The Educational Enterprise Zone: Where Knowledge Comes From!

The Technology BasedLearning Systems department of the New York Institute of Technology,in partnership with Bell Atlantic, the Hitachi Foundation, the NewYork State Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, the New YorkState Education Department, the New York City Board of Education, NewYork State Teacher Centers and numerous content providers, hascreated a consortium called the Educational Enterprise Zone (EEZ).

Members of this consortiumare educational providers, in both formal and informal settings, whowill create programming for K-16 classrooms to be delivered viavideoconferencing. Many different kinds of institutions, such asresearch sites, hospitals, museums, cultural institutions, businessesand government agencies will be developing curricular programming forthe Educational Enterprise Zone.

The changes in, anddevelopment of, new and revised State and National learning standardshave triggered the question: "Where will the knowledge come from thatwill enable our students to meet these goals?" We know that toprepare students for living and working they will need to continuallyconstruct and reconstruct knowledge and to wade through vast seas ofinformation. Schools are trying to build technology supportedinstructional environments in which students, faced with real worldproblems or circumstances 1) seek needed information, data andresources; 2) organize those ideas into constructs; and 3) applythese constructs to the issues or problems that they are trying tounderstand. Teachers find themselves in a variety of roles: teacher,facilitator, mediator, guide, leader, team member and advocate. Factsand content take on new meaning as they are integrated and applied toknowledge constructs, which are organized, processed, analyzed andcombined to form a new basis for knowledge.

Teachers andLearners Everywhere

If knowledge is knowing,how do our students and teachers come to "know"? In the past,knowledge came from a specific expert in the area of knowledge being"investigated," a person (teacher), a resource (textbook), and, morerecently, videotapes, computer disks and CD-ROMS. With the extensionof the Internet into the classroom it has become clear that the"expert" exists in many places beyond the classroom, and the"resource" is no longer singular and linear but has many informationpoints and must be viewed in a nonlinear fashion. It is in thiscontext that the New York Institute of Technology developed theEducational Enterprise Zone.

The philosophy of the EEZ is that teachers and learners exist in all places in our communities: home, libraries, workplaces, museums, government agencies, K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and that we all share the same mission: to facilitate the maximum learning experience for the student.

The philosophy of the EEZis that teachers and learners exist in all places in our communities:home, libraries, workplaces, museums, government agencies, K-12schools, colleges and universities, and that we all share the samemission: to facilitate the maximum learning experience for thestudent. The EEZ puts in place the technology infrastructure andmanagement structure that allows the learners to connect to resourcesworldwide.

The enabling technologiesthat the EEZ is based upon are designed to ensure equitable access tothe resources via voice, data and video. The connections that the EEZdesigns are intended to be connections of learners to people and notsimply to databases of information. To ensure that these connectionsare enablers and do not become barriers for equitable participation,the NYIT/Bell Atlantic Research Lab at NYIT has developed a series ofstrategies and technologies to ensure participation for all schoolsthrough the public switched network. Since connectivity represents amajor barrier for participation, the EEZ utilizes a large number ofcommunication technologies.


Inschools that have limited or no access to broadband connections, theEEZ uses POTS (Plain Old Telephone) lines and POTS CODECS(Compression Decompression e.g. Cphone, ViaPhone) units based on theH.324 standards. These low cost units ($300-$1,000 including camera)allow schools to establish content quality video conferences (6-12frames/sec) even on low quality lines. The quality of the videoimage, while not TV quality, is significantly faster than mostInternet-based connections and are at rates that allow for dynamicinteraction between the sites. The EEZ has used this type ofequipment to connect students and teachers to locations all over theworld including Kenya, China and the former Soviet Union. In aconnection utilizing this technology this past summer, students fromK-12 schools connected with Bill Nichols of USA Today as heaccompanied Vice President Gore on his visit to Chernobyl.

Schools with access toISDN connections are utilizing H.320 CODECS ($800-$45,000) to connectwith content resources. This type of connection provides superiorquality (8-30 frame/second video) and also supports the sharing ofsoftware applications and whiteboarding amongst the connected sites.In working with the Smithsonian Natural Partners and PASCOScientific, the EEZ is creating the ability for students and teachersto connect with scientists in active research sites, share data,manipulate scientific probes and interact via video with otherschools and scientists.

Schools that have accessto broadband connectivity (Cable TV, T3, ATM networks) have access tohigh quality video but often find themselves in closed loopenvironments. NYIT has developed at the NYIT/Bell Atlantic ResearchLab the capability to open the loops and to allow the interconnectionof POTS and ISDN-based delivery into their systems. Thisinterconnection helps insure that all schools can participate in thelearning activities. The NYIT/Bell Atlantic Research lab supports aMultipoint Video Conferencing Unit (MCU) for ISDN CODECS and hasdeveloped multipoint devices allowing for connections across all thevarious connection technologies including ADSL (Asymmetrical DigitalSubscriber Line) connections, which support high speed connectionsvia phone lines. Many of these combined and varied structures helpinsure access to information by all.

Enhanced LearningThrough Collaboration

Through funding from theHitachi Foundation and Title III, teachers from schools in New YorkCity, Long Island, Washington D.C. and other locations arecollaborating with museums, cultural institutions, research sites,hospitals, colleges and businesses on lessons and activities thatshare knowledge and resources. Some of the participating Museumsinclude The Museum of TV and Radio, American Museum of NaturalHistory, The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), The New York State Museum,The Smithsonian Institute (Natural History and American History), ThePhiladelphia Fine Arts Museum and The Bronx Zoo.

What we have learned is that the technology must be seamless. Once teachers and community partners are trained, together they develop effective and rich learning activities.

The Natural partners ofthe National Museum of Natural History are working with EEZ todevelop a concept called "The Museum in the Box." Schools willreceive a box with three compartments. The first compartment has thetechnology required to connect the school to the museum, the secondcontains the instructional materials required for the activities(lesson plans, student lab materials, specimens or replicas of itemsin the collection, etc.). The third section of the box is perhaps themost exciting because it is empty. Students will construct knowledgeafter interacting with the museum and placing results or productsinto the empty section to send back to the museum in order for themto be shared with their peers and the educational community.

What we have learned isthat the technology must be seamless. Once teachers and communitypartners are trained, together they develop effective and richlearning activities. They use the technology as a means to plan,train, and collaborate with one another, just as they expect theirstudents will do in the 21st century. Area experts, teachers andscientists find their own knowledge growing and professionalexpertise expanding from the new collaborations.

Videoconferencing offersstudents real time mentors and real world problem solving: adults whoserve as role models and guides in expert systems previouslyunavailable to schools. The President of NYIT, Dr. Matthew Schure hasoften said, "It is not simply about the technology but it is aboutthe teaching and learning." Imagine the possibilities as theresearchers, curators and educators and millions of artifacts becomepart of the community of learning in every school location. As acommunity and as individuals we are constructing knowledge. NYIT'sEEZ paradigm puts forth and supports the notion that communitymembers can provide not only resources, but the real world problems,support and encouragement needed for students to build constructsthat lift them to high levels of achievement, applied criticalthinking and problem solving. We call on all who join NYIT's EEZ toopen the doors of wonder and to build the whole village that willraise our children.

Stan Silverman is theDirector of Technology Based Learning at the New York Institute ofTechnology.

Gene Silverman is theCoordinator of Curriculum and Instruction at Nassau BOCES.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.