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Providing Internet Support Services for Large Education Systems

Philip J. BOSSERT <>
University of Hawaii


In 1994, the National Science Foundation funded the "Hawaii Education & Research Network" (HERN) project, a four-year research program jointly sponsored by the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii State Department of Education to determine appropriate strategies for providing Internet access and support services to Hawaii's entire education community: all students, faculty, and staff of Hawaii's public and private higher education and K-12 institutions. In any given semester, this number ranged between 350,000 and 375,000 potential users who were dispersed across more than 300 separate campuses or administrative buildings and more than 200,000 households on seven different islands statewide.

The HERN project began with the advantages of an existing statewide educational technology planning organization -- the Hawaii Educational Networking Consortium (HENC) -- and an existing statewide, high-speed, fiber- and microwave-based network operated by the state government. The primary disadvantage was that almost all of the state's Internet knowledge base was resident in only a few dozen information technology support personnel at the University of Hawaii.

The HERN project proceeded on the assumption that the state's educational institutions -- and in particular the state's public and private K-12 institutions -- would not have the funding required to develop and maintain a large-scale, corporate-style network infrastructure and support staff, but that this particular group of users (students and faculty), once online, would likely make much heavier use of the network than would a typical corporate user group. With these assumptions as a basis, the HERN project developed and tested a variety of strategies for deploying and supporting both the physical network infrastructure and the human training and support infrastructure required to provide Internet access to 350,000+ students, faculty, and staff -- both at their institutions and their homes.

The paper discusses the results of the first three years of this research program, including

  • The evolution of the Hawaii Internet Exchange (HIX) at the University of Hawaii;
  • The Ethernet-over-CATV pilot project in cooperation with Time Warner to test its feasibility as a source of high-speed Internet access for both school and home;
  • The HERN Institute for teaching online collaborative teaching and learning skills;
  • The HERN self-help e-mail list; and
  • The Hawaii ClubEd training exchange.

The concluding portion of the paper provides an assessment of what worked and what didn't -- and why.


Background on HERN project

The three-year, $2.1 million Hawaii Education & Research Network (HERN) project is a research and demonstration program which seeks to answer both technical and education reform questions surrounding the design, implementation, management and support of an integrated, statewide Internet services system for the State of Hawaii's public and private, K-12 and higher education institutions. The project is a joint venture of the Hawaii State Department of Education and the University of Hawaii -- in cooperation with the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools -- and was funded in 1994 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as one of the first national demonstration projects of its Networking Infrastructure for Education (NIE) initiative.

The State of Hawaii is unique in that both lower and higher public education is directed on a statewide basis. The Hawaii Department of Education (HDOE), under the leadership of a single board of education and a single superintendent, is responsible for all public K-12 instruction throughout the state. The University of Hawaii (UH) system, under a single board of regents and a single president, provides all public higher education in the state through 10 campuses (including community colleges) and 5 education centers on 6 islands.

The UH and the HDOE have moved resolutely during the past decade to implement high speed networks which link all UH and DOE campuses statewide with voice, data and video connections. The UH -- with 50,000 students and 7,500 faculty and staff at 15 sites on 6 islands -- utilizes information technology as a key strategy in coping with changing learning environments and increasing faculty and student expectations. The UH views telecommunications as the means by which its campuses and education centers may be woven into a seamless web to efficiently provide equitable high-quality access to higher education throughout the state. The DOE -- with 185,000 students and 17,000 faculty and staff at over 300 sites on 7 islands -- has pursued a commitment to create appropriate access to voice, data and video information systems for every public school student, teacher and administrator regardless of their location or learning environment by the year 2000.
The role of information and telecommunication systems and services in UH and DOE is to enhance student and staff learning, increase intellectual and administrative productivity, and improve academic and administrative effectiveness. To accomplish this, educational information technologies must:

  • Ensure equity of access to information resources for all persons involved in learning in the State of Hawaii.
  • Ensure ubiquitous access to information and telecommunication systems and services from anyplace at any time. Education must become a 24-hour opportunity accessible from anyplace via a multitude of voice, data and video devices.
  • Ensure coordinated and integrated access to educational information and telecommunication systems and services so that "public information resources" are easily, readily and cost effectively available to everyone, while privacy and personal information are carefully protected.

