The Computerworld Honors Program
Honoring those who use Information Technology to benefit society
Final Copy of Case Study
LOCATION:
St. Louis, MO, US

YEAR:
2009

STATUS:
Laureate

CATEGORY:
Media, Arts and Entertainment

Technology Area:
Video Conferencing Solutions

ORGANIZATION:
Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis

ORGANIZATION URL:
http://www.csd.org

PROJECT NAME:
New Links to New Learning

Introductory Overview
Founded in 1928, Cooperating School Districts (CSD) of Greater St. Louis is a non-profit educational service agency that brings school districts together to share resources, information and ideas through exemplary, nationally-recognized services in educational technology, cooperative purchasing, staff development and more. CSD serves as a proactive voice for education.

New Links to New Learning (http://www2.csd.org/newlinks/index.html) is CSD's video conferencing distance learning program. Through interactive video conferencing technology, it has connected thousands of Missouri's K-12 students to peers, authors and experts around the state, the country and the world.  This is particularly important in a state like Missouri that is very regionalized, with distinctly different types of people living in specific areas.  And in St. Louis, a city that has historically been racially divided, video conferencing is a vital tool for helping students break down racial stereotypes.

When CSD set out to build a distance learning program, its goals were to use video conferencing technology to: create global citizens; open the walls of the school to bring in more resources; build relationships and give students a wider audience for their projects; enrich curriculum to improve student achievement; and level the playing field for urban and rural students.   

The New Links to New Learning program now includes 30 school districts in the state.  It connects to hundreds of sites across the world, providing over 300 videoconferences each year impacting thousands of teachers and students every year.

New Links to New Learning is changing and improving lives in Missouri and for children around the world.  Video conferencing is helping Missouri become a more collaborative, less regionalized state by breaking down barriers that divide children in the regions schools.  Global citizens are being created every day through connections not only with people in different parts of the state, but around the country and throughout the world.  And the 21st century skills required by businesses are being honed as students use video conferencing to collaborate with people different from them.  New Links to New Learning quite literally improved the lives of school-aged children in Darfur when, following a video conference with students in Missouri, the US students created a service project to help meet the basic physical needs of the peers they had met in Darfur.


The Importance of Technology
How did the technology you used contribute to this project and why was it important?
Video conferencing is truly a transformative technology. Without it you simply could not have experiences like taking children to Australia, Rwanda, London and Darfur.

The CSD New Links to New Learning Program has deployed 70 Polycom video conferencing systems in schools throughout the districts it serves.  The integration of the Polycom video systems with additional technologies like document cameras, electronic whiteboards, computers and DVD players further enriches the experience for students. Including Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs, Twitter and listservs promotes community building within Missouri, across the United States and around the globe.


Benefits
Has your project helped those it was designed to help?  
Yes


Has your project fundamentally changed how tasks are performed?  
Yes


What new advantage or opportunity does your project provide to people?
By figuratively tearing down the walls of the classroom, video conferencing allows teachers to take students anywhere for authentic connections and access to relationships and experiences they would never otherwise get.  Students who live in small communities and have never travelled outside of the immediate area are now traveling across the world talking in real time to students in Israel.

Research shows that connecting students, parents and teachers results in higher student achievement, a goal that video conferencing is helping to advance.  At the elementary school level CSD partners with the library for a literacy program for students, parents and authors that helps develop a love of reading for reluctant readers.  Middle school students purchased stocks, bonds and mutual funds as part of a school project and tracked growth and decline.  Joined by their parents at a special nighttime event, they were connected over video to representatives from investment firms such as Merrill Lynch and AG Edwards to discuss the results. 

The programs offered to students over video develop higher order thinking skills because they frequently involve decision making, problem solving and writing. Programs like Trial by Wire help high school students develop critical thinking skills as they work to determine the quilt or innocence of a fictional person on trial for murder. 

Video conferencing is also helping level the playing field for St. Louis area students, whether they are rural, urban or have special needs.  For example, a rural student does not have access to an ACT tutor who can help with test preparation, giving the student an advantage. The same is true for an urban child whose parents cannot afford the $700 fee for an ACT tutor.  Both can access this resource, at a substantial cost savings, over video.

Perhaps one of the most comprehensive examples of the power of the New Links to New Learning Program is it Diversity Conversations conference offering.

Through a four-part video conference series, CSD's Diversity Conversations opens a dialogue on race among students at different schools.  The first conference aims to develop a common language to discuss race and racism, the second examines the way prejudices are formed, with the goal of getting students to realize that something learned can be unlearned.  The third conference allows students to examine the inclusivity or exclusivity of their schools and the fourth involves written recommendations to school administration for improving inclusiveness.

In one instance, the recommendations of students resulted in a school-sponsored celebration of the various ethnic cultures represented in the student body.  And in another example, feedback from the video conference about a minority student who was automatically placed in the lowest academic track prior to being tested was communicated to the school board and led to a change in the school's policies.  



If possible, include an example of how the project has benefited a specific individual, enterprise or organization. Please include personal quotes from individuals who have directly benefited from your work.
Quotes from students who participated in Diversity Conversations video conferences:
I cant believe I hated these people, now I know them and I really love them.

I've learned to accept differences and see similarities. 

