Video and Dynamic Query Capability in Schools: Implications for Learning in a Networked Community

 

 

by

 

Ernestine Enomoto, Ed.D.

College of Education

University of Maryland College Park, Maryland

ee23@umail.umd.edu

 

Victor Nolet, Ph.D.

Woodring College of Education

Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington

vnolet@wce.wwu.edu

 

Gary Marchionini, Ph.D.

College of Library and Information Services

University of Maryland College Park, Maryland

march@glue.umd.edu

 

 

The Conference on Education and Technology

The Pennsylvania State University

September 17-20, 1997

 

 

Abstract

 

A project funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Baltimore Learning Community (BLC) established a networked electronic learning community through the use of high quality digital science and social studies resources and high -speed networking. The project when fully implemented will enable science and social studies teachers to access images, text, Web sites and full motion video via high speed connections to the Internet. Video streaming will be supported with all resource available "on demand" from a client server or the World Wide Web. Extending such multimedia configurations into urban schools has facilitated a rethinking of teaching and learning in content classes as well as a reconsideration of how media and method are integrated. This paper discusses the BLC project and its implications for fostering networked learning communities across disciplines and beyond school walls.

 

Introduction

 

In the midst of the information revolution, virtually every aspect of schooling is being challenged to better prepare children and

youth to engage in literate problem solving in the 21st century

(CCSSO, 1990). Public and private sectors are being engaged in

radical school reformation. Ultimately the goal of such reform is

the creation of an education system in which all students reach

more challenging performance standards associated with acquiring

and using information, understanding complex inter-relationships

and systems, and working collaboratively with each other using a

variety of technologies (Secretaryís Commission on Achieving

Necessary Skills, 1991).

 

Recent research suggests that applications of telecommunications

technologies can be used as a catalyst for educational

restructuring and reform (Cuban, 1993; Dede & Lewis, 1995; Kurshan

& Lenk, 1995; Means, 1994). Applications of technology in

educational settings can also alter the content of learning and

permit students to engage in more interdisciplinary and inquiry

based learning (Cuban, 1986; Marchionini & Maurer, 1995; OTA,

1995a; OTA, 1995b). Exemplary applications include Appleís

classroom of Tomorrow (Wirth, 1992) and the Jasper Project (The

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990). When

appropriately used, such technological applications enable

teachers to interact with their students individually and in

groups, and provide otherwise isolated teachers with opportunities

to communicate with their colleagues and other professionals

(David, 1993).

 

If telecommunications and information technologies are to be used

in school reformation efforts, a number of factors need to be

addressed to extend their educational utility. First, teachers

and students must have ready access to high quality, easily

retrievable information through high bandwidth, interactive

technology. Second, teachers must be engaged in designing and

assessing instructional materials that are appropriate to their

students through ongoing professional development and

instructional support. Third, adequate mechanisms are needed to

create effective linkages among the teachers, students, and

researchers engaged in the educational community. With these

factors in place, technology can play a more central role in the

creation of networked communities where all members engage in

ongoing inquiry and meaningful learning. The project described in

this paper employs state-of-the art telecommunications technology

in a format designed to promote improved instruction in content

classes, linked to rigorous performance standards and curriculum

guidelines.

 

 

The Baltimore Learning Community

 

A five-year, federally funded project, the Baltimore Learning

Community (BLC) technology challenge grant project integrates

telecommunications technology and systematic school reform in ways

that aim to transform the learning of all children, especially

those placed at risk in urban schools. Based in the city of

Baltimore, the project is a collaborative effort of the Baltimore

City Public Schools (BCPS), the University of Maryland (UM), and

Johns Hopkins University (JHU). In addition to these school and

university partners, the BLC involves a consortium of public and

private sector partners. Discovery Communications, Inc.

participated actively in the development of the original project

proposal and is currently providing digitized video programming

from the Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel as well as

ongoing technical and conceptual assistance. Apple Computers

donated 40 computers as well as provided significant technical

support. The National Archives and the Space Telescope Institute

as government agencies provided content resources in both digital

and non-digital formats for public access.

 

The project is constituted in two major components that target

technology "have not" schools serving high numbers of students who

are academically at risk. The first component of BLC is led by a

team of JHU researchers and employs interactive video

conferencing. This component is developing school-community links

to facilitate effective school-to-work transitions at the high

school level. The second component of the project is led by UM

researchers who are developing sophisticated but user friendly

telecommunications applications for video and dynamic query

capability to be used by middle school science and social studies

teachers. The description and discussion of the UM component is

the focus of this paper.