Just as life-long learning means that education does not stop just because one has graduated from high school or college, so too does it mean that learning does not stop once a person steps outside of the classroom. The vision for educational technology in Hawaii includes access to information resources via telephone, television and linked micro computing devices from the home, the field and place of business.

By 1993, the HDOE had approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers and administrators on a loose-knit, statewide Microsoft Mail network. Facing the problems of expanding, maintaining and administering even this small-sized network and yet dealing with a growing demand for e-mail services from teachers indicated that the HDOE needed to migrate to a more robust technology that could eventually meet the needs of several hundred thousand HDOE students, faculty and staff. To meet this future need, the HDOE Office of Information & Telecommunication Services (OITS) began in-house investigations of both Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, but turned to Dr. David Lassner, Director of the UH Office of Information Technology Services (ITS), for assistance with the investigation of Internet-based e-mail services.

After a small but successful Internet e-mail pilot with 35 HDOE teachers that was jointly managed by Sharen Arakaki, an educational technology specialist in the HDOE/OITS Advanced Technology Research Group, and Jodi Ito, end user services manager for UH/ITS, a decision was made to seek funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate the problems and possibilities inherent in delivering statewide integrated Internet services (e-mail, Web, ftp) to the classrooms and homes of potentially 300,000 public and private, K-12 and higher education students, faculty and staff. Dr. Lassner, Ms. Ito, Ms. Arakaki and the author submitted a proposal to the NSF's Networking Infrastructure for Education (NIE) initiative and were funded in 1994.

HERN project activities

Over the last three years, the HERN project has undertaken the following activities:

Management and institutional structures

The HERN project team, in cooperation with the participants in the three HERN Institutes, investigated and piloted the most appropriate organizational mechanisms for facilitating the implementation and support of a shared, statewide networking infrastructure for education and research institutions (public and independent, K-12 and higher education). This included exploration of the necessary management and operational agreements and procedures to develop and maintain such a network. The HERN project team sought to determine which aspects of educational networking could be centralized statewide for both K-12 and higher education, which should be provided by higher education and K-12 education independently, and which could be decentralized to individual campuses and schools. The project team also investigated appropriate strategies for providing home- and office-based access to this educational network infrastructure.


The HERN project had as one of its primary goals the investigation of ways to make access to the Internet and its information resources available in a simple, cost-effective manner to any and all faculty and students at Hawaii's public and independent schools and colleges. Although almost every campus in the state had data connectivity at the start of the project, that connectivity rarely went beyond a single office, library or computer lab. By the end of the HERN project, every campus had Internet access with 80% of the sites having LAN-based access to multiple locations on campus and 25% of the sites having Internet access to every classroom on campus.

Use and support

The HERN project sought to develop ways of providing appropriate end user support for Internet access as well as to develop strategies for promoting a commitment to common goals and objectives. The major obstacle identified here was how to fund large scale end-user support services. Even public and private institutions of higher education, which are generally much better funded than K-12 institutions for technology support, find it impossible to support the kind of end user (help desk) support that is commonly found in business organizations. The need to provide statewide support for potentially 300,000 end users, 24-hours/day, 7-days/week, at home and at school, with almost no budget, required some creative thinking. The approach which was developed and is currently being piloted relies primarily on the notion of "informed self-help."

