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   DataBus - Vol 40 No 5: August-September, 2000
Digital California Project: The Looming Potential of CalREN-2/4CNET and the Promise it Represents for K-12 Education

The Internet has proliferated and is ubiquitous in America's schools. Scarcely a campus or classroom is without connectivity to the WEB and the wealth of information contained there, but has the promise of its virtual resources matched expectations? In many cases, yes, so much so that education is experiencing a transformation as profound as any that has preceded this Information Revolution. But for all its potential, the Internet has severe limitations. Enter Internet2 and the plan to extend its capacity and functionality to K-12. The Digital California Project (DCP) will deliver a demonstrated level of performance and capability to each of California's school districts that will make the current commercial Internet seem primitive by comparison.
The current Internet has had the most profound effect by delivering various media to educational consumers in compressed format that allowed schools with only modest connections to have full access to its wealth of resources. Limited bandwidth has had an effect on the speed of delivery but not accessibility to those resources. Digital streamed videos can be delivered over a 56kb modem line. Audio, digital images, text in all its iterations, and the thousands of ways to package these forms of information have brought a richness of materials to even the remotest of schools in America. America's e-corporations have become adept at maximizing the flow of content in this bandwidth constrained environment. Look at QuickTime and mpeg3 to witness the profound effect these technologies have had on students both at school and in their leisure time.
The most noticeable shortcoming of the Internet has been in its inability to create an interactive environment that reflects the modern workplace or classroom. Listserves and serial emails do not approximate the dynamics of human interaction. Group work on the Internet is rudimentary and institutions are still forced to rely on ISDN lines and videoconferencers to craft virtual meetings. This limitation precludes much of what was hoped for by those in education who thought that the wealth of America's intellectual prowess could be delivered across demographic divisions. The expectation was for interactivity between the institutions who knew how to deliver world-class education and those who wanted to benefit from the experiences and practices of those leaders. While working hard at maximizing the potential of the Internet, there is a longing sense that the real extent of the virtual environment could produce experiences closer to the holodeck of the Starship Enterprise than to a group reading of Dick and Jane.
The DCP is California's attempt to lay the infrastructure groundwork so that its K-12 community can benefit from networks that already have scientists and educators working real time and collaboratively from disparate parts of the country. DCP is a multi-million dollar initiative funded by the State that will make high-performance network capability available to every county and school district for use by K-12 teachers and students. It relies on the existing CalREN-2/4Cnet for access to Internet2. The initiative is managed by CENIC, the Corporation for Educational Network Initiatives in California. CENIC is advised by a Program Steering Committee that is comprised of representatives of California's educational organizations including CEDPA, CCSESA, CSU, CDE, CSBA, CTA and others. CENIC's mission statement clearly details its expectations.
CENIC's mission is to facilitate and coordinate the development, deployment, and operation of a set of advanced communications services for education and research organizations in California based on the newest Internet technology.

There are five goals that CENIC will use to guide its implementation of DCP.
  1. To extend existing education networks to create a powerful communications infrastructure that every school in California can gain access to and utilize.
  2. To provide the necessary support needed to sustain a high-performance statewide education backbone network.
  3. To facilitate strong working relationships between California's K-12 and the higher education systems.
  4. To enable educators to obtain access to the tools needed to prepare students to enter the dynamic knowledge economy of the next century.
  5. To facilitate access to many rich resources and exciting new educational programs available throughout the Internet.
CENIC will begin in September to initiate Phase 1 of the DCP. In this phase, it will collect information from across the State to launch a communications plan, develop the overall network architecture, develop coordinated applications, issue RFPs and negotiate and sign contracts. Subsequent phases will attend to installing, managing and evolving the DCP. For a full discussion of CENIC, the technology as envisioned and its plans visit http://www.cenic.org.
The full potential of Internet2 in K-12 will take years to evolve. The Grossmont Union High School District is the first of many schools, districts and County offices that will develop the applications to enable collaboration among people and interactive access to information and resources in a way not possible on today's Internet. Grossmont and others will focus on staff development, curriculum-based applications, providing connectivity to information resources and developing a supportive technology infrastructure. DCP will deliver technology to the doorstep of the K-12 institutions. It is incumbent upon K-12 to push the infrastructure to the classroom and train its teachers how to maximize the resources that will become available.
Teachers and administrators will wrestle with concepts and applications like tele-immersion, virtual laboratories, digital libraries, and distributed instruction as just a few examples of Internet2 applications. These technologies will redefine the ability of schools to deliver curriculum as they supplement their libraries with information from digital libraries from around the world - libraries replete with video and audio information. As they share laboratory facilities with educational institutions using new multimedia collaboration tools. As they participate in new training and skills development programs offered by industry and education. As they develop performance and instructional strategies based upon student rather than institutional need.
