Harnessing Internet2: Enhancing Social Science Education through
Tele-Collaborative Teaching and Learning

 

Stephanie W. Karran, Michael J. Berson and Cheryl L. Mason

 “The quantum world has demolished the concept of the unconnected individual.”1 Today’s global economy is the impetus for educational communities worldwide to establish wider access to learning. However, it is counterproductive for educational institutions to act in isolation to address globalization by creating their own digital libraries, interactive research laboratories, or online courses. Rather, collaboration via telecommunications tools is the key.

Combining telecommunications and computers is known as telematics (e-comm.webopedia.com/TERM/t/telematics.html). Using telematics to make connections among people and resources for educational purposes has been variously labeled tele-learning, tele-collaboration, and tele-education.2 Current literature stresses that tele-learning is having an important impact on the technology requirements of higher education.3

 

Development of the Internet and Internet2

In 1969, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) initiated a computer-networking project called ARPANET.4 In 1986, the National Science Foundation (NSF) used ARPANET technology to connect five national supercomputer centers.5 This network, dubbed NSFNET, expanded to connect 100 universities in the United States by 1989.6 NSFNET was available only for use by research and academic communities until 1995. Then it was privatized, becoming what is globally known as the public Internet, the commodity Internet, or simply the Internet.7

Since its invention, educators and researchers around the world have envisioned that the Internet would be the answer to their collaborative tele-learning needs. However, with the mounting public and commercial popularity of the Internet, these visions have suffered. Increasing network traffic has decreased available bandwidth, thereby compromising the Internet’s use for educational purposes, such as integrating information resources in varying formats, supporting cross-disciplinary work, and sharing data across traditional boundaries. These limitations, coupled with the growing need for tele-collaboration, have led to the development of Internet2.

The concept of Internet2 began at a 1995 conference of educators and researchers held in Monterey, California. During discussions of future networking requirements for virtual universities, growing concerns regarding the Internet came to light. It was the consensus of opinion that the Internet would not evolve quickly enough to meet the needs of the education and research communities. An ad-hoc committee, the Monterey Futures Group, was established to develop a description of the requisite next generation of network infrastructure.8

The Monterey Futures Group initiated Internet2 at a meeting in 1996. The mission of the project was to facilitate and coordinate the development, deployment, operation, and technology transfer of advanced, network-based applications and network services to further U.S. leadership in research and higher education and accelerate the availability of new services and applications on the Internet.9

Three additional goals were outlined: (1) to enable a new generation of applications, (2) to recreate a leading edge research and education network capability, and (3) to transfer new capabilities to the global production Internet.10

Thirty-four charter member-universities endorsed the mission and goals of the project. By 1997, the member-universities, which had tripled in number, joined with business sponsors to form the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID).11 In April 1998, UCAID launched the Abilene Project to create one of two high-speed backbones for I2—the other being the existing, very high-performance Backbone Network Service (vBNS) of NSF in cooperation with MCI WorldCom.12 In February 1999, the completed Abilene Project was formally dedicated; the I2 membership, by then expanded to 156 universities, was connected via either the vBNS backbone or the Abilene backbone, and I2 was officially launched. As this publication went to press, there were more than 180 UCAID members.

 

The Internet2 Solution

Tele-education over the Internet has been found to be unreliable, cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive. Unsuccessful experiences with collaborative attempts over the public Internet explain why many early technology adopters in the academic community now take a cautious approach to any tele-education.13 One contributing factor is that on the public Internet, all data packets are treated equally; a concept that works well for e-mail but degrades applications that are more bandwidth-intensive. For instance, when attempting to use videoconferencing in a classroom or research environment, bandwidth and latency limitations could cause the signals sent across the Internet to arrive as slowly as two or three frames per second, rather than the thirty frames per second required for a smooth picture with synchronized audio.

