Joint Commission on Technology and Science

July 25, 2000, Richmond

The commission's July meeting focused on education and technology in the Commonwealth and beyond. The presentations described how technology is affecting the way people learn and teach. Advances in technology have changed not only the delivery of education, but also the underlying objectives. For example, a teacher in one state can teach students in classes all over the world--at the same time. Students from the around the world can conduct research in multiple institutions regardless of their location or hours of operation. In today's world, learning with technology is as important as learning how to use it.

Technology in Virginia

The Virginia Department of Education's Assistant Superintendent for Technology presented an overview of the current status of educational technology in Virginia's K-12 schools. He discussed the Commonwealth's progress toward meeting the goals of the Six-Year Educational Technology Plan, funding issues, the status of the web-based Standards of Learning Technology Initiative and a preview of projected goals for the next plan.

Today, 97.28 percent of Virginia's schools are connected to the Internet, but only 55 percent of the classrooms are connected. Over half of these schools (58.9 percent) are connected at the speed of a T1 line or greater. Though the ratios vary greatly across the Commonwealth (between 6.78 and 30.78), there is an average of 16.67 students to one Internet-connected computer in the classrooms statewide. Furthermore, school systems across the Commonwealth are developing programs to train the teachers to use this technology.

Henry County Program

The superintendent of the Henry County Public Schools discussed the county's Universal Laptop Access Project, a collaboration between Henry County's governmental and educational systems to provide computers for school and home use to students in grades 4-12. The project's twofold purpose is to train all students in the use of computer technology and to provide both a workforce and an environment that will attract new businesses and industries to the area.

The county created this project to reverse the trend created by numerous plant closings and layoffs in the area (more than 5,000 jobs were lost from late 1998 to early 1999 alone). After installing a fiber optics system and bringing Internet access to the schools, the laptop project was conceived. Today, schools are open longer for technology and adult education classes. All classrooms have telephones and computers and can access laser disc players, satellites, VCRs and parents. Irisburg Elementary School, once known nationally for crime and drugs, is now known for its successes. Bassett Middle School, one of the oldest schools in Virginia, now has a computer in every classroom.

This project has had some amazing benefits for the students and the entire community. It brought the Board of Supervisors, the School Board, the county administration, parents, teachers and the community together. According to an independent evaluation conducted by Virginia Tech, this project has made a significant difference with teachers, students and the community. Grades and Standards of Learning scores are increasing (scores increased by over 20 percent in just the first year). It has even received recognition from the Smithsonian Institution.

Western Heights, Oklahoma

The superintendent of the Western Heights School District in Oklahoma presented his community's solution to the connectivity problem. Western Heights, a community in which 75 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunches, passed four bond issues in five years to fund a state-of-the-art telecommunications network called JetNet. JetNet is an infrastructure capable of supporting web-based video-streaming, video-conferencing, IP telephony, email, integrated learning systems and data storage and retrieval activities. Student and teacher training is a major component of this nationally recognized project.

Thomas Jefferson High School

In addition to hearing about community-wide and statewide projects, the commission heard about a technologically advanced public school in Fairfax County. The technical field support engineer for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology discussed the school's purpose and initiatives. Its fourfold mission is to offer programs that promote enthusiasm, exploration and academic excellence in an evolving economic and scientific/technological community; to serve as a laboratory school examining and developing new methods and materials in curriculum innovation and reform; to foster a broad exchange of ideas and programming through outreach in teacher training, enrichment for students K-12 and networking; and to serve as a model for private sector/public education partnerships.

To achieve its mission of integrating technology in education, the school created IBET (Integrated Biology English and Technology). All students must take these courses in the ninth grade. This year's focus is on wetland restoration and research. This program, one of many at the school, has brought technology education into the field.

Teacher Preparation

To demonstrate how teachers can integrate technology into science education, a University of Virginia professor brought a digital microscope. Originally marketed as a toy by Intel and Mattel, the microscope can magnify and project anything placed under its optical lens to a computer anywhere in the world. It can send still images, motion pictures or lapsed-time photographs either pre-recorded or live. Together with the Virginia Educational Technology Alliance, the professor is developing a model of teaching focused on content instead of technology to help teachers with the transition into the classroom.

After the creation of these teacher education programs, someone has to bring them to the schools. In response to a mandate from the Virginia General Assembly, a collaboration of Virginia's teacher education institutions formed the Virginia Educational Technology Alliance (VETA). VETA's director discussed his organization's purpose and initiatives. Its mission is to design, implement and disseminate model technology initiatives that help teachers integrate educational technologies into their content areas; to share resources, expertise and research with post secondary and K-12 educational institutions in Virginia; to be an advocate for member institutions and facilitate collaborative efforts to secure resources for future initiatives; and to help Virginia become a national leader in the use of educational technologies to effectively enhance teaching and learning.

VETA has joined together with the Virginia Society of Technology and Education, the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the Virginia Department of Education and all 14 public institutions in the Commonwealth to create in-service teacher training institutes. VETA is working on increasing teacher proficiency in various academic areas.

As educational standards rise, teachers need help to meet the challenges presented. To help the teachers, the General Assembly created the Longwood College Institute for Teaching Through Technology and Innovative Practices. The institute's director discussed how the institute works with teachers and administrators in the rural part of Virginia to introduce them to the latest technologies and new educational models for serving children and adults.

The institute researches various methods, policies and models for student learning; develops new applications and trains teachers to integrate them; and provides outreach to K-12 and adult learning programs. The institute is also developing standards for adult education, at-risk students and low-performing schools. It is creating a Cyber Center in which it can train teachers and has a mobile learning unit, which members of the commission toured, for outreach programs.

Virginia Tech's Mobile Chemistry Lab

The meeting ended with a presentation by the director of Virginia Tech's Chemistry Outreach, who informed the commission about the university's mobile chemistry lab, a self-contained facility built into a NASCAR transport truck. The lab brings top-level chemistry experiences to students in rural Southwest Virginia, where resources for up-to-date labs are insufficient. After the meeting, the commission also toured this facility and participated in experiments.

Next Meeting

The next commission meeting will take place on September 7, 2000, at 10 a.m. in the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park. The topic for discussion will be Virginia's biotechnology industry.

The Honorable Joe T. May, Chairman
Staff contact: Mitchell P. Goldstein