Specific elements of the strategy are:

  • Summer institutes with academic year (September 1 to May 31) follow-up programs available to institutional teams of three to five teachers to help them become "informed end users" who were capable of helping each other with a wide variety of problems. The theory is that while no one person will (or ever can) know everything needed to provide end user support, there is a strong likelihood that someone from a group of several hundred online users will know how to solve a problem or provide appropriate information. Each of the three HERN Summer Institutes brought together for 14 days, 12-hours per day, approximately 250 public and private K-12 teachers and higher education professors. These educators, most of whom had never logged onto the Internet and many of whom had never even used a computer, effectively lived and worked and studied together on a college campus in a technology rich environment. They were assigned projects to accomplish both as individuals and as members of teams and provided many resources (human and electronic) to accomplish their projects -- but no direction or guidance in how to make use of the resources to accomplish their goals. They learned how to use e-mail, develop Web sites, build technology-integrated curriculum plans, etc., with the help of each other. They learned how to communicate primarily using the Internet, even though they were all on the same campus with each other. And they learned how to share and store their common, new-found knowledge using a HERN listserv ( and the HERN Web site (, so that it was available to them and would continue to be developed after they left the Institute and returned to their home campuses across the state as teachers and administrators.
  • A special, year-long, evening, distance learning-based training program -- Telecom & Technology for Teachers (T3), for 30 to 50 K-- for 12 teachers or librarians conducted each year to prepare them to be telecom coordinators for their institutions.
  • A series of one-day technology workshops for K-12 principals and higher education deans and directors to help them understand the new online technologies and develop appropriate strategic level plans for their institutions or departments.

Educational reform

The ultimate goal of the HERN project was not to train educators to use Internet technologies or to build statewide networks and figure out how to support them, but rather to provide information and support for educators for curriculum-based experiments which focused on reforming curriculum development and delivery approaches including

  • Establishing mechanisms for institutions to restructure the school day and school experience so that students and teachers may engage in collaborative projects on site, between schools, and with other locations throughout the world; and
  • Developing a series of models for collaborative curriculum development and delivery of learning environments which incorporate online network access and interactive multimedia components into learning settings.

What worked, what didn't and what we have learned thus far

The HERN project is currently in its fourth year, primarily one of cleaning up files and writing reports for the NSF, but also one of assessing the overall impact of the project. Much of this impact is yet to come, as teachers implement Internet-related curricula into their teaching and as teachers and students begin using online technologies in the classroom and from home as a normal part of the learning process. However, there are some initial results from our research that are worth noting.

Management and institutional structures

During the early stages of the project, all of the Internet services were hosted on computers located at the offices of UH/ITS and HDOE/OITS. This was due to 1) the lack of funds for purchasing such equipment at the individual schools; 2) the lack of expertise at the schools to install and support such equipment; and 3) the lack of space and environmental support (proper electrical circuits and air conditioning) at the schools. As the number of users grew -- slowly at first and then exponentially (it took five years before UH reached its 5,000th Internet account, but only 18 months more to reach 25,000 users!) -- this centralized services arrangement resulted in bandwidth and dial-up access problems. During the course of the project, however, schools wrote grants and reallocated existing funds to wire their campuses and buy their own servers and routers, the T3 program turned out 150+ campus-based technology coordinators, and, as a result, more services were decentralized on the network.

Our research indicates that this trend will continue in Hawaii and that in almost every case, each individual school will eventually host their own Intranet/Internet services on site with the centralized services at UH/ITS and DOE/OITS migrating toward statewide switching to national and international networks. The management of the Internet resources at the schools is often assumed by a student club or a particular class, even in the case of elementary schools. The technology coordinators may supervise the activity, but in many cases it is students who are managing the day-to-day services of school-based Internet support.

Another important finding was that after becoming familiar with the Internet and its wealth of resources, teachers involved in the program returned to their home campuses and began lobbying for reallocation of funds to online technology uses. This resulted in a need to provide planning and budgeting assistance to school administrators and eventually led to the creation of the series of principals' workshops.


Several important results surfaced from the HERN project's research in this area. First, we discovered that, no matter how good the connections to the Internet on campus were, most teachers and professors preferred to access the Internet from home. Especially at the K-12 level, the classroom environment is just too chaotic to allow for the time and concentration needed by teachers for reading and responding to e-mail and researching the Web. As a result of this, the need for dial-up accounts skyrocketed in Hawaii and the HDOE and UH both eventually opted out of the business of providing modem pools for dial-up access. UH and HDOE joined with several other State of Hawaii government agencies to float an RFP to the private sector to provide statewide dial-up access at reduced rates for educators and selected government workers.

