Benchmark Report 1:
"What are the current visions for use of
Computerized Telecommunications in K-14
science/mathematics education in Oregon,
in the USA, and internationally?"

By R.D. "Gus" Frederick
Director of Information Systems
Associated Oregon Industries
1149 Court Street NE
Salem, Oregon 97301


The interesting thing about any sort of "Current Vision" is that the vision depends upon the eyes viewing it. In the case of Computerized Telecommunications, (CT) as it applies to K-14 science/math education, there are many eyes indeed. Over the last several weeks after taking on this assignment, I have been using these very tools to explore via the Internet, to attempt to get some sort of idea as to who these eyes belong to and what they are currently looking at. Hopefully, through this exercise we will try and determine which are 20/20 visions, which are wearing "rose colored glasses," and which ones are in dire need of an optometrist. Needless to say, there is no one "Current Vision," but rather a plethora of different ones.

In the film industry, like any creative endeavor, the director has a set of rules and guidelines that are usually followed. For example, when a new scene is introduced, the camera view is generally a wide-angle view. This view shows the big picture, and establishes the overall view. Next the camera usually moves to a medium shot, and then to a close-up. This formula is tried and true, in regards to film making, and is very helpful in keeping the viewers informed as to what is happening up on the screen.

Like a movie, I will also begin this report with the wide shot view of various international CT visions, and move the camera in closer next to our medium shot of the national view. I will then culminate with our ultimate close-up, focusing on our state of Oregon.

Section I - Wide Angle
The International Vision

To get a small feel of the international vision for CT, I choose the country of Iceland. I had spent 13 months in Keflavik, Iceland while in the United States Navy during 1976. While there, I feel I was able to get a good feel for the society of this most northern of European countries. It was said while I was there that every other store in downtown Rekjavik was a book store. While not exactly accurate, I did indeed notice that reading was one of the major cultural pastimes. One notable fact about Iceland, is its long term dedication to not only universal literacy, but continuing education for all its citizens. In spite of the fact that over fifty percent of Icelanders live in rural areas, the country boasts one of the largest literacy rates in the world, surpassing even the United States.

It really came as no surprise that I discovered several gopher servers on this unique volcanic island. I obtained a number of e-mail addresses of various individuals, and asked them via the Internet what their country was doing in regards to these new information technologies. I received three responses literally hours later! The most detailed of which was from Ms. Lára Stefánsdóttir, the Educational Director of the "Icelandic Educational Network," known by its Icelandic acronym of "ISMENNT."

In her reply to my query, Ms. Stefánsdóttir writes: 1. "The Icelandic Educational Network (ISMENNT), is Internet based and connected to over 90% of schools in Iceland. The Icelandic population is just approx. 260.000 and Ismennt is the main Internet provider for the educational field. We have computers in Reykjavik, Akureyri and at Kopasker where our headquarters are located." Here in her words is how her country made use of CT for education:

"For the last decades use of computer communication has been growing fast in the world. In Iceland the development has been similar but the use of data communication in schools has been growing faster than almost anywhere in the world. The reason is not an administrational decision but the interest from the schools, teachers and schoolmasters.

"The story of the Icelandic Educational Network (ISMENNT) started in a little village, Kopasker, in northeast Iceland in 1986. In this village, with only a little over 100 inhabitants, the headmaster Petur Thorsteinsson became interested in computer communication. He saw great possibilities in this medium for Icelandic teachers. He established his own host computer in 1988. Two years later, other schools in his district connected to his center, which he named "Imba." Interest increased, and one school after the other decided to connect to Imba. In 1992, Mr. Thorsteinsson's effort lead to the establishment of ISMENNT. He was supported by various educational institutions and later on by the government of Iceland. Now, well over 90% of all educational institutions in the country are connected to the network. It is interesting that originally, ISMENNT was not built by computer specialists or an official institution, but a headmaster, supported by teachers, with help from computer scientists.

"ISMENNT is on the Internet and all users have access to tools like gopher, ftp, telnet, nn (news), e-mail and so on. The users can log on to three computers located at three different places; Akureyri, Kopasker and Reykjavik. They can connect through dial-up lines, X-25 and now recently TCP/IP. Because the use is growing fast the 54 Kb high speed line out of the country has been slowing things down but it's capacity will be increased within few weeks to 128 Kb.

"For the staff at Ismennt the first assignment was to connect the schools to the net. It was different from school to school how much technological knowledge there was within each institution. Usually it was fairly little when it came to computer communication. Therefore it was decided to visit each school and assist with technical solutions and the first steps into the network. The Teachers Association was ready to pay all travel costs for a year, and thus we were able to visit all schools that asked for connection no matter how small and remote the school is.