Additionally, research shows that it is not enough simply to form learners into groups and use technology to let them see and hear one another.14 Tele-learning involves interaction and facilitates the development of dynamic projects with authentic focus. Viable tele-education allows teachers to combine acknowledged learning theory with systematic teaching methods in order to offer imaginative and creative teaching.

Because of its broadband and fiber-optic infrastructure, Internet2 can provide the differentiated services and quality-of-service guarantees necessary for effective tele-education. However, because I2 is a recent advancement in telecommunications, questions remain about the usability of educational applications via this new network. Therefore, it is important to examine and document “proof in practice,”15 since the practical use of Internet2 applications will best demonstrate its effectiveness for tele-learning. The following initiative involving Internet2 and tele-education offers guidance not only in terms of theoretical perspectives but also in terms of practical experience.

 

Internet 2 in Teacher Education

The first attempt to use Internet2 in a college of education was pioneered by the University of Virginia and Iowa State University. The inaugural courses, “Diffusion of Educational Technology: Policy and Practice” and “Philosophical Foundations of Instructional Technology” were piloted during the Fall 1998 semester. These graduate education courses were co-taught by instructors at both universities, that is, there was an anchor instructor for each class from each university. This model of instruction, or collaborative education, is different from the traditional model of distance education. The intent of collaborative education is to enrich the learning experiences for students at both sites, rather than to be more efficient or more cost effective, as in traditional distance education. Collaborative courses provide access to expertise spanning multiple remote locations, thus overcoming the limitations of a single classroom.

The first pre-service teacher education course using Internet2 was conducted between the University of South Florida and the University of Virginia. Michael Berson and Cheryl Mason jointly taught a social studies methods course in which one class was located in Tampa, Florida, and the other in Charlottesville, Virginia. The two classes, linking synchronously via videoconferencing systems and electronic whiteboards for 45 minutes each week for 14 weeks, collaborated on a web-based multimedia teaching case. The case study chosen (curry.edschool.virginia.edu/teacherlink/social/case/reflections) detailed the daily successes and struggles of a first year teacher attempting to integrate technology into her middle school unit on the Bill of Rights. The study provided a springboard for synchronous discussion among the students at the two universities during the weekly videoconferencing sessions. It also gave students a topic for asynchronous discussion on a newsgroup forum especially created for the collaboration. In this way, the case study was used to establish a virtual doorway connecting the two classrooms.

While the preliminary efforts of this initiative focused on establishing an online exchange, success in this endeavor spurred further interest in evolving social studies pedagogical practice via Internet2. Significant shifts in teaching practices are necessary when using technology as a tool for blending collaborative processes with the opportunity to access myriad resources and ideas. The USF/UVA initiative is an exemplar of dynamic pedagogy in practice. In this collaboration, the necessarily fluid teaching strategies, explained and modeled by both professors, can be applied by students to enhance their current learning experience, and later used to enhance their professional abilities. Ongoing evaluations explore challenges and potential solutions for mobilizing and coordinating the transfer of technology innovation across instructional settings.

The common protocol for collaborative classrooms with videoconferencing and electronic whiteboard capabilities, implemented by all three universities under discussion here, has been adopted by teacher education programs within the Coalition for Innovation in Teacher Education (CITE at www.citeforum.org). At the time of press, North Carolina State University and the University of Florida had also constructed collaborative education classrooms. Another consortium, the Virginia Educational Technology Alliance (VETA at www.veta.org), has agreed to install collaborative education classrooms within each of the 15 teacher education programs associated with the alliance. This not only will permit and facilitate transfer of innovations among members of the CITE consortium, but will also enable sharing of ideas from one consortium to another.

 

Conclusion

As initiatives in the area of tele-collaborative instruction via Internet2 continue to evolve, further work is needed in order to field-test instructional applications with local public schools, to contribute to materials development, and to introduce digital resource-based instructional materials to pre-service teachers. The impact of these innovations needs intensive investigation, including an examination of pre-service teachers’ acquisition of desired knowledge and skills. Prototypes for assessing implementation are lacking, and the interrelationship between technology integration and collaborative interaction is a complex and little understood dynamic. As systematic inquiry develops in this field of research, information about the role of social studies faculty members as pacesetters and potential change agents in the area of technological innovation also is needed. Using leading-edge technology such as Internet2, educators have an exciting opportunity to transform classrooms into collaborative and expansive learning environments where professional skills promote reflective practices.

