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Abstract -- Internetworking and Educational Reform: The National School Network Testbed Education Track
D2: Internetworking and Educational Reform

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Internetworking and Educational Reform: The National School Network Testbed

Hunter, Beverly ( bhunter@bbn.com)


This presentation will describe the technical, educational reform, and financing characteristics of educational institutions participating in the National School Network Testbed led by BBN. In March and April, 1994, 121 organizations responded to our call for participation in the National School Networking Testbed, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. These organizations represent a cross-section of the leadership at all levels across the United States in applying computer-and-communications technologies to educational reforms. More than a third (35) of the participant organizations have a national scope. Eleven have a statewide scope of operations. Eleven are regional within a state. Thirty-two are local: individual schools, school districts, or towns. A few are international or multi-state in scope. These organizations are on the forefront of both educational reform and the creation of local and national information infrastructure. They are an important resource to their local communities and to the nation's agenda for reform. They are creating new models of learning and teaching for the information age. They are pro-actively seeking to assist schools and other places of learning and teaching to benefit from information infrastructure. The Testbed promises to be a place to facilitate synergy among these organizations, resulting in a major national resource for experimentation, innovation, and policy formation.

On a technical level, in the spring of 1994 many teachers, schools, and even statewide networks that had been operating in host-terminal mode were coming to the realization that they needed to change to a more scalable and robust and user-friendly architecture. Hence when we issued our call for participation in Testbed Phase II, over 120 organizations quickly stepped forward with interest. A typical testbed organization is in the process of moving from a host-terminal mode of internet access to a full IP connectivity mode. Many participating schools already have local area networks and are just now connecting these to the Internet. Some of the schools now have dial-up Internet access and are moving to a dedicated line. Half of the organizations either have or are planning to install a unix server that will enable user construction of services.

Our theme of user-constructible networking went to the heart of educational reform groups who are looking for a new generation of school technology that better maps onto their constructivist ideas about learning and a project-based curriculum. Over half of our Testbed partners identified curriculum reform as a purpose for educational networking. At least a third of the participants are creating digital libraries and making them accessible to others via Internet for learning and teaching. Usually, they are creating these from their own local resources, thus adding value to existing material. For example, Earthwatch is building a Global Information Network, including digitization of all print documents, photographs, maps, video resources, and expedition logistics from their worldwide scientific expeditions.

Our major "lesson learned" in Phase I concerned the cost-effectiveness of networking in relation to larger educational reform goals. A substantial proportion (17) of the participant organizations are involved in school restructuring. At least 27 talked about using networks to support project-based learning, which is a major change from traditional schooling in curriculum and pedagogy. Thirteen organizations talked about uses of networking to help schools implement new curriculum standards and state frameworks.

Without new measures of accomplishment in schools, alternative to standardized testing, it will be very difficult to justify costs of technological infrastructure and reform. Therefore Testbed II includes a major emphasis on organizations at the forefront of the alternative assessment movement. Thirteen participant organizations are implementing new methods of assessing student learning, such as portfolio assessment. For example, one of the participating organizations is the Coalition of Essential Schools. The 150 member schools of the Coalition have been devising standards for assessing students' digital portfolios.

Testbed II reflects the central importance of a professional development agenda in association with building technological infrastructure as well as educational reforms. At least twenty of the participating organizations are focusing on professional development of teachers, and are using the networks to support this endeavor. Twelve are devising innovations in the preparation of new teachers, often in collaborations between colleges and school districts. The Stevens Institute of Technology Center for Improved Engineering and Science Education is working with administrators in 20 school systems in New Jersey in long term professional development programs. They emphasize the need for superintendents, supervisors, principals and department heads to be involved in planning and support of technology implementation in classroom instruction. Several of the organizations are addressing the needs of policymakers in education, for increased understanding of the relationship of technology and systemic reform. For instance, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is conducting several national studies and forums to help inform policy in these areas.

A key benefit of internetworking is the potential to support the systemic reform goal of breaking down barriers between schools and other institutions, both within local communities and across communities. Testbed includes a strong complement of organizations who are attempting to employ networks to help forge new linkages between schools and people outside of schools: in the local community, parents and homes, places of informal learning such as museums and science centers, libraries , scientists and other working professionals, universities and people in other countries or cultures.

Testbed includes groups taking leadership to employ networks for economic development within their communities. For instance, Ken Matheson of Mendocino USD in California said, "We plan to develop our node as a community resource which will help to revitalize our economically depressed area."

The localities depend on the national and international information infrastructure to contribute value to their investment. Seven of the Testbed organizations were specifically created to provide networked services, including the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, Ask ERIC, Center for Networked Information Discovery & Retrieval, Global SchoolNet Foundation, Internic, Geometry Forum, and Massachusetts Consortium for Educational Telecommunications.

The 38 research organizations in Testbed are anxious to share their research with those who can benefit from their knowledge. For example, the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition has been conducting research for ten years on models for university - community collaboration. They have created a project called "The Fifth Dimension" which operates during afterschool hours in various community settings: youth clubs, schools, churches, daycare centers. At these sites, children from age 6 - 12 engage with undergraduates from neighboring colleges and universities in various forms of educational activity mediated by computers. The Fifth Dimension Project will share with testbed participants a wealth of knowledge about how to create and sustain effective learning activities in community-based settings.

In a testbed for asking questions about potential investment in local information infrastructure, it is important to include a wide range of funding sources and mechanisms. Our partnership includes a full range of such sources, including federal, state, local, and private sources. It is especially important to include a variety of local funding mechanisms. Of the 85 organizations that provided some information about their funding, twenty have obtained funds from local sources. For instance, in June 1993 the community of the New Haven Unified School District in California passed a $55 million bond to upgrade technology in its schools. Similarly, in June 1992 the voters of San Diego passed a $245 million bond issue which earmarked $25 million to network the 22 junior high/middle schools in the district. In addition, the district is planning to spend $1.1 million to modernize the connections to schools. Citizens of Bellevue, Washington have passed three capital fund levies since 1989, totalling about $10 million. A portion of this money has been used to fund LANs in the schools, internet server, and routers, and portions of their WAN.