"Schools with a tight financial budget could not usually afford to buy more than a modem, so they had to use the computers they already owned. The schools have many different types of computers such as Archimedes, Macintosh and PC compatibles. We felt that it was our duty to connect whatever type of equipment we met at each place. With well-trained technical staff this was possible.

"After having connected the schools this way it was also easier to support them afterwards because we then knew the situation in each school. When the schools have been connected and our contacts at each place obtained basic knowledge on how to connect it is important to support the teachers and the staff. We offer series of on-line courses. All our courses are 20 study hours and certified by the Ministry of Education.

"10-15% of Icelandic teachers have attended the courses and one teacher from USA. When teachers get good support they learn faster how to make the on-line world a part of their classroom. Our aim is to help the teachers, no matter how much they know computers, to use computer communication. Often the first time the teachers use computers are when they decide to use our system.

"When a teacher has learned to use the system it is important that he/she gets support on how to use computer communication with the students. Although a teacher is comfortable using the system on his own he might not be so with his students. And it is not always obvious what he should do, how he should relate it to the existing curriculum and how he should plan the work with the students.

"At ISMENNT there is an educational director whom the teachers can contact when they need support, contacts, ideas, projects and so forth. We have gained important contacts within the field all over the world and collected knowledge of on-line projects.

"We support the KIDLINK project for children (aged 10-15) since we have found it to be very useful in this field. Their teachers can work with other teachers all over the world on issues related to their work. In KIDLINK there are different projects for children such as topics and projects for classes and individuals, chats (IRC, e-mail) and a gopher. Through KIDLINK the children learn a lot about other cultures and countries since thousands of children from nearly 60 countries have participated in KIDLINK.

"When establishing a network like the Icelandic Educational Network it is very important to do the work with the users views constantly in mind. The network is built up by teachers and a schoolmaster for the schools, it is privately owned by them.

"Day by day use of the network, made by teachers and students, grows. We live on an island that is rather remote compared to many others, it is expensive for us to cross oceans to meet people and learn about other people. With Internet that is the Icelandic Educational Network, it is possible to meet people from other cultures and countries every day, work with them and through that - learn."

Ms. Stefánsdóttir added in her correspondence with me that ". . . access to Internet (in Iceland) is one of the best in the world, if EEMA Briefing from the European Electronic Messaging Association is true. Eric Arnum writes that Internet computers in Iceland are more than in China, India, Russia and Indonesia together, (per capita). The population in all these countries is 2.4 billion compared to our 260 thousand. The growth of Internet computers between the years 1993-1994 is 159,6%. They say that there are 3,268 Internet computers in the country, (Iceland)."

The key visionary point in the case of the Iceland Educational Network is that it was instituted from the bottom up. For example, Mr. Thorsteinsson, a Headmaster, (Principal) of a local rural school thought that Internetworking would be good for his school and got the ball rolling by way of potential end users, (mainly teachers) of the system. Contrast this to a governmental agency mandating technology from above down to the local level. In this case, the end users built the system that they end up using. More importantly, it works!

Section II - Medium Shot:
The National Vision

The "current" nation CT vision is wide and varied. From the very top, we have the House Resolution 1804; the "Goals 2000: Educate America Act" recently passed by the 103 Congress, and signed by President Clinton on March 31, 1994. Under Section 102.5 of the act entitled "National Education Goals," we find the following:

Mathematics and Science.

(A) By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement. (B) The objectives for this goal are that--

(i) mathematics and science education, including the metric system of measurement, will be strengthened throughout the system, especially in the early grades;

(ii) the number of teachers with a substantive background in mathematics and science, including the metric system of measurement, will increase by 50 percent; and

(iii) the number of United States undergraduate and graduate students, especially women and minorities, who complete degrees in mathematics, science, and engineering will increase significantly.

Needless to say, quite lofty goals! But attainable I feel with the proper coordination with all parties involved. Of course a strong emphasis in CT as a key component of these aspirations will help them become reality all the quicker. Like the case of Iceland, I feel that a strong involvement with the end-players is essential. In other words, we need systems built by the educators and students who will be using them.