 

Overview of the Project Design

 

The instructional objective of the UM component is ultimately to

improve the performance of students considered most at risk for

school failure by enriching their lessons with interactive,

visual, contextually rich and relevant instructional resources

that are directly linked to state and national assessment

standards. The strategy employed is to create an expansive

inventory of such resources made easily accessible to middle

school science and social studies teachers as they plan, design

and develop their lessons. When fully implemented, the UM

component will enable at least 12 science and social studies

teachers in three middle schools to access a vast array of

instructional resources--still images, various forms of text, Web

sites and full motion video--through high speed connections to the

Internet. The project is employing a client server configuration

with computer workstations installed in the middle school

classrooms and digital resources available on a download basis

from their client server. Upon final implementation, video

streaming will be supported with all resources available "on

demand" from the local server or the World Wide Web.

 

Two software application programs were developed to facilitate

this accessibility. The first program called "Explorer" is a

multimedia indexing and retrieval system that employs a graphic

display for scanning the available digitized resources in the

inventory. The Explorer enables the user to search for resources

by topic, outcome, source, and type. Illustrated in Figure 1,

this system is called a "starfield display" because the user can

identify visually the type and amount of digitized resource. For

example, colored jitter dots under the category "Concepts"

(horizontal axis) and the category "Geology" (vertical axis)

indicate items available in image, text, video and Web sites that

apply to the outcome designated "Concepts" under the topic

designated "Geology." Currently there are over 1,000 objects

stored in the system with over 50,000 to be indexed by fifth year

of the project. Additional information on each resource including

a preview of video or still images may be obtained by clicking on

any of the colored dots in the starfield display. See Figure 2.

 

Figure 1. Interface for the Explorer

Figure 2. Resource Preivew


The second software application program is an instructional

planning interface known as a "Module Constructor" which links

digitized resources with a lesson plan. Using this software,

teachers must first specify the objectives and performance

outcomes of a lesson when they design, develop and reflect upon

the lessons they create. The first screen of that interface is

shown in Figure 3. Teachers can easily assemble the digitized

resources that they have identified through the starfield display.

Unlike videodisk programs which were stand-alone modules with

limited teacher interface, this software application leaves

virtually all the instructional design and decision-making to the

individual teacher. The teacher is asked to identify activities

and tasks that will occur before, during and after instruction.

Once this information is supplied, the digitized resources

selected by the teacher are made available for classroom use. A

final presentation mode permits resources to be displayed in full

motion, at full screen under teacher control.



Figure 3. Module Construction

 

Beyond the classroom, the networked BLC will link all teachers

together via the software applications and the Internet. It is

anticipated that project teachers will share their lesson modules

with others in their subject areas as well as in different

schools. The project aims to ensure sustainability by creating a

local community of stakeholders among the teachers in each school

that is then reinforced through the distributed community. The

local client servers will act as a bridge or router taking

information from regional servers and routing them to the

appropriate classrooms. As lesson modules are developed and used,

these lessons will become available for other teachers to access

and build on.

 

Technology Promise and Possibilities

 

The BLC project was designed to be innovate in integrating

technology, teaching and learning in ways that would transform

student learning, especially for those students most at risk. The

project goals and objectives specifically targeted to middle

school science and social studies instruction were as follows:

 

1) to demonstrate effective pedagogical and organizational

approaches for integrating high quality resource materials

including video, graphics, sound and text delivered by CD-ROM

and telecommunications technology, into middle school science

and social studies classes;

 

2) to demonstrate an effective strategy for integrating

ongoing professional development opportunities into the day-

to-day activities of teachers through use of the National

Information Infrastructure (NII);

 

3) to demonstrate a solution to the hardware and software

challenges of providing "on-demand" delivery into public

school classrooms, of high quality, instructional video and

other material available through the NII; and

 

4) to develop and evaluate the organizational, educational,

and technological supports necessary to create interactive

communities that provide ongoing learning opportunities for

teachers, students, and families (BCPS, 1995, p.8).

 

Through these four goals, the project addresses the three factors

deemed necessary for school reform. BLC provides ready access to

high quality and contextually rich resources in easily retrievable

and interactive modes. It facilitates teacher engagement in

design and assessment of classroom instruction, thus providing

ongoing in-class professional development and instructional

support. It links project teachers and school site coordinators

through a client server, thus promoting an ongoing electronic

learning community.

