Video and Dynamic Query Capability in Schools:Implications for Learning in a Networked Community
Ernestine Enomoto, Ed.D.
College of Education
University of Maryland College Park, Maryland
Victor Nolet, Ph.D.
Woodring College of Education
Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington
Gary Marchionini, Ph.D.
College of Library and Information Services
University of Maryland College Park, Maryland
The Conference on Education and Technology
The Pennsylvania State University
September 17-20, 1997
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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