A Case Study : The ACTEIN Program
The Australian Capital Territory Education Information Network (ACTEIN) program is a local university initiative to introduce the Internet to primary and secondary schools in the Australian Capital Territory. The physical connectivity is based on low cost accessible technologies, and most schools use IP dial-up as their access to the Internet. The program's main direction is not the provision of Internet access itself, but in attempting to address the issue of how the Internet can be put to work in the classroom, consequently the ACTEIN Program has a strong emphasis on technical and training support to accompany the Internet access.
Within a few short years the Internet has reached into many areas of activity, often acting as an agent of profound change. This revolution is now happening within our primary and secondary school environment, and the Internet is now commencing to play its role in creating a new model for the classroom across the globe.
The deployment of such technologies into the Australian education environment has been very limited to date, yet it is in this environment that perhaps the most striking developments can be undertaken, and the essential groundwork accomplished for the longer term productive integration of information technologies into our society. Accordingly there is much that has to be accomplished to ensure that we can sensibly realise the opportunities such technologies offer to the classroom and the children. At this stage the efforts to utilise communications networks within the K-12 educational environment are largely pioneering efforts carried out by dedicated individuals, which bear many of the hallmarks of experimental projects rather than of wide scale programs. However there are valuable lessons to be gleaned from these efforts in terms of selecting appropriate paradigms for subsequent wider deployment.
One such pioneering effort is the Australian Capital Territory Education Information Network (ACTEIN) program, a collaborative initiative to introduce the Internet to primary and secondary schools in the Australian Capital Territory. The program's main direction is not solely in the provision of Internet access by itself, but in attempting to address the issue of how the Internet can be put to work in the classroom, consequently the ACTEIN Program has a strong emphasis on technical and training support to accompany low cost Internet access. Internet trainers visit the schools as the need dictates until the teaching staff feel confident in the use of the software and navigation of the Internet. Further support is provided through mailing lists and user group meetings. The entire effort of training is directed at both basic literacy skills in navigating the Internet's resources, and also at developing the human skills to meet and work with others on the Internet, providing a high level of personal motivation and commitment through a rich set of personal contacts and shared activities.
The Australian Capital Territory Education Information Network (ACTEIN) Program is a collaborative venture between the four Universities within the ACT: the Australian National University, the University of Canberra, the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Australian Catholic University.
The project evolved from a number developments, though its inception largely came from a mutual interest within the Australian National University, the University of Canberra and the Australian Defence Force Academy in the establishment of a broadly-based ACT Internet initiative linking public and private organisations in the ACT to each other and the Internet.
From these initial discussions evolved the plans for the ACT Education Information Network (ACTEIN) pilot program to provide Internet access to schools in the ACT. The aim of the ACTEIN pilot was to examine in collaboration with members of the ACT teaching community the educational benefits of Internet access and indeed the feasibility of Internet access to the K-12 education environment. The schools were selected from the independent and government sectors and spanned the range from Kindergarten through to year 12.
The pilot program to introduce the Internet to the ACT K-12 education environment began in May 1994 with the provision of dialup IP Internet access to 16 primary and secondary schools and the ACT education resource centre, in Canberra, Australia.
Our objectives in this program are to:
* to create a self-sustaining core of Internet expertise in each school.
* to work collaboratively with the teaching staff at the schools to examine the educational benefit of Internet access to the K12 education sector.
* to provide informed information to organisations looking to provide Internet access to K-12 schools.
* to establish leadership in the role of introduction of Internet access to the Australian community at large.
* to encourage collaboration between industry, government, educational institutions, researchers, teachers and students within the region in the development of educational tools and services.
Successful introduction of the Internet into the K-12 environment requires the provision of both teacher training and technical support. An essential element in the provision of such training is to present the use of computer assisted communications as an integral part of the curriculum and not as an additional subject of study. The success of the ACTEIN Program can at least in part be attributed to the employment of Internet specialists with teaching experience in a startup role for the schools. The role of the specialist here is to construct a self-sustaining core of expertise within each school community.
