Part 2: Observations from the Boulder Valley Internet Project

LIBBY BLACK, Director Boulder Valley Internet Project Boulder Valley School District DR. KEN KLINGENSTEIN, Director Computing and Network Services and DR. NANCY BUTLER SONGER, Assistant Professor University of Colorado at Boulder Boulder, Colo. Part 1 of this article introduced the Boulder Valley Internet Project (BVIP) and described the various planning, training and support efforts involved in directly networking a large K-12 school district to the Internet. This month, in Part 2, the focus is on learning and curriculum-integration issues, as well as some of our future goals. Learning and curriculum are clearly the essence of the work of the Boulder Valley Internet Project. The technology, training and support mechanisms discussed last month constitute essential ground work if teachers are to focus on applications. Ultimately, we wish to look at the ways in which teachers and students can, and do, use the Internet. We have only just begun to scratch the surface of the realities and potential in this area. Mastering the tools is challenging; applying them is even more challenging. Mastering the tools of the Internet requires access, time, training, patience and tenacity. Applying the tools and resources takes all of that plus more time, creativity, endurance, proclivity towards change, a willingness to take risks, plus collegial and administrative support. These latter qualities are quite a bit harder to support. Teachers need support in thinking about curriculum integration. When a teacher is first confronted with the breadth and depth of the information and tools on the Internet, it is hard to think about curriculum applications. Most need time to practice, gain some confidence, and reflect on the power of the network and what it holds before jumping into classroom use. We have discovered that providing a taxonomy of ways in which teachers can utilize the Internet's resources in curriculum is extremely helpful. This enables teachers to pick a focus area (like people-to-people communications, information collection or collaborative problem solving) and begin experimentation. Dr. Judi Harris (University of Texas, Austin) has done work in this area that is invaluable. Five Ways Teachers Use the Internet Professionally, teacher utilization of the network tends to fall into five different categories. The location and type of network access a teacher has is one determinant. 1.Teachers use it to access curriculum repositories and support services such as ERIC, the Department of Education, 'ERI and other education professionals. 2.Teachers use its informational resources in traditional curriculum. For example, up-to-date AIDS information obtained from the National Institutes of Health's gopher is applicable to existing classes. 3.Teachers use the network tools to conduct class projects. For example, a teacher may have his or her class participate in a study of the night sky in which students and teachers from all over the country contribute data. The teacher or one student sends and receives data for the rest of the class, thus requiring only access to a single modem. 4.Teachers encourage or require the network's use by students to complement traditional research tools like the library. 5.The network's resources and tools transform curricula. Students do research as well as collaborative projects with other students on the network, becoming both consumers as well as providers of information. Students and teachers also have access to scientists and other professionals. Curricula are revised to capitalize on the Internet's real-time interactive capacities, making teaching and learning more exciting and effective. Results, So Far. . . Thus far, most classroom utilization of the Internet's tools and resources involves integration into existing curriculum. For most teachers, initial use of the Internet's resources and tools seems to center on electronic mail for exchange of data sets and other information as well as fact finding. This can often be done with a minimum amount of interruption to the regular classroom routine. Extensive use by students is dependent on access. With ready network access for large numbers of students, utilization expands rapidly. Students readily embrace the technology and are delighted to use it. We encourage teachers to push beyond these first stages and think about how the Internet's capabilities and resources can change the way they do business in their classrooms. How can the paradigms of the way we teach shift as a result of students and teachers having access? Will they shift? What support mechanisms need to be in place to promote positive change? All of these questions demand further study. Utilization of the network at the level of category 5 (described above) is, thus far, rare. Currently this entails mastery of at least some facets of the network, re-writing curriculum and re-inventing the way we teach and learn. Under normal circumstances, teachers obviously do not have time for such extensive design. However, as we have discovered through the Kids As Global Scientists project, such use can happen when teachers have a great deal of support. As the Internet tools develop and connectivity levels improve, this simultaneous increase in ease of use will foster innovative applications of network resources as well. Patterns of use vary by grade level. After a year and a half, teachers reported that the services used, in decreasing order of frequency, are e-mail, gopher, NetNews, telnet and ftp. There is some variation in