Virtual Global Studies: An Explosive Journey Through World History

Virtual Global Studies: An Explosive Journey Through World History

Last spring, Cattaraugus-Allegany Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), a nonprofit organization that provides educational services to 22 component school districts in southwestern New York, expanded its vast educational opportunities and pioneered its first distance learning summer school course. The pilot program was recommended by the organization’s director of instructional support services, Dr. Gail Hirst, as a way to solve transportation issues since the districts are spread across 2,159 square miles. It was also a great way to provide its more than 21,000 preK through adult students with a new, unique, and exciting way of learning. The summer school course itself incorporated both synchronous and asynchronous elements and was transmitted completely over IP technology.

By the onset of summer school, BOCES had the vision, technical support, equipment, and bandwidth needed to successfully initiate a distance learning course over IP. During the 2005-06 school year, BOCES and its component districts received a $498,000 federal grant award, which allowed the organization to substantially upgrade its existing distance learning capabilities. Using grant funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 100 new endpoints were added to the existing network. The entire distance learning infrastructure resides on a gigabit network, which virtually eliminates bandwidth constraints related to videoconferencing. Furthermore, the BOCES technical support team possesses the technical expertise and experience necessary to pilot new distance learning programming and IP courses.

Piloting the Course

The pilot course involved 10 students and two sites—approximately 21 miles apart. As a prerequisite, districts were required to provide students with laptops. The course itself was transmitted every day through a Polycom videoconferencing camera used in distance learning classrooms. In addition, Adobe Breeze was used as a learning management system (LMS), Web publishing software, and virtual chat-room solution for classroom activities. Laptops and Web-based instruction were also strategically incorporated into the course. According to Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer (E-learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning , 2003, John Wiley & Sons), the integration of multimedia can enhance the learning experience, and when students receive the same information through multiple senses, retention is improved. Both the Polycom unit and Adobe Breeze worked seamlessly and flawlessly for the full duration of the six-week course.

Classroom rituals. During this pilot program, several classroom rituals were instituted. Each day, students would enter the classroom, power up their laptops, and log into the course Web site. Students would then answer the “ Time Machine Question of the Day,” which was a teacher-created journal question. The teacher would get the student responses in real time through Adobe Breeze and could comment back to the students. Once the journal question was answered, students would progress into the day’s lesson. While the lessons varied in content, objectives, and delivery, most were a part of a larger class project known as the “ Virtual Timeline.”

Building a virtual timeline. This “ Virtual Timeline” project was a cumulating series of PowerPoint presentations that became a student-created, world history timeline. Every day, students were placed in heterogeneous groups with others from opposite locations. Within their groups, students researched various people, events, and concepts from different regions, at different time periods, throughout world history. All student-student and student-teacher correspondence took place in a virtual chat room known as the virtual classroom. And once the groups were finished with their research, they created group PowerPoint presentations. These presentations were submitted to the teacher via the virtual chat room, where the teacher added each group’s contributing PowerPoint presentation to the virtual timeline. The final product was published to the Web and served as a student resource for other assignments.


How did the new distance learning global studies course compare to a traditional high school course? Data collected revealed that the distance learning course transcended traditional learning in desired outcomes, achievement, and student satisfaction. In the distance learning pilot course, 83.3 percent of the students passed the New York State (NYS) Regents exam, while 35 percent passed in the traditional class format. In addition, 100 percent of the students passed the course with a grade of 89 or higher, which is an average of 36 percent higher than their previous course during the school year.


With only two hours spent on standardized test review, teaching to the test was a foreign phrase during the summer course. Instead of drilling students with review questions, the teacher infused the course content with analytical and thought-provoking projects and assignments. Students enjoyed the course format because it met their individual needs and assignments were authentic, collaborative, and technology rich; therefore, they passed the course, as well as the NYS assessment.

The summer pilot course was the converse of a “traditional” high school course—there were no textbooks, no lectures, no overhead transparences, no pop quizzes, no busy work. The course was not a six-week review course for the state assessment and did not teach to the test; interestingly, only two hours were spent on reviewing for the NYS Regents exam. Most importantly, the teacher was not the center of the classroom universe; instead, students were able to facilitate their own learning.

Judy Maxson is the distance learning staff specialist for Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES.