Who Will Build the Global Schoolhouse?

David A. Thomas
Mathematical Sciences
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59717

Stephanie Stevenson
Holley-Navarre Intermediate School
Navarre, FL 32566


A new kind of road is being built. This road should not be thought of as connecting two points because it will connect all points. It will not go from "here to there" because there will be no more "there." We will all be "here," on a road where the speed limit is the speed of light (Graziadei, 1995).

Today, much public and professional discourse on the role of technology in K-12 mathematics and science education reform is focused on technical issues, especially Internet access and network topology. We believe that as teachers, students, and parents gain access to the Internet and its vast information resources, questions of meaning, equity, and value will take center stage in this discourse: the meaning of education in a global economy; the autonomy of the learner; and opportunities for collaboration. When that happens, a number of traditional notions about education will come under close scrutiny. This paper begins by examining one such notion: Our current approach to education is a reliable way to transmit knowledge and culture from one individual to another and from one generation to another.

Trapped in Tradition

Formal education in the 20th century attempted the impossible ... to strip knowledge of its complexity, linearize its presentation, and schedule its understanding, all without killing its appeal. Metaphorically, this approach places students in a rapidly moving stream of knowledge and instructs them to swallow as much as possible. Really good students pride themselves on swallowing the entire stream without spilling a drop. The problem with this approach is that knowledge is not like a stream. Knowledge is like a limitless ocean. This pernicious misrepresentation spoiled science and mathematics for millions of students (most now adults) and created a mathematically and scientifically illiterate workforce and electorate. This situation must not continue. In a global economy, talent, information and capital are essential to the success of any business venture. Corporations lacking the necessary talent at every level of their organization cannot compete. Nations lacking competitive corporations cannot grow economically. At the same time, meaningful public debate on the environment, natural resources, community and economic development, health care, and education cannot take place in an electorate incapable of understanding the issues. More than ever, nations need mathematically and scientifically literate and technologically competent citizens. In recent years, it has become painfully clear that the average United States worker does not meet this standard. In a disturbing demonstration of collective cognitive dissonance, the public response to this crisis is a demand for curricula that are more real (like the ocean) and schools that are more orderly (like the stream).

Imagining a genuinely new approach to education is no easy matter. Try as we might, our inventions usually turn out to be untried permutations of our present approach in disguise. The root of this shortcoming is a lack of perspective. For instance, students instructed to define the word "universe" then give two examples may lack the necessary perspective to complete the task. Until recently, educators have had few conceptual means for achieving that perspective.

At the first World Telecommunication Development Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Vice President Al Gore (1994) advocated the development of a Global Information Infrastructure (GII) fully integrated with the world's political, economic, and social systems. That vision fired the imaginations of millions of people around the world interested in bringing the world into the school and the school into the world. In time, their thinking may produce fundamentally new approaches to education that free learners to develop their unique talents to the fullest extent possible, celebrate the diversity of human potential and achievement, and open all of human knowledge for study.

The National Infrastructure for Education

Over the next decade, the GII and its institutions will have revolutionary effects on mathematics and science education. In the United States, serious efforts to facilitate the development of K-12 networking infrastructures are already underway. The National Infrastructure for Education (NIE) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) seeks to:

The NIE also encourages planning grants to either:

The Network Montana Project (NMP) is a statewide collaboration focused on the development of a lasting K-14 educational telecommunications infrastructure. Network Montana seeks to:

Network Montana is building a level playing field where representatives from education, government, and business may meet to discuss and create partnerships focused on the development and delivery of life-long educational services to the people of Montana. The appointment of a Network Montana representative to one of three permanent positions on the Advisory Board of SummitNet, the State's TCP/IP multi-protocol network, is one measure of the support Network Montana has won in State government. Network Montana now has a formal role in the formulation and administration of State policy regarding K-12 computer and telecommunications networking. Network Montana also collaborates with a number of private sector partners (including Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, TCI, and US West) on the development and testing of a variety of network-based information and educational services. Finally, Network Montana collaborates with leading K-12 mathematics and science teachers around the country to develop, test, and disseminate network-based mathematics and science education curricular materials on CD-ROM and on the WWW.

While NMP and other projects are developing new models for collaboration in K-12 networking, these efforts do not begin to model the full potential of a global educational network.

Partnerships in the Educational Marketplace

Driven by both government and private sector investment, the GII is being built as a global information and economic marketplace.
Governments around the globe have come to recognize that the telecommunications, information services, and information technology sectors are not only dynamic growth sectors themselves, but are also engines of development and economic growth throughout the economy ... Taken as a whole, this worldwide "network of networks" will create a global information marketplace, encouraging broad-based social discourse within and among all countries. (Brown, Irving, Prabhakar, Katzen)
This marketplace will evolve as fast as ordinary people are empowered to acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to use the GII wisely and productively. As individuals recognize the importance and value of such skills, new, symbiotic relationships between businessmen, parents, educators, and political leaders will be needed to create and deliver a diversity of network-based educational services and products. The market for these services and products will be much larger than the K-12 public schools. As the GII makes low cost life-long learning an option for all citizens, the "student" population will gradually grow to approximate the population of the world. Education will become a gigantic global industry serving the life-long learning needs of billions of people.

Creating the curricular materials and other intellectual properties necessary for a global educational network will require the creative talents of thousands of educators, writers, and multi-media wizards. Training millions of teachers to use these resources effectively will require the combined instructional capabilities of hundreds of colleges and universities. Obtaining and maintaining the technologies involved will require the continuous support of the communications and computer industries. As a ward of state and local government, public K-12 education will never have the resources to pay for these services. Before the global educational network can become a reality, education must become a partner with business and government, offering business a genuine opportunity to recover costs, generate profits, and grow market share.

Recommendations for reform, such as the SCANS/2000 School-to-Work and Goals 2000 reports, are normally addressed at the state and local levels by asking schools to implement technology dependent goals and programs without the necessary technology, support systems, or staff development. This amounts to putting new wine into old wineskins, which then burst at the seams. Without the cooperation of the local community, business, and government in providing the necessary financial and technological support needed for the new wineskins, the old ones will continue to burst and our children suffer. What might a new "wineskin" look like? Community, business, and education must cooperate to develop models that recognize the needs of children without introducing misleading and unnecessary discontinuities with higher education and the world of work. Business and community can and should cooperate with educators in the development of technologically sound educational settings in which students develop skills and attitudes that are portable to the workplace and higher education upon graduation.

Students in technology-rich classrooms currently have access to on-line tools and information resources that extend the scope of their investigations and connect them with teachers, students, and researchers. These classrooms could become community centers for life-long learning in which students of all ages engage in research and development activities that integrate mathematics, science, technology, social studies, and language arts skills in real world contexts. Safeguarding privacy and other fundamental rights, classrooms could serve as educational laboratories in which educators and business and community partners assess the intellectual, social, and economic opportunities associated with educational products and services. In these laboratories, teachers and students would participate in the development of state of the art educational and information tools adapted to their individual learning styles and talents. As we all begin to appreciate the paradox of a unity of purpose amid a diversity of needs, a new symbiosis will be forged.

It is difficult to anticipate what education-business partnerships will look like. At this point, the best we can do is attempt a scenario. Imagine a partnership focused on the development, marketing, and support of network-based, interactive, multi-media mathematics and science education products. Assume the following make-up: a group of leading mathematics and science educators; a group of leading mathematicians and scientists; a world-class multi-media production studio; a publisher with a global distribution system; and a global telecommunications network. The mathematics and science educators participate because they want to help create exciting educational products and services, test them with their students, and share them with their peers. Chosen on the basis of their proven abilities as educational authors and classroom teachers, they know what teachers want and what students can do. The mathematicians and scientists participate because they care deeply about education and want to share their love of science and mathematics. Chosen on the basis of their communication skills and specific content expertise, they know what is happening on the frontiers of science and mathematics. The multi-media production specialists will make the products and services exciting and rewarding. Chosen on the basis of their proven abilities in educational multi-media and entertainment, they bring both magic and a reality check to the table. The publisher and network specialists will market and support our products and services. They bring expertise in finances and management.

The products and services produced by this partnership will set a new standard of excellence in education, raising the expectations of teachers, students, and parents while creating a demand for more and better offerings. In order to meet this objective, all products and services will be created with a commitment to truth like that of PBS science programming, produced with a commitment to quality like that of Disney Studios, and backed with a "money-back" commitment to customer satisfaction like that of Walmart. Will people respond with their checkbooks? Ask Disney. Ask Walmart.

When Business Comes to School

Many concerned citizens fear that a partnership between business and education will come at an unacceptably high price to children, that of unrelenting psychological manipulation by subtle in-school advertising designed to link self-esteem to product loyalty. We share that concern and believe that successful education-business partnerships can be fashioned that do not abuse children in school in this manner. Businesses that partner with education must have a larger vision of their opportunities than selling products and services directly to children.

At some point, the issue of advertising in education will separate into two parts, policies and practices pertaining to minors and policies and practices pertaining to adults. Some adults may elect to pay a higher price for products and services not subsidized by advertisers. Most adults will probably elect lower cost products and services that include various sorts of advertising. As long as the educational content and formats of the products and services are similar, most people will regard the options as valid. For instance, the same educational programming used at school by students and teachers would be available at home, with or without commercials, for students and parents to share. The decision would be made by the family at home, just as families today decide which cable television services to purchase, whether to support public television stations, and so on. Seen in this light, the true market for educational services and products is essentially the same as the market for all other GII activities, with low-cost licensing of uncommercialized products and services to K-12 schools acting as a showcase for potential advertisers.

Consistent with national reform movements in mathematics and science education, the student activities will be organized around themes of interest to students rather than abstract disciplinary hierarchies. Possible topics include the environment, how machines work, how computers work, the origin and future of the universe, and so on. Products will have multiple points of entry and multiple uses depending on the goals of the teachers and students. Activities might take the form of a virtual field trip or treasure hunt; a directed investigation involving the collection and analysis of data; a tutorial on the use of the National Educational Supercomputer; a review of current articles on some topic of interest; and so on. The point is to accommodate different learning and teaching styles, thereby making the product or service useful to as wide an audience as possible.

To make the use of these products and services as convenient as possible for teachers, background reading, supplementary materials and activities, related products and services, assessment strategies and procedures, and suggestions for classroom management will be available. Distance learning courses offered through cooperating colleges and universities will prepare teachers to use the student materials effectively as well as satisfy the continuing educational needs of K-12 teachers.

The first partnership to create and market educational products and services of such quality will become a focus of world-wide attention. Millions of teachers, students, and parents are waiting for the global schoolhouse to become a reality.

Inside the Global Schoolhouse

Schools are more than training centers offering information and skills. They are nurturing environments that inspire children and give them the freedom to question, discover, research, and grow. The Internet and computer technology bring global dimensions to local classrooms where inspirational teachers make content relevant and meaningful. Guided by a historical perspective of the development of man and his technologies, such teachers provide that spark that makes life long learning a personal value on the part of students. The following scenario illustrates a few of the possibilities.

The Wilson twins, Jimmy and Mike, hammer away at the keyboard of their Macintosh computer between slurps of cereal and orange juice. Thousands of miles from their home in Seattle, WA, Mary Alexander of Glasgow, Scotland is holding up her end of the Internet chat on a PC.

The three teenagers, high school students, engage in the serious business of planning their term projects. They "met" the previous week on the Internet in an electronic forum created to promote collaborative science projects among high school students around the world. Their objective is to measure the distance from their respective cities to the moon using surveying equipment and a popular educational product called How Big Is It? Used to teach fundamental concepts of measurement, modeling, and computation, students all over the world use How Big Is It? routinely as a data modeling and analysis tool. In a bigger sense, however, How Big Is It? and its associated curricular materials open windows on a host of mathematical and scientific topics, connect students and teachers around the world interested in similar teaching and learning objectives, and provide a forum for review and publication of student research projects. A true meta-product, How Big Is It? exemplifies versatility and adaptability.

As with many other products developed for the global educational network, How Big Is It? is licensed to schools, with at-home use available on a subscription basis. The Wilson family has four children in school and finds it both convenient and productive to make the same educational products and services available to their children at home, leaving little room for homework excuses.

As Mike drops a spoonful of cereal into his keyboard, Mary types "Listen, my teacher said we had to pick a spot on the moon that 'made sense.' What could that possibly mean?"

Jimmy shoves Mike away from the keyboard and replies, "I say we go for the middle, dead center on the lunar disk. "

Mary thinks a moment then types, "And how do we know exactly where that is? Don't we have to pick some obvious crater or something that is clearly visible from Earth using the surveying equipment?"

As the discussion continues, the students launch another educational meta-product called AskMe to begin a search for an on-line map of the moon. Using the same tool at both "ends" of the conversation, they quickly agree on a focal point for their experiment. After setting a time for another chat the following day, the boys leave for school while Mary goes back to her homework.