Feedback from Teachers who participated in a video conversation with Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, author of My Travelin' Eye:

My class loved the experience of the video conference and listening to a real author/illustrator! Jenny Sues comments really complimented the following skills and strategies that we have been working on in Writers Workshop this year:

Authors write small moment stories about personal experiences
Writers try to paint pictures in the readers mind using words
Illustrations can show details that arent always in the writing
Writers SHOW feelings / images / ideas with words not just TELL them
Writers get many seed ideas and jot or sketch them
Writers draft and then revise/edit their draft into a published piece
Not all drafts get published

Thank you Ms. Shaw! One theme of our class all year has been that all learners can take a weakness and turn it into strength, if they work hard enough. Your personal story was a wonderful example of this for my class! We are looking forward to your next book, especially the one which you are drafting now about the boy from India and the boy from America. We are also looking forward to your website! 
 -Janet Winkeler and the First Graders at Spoede School-Ladue

Jenny Sue,
Thank you for a delightful visit with the children! You explained everything carefully and clearly, and the kids really seemed to understand all that you were sharing with them. They immediately wanted to know more about the other artists who had a travelin eye.

A student who recently visited Pakistan recognized the crescent moon and star on your dancing elephant, and became intrigued by the relationship between India and Pakistan.

Many new learning adventures await us because of your inspiration! Thanks again!  
-Margaret Mager



Originality
Is it the first, the only, the best or the most effective application of its kind?   First

What are the exceptional aspects of your project?
CSD's New Links to New Learning is one of the most mature distance learning programs in the country. In 1998, it was very difficult to find content providers and it took tremendous amounts of research to identify resources for curriculum video conferencing.  To supplement this, CSD has developed partnerships with Missouri authors, hospitals and cultural institutions to deliver enrichment programs. The CSD team was truly a pioneer in bringing about the video distance learning opportunities that today are taken for granted.

The New Links for New Learning model for interacting with teachers makes the program unique.  Every effort is made to avoid putting any additional stress on teachers who have very limited time and are overburdened with the pressure of high-stakes testing and student performance measurement. CSD does the research for the teachers, finds the best video conference program fit and customizes it for the teacher, making sure it integrates it into the curriculum.  CSD staff also act as a liaison throughout the process and conduct assessments afterward to make sure the program is meeting the needs of the students and the teacher.  The feedback also allows ongoing adjustments to continually boost the programs effectiveness.

Finally, the use of interactive video conferencing in education levels the playing field for special needs students in a unique way.  Special education and English language learners tend to excel when in a video conferencing environment because the learning is visual and auditory, appealing to many different learning styles.


Difficulty
What were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?
The switch from ISDN to IP, while extremely beneficial in the long term from a cost, quality and ease of use perspective, was a period of teamwork and hand holding for CSD.  It was a difficult transition in terms of getting beyond firewall security and compatibility issues.

Budget was the other major difficulty the program faced. To counter the objections to funding the program, the CSD team calculated the return on investment by comparing the costs of a traditional field trip to a virtual field trip over video.  Physically taking a trip required the costs of a bus, lunches, liability insurance and lost productivity.  A virtual field trip required only one hour of class time and the use of the existing video equipment.  In the end, schools save about $500 for each field trip the take virtually instead of in person. To further make its case, CSD performed an evaluation that proved that video conferencing engaged students and that the presence of video conferencing was a motivating factor that helped raise bar for achievement. 


Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.
In the early days of the New Links for New Learning project, cultural acceptance was an obstacle.  The CSD team had to convince administrators and teachers to try something completely new that wasn't being done in most other school districts in the US.  It was also a challenge to get everyone in the school buildings to understand their roles and responsibilities.  For example, administrators needed to determine the budgets and create flexibility in schedules to accommodate conferences with countries in different time zones, while teachers needed to be willing to take risks to try something new.  Finally, technical people needed to be identified to support the teachers.   All of these challenges were overcome with a lot of hand holding and team building.  CSD identified teams of three -  one administrator, one teacher, and one technical person - from each of the districts in the program and worked tirelessly with them to foster a comfort level and understanding of the technology.  They also connected these teams together in meetings to discuss and share ideas about implementation and use.


Success
Has your project achieved or exceeded its goals?  
Exceeded


Is it fully operational?   Yes

How do you see your project's innovation benefiting other applications, organizations, or global communities?
Not only is CSD's New Links to New Learning Program a model for schools throughout the nation, it is inspiring government agencies to harness the power of real-time, interactive technologies to foster increased collaboration in the community.  Due to CSD's success in delivering enrichment opportunities to students via video, representatives from the organization have been asked to consult on a  regional exchange project.  The goal of this county project is to create a wireless infrastructure that will connect all of the schools, libraries and businesses in the community.


How quickly has your targeted audience of users embraced your innovation? Or, how rapidly do you predict they will?
In the 11 years since the New Links to New Learning program was established, it has become a self-sustaining program that impacts thousands of students yearly.  It has grown from 24 sites equipped with and actively using video conferencing technology in 1998 to 70 sites today. The first year goal of the program was to have participating schools purchase and install the video systems and hold three video conferences. Evidence that this goal has been far exceeded is plentiful.  For example, a single elementary school held 100 video conferences in one year.

School faculty and administration have enthusiastically embraced interactive video distance learning as a valuable resource for exposing students to authentic learning experiences, broadening their perspectives and leveling the educational playing field.


Digital/Visual Materials
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