End user complaints about the slow speeds of most modem-based access resulted in a pilot arranged with the local TimeWarner affiliate, Oceanic Cable, to test the use of CATV modems for Ethernet-over-CATV access to the Internet from residential locations. HERN project participants agreed to pilot the service for one year to allow Oceanic to work out the bugs in the system before offering this form of access as a commercial service. The pilot was a significant success and Oceanic has recently begun to offer cable modem access to a large portion of the state's CATV subscribers. The increase in speed and quality of access is significant and improves the experience of using Internet services for most people. Teachers and students in Hawaii have led the lobbying effort to encourage Oceanic to roll out this service as quickly and broadly as possible.

The final development in this area worthy of mention at this time is that the HERN project research discovered that much of the bandwidth problems associated with the use of Internet services (in particular from the home) was due to the fact that most home-based access was via a broad range of ISPs, each of which had its own T-1 link to the mainland United States. Thus, almost all e-mail traffic within the State of Hawaii was being sent to mainland routing centers and then back to Hawaii, clogging the transpacific links as well as increasing access time for the end users. Dr. David Lassner, director of UH/ITS and principal investigator for the HERN project, gathered all of Hawaii's ISPs together and offered to fund and support a Hawaii Internet Exchange (HIX) if they would all connect to it for routing local traffic within the state. The HIX improved local response times both by keeping most e-mail traffic within the state and by freeing up the transpacific bandwidth for traffic that was destined to go out of state.

Use and support

The HERN project's efforts in this area took a variety of interesting turns. First, we had assumed that we would need to spend a significant amount of time training teachers in the area of information technologies and Internet services in order to give them the skills they needed to build online based collaborative learning curricula. The first summer institute was organized on these assumptions. To our surprise, most teachers -- even those who had never used a computer before -- required very little time to master the basics of e-mail and Web design and were quickly online and working. But it turned out that most teachers did not know how to design and develop curriculum resources, and in particular curricula that required collaborative teaching and learning elements. We discovered that most teachers, normally locked up in individual classrooms with their students all day with no telephone or computer access to each other or the outside world, simply did not know how to collaborate. And since centralized state curriculum offices developed and distributed most curriculum resources on a state-wide basis, many teachers did not know (or had forgotten) how to develop their own curriculum resources.

As a result, the second and third HERN Institutes devoted very little time to technology skill building and a lot of time to curriculum planning and development, as well as to exercises in collaborative teaching and learning. Many teachers reported that these were "transformational experiences" and changed their understanding of all teaching, not just the teaching using online resources. Many teachers were able to pass these experiences and skills on to their students, and one result was that a Hawaii team of intermediate school students attending three different schools on two different islands developed a project for the first year of the ThinkQuest contest which took top honors in the national contest. The results of this particular aspect of the HERN research -- i.e., lack of collaborative teaching and learning skills -- have been shared by project personnel at many conferences and in particular at conferences for faculty at colleges of education.

The self-help end user support infrastructure set up by the HERN project also worked fairly well. More than 1,000 teachers are subscribed to the self-support listserv ( and there is daily traffic of Q&A on both technical and academic issues. The HERN Web site is also populated with a significant number of resources discovered and shared by HERN participants. And finally, several groups of HERN participants, knowing that the project funding would soon come to an end, began offering their own school-based and funded "mini-HERN summer institutes," during the third and fourth years of the grant, using the formats and resources developed by the HERN project to increase the number of teachers who have Internet skills and an understanding of collaborative learning and teaching. One of the final resources developed by the HERN project staff was a Web-based course catalog and enrollment site called "ClubEd" which allows anyone in Hawaii -- individual or school, public or private, for profit or non-profit -- to advertise a course or training event, accept enrollments from anyone interested, and archive the results in a course catalog for the event and a transcript for the participants -- all without the assistance of any registrar or staff. This "self-help training service" along with the Web site and the listserv allows the Hawaii Education & Research Network to continue by migrating from a federally funded project to a self-supporting network of individuals and resources.