AskMe does more than connect people to information. It also connects people to people, using teleconferencing and a variety of other communication technologies. The real power, however, of AskMe is its artificial, natural language interface. Even a small child can use it successfully almost immediately. Something of an electronic information and talent agency, it is one of the most popular meta-products in use.

Later that day, the boys meet with Mr. James, their science teacher, to devise a procedure using surveying equipment to simultaneously measure the elevation of the moon above the horizon at Seattle and Glasgow. After modeling and analyzing the data using How Big Is It?, a report will be presented at next month's on-line student cyber-science fair. Mr. James approves the project then calls a local surveyor willing to help the twins and Mary with their research.

Along with the other teachers at his school, Mr. James relies heavily on educational products and services such as How Big Is It? and AskMe. Small schools have always had problems providing information and educational resources comparable to those available at larger schools. Since the global educational network became a reality, his students have access to essentially the same resources as students everywhere. The same technologies bring advanced training and information to him and his colleagues. As a result, he continues his own professional growth through distance learning courses offered by a university hundreds of miles away.

The global educational network makes a big difference in everyone's lives. Students graduate into the GII already adept at its fundamental operating principles. Best of all, they graduate life-long learners.

"Under construction....

This familiar phrase and symbol epitomize the condition of the GII. The new road being built connects all points at fiber optic speed. Discussions of network topology, access issues, the meaning of education in a global economy, and opportunities for collaboration abound. Economic and political forces are sweeping aside time-honored traditions in the school and the workplace. We are in the midst of a global educational, cultural, and economic metamorphosis. A commonly held belief about this metamorphosis is that investments in the education of our youth will pay rich academic and economic dividends. Properly nurtured and challenged, our youth can help corporations to flourish in a global economy ... but, so can retrained older workers. As our well-trained youth age, they will need to update their skills continuously to remain productive and competitive in the job market. Life-long learning must become available to all citizens where they live, when they can do it, and at a cost they can afford. In an evolutionary sense, our ability to meet this challenge tests our fitness to survive and thrive in the face of global change. We dare not fail.

If we succeed, this generation will witness the emergence of new partnerships and infrastructures focused on the development and delivery of life-long education and training for all citizens. Visionary research and development programs like NSF's National Infrastructure for Education have seeded a variety of testbeds in which new models for K-12 networking are growing. These testbeds nurture essential research and development. Our future holds large scale models cultivated by business, education, and government in symbiotic relationship. In these models, education participates as a partner rather than a parasite and business will look beyond direct sales to K-12 students to the profitable panorama of life-long education. The products and services produced by these partnerships will set new standards of excellence in education, raising the expectations of teachers, students, and parents creating a demand for more and better offerings. Products and services created with a commitment to truth, quality, and customer satisfaction will succeed in the global schoolhouse and the global marketplace.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." It is time for business, education, and government to create a global schoolhouse in which all of our minds for all of our lives are free to grow to the limits of our abilities and extent of our vision.

Brown, Ronald H., Irving, Larry, Prabhakar, Arati, & Katzen, Sally (1994). The Global Information Infrastructure Agenda for Cooperation. U.S. Department of Commerce.
URL http://ntiaunix1.ntia.doc.gov:70/0/papers/documents/giiagend.html

Goals 2000: A Progress Report (1995). U.S. Department of Education.
URL http://www.ed.gov/pubs/goals/progrpt/index.html

Gore, Al (1994). Speech delivered at the World Telecommunication Development Conference, Buenos Aires, Argentina. March 21, 1994.
URL http://www.itu.ch/itudoc/itu-d/wtdc/speech/gore_23187.html

Graziadei, William D. (1995). 21st Century Classroom-Scholarship Environment: What will it be like? New Learning and Teaching Challenges For a World in Transition. Proceedings of the Conference on Instructional Technologies. Utica, NY. May 31 - June 2, 1995.
URL http://wings.buffalo.edu/faculty/fact/cit95/papers/CIT95-PA.GRAZIA-2

Packer, Arnold & Pines, Marion (1996). School to Work. Eye On Education, P.O. Box 3113, Princeton, NJ, 08453.
URL http://www.jhu.edu/~ips/scans/book.html

The author wishes to thank Network Montana Project Co-Director Dr. Lynn Churchill of the University of Montana, Missoula, MT for the map images used in this paper.