Empowering 400 K-12 and High School Pupils as Collaborative Internet Producers

Ian GINN <ianginn@knoware.nl>
School for the Future


AIM The experiment will introduce children (for this experiment 400 children from 20 schools, from six to sixteen years) to internet in a classroom environment with an optimum technological infrastructure, with the aim of empowering them as collaborative producers of content.

We will study what the pupils can create on the Web, when they are asked to work collaboratively and are supplied with optimum hard- and software tools, and are offered design and production support.

CONTEXT Computers are entering K-12 schools in the Netherlands in a variety of ways including, second-hand corporate and government hand-downs and limited new purchase. There are government plans to implement a country- wide (population 15 million) ICT education program for K-12 and high- school teachers, who start at very diverse levels of expertise/use of PCs. Use of internet among individuals is growing strongly but is presently estimated at around 15% of households. A major limiting factor to general use of Internet in the home is the Telecom pricing strategy, that in sharp contrast to the US, charges for local calls and so for all dial-up and connect time for internet use. Children in the Netherlands are generally much more expert than their parents and teachers in PC use, also in use of specialist interactive consoles such as Sony Playstation. Children have limited familiarity with Internet, due to Telecom-pricing and limited access to the Web. To provide the required infrastructure major corporations have agreed to supply hard- and software (Dell, CISCO and Microsoft), and the School of the Future will provide the initial internet course, an internet server, internet accounts and dial-up facilities for all participants, and will host a wrap-up party for all 400 pupils. (School for the Future is an Institute for Life Long Learning for adults, and participant in the government ICT education program for teachers.)

METHODOLOGY The work is defined as follows: - identify 20 schools that are culturally able to support innovation - identify a teacher in each school who fulfils “expert IT user” status - develop an 8-day course for these teachers, to develop insight and use of internet - agree with teachers the process by which each school chooses 20 pupils to participate in experiment (each school can have more participating pupils involved in production/workgroups but not in core group) - work with teachers to formulate internet assignment in schools, as follows: - create context for understanding process of choice of subject using examples of subject areas rich enough to support such a project - agree the process by which pupils are involved in the brainstorm session in order to identify and agree the subject area (example: “Europe in the Middle Ages” presents the opportunity to investigate and develop content on such themes as Population, Technologies, Socio-Political issues, Culture (music, theatre etc), Travel and Discoveries, Role(s) of Women in Society, etc.) - pupils submit areas of interest via a Web-form, and make contact with other pupils sharing area of interest - these pupils form collaborative work groups to research topics and produce text, audio graphics etc. - teachers and a group of pupils interested in the design of the site develop a design outline and interactive walkthrough based structure emerging from areas of production from students. This process is supported by a team of professional interaction designers, web-consultants and educationalists, in order to guide but not dominate issues such as usability and consistency.

EXPECTED RESULTS The paper will be supported by a demo of key areas of the site, and video interviews with a number of the pupils (in English). It is expected that the pupils will quickly assimilate the concepts of hyperlinked information environments to produce some surprisingly innovative results. It is hoped that there will be a number of surprising results/deliverables in the domain of insights from the pupils themselves, as they learn to work together and as they record their emerging understanding of the notions of information ecologies and of the web in general.

SIGNIFICANCE The experiment provides the opportunity to evaluate how a group of well- educated, technology-proficient but internet-naive pupils learn to use the internet as producers rather than as “surfers”/consumers, how well they understand (through doing) the concepts of non-linearity and usability, and how well they can work together to make use of their creativity.