Kim K. Obbink
Office of Extended Studies
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59715 USA
Education, K-12; Education, higher; Education, continuing or distance
Innovative or improved ways of doing things; More equitable access to technology or electronic information; Local commitment to network- based activities
Supporting Documentation (contact author for more information):
Documentation; Other (files of sample dialogues among users; usage patterns)
Montana State University (MSU) has conducted a number of experimental projects over the past decade connecting science and math teachers and students via telecomputing networks. Recently MSU received a major NSF/Teacher Enhancement grant to create science and mathematics courses to be offered over the Internet. These courses will carry university credit and be offered during the academic year, increasing the chances of connecting teachers in a timely, pedagogically effective manner.
The telecommunication project couples MSU, Internet, and science and mathematics teachers around the Nation. Central to the project is a menu-based front end structure called the “Rocky Mountain Exchange” that controls access to the different courses and a variety of Internet uses. An important aspect of the Rocky Mountain Exchange is that it contains a conferencing system for the courses that provides a dialogue interaction between students and professor that most closely matches what occurs in typical, non-electronic interactions.
Upon connecting at MSU via Internet, the users get the Rocky Mountain Exchange menu. The users type in their requests and the menu driven program handles the local and Internet operations. This keeps all users in a “captured account” status at MSU that allows only for the coursework interactions — access to the course conferencing system, and file transferring. Eventually activities like local access for science/math projects as well as distant Internet resource usage such as library searching capabilities and telnet access to resources such as NASA’s SpaceLink will be accessible from the Exchange menu. The project creates local partnerships between NSFNET sites and teachers near those sites. The NorthWestNET Consortium is working with this project providing the necessary technical expertise.
The courses are designed with two major components: a kit that is sent to all students for on-site hands-on experimentation, and the conferencing system for the collaborative learning interactions. The benefits to the teachers are that they work free of the common time- bound, place-bound factors associated with summer institutes. The additional benefit is that it expands their professional network nationwide.
The project has just passed its pilot stage and will begin additional course development this summer with full funding from the National Science Foundation’s Teacher-Enhancement Division. In the pilot phase, four courses were offered: two graduate courses, “The Physics of Energy” and “Water Quality” and two upper division, undergraduate courses in Special and General Relativity. The relativity courses were taught by an MIT professor who accessed the system via the Internet. In the relativity courses, students were spread from Alaska to Hawaii to Massachusetts with many accessing the Rocky Mountain Exchange via Internet.
In its fully operational stage, the project will be a national, science/math teachers’ virtual enhancement college, bringing scientists, teachers, and students from around the nation together on the Internet. The single connection potentially takes the user to many sites. This results in opportunities for other scientists and educators to create and/or utilize additional electronic systems at their Internet sites. With the backbone structure of Internet, the Rocky Mountain Exchange takes on a national character by potentially involving scientists and engineers from all Internet sites, including national laboratories, private industries, and universities. These researchers can become active users of the Exchange as easily as they now interact among themselves and with distant computing facilities. Initial use will be by scientists and engineers in courses; eventually it could be much more — providing an ongoing connection with scientists and engineers for long- term mentor relationships with science and mathematics teachers.