Presentation on EAST and the Distance Learning Center

Since I began "lurking" in the bloggosphere last semester (making an occasional post), my mind is frequently occupied by Classroom 2.0 issues. A few of us inspired our Grad school advisor to begin a blog for one of her other classes; we also spent a few nights explaining blogs to some seasoned teachers. We did enough public speaking to realize that we did not have enough teaching experience to tell teachers how to get around the red tape. I began to lament over the fate of education in Arkansas, and I'm not even teaching yet. But then I was assigned this project.

The decision to stay in Arkansas has been a source of internal conflict for me. Many of my friends have fled the state for San Francisco, Asheville, New York City, and other progressive spots around the country. Hoping to be an agent of change, I chose to keep my liberal arts degree here in the trenches by becoming an English teacher. Although the teachers in my home state may not be on top of blogging or podcasting, there are some cool programs that originated here.

All of Arkansas' schools are connected via a statewide network, and I've been told that sets us apart from most other states. Because of our network, the Arkansas Department of Education was able to create the Distance Learning Center in Maumelle, AR. From this center, teachers can teach several classes at one time through synchronous feeding through the network. (I'm not an expert, but I think that's how it works) Students in the rural parts of the state are using laptops in a 1 to 1 program. Some of the teachers at the DLC have tried incorporating blogs into their classes, but the ones I spoke with had not successfully used blogs as an instructional tool. The important thing: these teachers are constantly learning new technology, and so are their students.

The other great program that many of you are probably familiar with is called EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology); it is problem-based learning using technology to improve communities. The first program began in Greenbrier, AR; there's a rumor that it began when a teacher brought computer parts to the middle of the classroom, and told the kids to "figure it out." Now, this program has spread to at least three other states including California, Hawaii, and Illinois. I visited Horace Mann Middle School in Little Rock, AR, and these kids had built an amphitheater and a greenhouse; designed houses; raised money for the Humane Society; completed tons of cool projects with extensive collaboration between students and minimal instruction from a teacher. I do not know the extent to which they use Web 2.0 applications, but I did notice that the students were confident on a computer and with other students. Although I will be an English teacher, my observations made me quite interested in the EAST initiative.

I have strayed from the focus of this network, but I thought I'd share some of my experiences as a preservice teacher here in Arkansas. Unfortunately, some of the K12 teachers I've encountered in my M.Ed. could not use PowerPoint, and had extreme difficulty understanding the use of a blog. Many of my professors have not yet entered into the Web 2.0 conversation, but there are a few of us students who have opened our mouths (too many times) about blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS, etc. On a positive note, Arkansas has embraced technology in the schools in the past, and hopefully there will be a shift towards Classroom 2.0 applications in the near future.

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