Educational reform

The HERN project can point to several initiatives at this point but true results are likely to be several years away. Educational bureaucracies make true reform of school structures and schedules a long and difficult process. Even though HERN staff worked the system simultaneously from below (with the teachers) and from above (with the principals) change is hard coming. Several of the publications generated by the HERN project and noted in the bibliography at the end of this paper document in more detail some of these issues.

The HERN project might take credit for some of the success the HDOE has had in obtaining major federal DOE technology grants in recent years or for the rapidly growing "Eschool" program in the State. However, outside of perhaps 1,000 "transformed teachers" (out of 12,000 K-12 teachers statewide) and a few new technology rich schools, there is little evidence that the school day or school schedules have changed much at this point. We shall continue to follow the results and perhaps report more on this at a later date.

Concluding observations

The HERN project provided opportunities for Hawaii's students and teachers to move from being participants in educational programs designed by others to being the originators of their own learning experiences. It also allowed Hawaii's educational communities to move from being simply consumers of information on the Internet to being providers of information via the Internet.

The HERN project also attempted to create opportunities for collaboration among multiple institutions, for example, teachers at a high school working with colleagues from another high school or a community college, or high school teachers working with colleagues from "feeder" elementary and intermediate schools in their complex. These efforts were somewhat successful in linking K-12 school complexes (elementary schools with high schools), but totally failed to link lower education with higher education teachers in common projects. Higher education is still radically different in design and delivery at this point to support this type of collaboration. Changes occurring at present in both environments, however, hold promise for future joint efforts.

Properly designed interactive learning environments are fundamentally different from pre-planned laboratory experiments and equally distinct from the decontextualized demands of textbook-based memorization and problem sets. Interactive network resources can present students with rich streams of data and dynamic representations that are responsive in real time to inquiry and student-manipulation of variables. In an instant, a well-designed electronic learning environment can offer access to powerful tools of reference, reflection, and communication.

However, while interactive, online learning offers tempting glimpses at interesting future educational possibilities, advances in technology alone can never automatically substitute for the changes that must take place in our schools and classrooms. The realization of these opportunities requires that teachers become learning facilitators who are members of interdisciplinary teams and "co-learners" along with their students, and that the "school day" be restructured into flexible work schedules that allow and promote "project-oriented" -- rather than "lesson-oriented" -- learning programs.

The work of educators in this decade is not the work of installing and utilizing hardware and software. It is the work of transforming American schools so that patterns of teaching and learning reflect the spirit of inquiry that is the basis for all knowledge. So long as teachers remain "instructors" -- isolated both physically in their individual classrooms and intellectually in their individual disciplines -- and the school day remains a loose collection of fragmented fifty-minute periods of "instructional units," there will be little or no change in the learning environments or learning outcomes.

The HDOE and the UH, in the HERN project as well as on other fronts, are cooperating to solve not only the significant technical issues surrounding "appropriate" and "effective" access to Internet-based learning resources, but also the more important issues associated with the reform and restructuring of the design and delivery of learning in educational communities. The HERN project has acted as a catalyst at a very important initial stage in the evolution of the Internet as a learning environment. At this point, it seems to us that the real question facing educational planners is not, what is the role of information technology in the classroom? but rather, what is the role of the classroom in the age of information technology?


"Strategies for Statewide K-16 Internet Access Services" in the Technology and Teacher Education Annual; Assn. for Advancement of Computing in Education, 1996, pp. 770 - 773.

"Understanding the Technologies of Our Learning Environments" in the Bulletin of the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals, October, 1996; pp. 11-20.

"Horseless Classrooms & Virtual Learning: Reshaping Our Environments" in the Bulletin of the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals, November, 1997; pp. 3 - 15.

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