Unfortunately, our country in the past has been more likely to pursue the "word from on high" approach: ie Federal mandates from Washington telling everyone to do things in a uniform way. One sees this even in the Goal 2000 material! Fortunately, we have been getting away from this approach, as those Federal bucks dry up, and localities fight back at unfunded mandates. What has resulted are a vast number of pilot, experimental and test-bed projects around the country in use today. And since many are on the Internet, they need not be tied to any one area. And we all can easily check up or even join in with them. Here is a small sampling geared specifically towards math and science education:

PBS MathLine, the nation's first telecommunications-based educational service, is aimed at improving math performance, includes professional development for teachers as well as classroom services for students. It was chosen to represent the goal of "Teacher Education and Professional Development."

MathLine is being developed by PBS in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, (NCTM). The first project, the "Middle School Math Project," includes: a series of 25 videos that model NCTM curriculum, evaluation, and professional teaching standards; electronic learning communities overseen by practicing "master" teachers; and live, interactive national video conferences for teacher-participants.

MathLine is one of many classroom services provided by public television, which is also the leading source of classroom television programming for grades K-12.

On May 17 of this year, the Clinton Administration honored PBS MathLine as one of eight educational initiatives and services targeted to achieving the National Education Goals. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was the only non-school based service and the only television network invited to participate in the event.

MathLink is a part of the broader PBS ONLine which includes the K-12 "LearningLink" system. PBS ONLine is a computer-based, interactive umbrella service designed to encompass a multitude of educational online services currently under development. Expansion plans for PBS ONLine include providing multimedia services combining video, text, graphics, and photographs via a WWW link. PBS Online is a key strategy to reposition public broadcasting for the changing telecommunications environment where television and computer technologies to transform the way television is used and information is delivered.

Newton - Another quasi-governmental Internet service is the Argonne National Laboratory's "NEWTON" BBS system. Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) is located approximately 25 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, Illinois. ANL is a multipurpose research laboratory, owned and operated by The University of Chicago, for the United States Department of Energy (US-DOE).

The primary purpose of NEWTON is to promote math, computer, and science education via teacher networking. The primary users are teachers in these fields. This does not exclude other users and uses, but promoting math, computer, and science education will govern all allocation of resources and future features and developments of NEWTON. This BBS is an open system; users are allowed to register on-line and gain access to the system free of charge.

NEWTON grew from the conception of teachers involved in the Argonne Community of Teachers (ACT). ACT is a network of teachers, organized by ANL's Division of Educational Programs to promote math and science education. This group's idea to electronically network to exchange ideas and files for it's newsletter has given birth to NEWTON. As the founding organization, the majority of the moderating on NEWTON is done by members of this group. It is important to note that these moderators are volunteers. Most of the time spent by ANL staff on maintenance and operation activities is done on personal time as well.

The NEWTON system provides four different modes of access to better facilitate the wide range of systems and users, including modem via access to standard dial-up phone lines, telnet and anonymous FTP access where one can upload and download files through the Internet. And finally, World Wide Web access for Mosaic and similar high band users.

NEWTON offers a multitude of services that include but are not limited to: "Ask A Scientist" - an area where you can drop off a question which will be answered by an scientist. Telnet to the University of Michigan weather site - you can find up to date weather information for all areas of the United States and Canada. Telnet to NASA Spacelink - receive the latest information on space programs with an extensive teacher resource area. Also available are subject discussions covering all areas of math, science, and computer education, as well as the networking of grade school, high school, and college teachers with scientists from all over the world.

These two are but two of many national CT visions. But as one delves into the various gophers, Telnets and Fingers, it becomes obvious that the concept of "country" somehow gets lost in the shuffle. The national vision really can not be defined nationally.

Section III - Close-Up
The Various Views From Here

So that brings in for our close-up shot: The vision for Oregon. Should we go for some all encompassing mega-service or instead rely on smaller, more locally run systems. My feeling is that we will need to explore both avenues, and others as well. The nature of the Internet in general and CT in particular is that our basic way of looking at education and communication needs to change. This is the oft-touted "paradigm shift," one of those new buzz-phrases bandied about.

With the Internet, concepts of local versus long distance becomes academic. I found this out first hand in the preparation of this report! I ask several people in Iceland, half way around the world for their visions before I go to bed, and by morning I have pages of information at my finger tips.

This information came via the global Internet, but I accessed it by way of a local Salem, Oregon phone number through the Oregon Ed-Net Compass system. I could have gone through other providers, commercial or public. The point being, there are many roads to the same location.