 

While state-of-the-art telecommunications technologies provide a

substantial incentive for schools, professional development is

integrated into four aspects of the UM component. First, the

project promotes reflective pedagogical practice. For example,

the Module Constructor is designed specifically to prompt teachers

in actively engaging in a thinking/planning process that would

lead to more effective teaching practice. Second, there are

direct linkages in both the indexing system and the instructional

interface with established city and state curriculum and

assessment goals. As teachers engage in lesson planning, they are

directed to think about curriculum goals and desired performance

outcomes. Third, there are various types of teacher inservicing

provided during the five years of the project. Intensive hands-on

summer institute training sessions are supplemented by one-on-one

individualized support for teachers during the school year.

Throughout the duration of the project, staff members will

collaborate with teachers in creating and implementing lesson

modules with video and other resources. Fourth, the project

fosters a networked community of learners through its hardware

configuration, software applications for Internet and email

access, and numerous public and private sector sponsors. The

project is sustained through ongoing professional connections

established initially by BLC and coordinated by the citywide

school system.

 

Situational Constraints and Project Challenges

 

In examining teacher adaptations of various instructional

technologies, beginning with film strips, radio, instructional

television, and concluding with personal computers, Cuban (1986)

asserts that situational constraints impact the use and

implementation of technology in the classroom. He refers to the

classroom and school organizational structures coupled with

individual and collective beliefs about teaching that shape

whether or not teachers use various technologies in their

classrooms. Cuban argues that "because of the severe constraints

imposed upon teachers by classroom and school as work places and

the imperatives of their occupational culture, teachers will seek

out those tools that meet their test of efficiency: Is it simple?

versatile? reliable? durable? What is the personal cost in energy

versus return in worth for students? Will these new machines help

solve problems teachers (not nonteachers) define?" (Cuban, 1986,

p. 66). With teachers as the primary users of the BLC

applications programs, attention must be given to situational

constraints experienced by the project teachers in their

classrooms and schools if BLC is to fulfill its promise and be

successfully employed in middle school science and social studies

classrooms. Among the constraints faced by teachers during the

project years were 1) delays in telecommunication wiring and

hookups to classrooms and school buildings; 2) changes in

classroom assignment for some teachers, 3) arrangements for

teaming among teachers at two of the project schools, 4) school

system demands for citywide performance assessment testing beyond

those normally administered during the school year, 5) problems

with teacher access and utilization of email addresses from home,

and 6) lack of sufficient technology support before and after

school.

 

The bureaucratic structures and regulations also constrained the

projectís operations. The organizational levels included the

school building administration in each of the three project

schools, the school systemís central administration, the city

budget and finance department, the university administration, and

the federal funding agency. At the local level with three schools

involved, each school administrator managed differently yet all

were accountable to the central administration and its overseer,

who represented the school systemís information technology unit as

well as functioned as the overall BLC project director. In one

incident, teachersí stipends were delayed by the central

administration for such a prolonged period due to a

miscommunication that some project teachers were close to mutiny.

Eventually, stipend checks were issued and the project teachers

were paid.

 

In addition to these situational constraints, the implementation

of the project relied upon the collective and unified efforts of

the many partners. While the project was certainly a

collaboration of diverse partners, public and private, each

partner held a unique perspective that was not necessarily a

common viewpoint from which to enact project plans. For instance,

Discovery Communication was actively involved as a corporate

partner from the inception of the original proposal.

Representatives from the company were particularly interested in

"serving the interests of the clients" and encouraging teachersí

usage of the Learning Channel videos even without the

instructional planning interface. Among the University faculty

partners and research assistants, those from the College of

Education were most interested in the project teachersí

instructional practices while those from the College of Library

and Information Systems focused on the index and retrieval system

development. With differing agendas among the partners, it was

challenging to establish a workable timetable and an agreeable set

of priorities. The overall project director viewed a major

challenge was "getting the partners to play well with each other."

The project coordinator commented "We have the technology so it

should make it easier, not harder", which did not seem to be the

case.

 

As in any field where changes in the industry occur constantly,

project development relies upon constant monitoring of newer,

perhaps more appropriate and accessible technologies. A challenge

for project developers was to retain the overall design of BLC

while taking advantage of technological innovations developed and

introduced during the five year lifespan of the project. Notably

the significant changes in greater accessibility to the Internet

and World Wide Web revised project plans for the development of

the Explorer and Module Constructor software. Initially, these

changes caused delays in delivering the test versions for teacher

use at the first summer institute in August 1996. Nevertheless

the project staff were able to provide a hardcopy alternative for

teachers to create their first lesson modules. Over the past

year, the project staff incorporated Java programming language

capability to integrate Internet search and retrieval features,

which placed the project ahead of schedule in delivering the next

version for teachers. The rapid changes to technology left even

the school personnel stymied. According to a BLC school

principal, "I donít know where weíll be in six months. As

technology changes, the project will change. What happens

happens. You wonít do everything that you set out to do because

these are things you have no control over".

