Collaboration in Education: Business and Education Partnership in Northern Wisconsin
n 1990, Christopher Dede coined the expression technology-mediated interactive learning (TMIL) to describe the newest trend in education: increased use of modern technology to provide instruction. A decade ago, few educators could foresee the revolution that technology would bring about in education. Here in northwestern Wisconsin, a unique and innovative partnership has been created to provide students in small, rural schools an opportunity to learn high-tech skills that will enable them to land high-paying jobs.
The three members of this partnership are IBM, the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College System and Ashland High School. The goal of the program is to provide a sequence of courses training high school students to program the IBM AS/400. The partnership took nearly two years to formulate.
IBM provided an AS/400 server and five Thin Client network computers to Ashland High School. The computer maker also contributed technical assistance with the installation of the hardware and software. IBM has also pledged help in the marketing of this project, to help students find future employment utilizing their skills. Over the past few years, IBM has made a substantial investment in upgrading the AS/400, and views the device as one of its premier products.
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College at New Richmond is the point of origin for the courses. James Kiley, WITC Program Logic instructor, provided a good deal of leadership and dedication to get the project launched. All instruction is carried out over the Internet. This meant that Kiley, as well as others at WITC, had to develop their courses for distance learning. The answer to this problem was provided by an application called Learning Space, based on Lotus Notes. The result is that high school students can take a series of courses, all Internet-based, which allows them to fulfill many of the requirements for an associate degree at the technical college. Some of the courses available include Program Logic, AS/400 Operations, RPG Programming (Beginning and Advanced), and Introduction to Computer-Integrated Manufacturing and Engineering.
For Ashland High School, the project represents state-of-the-art learning opportunities for students. Students log on to the server and go to work on their modules. Ashland High School was initially chosen because of its location, computer infrastructure, and willingness to experiment. High school advisors Paul Gilbertson and Jim Skerik oversee the project, assist students, and troubleshoot problems. Students are awarded dual credit, earning elective credit toward high school graduation while earning college credit at WITC.
The beauty of this program is that it allows students to get a head start on an associate (two year) degree, and also gets them into the job market sooner. Starting salaries for AS/400 programmers commonly exceed $30,000.
How well d'es the program work? WITC-New Richmond instructor James Kiley is pleased, and says, The students from Ashland are doing exceptionally well. I wish I had them in my regular class. The students work collaboratively in teams of two. Such work calls upon students problem-solving abilities, analytical skills, and social skills. The courses are divided into one-credit units and students can work at their own pace. Assignments, questions, or problems are e-mailed to the instructor. Teachers using Learning Space post office hours when students may conduct online discussions or ask questions.
Distance learning has emerged as a way for many rural schools to provide for the educational needs of their students. As technologies evolve, so too d'es technology-mediated interactive learning. Students can benefit by taking courses that otherwise may not be available. Cost is, and will continue to be, a limiting factor for small schools. This is one of the primary benefits of forging school-business partnerships. Cost, expertise and benefits are shared among all the partners.
Technology-mediated interactive learning is arising from a synthesis of distance education, cooperative learning strategies, and computer-aided cooperative work. Course work such as is currently being offered by WITC-New Richmond to the students at Ashland High School relies heavily on group process themes and cooperative work teams. Distance learning projects such as the AS/400 initiative are designed to promote a wider and deeper range of student skills than any one site could offer economically.
James Skerik is a social studies instructor and a School-to-Work Project Director at Ashland High School.
Paul Gilbertson teaches Marketing Education and is a School-to-Work Project Director at Ashland High School.
James Kiley teaches in the Computer Information Specialist/Programmer Analyst program at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond.
This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.