 

Notes

1. M. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science: Learning About Organization from an Orderly Universe (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1994), 38.

2. B. Collis and W. DeBoer, “The TeleTOP Method at the University of Twente,” International Journal of Educational Telecommunications 5, no. 4 (1999): 331-359.

3. Anderson and Garrison in C. Gibson, ed., Distance Learners in Higher Education: Institutional Responses for Quality Outcomes (Madison, WI: Atwood, 1998); R. Gilliver, B. Randall, and M. Yang, “The Orbicular Model – Cognitive Learning in Cyberspace,” Educational Technology Review 12 (1999): 18-22.

4. T. Edgar and B. McCartney, “The Internet2 Project” (1999). www.utexas.edu/cc/newsletter/nov99/i2.html. Accessed December 23, 1999. Author’s e-mail: edgar@mail.utexas.edu.

5. Van Houweling in M. Luker, ed., Preparing Your Campus for a Networked Future (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000).

6. T. Hanss, “Internet2: Building and Deploying Advanced, Networked Applications,” Cause/Effect 20 no. 2 (Summer 1997): 4-7.

7. B. Houseton, “Advantages of Internet2 and the Unique Opportunity It Provides for Academic Libraries in the Broad Bandwidth Environment.” www.arl.org/diversity/leading/issue9/internet2.html. Last updated July 29, 1999. Accessed December 23, 1999.

8. D. Gale, “Creating Internet2 Transcripts: Internet2 Architecture and GigaPoPs.” www.cren.net/know/seminars/i2.html. Last updated August 13, 1999. Accessed January 18, 2000. Author’s e-mail: dgale@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu.

9. Edgar and McCartney.

10. Gale.

11. Hanss.

12. Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN), “TechTalk Transcript” (1998). www.cren.net/know/trans/i2basics.html. Last updated October 17, 1999. Accessed January 18, 2000; G. Wood and D. Caplan, “Internet2 Backbones Power Supercomputing Demonstrations” (1999). www.internet2.edu/html/17_november_1999.html. Last updated November 17, 1999. Accessed January 18, 2000. Authors’e-mail: ghwood@internet2.edu or debbie.caplan@wcom.com.

13. G. Bull, G. Bull, W. Heinecke, R. Walker, L. Blas, and J. Willis, “Collaborative Education,” Learning and Leading with Technology 26, no. 5 (1999): 42; C. Pancake, “Testimony of Cherri M. Pancake,” Professor of Computer Science and Intel Faculty Fellow, Oregon State University before the Subcommittee on Communications, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate, June 3, 1997. www.cs.orst.edu/~pancake/internet2/senate.html. Accessed December 23, 1999.

14. P. Manning and R. Goodfellow, “Report no. 1: Investigating Collaborative Online Learning: Background to the Project and Approach to Analysing H802 Conference Data” (1998). iet.open.ac.uk/pp/r.goodfellow/icol/report1.htm. Accessed November 15, 1999; E. Neal, “Does Using Technology in Instruction Enhance Learning? or, The Artless State of Comparative Research” (1998). horizon.unc.edu/TS/default.asp?show=article&id=464. Last updated June, 1998. Accessed November 29, 1999.

15. Neal, 2.

 

Stephanie Wood Karran is program coordinator at the University of South Florida Gus A. Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education. She can be contacted at skarran@tempest.coedu.usf.edu.

Michael J. Berson is assistant professor of social science education in the Department of Secondary Education at the University of South Florida. He can be contacted at berson@tempest.coedu.usf.edu.

Cheryl L. Mason is assistant professor of social studies education in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. She can be contacted at cmason@virginia.edu.