Tuesday, August 7, 2007

We're Connected to the Information SUPER Highway

You may recall that we are part of a consortium with IUs 5 (Edinboro), 6 (Riverview), and 28 (Armstrong-Indiana) for an eFund Grant. This funded grant has built a regional wide-area network (RWAN) that connects all participating districts and the three intermediate units. In effect, the entire northwestern corner of PA is now connected! (IU 4 in Grove City dropped out of the program.) This grant bought us greatly increased bandwidth, videoconferencing equipment, and an Internet2 connection. We will also benefit from a variety of curricular resources to be named later. Keystone is now connected to the RWAN.

Dr. Gool, Mr. Maddy, and I attended a WAN Leadership Forum today at IU 6 that featured speakers from several IUs around the state that have already implemented their RWANs. Appalachia IU 8 spoke of the curricular content they purchased with a portion of their eFund Grant, including: Unitedstreaming, a web conferencing tool, professional development services, Internet2 activities, distance learning opportunities, e-Missions virtual experiences, DIBELS reporting systems, Turnitin.com subscriptions, and Smart Science On-Line Experiments.

Representatives from IU 1 discussed their staff development program and gave us a demo of their videoconferencing capabilities. We connected with a representative from the Cleveland Museum of Art, which offers interdisciplinary lessons for K-12 students as well as foreign language conversational practice and immersion. Many other organizations also offer virtual field trips and other instructional programs for students via videoconferencing and/or Internet2.

Dr. John Branson from IU 24 in Chester County spoke of "Bringing the World to the Classroom via Internet2." He spoke of the challenges our students will face in their lifetimes and the 21st Century Skills they must have to face these challenges.

Dr. Branson differentiated the Internet and Internet2 with these definitions: The Internet connects you to information. Internet2 connects you to knowledge and expertise. Internet 2, "The Abilene Network," was developed as a consortium of university and research institutions in the United States. I2 is a private, high-speed network that connects top universities, research institutions, and educational organizations. K-12 schools have only fairly recently been allowed to participate in I2, which also connects to other high-speed networks around the world.

IU 24 has used their Internet2 connection to conduct a virtual panel discussion on the counseling of victims of terrorism with experts from Belfast, Tel Aviv, and the United States. Middle school Spanish students were involved in an ongoing exchange with students from Chile, which allowed the Pennsylvania students to practice their emerging foreign language skills. The Spanish teacher noted that for the first time in her long career, her students were asking for word lists so they could communicate more effectively with their friends in Chile! IU 24 also participates in Megaconference Jr., which connects students from around the world for an annual 12-hour-long videoconference.

Our regional WAN will offer our students and faculty many opportunities to expand our horizons. Get ready . . . it will be an exciting ride!

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