t have access to Gopher but want to start browsing an extensive selection of Listserv lists, send e-mail to:

In the body of the message, type:

list global

When subscribing to a list, follow the directions precisely and be sure to keep the information on how to resign from any list that you join. Usually you will subscribe by sending an e-mail message with the subject line left blank to the computer where the list is maintained. You will likely be asked to enter a line into the body of the message similar to

subscribe list-name your-name

Lists are usually better when a moderator is involved. The moderator screens duplicate and inappropriate messages. When answering a question, be sure to reply only to the individual posing the question unless your answer is appropriate to all participants. Remember, everyone else has overflowing e-mail bins too!


Gopher software was developed at the University of Minnesota to provide a logical, intuitive and easy-to-use interface to search the Internet. Appropriately named, Gopher is as aware of the routes (or tunnels) to other Gophers on the Internet as a prairie gopher is of the subterranean tunnels of its neighbors. Gopher allows you to interactively navigate the Internet using a series of interconnected menus maintained on computers all over the world and will search those computers for specific information based on key words.

Instead of encountering a command-line waiting for you to enter a series of mysterious and cryptic instructions, Gopher displays easy-to-understand menus that allow you to search for the information you need by using the arrow keys and the <Enter> key. Gopher either displays the information requested on screen or takes you to a new menu to help narrow the search. If the information sought is in a format other than text, such as a graphic or a document with complex formatting, Gopher will save this to a file on your local computer for later access. Also, as you travel far and wide on the Internet, Gopher menus allow you to retrace your steps back to where you started.

There are thousands of organizations, institutions and businesses with Gopher servers on the Internet now, from NATO and the World Health Organization to local bookstores. Access to well-organized lists of these services has greatly improved. The InterNIC organization maintains the Directory of Directories containing information on Internet resources, products and services to direct the user to computing centers, network providers, information servers, directories, library catalogs, data and software archives, and training services.

To discover whether or not you have access to Gopher at your institution, login to your computer account, type “gopher” and the rest should happen automatically. If nothing appears on your computer screen, contact your system administrator to find out when your institution will get access to Gopher.


The most dramatic development on the Internet lately has been the explosive growth of the World Wide Web. The Web integrates the power of Gopher, incorporating full colour graphics, fully formatted text, audio and digitized video clips into your search. While Gopher leads you through a series of menus to your destination, the Web takes you directly to the pages containing the information you want; information which usually appears as fully formatted text with colour graphics.

World Wide Web browsing software such as Mosaic or Netscape work best when connected to the Internet over a high speed (ethernet) network. It is possible to use a dial-up connection to access the Web, but make sure you have a high speed (14.4 kbps +) modem. Limited data transfer rates can make this a tedious and time consuming experience.

Browsing the Web

Mosaic, developed by the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), has an elegant easy-to-use interface and is a popular browser used to read Web documents. It is available in both MS Windows and Macintosh formats and can be downloaded for free off the Internet at: in: /pub/win3/winsock and /pub/mac/info-mac/comm/tcp, respectively. Netscape is available for free at in /pub.

The ability to transmit formatted pages of information, including full colour graphics, has generated the greatest amount of activity on the Internet. Businesses are taking full advantage of this new method of “publishing on demand” by posting everything from product information to company annual reports. The use of interactive “forms” also allows users to place orders or leave messages.

Institutions are developing Web-based course and calendar materials, as well as general campus information and reference material. Research projects such as the Visible Human Project at the National Library of Medicine are posting examples of their project results, full colour cross sections of a human body at 5 mm intervals for doctors and students to view.

With millions of users world-wide, the Internet is the “information highway,” at least in its developing stages. While debates and discussions about the future of the information highway continue to vacillate between Stentor, the CRTC and the federal government, the Internet continues to extend its tendrils out into libraries, museums, offices, cafes and homes. The applications and services that travel over its lines are limited only by the imaginations of the thousands of software developers sharing their tools on the Net, the institutions and organizations developing worthwhile content, and the will of government regulators to let access expand in an equitable and timely manner.

Next — Appendix B — World Wide Web Sites of Interest to Educators