The challenges that educators face throughout the world have never been greater. As developing nations work to build their economies and industrialized nations endeavor to maintain their infrastructures, virtually everyone looks to education as the foundation for future economic prosperity. Creating and maintaining a highly educated and skilled workforce has become increasingly important at a time when technology is intensifying global competition.
Technology-rich schools have taken advantage of the Internet to expose their students to diverse educational materials that were once difficult to access. As a result, students are now able to investigate and explore topics in greater depth. In this learning environment, educators encourage students to use technology to follow individualized paths of learning, a process that supports the development of life-long learning skills. Further, many teachers in technology-rich schools emphasize cooperative learning and project-based activities, thereby taking on greater roles as facilitators in the educational process. They help students navigate through the knowledge that information technology makes available to them. Internet technology has become the tool that assists teachers in creating a learning environment that is interactive, collaborative, multidisciplinary, and exploratory.
To help K-12 schools cope with the challenge of this new educational model, Carl Sandburg College (CSC) in Galesburg, Illinois, offers a wide array of products and services at little or no cost to school districts or their teachers. The college's mission is to "provide accessible, quality education in a caring environment by keeping the learner's needs at the center of decision making and by working in partnership with communities of the college district" (n.d., ?Ç¬? 7). Serving K-12 schools is an important aspect of CSC's fulfillment of this mission and its commitment to the surrounding community. The purpose of this article is to describe CSC's outreach initiatives as an example of how colleges can foster technology-enhanced education in their local communities.
Carl Sandburg College Community College District 518 covers 3000 square miles with a population of approximately 117,000 people. There are 26 K-12 schools within CSC's community college district. Because of the low income, poor literacy rate, and rural location of the district, most of its K-12 schools are not well enough equipped to deliver education with the newest technology. Since 33% of the graduates from these schools eventually enroll at CSC, we identified a need for the college to reach out to these students while they are still in high school. We decided that exposing teachers to the latest technology and educating them about its use in the classroom would be the most effective method for raising the technology competence level of prospective students.
CSC created the Sandburg Educational Network (SEN) in May 2000 to provide a holistic solution to the technology needs of the K-12 Community Unit School DistrictS within our area. Most of these school districts did not have a technology infrastructure or educators who knew how to use technology to enhance their teaching. The schools simply could not afford the tools or teacher training. Moreover, because most of these school districts have experienced a decline in their enrollment, they receive less funding from the federal and state governments, and, subsequently, a number of these districts face the possibility of consolidation.
Sandburg Teaching/Learning Initiative
Initially, SEN only offered technology workshops through our teaching/learning initiative. Through this initiative, we conduct workshops for K-12 teachers throughout the district to teach them to use technology effectively in their classrooms. We have created two kinds of workshops: (a) Web site design and publishing and (b) Web course management using WebCT. These workshops last 15 hours each and require two consecutive Saturdays or five 3-hour classes on weekdays. They are typically held on Tuesdays and Thursdays for three hours each day, over two and a half weeks. We conduct these workshops either in the schools or at a community-based technology center; they have proven effective and have sparked the interest of teachers of all grade levels and subjects. CSC instructors who use these tools in their own classrooms lead the workshops, which have been particularly effective because instructors (instead of technical staff) teach them by incorporating hands-on work. The main goal of these workshops is to present technology as a solution to teachers' classroom needs and to give instructions that are as non-technical and simple as possible.
For example, in one of the workshops, a high school journalism teacher brought material that she had designed for her students. By the end of the workshop, she had moved all of her assignments online. The following week, she took her students to a computer lab and asked them to complete the assignments. The response she received from her students was phenomenal. The students wanted to know if they could access the material from home.
The surveys that teachers complete at the end of the workshop suggest that they learned new pedagogical techniques in the workshops (e.g., involving students in Web research in a controlled environment) and used the Web to update and enhance their curriculum. Follow-up conversations with the teachers confirmed that students who normally did not participate in class discussions participated in the online discussions and assignments.
More than 50% of the teachers who have attended our workshops ultimately use technology to prepare material for their classrooms. Though most of the schools do not have a fully-developed technology infrastructure, their teachers make use of public libraries and community college resources to prepare the material to be presented in their classrooms. After the workshops, teachers have access to the staff at SEN's Web development department for further guidance and technical support. We also offer to host their work on our servers as a free service.
The school boards have supported this initiative although school administrators were skeptical in the beginning. Since most of the school districts and public libraries already have high speed Internet access, accessibility has never been a major issue. The college has made a commitment to sustain funding for this initiative indefinitely.