Three part-time staff were employed to assist the teachers in navigating the Internet and to establish a web of contacts as well as providing instruction in both the use of computers and the use of communications software. What has now been established at all ACTEIN schools, is a small group of teachers who are competent users of computer communications tools and who can now go on to educate their colleagues, fulfilling the objective of creating a self-sustaining core of knowledge and motivation.
It is noted that the most effective startup methodology is a short, but intensive period of activity, concentrating on individual instruction rather than more general group sessions. The individual sessions were designed to provide a basic level of computer skills and instill both confidence and motivation to explore the Internet resources further.
Trumpet Winsock is required to support the Internet connection for the IBM compatible systems and is a shareware package developed in Australia. Trumpet Winsock contains a Telnet application program.
Eudora (Qualcomm's PC and Mac POP client), an e-mail package with a very easy to use interface, has proved to be extremely successful. Teachers have become competent users quickly and with minimal instruction. Eudora operates in an on-line / off-line mode. Messages can be composed using any of the school's computers, and a batch of such messages can be sent outward on the Internet in a single dial-up session.
Mosaic (for Macintosh and IBM) has been developed by the US National Centre for Supercomputer Applications at the University of Illinois. The tool is a window to a number of network information models, including the gopher model and the World Wide Web hypertext information model. The information is accessed via a consistent graphical interface where information and references are embedded within text. Retrieval of information is achieved by clicking on bolded words within documents. Mosaic is very user friendly, but achieves its functionality at the expense of large amounts of data transfer, so its usefulness is severely restricted by the speed of the connection into the Internet.
Netscape (for Macintosh and IBM) is the most recent software development to address the problem of information retrieval from the vast array of Internet resources and is poised to replaced Mosaic as the favoured web browser. Netscape achieves significantly improved download speed making it a useable tool at the lower speeds afforded by modem access.
Fetch for Macintosh and WS-FTP for IBM were found to be reliable and user-friendly ftp clients.
*Where on the Globe is Roger? Roger Williams, global adventurer and raconteur, is communicating with students world-wide while driving around the world in his 1982 Dodge truck. He sends e-mail reports using his personal computer and modem about the exotic places he visits and introduces the students that he meets to students from other parts of the world. Students communicate with Roger and each other via e-mail or snail mail. Students are also encouraged to participate in geography and cultural exchanges.
ACTEIN participant schools enjoyed a visit from Roger Williams while he visited Canberra and the ACTEIN Program. Students were able to discuss with Roger his experiences while driving through South America and question him about Bubba (his truck) which has become his home for the past 9 months.
* The Geogame Classes complete a questionnaire involving geographical information about their location.The coordinator collects responses from all the participating sites, scrambles the information, and returns the data to participants as puzzles for the classes to solve.
Students, with help from maps, atlases, and other reference materials, match the description of each location (based on the questionnaire) with the name of the corresponding city.
At the conclusion of the project, the coordinator e-mails the correct answers. An ACTEIN school was named among the winning participants.
*Koala Information A Koala was donated to the Indianapolis Zoo which then found itself with a Koala and little or no information about Koalas in their reference material. The children answered their Internet plea to provide information for the thousands of visitors annually to the Zoo. The children have provided a unique set of resources which the Zoo is using within their Koala exhibit. All the material (with the exception of the Koalas!) has been collected and dispatched using the Internet.
* Real-time Communication Kidlink is a worldwide grassroots organisation that is coordinated from Norway. The Kidlink organisation maintains a closed IRC server for 10 to 15 year old students. Students from the ACT have been able to communicate in real time with their peers from around the world.
* Christmas Cultural Exchange Kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2 students are involved in a project to share Christmas traditions across the globe. Students will share songs, celebrations, recipes, etc in addition to designing a summer wardrobe for Santa and an alternative mode of transport.
