University helps Chicago public schools get connected to InternetBy Amy Rust
The delivery of 25 donated computers to Murray Language Academy on Thursday, Dec. 3, marked another milestone for the Chicago Public Schools/ University of Chicago Internet Project, a collaborative effort to fully integrate the Internet with the curricula of 29 public schools in the greater University community.
Realizing the need for more computers in participating schools, CUIP members initiated a program of computer recycling—reprogramming computers from corporate donors for use by public school teachers and students.
It is absolutely the best thing going for participating principals, said Virginia Vaske, principal at Murray Language Academy. Were the first in what Im sure will be a long line of schools benefiting from this program.
Funded by grants from the Chicago Public Schools Office of Learning Technologies, The Joyce Foundation and Monsanto/Searle, along with support from the University, CUIPs primary goal is to connect public schools in the Woodlawn, Hyde Park/South Kenwood and North Kenwood/Oakland neighborhoods to the Internet. The project also emphasizes complete support for the schools in the areas of infrastructure, system management, teacher training and curriculum development.
Don York, the Horace B. Horton Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, sent each of his own children to Chicago Public Schools, and as principal founder of CUIP, he responded to the needs he saw in public schools with a comprehensive plan for technological advancement.
According to Duel Richardson, Director of Neighborhood Relations in the Office of the Vice President for Community Affairs at the University, computer use traditionally has remained a lab experience for students in most area schools. Computers often are not located in individual classrooms, and while students learn basic computer skills and sometimes browse the Internet, it generally is not a daily experience, not a part of the fabric of the classroom, said Richardson.
Envisioning the possibilities of the Internet as a valuable teaching tool, York approached Richardson, who has longstanding relationships with area schools. Together they set about establishing programs to provide the necessary equipment, technical support, teacher training and curriculum advice to schools.
With funding and support from Chicago Public Schools, T-1 lines have been installed in 12 neighborhood schools, and similar infrastructure assistance for the remaining schools is underway. In the meantime, project members are installing at least one phone line dedicated to Internet use in each school to allow for continued support and teacher training.
Training remains a critical step in bringing the Internet to community schools, said Richardson. You can bring the infrastructure in, you can have people there to maintain the networks, but if the teachers arent using the computers, then its not reaching the students.
CUIP trains teachers in a variety of skills—from basic computer knowledge, to Web page design, to making the Internet an integral part of their curricula. Seven teaching assistants, from all areas of the University, work approximately 20 hours each week in the public schools. York said that ultimately these assistants will help teachers with curriculum decisions, showing them how the Internet can change and enhance their lesson plans.
One big question is what are the teachers going to get from the Internet for their students. The obvious answer to me is textbook enhancement—textbooks are old by definition, and downloading materials that refresh the textbooks adds more to the classroom experience, said York. Richardson added that the Internet also lends itself to small group and project-based work rather than teacher-directed, lecture-based lessons.
In fact, teacher training programs led directly to the establishment of the computer recycling program. Many teachers were learning about and developing great interest in the Internet, but they had few opportunities to practice their skills because of a lack of computers in some schools, said Richardson.
The recycling program accepts donations from corporations replacing their own systems and reconditions the computers for school use. The computers are then distributed to neighboring schools at the written request of principals.
Murray Language Academy received the first 25 recycled computers from a donation of 400 made by Sidley and Austin, a Chicago law firm. The response from Murray Academy and Chicago Public Schools has been very enthusiastic.
Working on the computer can now become part of a teachers daily routine, said Vaske. I can send bulletins to my teachers via e-mail, and parents can e-mail teachers with questions about their students.
Dick Dynis, project manager at Chicago Public Schools, added, Were extremely excited about the opportunity to get technology to our teachers and students that will enhance classroom education and curricula. Dynis and Richard White, head of Chicago Public Schools Office of Learning Technologies, serve as co-directors of CUIP with York and Richardson.
Since the donation made by Sidley and Austin, CUIP has learned of more corporations that donate computers to schools and of organizations within the Hyde Park community that are willing to recondition them. Ultimately, CUIP hopes to place about 6,000 computers in the 29 schools participating in the program, said York.
CUIP also is implementing projects that will make use of the new equipment. Piloting in three of the 29 schools this year, the Digital Library Program, also known as eCUIP, will be a major step for CUIP. The project features a complete K-12 library available via the Internet.
Priscilla Caplan, Assistant Director for Systems in the University Library and Director of the Digital Library Program, said that unlike other resource Web sites that simply provide links to more sites, the digital librarys content is controlled, offering material selected specifically to fit the needs of teachers in the 29 CUIP schools. The site contains general reference guides, such as encyclopedias, dictionaries and newspapers, as well as subject-specific information in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
With computer recycling and the digital library, inequity among public schools will be less of a problem, said Richardson, because every school will have access to similar equipment and the same body of knowledge.
One of our main principles is, in fact, a level playing field, where no one school is favored. The whole neighborhood is what matters, added York.
Hank Webber, Vice President of Community Affairs at Chicago, also emphasized the importance of quality, technologically advanced education for all schools. He believes that all of CUIPs programs are an important part of a broad spectrum of initiatives designed to ensure that the Universitys communities have a set of excellent schools that offer quality educational choices to all residents.