Expanding Our Services
While conducting the workshops, SEN staff and instructors were able to learn more about the technology needs of K-12 teachers and their schools. Consequently, our staff developed the following services:
Sandburg Hosting Services
This fee-based service hosts a school's administrative software on CSC's central servers, providing the school with secure access to applications that generate reports for payroll, student demographics, enrollment data, and the like. The fee covers only the expenses that we incur in providing this hosting service.
The Sandburg Connection
This service offers distance-learning classes to qualified high school students in their high school distance learning labs. Through this program, students can enroll in and complete college-level courses to reduce the time and money that they spend in gaining an undergraduate degree. This might also improve the student's chances of getting into institutions of higher learning in addition to building their confidence and helping them decide on a career choice. The Sandburg Connection offers a wide array of courses in which students can enroll, depending on the career path that they want to pursue. These courses may serve as pre-requisites to a variety of career programs such as teaching, engineering, medicine, and nursing. We provide all of the distance learning equipment on both sides such as cameras, monitors and audio visual aids to support this technology. The Western Illinois Education Consortium funds this initiative.
We have developed a proposal for the Sandburg e-XPRESS, which would establish mini-learning centers within K-12 schools and equip them with state-of-the-art technology that teachers and students could easily learn to use. These centers will include computers, printers, scanners, smart boards, and high-speed Internet access. In addition, the learning centers will provide tutors, career guidance, and technology support. The purpose of this initiative is to bring awareness of both the value of education and the uses of technology to enhance teaching and learning to K-12 schools and the communities that they serve. CSC has already established two technology centers, the Educational Technology Center (ETC) in Galesburg, Illinois, and the Education Commons (EdComms) in Carthage, Illinois. We created these technology centers in partnerships with local industry and educational institutions. These technology centers not only serve the needs of students and teachers in their respective communities but also serve the public at large; members of the public are allowed to use ETC and EdComms resources at certain times during the day according to guidelines of the facility. SEN is currently writing grants to secure funds to implement the Sandburg e-XPRESS concept.
We have overcome two major challenges in implementing our program, and the solutions have been crucial to its success:
Support from K-12 administrators. The administrators felt that teachers already overwhelmed by their current work would not be able to attend these workshops and subsequently use Web-based supplements in their classroom instruction. On the contrary, though, teachers who have attended the workshops and created Web-based assignments and supplements have reported that this mode of instruction has actually saved them time and helped them teach more. Moreover, they have observed an increase in students' participation and interest level when they enhance their classroom teaching with Web-based supplements. The administrators have begun to notice the enhanced learning tools that the teachers use in their classrooms and have started to support and encourage their teachers to attend SEN workshops. In fact, SEN has received phone calls from superintendents and principals to request in-service workshops in their schools. The fact that SEN provides this training at no cost to the teachers or the school district at first seemed too good to be true, but after two years of implementation, the integrity and effectiveness of our training has gained wide acceptance even among administrators.
Schedule conflict. It was difficult to find days and times that were convenient for teachers throughout the district. SEN found two ways to address this issue: First, we offer the classroom workshop online, allowing teachers to complete the workshops from the comfort of their home and at their own pace (samples of which are available here). Second, we have also conducted workshops at different school districts during scheduled workshop days for teachers.
To serve the technology needs of the K-12 schools more effectively, we recently formed an advisory committee comprised of teachers and administrators from the K-12 school districts. The advisory committee has suggested that SEN work with other governmental entities such as Regional Offices of Education, Professional Development Centers, and Learning Technology Centers that provide technology training to K-12 teachers. The Center for the Application of Information Technologies (CAIT) at Western Illinois University is developing a database of all available courses, through all the above agencies, for the K-12 teachers within our district. This database will also keep track of the courses that teachers complete, audit their re-certification requirements, and offer suggestions about which courses they still need to fulfill those requirements.
There are more than 2,000 teachers in the 26 school districts that we serve, and, through various partnerships and workshops, our goal is to reach every teacher in these districts in the next 6 years. This initiative effectively supports the State of Illinois vision for technology in education and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Sandburg Educational Network is starting to see its impact on the community and school districts in technologically competent students and teachers.
[Editor's Note: This paper is modified from a presentation at the 2001 WebCT conference in Vancouver, BC.]
Carl Sandburg College. (n.d.). About CSC: Philosophy/mission and history. Retrieved February 15, 2002, from http://www.sandburg.edu/About_CSC/Philosophy___ Mission_and_Histo/philosophy___mission_and_histo.htmlsimulation gamesaction gamesdownloadable gamesshooter gamesplatform gamestime management games