 

Developing an electronic learning community proved to be

challenging for BLC members. First, communication networks needed

to be established among the participants. Email addresses were

not readily available for all participants, making communication

through an electronic medium difficult and irregular. One key

technical support staff member was particularly troubled by the

lack of communication from the teachers. If there were any

problems, he heard from individuals indirectly through project

staff who regularly visited the school. The person-to-person

contact seemed to be relied upon most frequently. Second, many

teachers were not used to collaborating with other teachers.

According to a faculty member, "You canít force people to share

ideas". By contrast, the project coordinator noted that BLC did

have a sense of community which was "more than just a job".

Speaking of the individuals on the project, she said "Theyíre all

on different levels and at different times talk to each other. I

think thatís nice. Maybe it happens more in the school setting and

in the university setting." In her estimation, this communication

beyond the work day with phone calls at home and through email

reflected building a community. Over time, as relationships among

individual teachers and project staff developed, there seemed to

more of a feeling of community and connectedness.

 

Implications for Creating an Electronic Community

 

Jacques Ellulís critique of technology questions the nature of

education and schools with respect to the "technologizing" of

human activities, "asking why, where, and at what cost these

machines and systems of machines should be applied

indiscriminately to human activity" (Johnson, 1997, p. 1). These

questions provide the context for examining the BLC project and

its implications for creating a learning community through its

technological innovation.

 

The rationale for embracing this new technology for

telecommunications and networking is best expressed in the OTA

report on Future Visions. "One of the most promising aspects of

technology for education is how it can link schools, homes,

workplaces, and neighborhoods into innovative communities that

value learning and offer rich learning experiences" (OTA, 1995b,

p. 4). Transforming schools by enhanced networks of students,

families, teachers, researchers and community members extends

schooling beyond classrooms and school buildings, making learning

more relevant and alive. Students and teachers become not just

information consumers but information generators in an

interactive, engaging process of education. The technology does

not fortify the existing educational structures for greater

productivity or efficiency, rather it serves as "a means for

encouraging and facilitating broader reforms in school structure,

curriculum, teaching and learning" (OTA, 1995b, p. 4).

 

Asking where the technology is to be applied is a more complex

question because there are numerous issues that relate to

answering the question. The first issue is that of equity. With

increasing technological advancements in hardware, software and

telecommunications devices, the disparity between the "haves" and

"have-nots" seems to be widening. There is the possibility of

even greater differences in educational opportunities among those

parents who can afford curriculum-based, multimedia learning

systems for their children and those who cannot. Similarly, there

are schools that provide computers for youngsters as early as

preschool in contrast with high schools where students share

computer lab facilities once a week. Is equity to be defined in

terms of technology access and availability for students? in

schools? in communities? Does equity refer to insuring equal

educational opportunities for all? What provisions are made for

differing needs among diversified student bodies at varying school

grade levels? Simply having more equipment does not necessarily

mean a better and more equitable education among haves and have

nots. What is the advantage of placing computers in schools if

these are to be used for rote learning? To what extent do

computers and technology replace more experienced and more

expensive teachers? These are the kinds of questions that need

consideration.

 

A second issue related to where technology is applied relates to

change. The BLC project focused its attention on teachers of

science and social studies. Accordingly, the project anticipates

that by using the telecommunication applications, project teachers

will alter their lessons, conduct performance assessments related

to the curriculum guidelines, and reflect upon their teaching

practice. Individual teacher behaviors might be observed and

recorded to document these activities. But the project is also

concerned with building a learning community beyond the school

walls. How might this change be examined when the focus is upon

individual classroom teachers and their lesson planning? Further,

how might school reforms be identified if not within school walls?

Change in this arena is not so easily documented and measured.

 

A third issue is that of sustainability. When the request for

proposals (RFP) for this technology challenge grant was issued, a

criteria for funding was that proposed projects be sustainable and

scalable. The Federal funding agency sought to insure that a

technology development would have some long term effects. The

location of a technology application might be thought of in terms

of time. What are its long term effects? Beyond the scope of the

funding time span, would such an endeavor survive? Given the

short shelf life of many technological applications, what is the

likelihood that such a project would be sustained? How long would

a project need to be funded to have long term benefits? These are

questions that relate to the issue of sustainability and

longevity.

 

Finally, Ellul asks at what cost should these technologies be

applied to human activity. There are several ways to categorize

costs. One way is to consider up front, startup costs in contrast

with development costs projected over time. A development

involving high quality digitized materials distributed over a

networking system, the BLC project had substantial upfront costs.