*The Monster Project This project was completed by kindergarten children. Classes participating in the Monster Project read the book "There's a Nightmare in my Closet". Each class was then given a part of the monster to describe and then asked to create/construct a monster using the collaborative description. Photos of the monster were then distributed. This project was integrated into a unit about the human body and integrated into all curriculum areas.
* The Antarctic Opportunities have arisen whereby students have exchanged e-mail with NASA scientists and Australian researchers working in the Antarctic.
*Travel Brochures Students have exchanged information about the local Canberra attractions (from the perspective of an 11 year old) for equivalent information from Washington DC
*Collaborative Story Writing An interesting cultural exchange arose from collaboratively composing a story with a school from Long Island, New York. Canberra students started the story with a distinctly Australian flavour and the US students provided the conclusion with an American flavour.
* Rainforest Project This project has been initiated from Canberra and involves schools in Indonesia, Hawaii, Nebraska and an Oxford IT specialist who will be accompanying a scientific expedition to the rainforest Guyana. Plans are being made to exchange e-mail with the specialist while he is in Guyana.
There are some areas of mainstream secondary education that the use of readily accessible global communications has obvious benefits; such as the humanities, language, literature studies and social sciences. Not only can students and their teachers establish a rich contact with the foreign cultures that are the subject of their studies, but they can also develop their skills in critical discussion by participating in one of the many discussion groups facilitated by mailing lists and newsgroups.
The other area of mainstream secondary education that lends itself to Internet use is the school library. Librarians have shown much interest in developing the skills necessary to navigate the Internet's information resource s. The information that is available via the World Wide Web (WWW) is very different in nature from that found in print, with one of the most visible differences being in the area of Internet accessible coverage and commentary of recent events. Students can study these events from primary sources, and in so doing develop the valuable skill of critical evaluation of such sources.
Many ACT secondary schools are looking to implement changes towards more student-directed learning and also a move towards increased integration of many elements of the curriculum and it is in these areas that Internet use can most easily be incorporated.
The emergence of the communications club as an extra curricular activity is providing an opportunity for teachers in collaboration with students to experiment with aspects of Internet use in schools without curriculum constraints. Students are able to put into practice lessons learnt in the classroom in all subject areas as they apply to real-life situations. These activities have been to date focused on authoring and assembling of material and publication using the World Wide Web. The communications club as a publishing unit with a world wide readership has immense motivational benefits for the students and the school.
Some of the activities which have been undertaken by secondary schools within the program include:
* Mountains Project This project was conducted in the form of a questionnaire to the 16 participating schools relating to local geography. While this project began as a specifically geography theme it developed into a cultural exchange.
* Newsday Project Students are involved in creating their own Newspaper using not only local information but also information obtained from their peers across the Internet.
* American Literature Study Pre-service teaching students from Ohio-State University take on the part of characters from the American Novel, "The Great Gatsby", and reply to the school students as that character.
* William Shakespeare Project Canberra students have shared ideas about Romeo and Juliet with their peers in the USA in addition to writing to "William Shakespeare" himself in a project involving students from the USA, Russia and Australia.
* Japanese Language Study Students have communicated with Japanese students to enhance their use of the language and to further their cultural knowledge.
* Dickens The benefit from inviting other adults into the classroom has been realised with a group of students discussing Dickens with an adult in LA.
* Alternative Energy Project A Canberra class is exchanging information on alternative energy sources with a class in Finland. This exchange goes beyond just scientific information and discusses the political issues that arise from the production of electricity using nuclear energy.
Individual students are exchanging information about Christmas with students from Finland and the UK. One student has extended their interest in Ancient Egypt through information provided via the WWW and a mailing list dedicated to ancient history. The mailing list is providing the opportunity to correspond with other students and academics with a similar interest.
Within this framework of collaboration the children are provided with the necessary tools and training to allow them to do collaborative research and use video conferencing over the global Internet to communicate with each other and National and International leaders.
To date the Global Schoolhouse Project has demonstrated the use of video conferencing on personal computers over the Internet. Cornell University's CU-SeeMe video conferencing software allows students to sit down at an Apple Macintosh or MS-DOS computer and work with students in other locations.