this by grade level. Most notably, science teachers in grades 6-12 are much more inclined to tackle ftp and use it regularly. Whereas the preponderance of use by K-8 teachers is e-mail and gopher; high school teachers spread their use more evenly between gopher, UseNet news, telnet and ftp. It should be noted that the sample size on this survey was small (39) and that, at the time of the survey (January 1994), teachers did not have access to a World Wide Web browser. Elementary teachers who had reliable modem access from school or home used Internet resources in their curriculum within six months. Middle school and high school teachers with the same type of modem-only access, however, generally did not use Internet resources with their students during the first year. During the second year, middle and high school teachers did begin to use resources in their curriculum but ones that fall into category 3 above were minimal, whereas they were high at the elementary level. We believe this difference is based on three factors: flexibility within the work day; flexibility within the curriculum; and resource utilization. The natural area of use for elementary teachers seems to be e-mail. In this venue, teachers often find direct solicitations for projects of an infinite variety. These projects apparently have intrinsic value to teachers, and in some sense are "ready-made" for the curriculum. If an elementary teacher sees a project that might interest his or her students, it normally can be worked into the schedule. In addition, many of these projects are the type in which a batch of data or a class project is sent once and a batch returned. This requires access to only one modem. In high school, it appears that teachers feel the obvious use of the Internet is for students' research and resource retrieval, which implies using gopher, ftp, WWW and WAIS. This is clearly a different model of use of the network because the curriculum application and integration issues are much less obvious than in the elementary scenario. Also, the skills needed to accomplish these goals are more advanced than e-mail. Assume, however, that teachers and students were proficient in the needed skills. With one, two or even three modems in a school of 2,000, it would create considerable frustration to promote widespread use of modem-consuming practices such as general "net-surfing." Furthermore, because the curriculum tends to be quite structured, teachers can often participate in network projects only if the timing is right. Utilization at the middle school level tends to fall in between the two outlined above. It depends on the teachers, the school day schedule and the philosophy of the school. Patterns of use varies by connectivity. The usage patterns described above were in modem-only access environments. When network access is readily available to students and teachers, use patterns change. The middle schools in the Boulder Valley School District that have dedicated access boast computer labs in which 20-30 students can all be online simultaneously. In these schools we have seen extensive category 4 use of the network by teachers and students. Category 5 use has been accomplished only with significant outside support (e.g. the Kids As Global Scientist project). Projects range from students learning long-term network skills for communication and information acquisition, to using it as a research tool, to science project mentoring where each student in a particular classroom had a pre-service teacher as an electronic mentor for their science fair project. Students have also created a student newspaper written by students from all grade levels and many different schools. It is distributed on a Web server. In one high school, a foreign language teacher has her students using the Internet regularly as a way in which to converse in the target language. This is an incredible motivator for students learning to speak a non-native language. At another high school, which has "distributed connectivity" (in the classrooms as opposed to a lab set up), students have used the network extensively for research projects as well as community outreach projects and mentorships. Our models of learning should capitalize on the best features of the technology. Students like working on computers and the use of real data is highly motivational. It adds a relevance to their work and is a skill they will need as they move into the work places of the 21st century. We must probe deeper, however, to exploit this technology. It is important to look at models of learning and instruction that are at least compatible with the technology, and at best, capitalize on some of its best features for meaningful learning. Global Exchange, the learning model developed and utilized in the Kids As Global Scientists project, is one such model. It values the contribution of each site; capitalizes on distributed expertise; takes advantage of real- or near-time knowledge; gives increased responsibility to students; provides opportunities to make connections and find relevance while learning content; and seeks appropriate use of mentors and others for scaffolding knowledge development and integration. A powerful and unique learning feature of networks is the opportunity for two-way, interactive exchange. On the Internet, one can simply consume information or one can also provide information to others. This unique feature of telecommunications provides opportunities for real- or near-real-time exchange of data, imagery and text between any combination of students, teachers and other