However, it is estimated that the cost of maintaining the system

would be relatively modest, provided there were a sufficient

number of users sharing the subscriptions to the resources over

time. The software application programs could be adapted to the

endusers and made available at relatively low cost. Further,

since the materials used by teachers would reside in digital

libraries and networked, schools would not need to purchase

multiple copies. The cost of hardware, while initially an

investment, would in likelihood decline over time. Operational

costs would include the sending and receiving of high bandwidth

telecommunication transmissions. Those costs would also decline

as the number of users increased. Startup costs for personnel

training, i.e. teacher training and onsite support, would depend

upon the technological capacity of the specific school as was the

case in the three schools in the BLC project. The school that

most readily adapted to the BLC system had been conducting in-

service training for its faculty and staff in a variety of

technology applications well before the project was begun at that

site. This school in comparison to the two other project schools

had invested in its technological capacity, making it ready and

able to utilize the new BLC technology. It is anticipated that

most schools will develop the technological knowledge and

expertise of their staff members making teacher training and

support less costly.

 

An alternative way to categorize costs for technology is to

consider the human factors versus the non-human factors. This

categorization of cost asks the following questions: Does this

technology displace a teacher? To what extent might this

technology support cognitive thinking processes necessary in a

teacherís lesson planning and reflection? Does this technology

"deskill" a teacher by transforming her work? Does extensive use

of this application alter his role or effect in the classroom?

How positive or negative are these changes to a teacherís role,

work and workplace? With an increasing price tag on a premium

education, many educators fear that school budgets will be used to

purchase various technologies with the assumption that fewer human

resources will be required. While there is sufficient evidence to

counter this fear, there is growing enthusiasm and public

insistence on increased use of technologies in schools with little

investment in staff development to accompany these technologies.

 

A third way to categorize costs is to consider tradeoffs, i.e.

What costs for what benefits? Unfortunately, the equation cannot

be a simple balance sheet of costs and benefits because there is

sufficient ambiguity about what the costs are and who benefits.

In the case of the BLC project, the initial investment was made by

the federal government as the funding agent but also by the

various institutional partners (the Baltimore City, the Baltimore

Public School System, the University of Maryland, the National

Archives, the Space Telescope Institute), and the corporate

sponsors (Apple Computers, Discovery Communications). "In kind"

costs of institutional and corporate partners cannot be viewed as

the same as "real dollar" costs. For instance, when Apple

Computer Corporation donates 40 of its computers, it writes off a

corporate contribution to education. Similarly, when Discovery

Communications supplies video resource materials, the company

invests in development that may be turned into a commercial

product to be sold to educators. Ultimately, the hope is that the

beneficiaries of BLC are the children whose teachers have employed

the newest technologies with appropriate pedagogical practices to

make a difference in student learning.

 

Concluding Remarks

 

The future will be filled with such technological endeavors. The

experiences from this BLC project suggest many visions of such a

future. A rosy future vision projects a technology that can

facilitate changes in teachersí instructional practices and school

reform. With extended networking capability, teachers and

administrators may more actively engage with each other, with

students and parents, with other researchers, specialists and

community members beyond the traditional isolated classroom.

There is evidence in the BLC project that over time and with

consistent effort, an actively engaged electronic learning

community can be built. Through a glass darkly, another future

vision evokes a teacherís fear of displacement and deskilling.

Even more bluntly, Michael Apple (1994) proposes that teachers

will be de-skilled by the computer technology. "Instead of

teachers having the time and the skill to do their own curriculum

planning and deliberation, they become the isolated executors of

someone elseís plans, procedures, and evaluation mechanisms"

(Apple, 1994, p. 3). While not the aim of BLC, the fear of such

occurring is real for teachers. A crystal clear vision of the

future acknowledges the possibilities of transformation while

weighing the cautions and caveats. Among the possibilities as

highlighted in the BLC project are 1) development of state-of-the

art technology applicable to science and social studies middle

schools; 2) access to innovative and educationally relevant

resource materials for creative yet appropriate instruction; and

3) instructional strategies that are shared among colleagues in

schools, universities, community and business sectors. Among the

cautions are the situational constraints and project challenges

that plague educational innovations, technology-related and

otherwise. Neil Postman (1992) posits that "Technological change

is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological.....A new

technology does not add or subtract something. It changes

everything" (Postman, 1992, p. 18). The magnitude of such a

transformation should evoke caution and careful deliberation over

what is present and what is future in building learning

communities.

 

 

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