Video conferencing over the Internet is a key technology for students to communicate with each other and with educators, policy makers, scientists, and many other resources around the world. The network technology opens up the classroom, allowing students and teachers to take advantage of databases and people previously unavailable to them. More critically it adds the dimension of direct contact into their perception of the Internet, reinforcing the active rather than passive nature of the interaction across the Internet within the school environment.
In particular, the provision of individual tuition is one not usually afforded by the traditional classroom. The typical student to teacher ratio found in many ACT classrooms does not create an environment whereby individual student needs or interests can be addressed. The Internet allows teachers to seek the support of adults from the worldwide Internet community who can provide to the classroom a wealth of experiences and expertise that would not otherwise be available.
The Internet allows each class to respond to such an environment with their own inputs of thought, creativity and imagination, publishing their own resources, capabilities and ideas back onto the Internet for others to use and enjoy. An environment of creativity and sharing is an essential attribute of the K-12 educational program, and the Internet constructively challenges this environment by allowing this creativity and sharing to take place within a truly global domain.
The approach of providing a high degree of specialist support at an individual level to start off the project appears to be an optimal use of resources. ACTEIN schools are now achieving a level of capability which is now self sustaining, with a core of highly motivated teachers providing a constant stimulus of new ideas to the entire school community.
The program has established ACTEIN as a leader in the provision of computer assisted communications in school education in Australia. ACTEIN is now providing leadership Australia wide to universities, governments and commercial enterprises looking to develop similar programs to provide Internet access to schools, and the approach adopted by the program is being used as a model for broader Internet deployment programs being undertaken in Australian schools.
The major conclusion that can be drawn from the work to date is that there is a definite and indeed highly essential role the Internet can play in all years of formal education in the K-12 classroom, and that this can be achieved in a highly cost effective and productive manner.
The second conclusion is that a program of widespread introduction of this facility into the country's schools will have to be undertaken with due care and attention paid to the provision of helpful specialist advice during each school's initial steps along this particular path. This is not an environment where traditional top down approaches, such as the application of program money with centrally administered in-service teacher education programs, are going to be effective. Indeed it is reasonable to suggest that such programs will be more damaging than helpful! Perhaps the most effective program is going to be that of a wavefront, where startup resources are concentrated on each school as they pick up the program, and moving onto a new school once a level of self-sufficiency is reached.
* "We have been using the Internet for several weeks. We have greatly enjoyed the experience. It opens our minds to new horizons, and gives us opportunities we have never had before. We have been writing to a group of college students in the USA. We discussed aspects of Shakespeare's writing and learned some interesting facts about his life. The people we corresponded with wrote to us in good humour and took our jokes along with our serious questions. I believe that it is a great course to be part of and I would like to continue with it for as long as I am able to." Kane - Stromlo High School
* "The Internet is a great opportunity to make friends with people all over the world." Michael King - Wanniassa Hills Primary School
* "We have had fun and learned heaps from using the Internet and working on the Global Schoolhouse Project." Michelle Williams and Nerida Parker - Wanniassa Hills Primary School
* "It would actually be impossible to imagine life in the Resource Centre without the Internet connection. Certainly the depth of educational possibilities that we can now offer as a result of the access would disappear." Anna Steele - Canberra Grammar School
* "The Internet is a wonderful tool, it's open and relatively cheap to access for all people, we cannot afford to allow this opportunity for such global communication to pass us byScott Ashton - Narrabundah College
* "... the magnitude of the "Christmas" project has potential to generate a greater understanding of cultures and the promotion of peace and goodwill - key elements - of this particular project ." Luba Thompson - Wanniassa Hills Primary School
Michele has had extensive experience in both secondary school and university teaching environments and has a keen interest in the role of technology in education. She has been a leading Australian innovator in the use of the Internet in the school environment, and has worked closely with principals involved with the Global Schoolhouse Project in the United States.