professionals. This presents us with possibilities not easily supported by previous technologies. The Internet is "hyped" as a great world of information that teachers and students can use to enrich their studies. What constitutes that world? What role can K-12 students play in building this great body of knowledge? Students appear to be genuinely excited by the opportunity to share their thoughts, writings and drawings with the rest of the world. We are only at the very beginning of the learning curve on the appropriate capitalization of this learning potential. Our hunch is that simply providing information will not satisfy students. Soon they will want feedback: "Is anyone reading or looking at what I'm publishing out there?" From a teaching and learning perspective, feedback creates spontaneous collaborative work. This is an extremely powerful aspect. Activities should be built on the RInnernetS as well as the Internet. The network that connects us to the outside world also connects us locally to each other, and there are important ways to build on this internal network. It seems that teachers' first inclination is to seek and use the distant resources. However, in a large school district such as Boulder Valley there is an abundance of local resources that have traditionally been difficult to tap. Teachers and students need to be encouraged to utilize their own "backyard." Some tools that facilitate this include local list processing software so that mailing lists are easy to set up and maintain; local bulletin boards, which are often easier to use than UseNet groups; and human beings who encourage and facilitate local conversation via the network. Goals for Next Year The BVSD project team, along with the National Advisory Board, have identified a number of major goals for the next year of the project. Our primary goal is to foster integration of the Internet's resources into the K-12 curriculum while at the same time pushing and providing support for innovative, cutting-edge uses. We need to gain a better understanding of its best uses for rich and meaningful learning. We'd like to offer SLIP dial-in access to investigate how this enhanced access from home will affect usage patterns. We need to learn more about how to employ volunteers in this endeavor. What type of support and training do they need? Learning to use the Internet gives students life-long skills. How do we market this skill acquisition to the public? Expansion of this project cannot happen without community support. We hope to open a few schools at night for parent orientation and exploration of the Internet and the Boulder Community Network. Hundreds of schools and districts around the nation are pursuing Internet connections. We would like to combine our lessons learned with other districts that have deployed Internet connectivity to develop a comprehensive blueprint of issues and approaches for K-12 districtwide Internet connectivity. We believe this would be a great asset for other districts; clearly it is information that should be shared. To learn more about the Boulder Valley Internet Project, gopher to bvsd.k12.co.us. Specific inquiries may be made to bvip@bvsd.k12.co.us. The BVSD Internet Project wishes to recognize the support of the National Science Foundation, the Annenberg/CPB Math and Science Project, and the U.S. West Foundation. (This work is funded by a grant from the Teacher Enhancement Division of the NSF, Grant # ESI-9253356.) The project also acknowledges the considerable support, in energy and in funding, of the citizens of the Boulder community. We wish to extend special thanks to the members of the BVIP National Advisory Board, who are helping to shape the project and this report. And we wish to recognize all of the teachers and students in Boulder Valley schools who willingly and enthusiastically venture onto (and withstood) the "bleeding edge" of this technology. Libby Black, Ken Klingenstein and Nancy Butler Songer compose the primary management team for the Boulder Valley Internet Project. Libby Black, Director of the Project, is a former high school mathematics teacher and has primary administration responsibility for the BVIP. E-mail: blackl@bvsd.k12.co.us Ken Klingenstein is the Director of Computing and Network Services at the University of Colorado. The department supports the project with cost sharing in hardware and system administration. Klingenstein has provided much of our vision and spearheaded the Boulder Community Network (telnet bcn.boulder.co.us), which continues to evolve as a major component in networking students and citizens of the Boulder County communities. Nancy Butler Songer is an assistant professor in the School of Education and Department of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Songer is the Principal Investigator of Kids As Global Science (KGS), a middle school weather curriculum project that utilizes real-time data, communication with scientists and collaborative student work over the Internet. The KGS project is supported by the teacher training and infrastructure efforts of the BVIP. In turn, KGS informs the BVIP about aspects of curriculum implementation and coordination, student learning and changes in the classroom. Information about Kids As Global Scientists (KGS), and its curricular materials, are at: http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/KGS/KGS.html The student newspaper's Web server address: http://bvsd.k12.co.us/schools/cent/Newspaper/

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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