So what is our vision for our state? Ask different people, get different answers. Oregon of course has its own version of the Goal 2000, Oregon House Bill 3565 dubbed "Education 2000," or "The Katz Bill," for Representative Vera Katz, (D-Portland) one of the primary sponsors. Even though HB 3565 was passed and signed by Governor Roberts, there are vocal opponents to this plan. Most notably the Oregon Citizen's Alliance, better known for their outspoken opposition to gay rights. In an eight page tabloid piece distributed earlier this year, the OCA blasts what they see an erosion of local and parental control in our educational institutions.

In their "Statement of Concern," they object to Section 9.1, which apparently calls for a "comprehensive . . . school information system." Their referrence also mentions the "Elementary & Secondary Integrated Data System" they see as some non-secure Orwellian super-database of student and family information. My guess is that they are referring to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, (IPEDS), explained as being an annual series of surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) that provides a variety of data on the Nation's 10,500 public and private postsecondary institutions.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects statistics on the condition of education in the United States, analyzes and reports the meaning and significance of these statistics, and assists states and local education agencies in improving their statistical systems. NCES supports a wide range of activities. It provides policy-relevant data on issues such as access of minorities to postsecondary education and the impact of enrollment changes on institutns and the outcomes of education.

This group also sees as a threat the emphasis on the new global society which they see as an undermining effort designed to supplant basic America principles as freedom, our type of government and our economic system. This unfortunately is what they see the Internet as. A kind of wild, un-regulated source of child pornography, and a means to enslave our culture electronically.

To sum up, I would like to close with this little tid-bit from the Net:

Information Gap Out There

The landlord of a graduate student here in town found out that she was using her personal computer and modem in her room to communicate via e-mail.

He'd heard about the so-called 'Information Highway' and its potential for misuse from his friends (they're all in their late 70's) -- about how credit cards can be stolen, conversations eavesdropped upon, 'hackers' doing unspeakable things to programs, etc.

In short, he banned her use of the computer not only on-line, but at all! He was, by God, not going to have someone operating on a military-initiated 'clandestine' communications system on HIS phone lines in HIS house, and that's all there is too it.

I think I have the situation de-fused. I explained to him, verbally and in writing, how personal computers work with modems, how when they're turned off, nothing in them works, how they aren't turned on all the time, how they don't have remote sensing equipment in them, how none of his personal information is in the computer anyhow. Took several hours, and even now he's not sure I'm telling the truth.

Point is this: This is the kind of mindset many folks out there in the non-computerized world have about these toys of ours. When you are surprised by opposition to better computers and courses for schools, and better on-line infrastructure for everyone interested in doing this, there remain a group of people (who vote like crazy) who view this whole thing with something beyond deep suspicion and approaching paranoia. There may be an on-line world someday, but there's a lot of folks out there who cannot even conceive of what it will be or why it's necessary.

Don Homuth

Don's message to us is that there are a lot of folks out there who know just enough about Computerized Telecommunications to be dangerous. So my position is that any part of a CT vision must include education of the people. A coordinated public relations system should be in place for this purpose. Not just for those using the systems, but for those who will be asked to foot the bill with their taxes. We may see that box on our desks as portals to other worlds and amazing information tools. But many, (too many!) of our fellow Oregonians see HAL 9000 and Big Brother.

The final vision turns out to be a hybred between a kaleidoscope and a zoom lens: An ever-changing view with distance becoming irrelevant.


Section I

  1. Information from Internet Query via the ISMENNT Gopher
    "The Internet in Icelandic Schools"
    Stefánsdóttir, Lára; Educational Director
    The Icelandic Educational Network (ISMENNT)
    KHI v/Stakkahlid,
    105 Reykjavik, Iceland

Section II

  1. H.R. 1804 - "Goals 2000: Educate America Act"
    103rd Congress of the United States of America; At the Second Session
    Section 102.5 National Education Goals

  2. "PBS MathLine"
    Source: Public Broadcasting Service Media Release
    Obtained via the Public Broadcasting Service's Gopher Server

  3. "NEWTON: Introduction"
    Source: Obtained via the Argonne National Laboratory's Gopher Server

Section III

  1. "Re-examining Oregon's Education 2000 Plan"
    Oregon Citizen's Alliance; Education Reform Tabloid
    Statement of Concern: Sections 15 and 30, Page 8
    Oregon Citizen's Alliance Education Reform
    P.O. Box 9276
    Brooks, Oregon 97303

  2. "Programs & Plans of the National Center for Education Statistics"
    NCES Information Sheet
    Source: AskERIC Gopher Server

  3. "Information Gap Out There"
    From the Newsgroup "sigs.edcn"
    via Oregon Ed-Net Compass
    Homuth, Don

Return to the Ramblings Page