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Abstract -- Science Education as a Driver of Cyberspace Technology Development Education Track
D6: New Concepts of Learning

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Science Education as a Driver of Cyberspace Technology Development

Pea, Roy ( pea@nwu.edu)
Gomez, Louis ( gomez@covis.nwu.edu)
Edelson, Daniel ( edelson@covis.nwu.edu)


Educational applications of networking technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent. But "applications" are too often treated as infusions of technology into society, not drivers of new technological or research developments. The premise of our research and development activities of the past several years challenges that common belief and practice.

Extending media-rich and highly interactive learning and teaching activities beyond single classrooms establishes demanding development requirements for high-performance computing and communications. We have sought to create "distributed multimedia learning environments" to serve the needs of science education at the precollege level. In doing so, we have found it necessary to develop novel high-performance computing and communications technologies because of the insufficiency of current tools to adequately meet learning and teaching needs.

We describe ongoing progress from the Learning through Collaborative Visualization (CoVis) Project. In this effort, our goals were to create a scalable solution using the public-switched network to establish distributed multimedia learning environments for high school science. We have designed and now provide wide-area broadband services that integrate desktop videoconferencing and screen sharing, educationally-appropriate scientific visualization tools, newly-developed structured hypermedia collaborative workgroup software, and standard Internet communication tools. We established integral use of this educational networking testbed by hundreds of students and six diverse teachers during the past year (1993-1994).

We will characterize how our observations concerning the properties of the testbed -- including cognitive-developmental profiles of users, social practices and curriculum policies for organizing instruction, institutional policies, teacher education experience, telecommunications provisioning opportunities/difficulties -- were significant drivers in shaping the design and implementation of the technologies and classroom activities of the CoVis Project.

For example, this work has required:

  1. new developments in human-computer interface designs to achieve learner-usable scientific visualization tools and an instructionally-appropriate groupware application we call the Collaboratory Notebook,
  2. development of new content standards for what makes World-Wide Web servers educationally useful,
  3. fundamental rethinking of a paradigm of desktop videoconferencing based on the "office-worker" to acknowledge the different goals and social arrangements present in classroom environments, and
  4. intensive professional development activities with testbed participants coupled with extensive use of participatory design methods for refining the functionality and interface properties of these new software developments. One index of the perception of design "payout" from work contributed by this educational networking testbed is the continued collaboration and funding from industrial partners including Ameritech, Apple Computer, Bellcore, and Spyglass Corporation.

    Over the next three years, we will be studying the challenges in scaling the CoVis testbed to include over 50 schools and thousands of students. These schools will be diverse in terms of socioeconomic profile, geography, and in bandwidth connectivity to the Internet (from a base of 56Kb/sec to T-1 rate and beyond), and preliminary findings on dimensions of scale-up challenges will be described.