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MAKING THE CONNECTIONS || An Invitation to a Conversation

Back in March 1993, I was given an invitation by Caltech to witness a new development involving the Internet.  I was taken to a computer lab on Caltech’s campus where I heard a brief lecture, and then was shown the first web browser, Mosaic—images and text on the same page.  In 1993, there were only three websites in full operation.  One was located in Switzerland, the second in Chicago, and the third at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Two years later, I logged onto AOL and aided in developing the Electronic Schoolhouse.  In September 1995, I developed and launched an educational program on the Electronic Schoolhouse called, “Space Island’s.”  At the time, I thought it would be interesting to work with two other schools on a common online project.  The first was a public school located in Sitka, Alaska, and the other, a private school in New Rochelle, New York.  I had no idea what was to come next.

The Space Idualringstationslands project was centering around a virtual space station, where students were given a virtual lab to conduct science, math, and engineering experiments regarding space travel and concepts of living in zero-g.  By March, 1996, I was spending 3- 4 hours every day answering emails from around the world.  The Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that AOL had recorded forty nations, which had become involved with the Space Islands program with an estimated 3.2 million students and teachers working on the project.  This obviously opened up AOL, and I was given a free account, but I still had not realized what I had done yet.  To me, this was a new way to interact with other schools and to create educational projects.

In June of 1996, I received a letter from Senator Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, informing me that my program, “Space Islands,” that I had pioneered, was being inducted into the Library of Congress as a historical event.  Historical event?!  It was labeled as the first long distance educational program ever done on the Internet.  It would soon launch, what we call today online e-learning.

It was the global interactions of students and teachers that was most compelling.  For example, students in Kuwait asked a simple question, “Where does the water come from when you are in space?”  This got students in Nebraska looking into the topic of growing corn in hydroponic experiments.  Students from Cambodia wanted to experiment on the same topic but conducting the experiments using rice.  At the University of Helsinki, Finland, university students saw an opportunity with all the nationalities and languages and created the first present tense language interpreter.  The lists went on from engineering concepts to developing the imaginary technology that would be used to build the engineering tools, and using math as an application in creating simulations.

In 2012, I took a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership online.  I enjoyed the courseware but was not impressed by the e-learning technology colleges and universities were using.  Considering the advances we have seen in the past 16 years, in both computer and online technology and engineering, I was surprised to see little advancement in e-learning connections.  Connections between students and facilitators (what universities and colleges call online teachers or instructors,) wasn’t much more than the e-mails and bulletin boards I used back in 1996.

connectionsfinalSo, here we are in the 21st Century where computer technology and software had advanced science fiction into reality with the pantology of historical developments and advancements, condensed literally, to one  2.25″ x4.75″ (5.2cm x 12.7cm) hand-held device capable of receiving and sending information almost anywhere on this planet.  And yet, there was a lack of efficacy in the technological hubris that attenuated educational advancement.  Why?

In those past 16 years, technology and software companies had evolved from manufacturing to sales, from sales to partnerships with educators, to memberships on school district Board of Directors dictating everything from curriculum development to pedagogy structures.  Educational publishers had also joined in, along with many other businesses. Educators had become nothing more than secondary employees and clients to the industries marketing and selling educational books, equipment, and software.

Now, the last paragraph sounds like an anti-tech individual with a pejorative agenda.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I hold two B.S. degrees in Information Technology, and taught at a secondary technology school for two decades.  So, has technology become an aberration to me?  No!  For the past three years, I have had an opportunity to take a step back from the daily teaching and department needs to see what is going on locally in other schools, as well as schools around the world, and I have found two interesting trends forming globally.  The first, centers on using technology as a motivator.  That will never happen.  The second group, tends to put technology in its place as a tool–no more, no less, which seems to be showing positive results.

I have to admit, Apple Corp was a financial genius in marketing to schools.  But, in the end, it wasn’t education and degrees they were hoping to increase–it was market shares and products.  It still is.  All manufacturers of “educational” equipment and software see big $$ to be made from both State and Federal educational programs.  In fact, many of these same companies pushed legislation by courting financially into several political agendas.  Common Core standardization was one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to computers, cell phones, tablets, and the Internet I think standardization is very important.  It just doesn’t belong in the classroom where there are different learning styles, behavior issues, and socio economic situations to deal with.

In the next series of writings, I am going to be focusing on schools that are getting measurable results.  No, not higher standardized test scores!  Nor, from new ways to using apps on a cell phone, iPad, or tablet.  When the new Core Curriculum was voted in, the state officials said, “We will set the bar, how you teach it is up to you.”  What they added in smaller print was, “as long as you do it our way.”  This reminded me of Henry Ford who said, “You can buy any car with any color, as long as it is black.”  By the way, as a sidebar, Henry Ford’s industrial manufacturing model would eventually be the impetus to today’s educational programs.  But, that’s another story.

Image: VocWord http://bit.ly/1HHYkT5  Space Islands image from SI group.