Interactive Videoconferencing Improves Performance Of Limited English Proficient Students


As we stand at the brink of the 21st century, it is ourresponsibility as educators to assure that our students are not onlyprepared, but also receive the immediate benefits of atechnologically advanced society and economic environment. ProjectREBUILD, an acronym for Restructuring Educational Behaviors toUltimately Improve Literacy in Dual languages, is a nationaldissemination project funded by the U.S. Department of Educationunder Title VII. Since its inception in 1995, the project hastransformed our nine elementary schools, one middle school and onesenior high school into a seamless K-12 collaborative learningenvironment. Staff, students, parents and community members worktogether to improve student outcomes through the sharing ofinformation over interactive 30-frames-a-second videoconferencing andstate-of-the-art ATM networks.

In the Gardena Complex of Schools within the Los Angeles SchoolDistrict, Project REBUILD centers on the incorporation of advancedtelecommunications and technology into the curriculum. The primarygoal of the project is to improve the performance of Limited EnglishProficient (LEP) students, while also meeting needs and improving theperformance of all students. Evaluating standardized CTBS testscores, enrollment in advanced college preparatory classes andimproved attendance at the conclusion of the second year of theproject, independent research has validated the use of advancedtelecommunications and technology in public education. The successfulimplementation and expanded use of technology into the classroomscombined with teacher and staff training has resulted in theelimination of classroom isolation and the increase in English andsecond language academic proficiency.

Overcoming Obstacles

Project REBUILD has been able to overcome the huge obstacles foundin large, inner-city, mainly minority and usually poorly fundedpublic school districts. Successful implementation has been theresult of not only staff dedication, but also the dedication ofprivate corporate partners such as Premio Computer, Inc., a companywith proven experience in the K-12 and post secondary educationfield. Premio along with Zydacron and Lucent Technologies haveprovided continued assistance in developing technical design,training and support. Premio built and installed the student desktopcomputers and assisted in the set-up and design of the ATMintra-school and inter-school networks for teachers, staff andstudents. Desktop videoconferencing systems that are easily andeconomically scalable to room-size systems &emdash; all designed andprovided by the expert engineers at Premio &emdash; give staff,students, administrators, parents and community the opportunity toshare ideas and information without ever leaving the classroom.

The "CNN quality" interactive videoconferencing systems usedacross the K-12 spectrum and at all grade levels provide the schoolstaff with the ability to jointly plan lessons and team teach fromdifferent school sites. The 85 teachers and 11 principals, none ofwhom had ever touched a computer prior to the project, have radicallyaltered their own behaviors and methodologies. The staff members atthe school sites are supported in their continuing professionaldevelopment &emdash; remotely using videoconferencing by the Centerfor Language Minority Education and Research at California StateUniversity Long Beach. The teaming of the staff, teachers andUniversity mentors through the advanced ATM and computer networks isproviding equal access to primary language and advanced curriculuminstruction to the LEP and all students and their parents for thefirst time.

Teachers are currently using the technology to accelerate studentlearning, improve self-esteem and increase individual studentachievement. All of the minority and especially the LEP students haveeasy-to-use, daily access to the Internet and electronic mail intheir classrooms and from home. The individual schools in the projectare learning to take advantage of both local and wide area networksfor use with software and communications. Parents and teachers cannow communicate directly with each other for the first time.

Positive Changes

Entering the fourth year of implementation at the Gardena complexof schools, Project REBUILD has resulted in many positive changes andeffects. The project students, both LEP and English only, have madesubstantial gains in English reading proficiency, as measured by CTBS(comparing 1995-1996 results to the 1996-1997 school year testresults). The students participating in Project REBUILD showed anoverall increase of 24 NCE points over students not participating inthe project. The dramatic increase in achievement, we believe, is thedirect result of incorporating powerful and advancedtelecommunications and technology to support instruction andcurriculum. In addition, just one year after implementation of theproject, student participants at Gardena High School showed a 6.5%increase in the number of students successfully completing collegepreparatory course work. Finally, overall student attendance forthose participating in the project showed a significant increase,resulting in an average of more than two days of instructionaltime.

Project REBUILD and the Gardena Complex of Schools within the LosAngeles Unified School District is one of the few documented projectsand programs that clearly demonstrates the tremendous benefits thatcan be realized through the integration of advanced technologies. Thesuccess of Project REBUILD has led to the schools within the complexto budget their own funds to expand the ATM networks,videoconferencing and computer systems for the 1998-1999 school year.The schools of the complex have banded together with Project REBUILDand jointly applied for E-Rate subsidies in order to put a fiber andATM infrastructure backbone onto the entire school site. Through theE-Rate subsidies, providing for a 90% discount on infrastructure andadvanced telecommunications services, the 11 schools of the complexwill be able to carry public telco ATM into every one of the morethan 450 classrooms. Each classroom will become its own LAN, withpurchased and donated computers, at a ratio of one computer for everytwo students. Each classroom will have its own homework hotlinethrough one of its three NT network and telecommunications servers.These servers will be the gateways for all telecommunications andinformation passing from and entering the classroom.

Partnerships with Premio Computer, First Virtual (now FVC.COM),Lucent Technologies, Bay Networks and WorldCom will provide thesupport for the purchase, installation and training in the ongoinguse of the servers, ATM networks, videoconferencing, telephone anddata networks. Premio Computers will be assisting Project REBUILD andthe Gardena complex of schools along with the Grant and Van NuysCluster of 24 schools in developing electronic true assessmentportfolios that will be kept on CD-ROM for students. Several otherschool districts within California are also planning to adopt theProject REBUILD technology and telecommunications model in order tofurther enhance student achievement in their districts. The 1998-1999school year marks the fourth year of the five year Project REBUILDand looks to be one of the most exciting.

Judy N. Green is the director of Project REBUILD and author of the75-page competitive grant. She is now working alone to coordinate andimplement all aspects of the project. She is also working with thePSRTEC to educate other districts and vendors regarding E-Ratepossibilities. Green is an educator with more than 30 yearsexperience in public education.E-mail: [email protected]

Companies mentioned: 

Bay Networks, Santa Clara, CA, (408) 988-2400,
FVC.COM, Santa Clara, CA, (408) 567-7200,
Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, NJ, (908) 953-8615,
MCI WorldCom, Jackson, MS, (601) 974-8400,
Premio Computer, Inc., City of Industry, CA, (626) 839-3100,
Zydacron, Inc., Manchester, NH, (603) 647-1000,

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.