Consider from the Internet2 site, http://www.internet2.edu, how libraries will change and offer students a different approach to information. Today's digital libraries remain primarily textual augmented by graphical and audio annotation. Even in the current Internet, interfaces are textual, though perhaps enhanced with modest graphical or tabular materials. While this methodology is somewhat useful for examining the information presented on any given page it is not very helpful in evaluating or analyzing the mass of information presented on any given topic. To organize vast information spaces so that students might comprehend the richness of data presented, new techniques will use complex, high-resolution graphics and animation to provide visual representations of large amounts of textual information in much the same way that supercomputer based visualization has helped scientists over the past decade to gain new insights into large numeric datasets and simulation outputs. The DCP should provide sufficient performance to the desktop to permit information visualization technologies to be evaluated in broad-based information retrieval applications. Other capabilities such as the ability to provide real-time help or expert consultation via audio or video conferencing as part of a user interface, also offer opportunities to enrich and extend the current state of the art in information access and retrieval systems.
Consider Instructional Management Systems (IMS) that are based on standards much like those developed for technology or networks. They will draw from current initiatives like CSIS and extend those systems to incorporate student performance indicators. These standards will attend to the standard set of instructional outcomes:
  • Establish learning objectives.
  • Locate and review (or create) learning materials (e.g., diagnostic instruments, textbooks, learning software, assessment instruments, mastery tests).
  • Determine student skill or knowledge level.
  • Assign appropriate materials to students.
  • Provide student access to instructional components/modules.
  • Review/track students' progress and manage needed interventions.
  • Provide and manage student-instructor and student-student communications, both synchronous and asynchronous.
  • Evaluate student learning.
  • Report learning outcomes.
In the traditional teaching environment, teachers manage this process and can become mired in its complex data relationships rather than teaching. From the Internet2 WEB site comes the following discussion. In networked, distributed instructional environments, this process should be designed by teachers but managed by software, and often should be shared between teachers, students, and other entities such as publishers and information providers. This network-based, instructional system is called the IMS. The IMS consists of both standards and services. The standards will permit distributed instructional modules to interoperate with regard to such aspects as tracking of student progress, automated incorporation of modules into broader frameworks, collaborative interaction, and flow between modules.
In the traditional instructional environment, this process is designed, managed, and implemented by teachers. Standards will also create a common mechanism for organization and retrieval of network-based instructional objects by reflecting the relationship of individual instructional modules to specific learning objectives. While some of the technologies of the IMS could be developed in today's Internet environment, the synchronous communication components and technologies for linking and delivering multimedia-rich learning materials will require network services not yet available.
Implicit in this discussion is the assumption that those capable of engineering and maintaining such systems will be available to K-12 institutions. The only group that is emergent to support these endeavors is the educational technology community. Architecture implies a culture and in technology, the architecture of the DCP suggests that those who traditionally design and support infrastructure will now be intimately involved with the design of student information systems that far eclipse the current strategies. Again from the Internet2 site. In these systems, students will be able to learn any-time/any-place and own the learning process to a degree that is currently not feasible using traditional forms of instruction. The IMS will provide a hybrid between the typical highly-structured classroom experience, and the total lack of structure usually associated with surfing the Net.
An Instructional Example from the Internet2 Site
The study and practice of music provides a good example. Interesting examples of learningware for the appreciation of music have been developed at several institutions. Migrating exemplars, such as those developed at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis, to a web-based environment is constrained by current limitations on the quality of streaming audio. Internet 2 services could remove these constraints, and the IMS could help instructors locate such materials and utilize them in a distributed instructional environment enhanced by a variety of synchronous and asynchronous tools for student-instructor communication.
In an Internet 2 environment, moreover, studio instruction in music also would have new opportunities. World-class musicians could be invited to offer their insight and expertise. For example, a two-way video/audio connection might link a high school jazz band with an artist-in-residence at a university. The high quality of the communication link would allow demonstration and critical review to occur. In addition, the students would literally be able to "jam" with the University-based instructor. This connection could be extended to musicians (whether students or professional artists) at additional locations. Introducing recorded audio and video performances drawn from a network-based server could enrich the instruction. The students could record the student interaction with the instructor for later review, either by the instructor or for practice.
A collaborative called the Digital California Project has been engaged between K-12 and higher education. It has been funded by the State with $31 million to plan and implement. CENIC will oversee the venture. Its ultimate objectives, world-class technology, professional development, curriculum-based applications and access to library information and learning resources will be dependent upon the practitioners in K-12 education, teachers, administrators and educational technologists, to evolve a system worthy of its students. It will build upon current initiatives and programs. Advanced Placement, STAR and High School Exit Exams will not dissolve but rather be augmented so that every student has an opportunity to engage in holodeck, albeit a 21st Century version, experiences in order to prepare them for their future.
Future articles will explore different components of the DCP and its implications for K-20 education in California.