The Internet's Second Coming


The K20 Initiative reveals Internet2's capability to support videoconferencing,bringing once-exclusive educational programs into K-12 schools.

IMAGINE THE CHANCE for your students to make friends from around the world. Or receive music lessons from leading composers. These opportunities are part of the future of K-12 education, but they’re also available now, thanks to the Internet2 K20 Initiative. Via the K20 Initiative, member institutions—schools, universities, libraries, and museums—deliver educational programming through 38 state and regional Sponsored Educational Group Participants (SEGPs) over a secure, nationwide “secondinternet.”

Like the original internet, Internet2 relies on the active involvement of research universities to develop, implement, and maintain the network; but unlike the internet, Internet2’ s academic and instructional uses go far beyond scientific research at the doctoral level, into national and sometimes global programs that are presented in K-12 classrooms through interactive videoconferencing. K-12 schools can both create and deliver programming through Internet2, or purchase programming from a content provider, such as a college or university, museum, library, or performing arts center.

A ‘World’ of Difference

The 'Net

ALL SMILES: Internet2 programming
lets students videoconference with their
peers both near and far.

A good example of the educational opportunities being generated by the K20 Initiative is “Around the World,” a program organized by New Jersey’s Passaic Valley High School that fosters a global exchange of ideas and information. The project has two components. The first is a series of roughly one-hour individual videoconferences with participating schools in Pakistan, India, Israel, and the United Kingdom, among others, hosted by Passaic Valley High during one 24-hour period. The conferences engage students in discussions on selected topics in history, culture, politics, and the arts. The event is supported through a cooperation of two portals: Verizon Access NJ and NJEDge—New Jersey’s SEGP—which both work with K-12 schools statewide. The second feature of “Around the World” is an interactive website, provided by New Jersey’s Montclair State University, that enables the information exchange between Passaic Valley students and the contacts they make abroad to continue long after the videoconferencesare concluded.

“The first time we did ‘Around the World,’ our students realized they were not valued in the world the way they thought they were,” says Matthew Conforth, director of educational technology at Passaic Valley. They found that “students in other countries thought all American high school students owned their own cars and could go to any college of their choice. Our kids also saw that their kids knew more about the United States than they themselves knew aboutother countries.”

Passaic Valley not only delivers its own programming through Internet2; the school also receives programming from other cultural and educational partners such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Rutgers University-Camden, and Montclair State. “These programs create a template so that a teacher has a catalog of content to use without having to leave the classroom,”Conforth says.

The first time we did 'Around the World,' our students realized theywere not valued in the world the way they thought they were.
— Matthew Conforth, Passaic Valley High School

Conforth explains that the NJPAC music programs had a limited reach before the advent of Internet2. “Before Internet2, the live audience for these programs was restricted to schools that were no more than 16 miles from the NJPAC in Newark. Other students had to be bussed to NJPAC and return to school before the end of the school day. It is much easier, and less costly, for our students to participate in the interactive programs, not to mention that they have the opportunity to interact with an expert—and the kids don’t want tolook foolish in front of the expert.”

Conforth says that when the technology and funding to deliver videoconferencing first became available, ambitions ran a bit too far ahead. “At first, teachers and administrators were curious to find out if the technology could be used to deliver complete courses that the school could not offer onsite,” he says. “But then they wanted the instructor to be as qualified as a full-time faculty member, including the right certification.” Conforth stresses the value of Internet2 programming as supplemental instruction. “I found that teachers preferred content experts over complete course instruction,to go beyond the chapters in the textbook.”

Made in Manhattan

New York’s Manhattan School of Music has been providing videoconference programming through Internet2 since 2000, according to Christianne Orto, assistant dean of distance learning. MSM has delivered programs to K-12 schools in 25 states, reaching 1,700 students. Most of the programs MSMoffers are supplements to traditional classroom instruction.

“Everything we do conforms to state and national education standards,” Orto says. “We provide curriculum guides for all that we do.” MSM faculty design the course content as well as the off-line print lesson plan that is given to the participating K-12 teacher. The teacher uses the curriculum guide to prepare her students for the videoconference and to createhomework or other supplemental lessons from it.

Orto works with an advisory committee consisting of MSM faculty and senior administration to generate ideas for K-12 and higher education programming. “Out of 250 faculty members, about 25 percent are involved in teaching at leastone of our online programs,” she says.

MSM’s programs, called Music Bridges, engage students in numerous areas related to music performance and understanding. Program offerings include vocal/choral ensemble coaching, jazz ensemble sectional coaching, and introductions to instruments. One program, “Music, Melody, and Me,” introduces students in grades 3 to 5 to the musical instrumentfamilies.

Orto says that MSM’s content providers are not exclusively faculty members. Even MSM students learn to design videoconferencing programs through Internet2 that are delivered to secondary school students. The programs educate students about a variety of musical styles and genres. “For example,” Orto says, “our Educational Outreach Department developed ‘A Personal Introduction to Opera,’ where our students told young people what drew them to the operaticmedium.”

Another student-directed program is “Music Outreach Videoconference Exchange.” MOVE is also designed to be interdisciplinary, creating links between music and core K-12 subjects such as social studies and history. The New York State Learning Standards for the Arts are incorporated in programdesign, content, and assessment.

MSM also offers tailor-made programs that fit into the curricula of individual K-12 schools. Orto says she is looking forward to offering whole-semester courses in the next academic year. Currently, the longest program, group instrumentalinstruction, can run up to 10 sessions.

MSM delivers its programming through “multipoint control units,” bridges that interconnect calls from several sources. All sites at participating schools call the MCU, or the MCU calls the sites, in sequence. Multipoints are not without technological glitches that can be disruptive to the learning process. These problems often stem from schools’ lack ofsufficient bandwidth to support videoconferencing.

MSM, however, has worked with corporate members of Internet2 to augment music-performance programs designed to run at low bandwidth, and has found that more of its K-12 partners have gained the ability to receive its programming.“In the past, it wasn’t so much that a K-12 site didn’t havethe equipment; it didn’t have the bandwidth [384 kilobits isthe minimum],” Orto says. “We weren’t willing to sacrificequality or the learning process.”

To the contrary. MSM and Passaic Valley High School have shown how the new educational internet can be a vehicle for creative instructional packages. They are part of a teaching community designing, developing, and delivering educational programming that heeds a global learning community.

Stuart Nachbar recently launched and is co-owner of College Central Network.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.