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Internet2, K-12, and Librarians [Available Full-Text, Free]

By Erika Thickman Miller - Posted Sep 1, 2006
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In the year and a half since our school district has been connected with Internet2, I have begun to explore a small part of its capacity. This little taste has been enough to make me feel that I have opened a book of wonderful new adventures, one I feel compelled both to share and to further explore.


The Internet2 (I2) consortium is part of a worldwide chain of 47 systems that communicate through a series of high-speed broadband networks. In the U.S., the I2 system is being developed among academia, industry, and government to expand partnerships and collaborations worldwide. I2 is restricted to the research and education communities, and does not allow commercial traffic. The system runs alongside the commercial Internet, and though its extremely high bandwidth and speed allow a large quantity of information efficiently to be passed along, its seamless interface may make I2 connections invisible to its users.

Begun in 1996, I2 is now led by 206 universities partnering with industry (corporations with research and development entities) and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies. The primary goals of I2 are as follows:

* Create a leading-edge network capability for the national research community.

* Enable revolutionary Internet applications.

* Ensure the rapid transfer of new network services and applications to the broader Internet community.

In 2001, the I2 consortium began a major initiative to encourage the nation's K-12 community to participate in the network using these advanced technologies. At this writing, more than 46,000 K-12 school districts (37 percent of all districts in the U.S.), aquariums, community colleges, libraries, museums, and zoos, are connected to I2. Although many schools are currently connected to I2, we are only beginning to explore and develop national K-12 collaborations that harness the full potential of the connectivity. Librarians can increase awareness and involvement by making both their faculties and members of their communities aware of the resources and by helping to make meaningful connections.

Relevance to K-12

I2 allows unprecedented worldwide communication and collaboration on data sharing, and provides an invaluable opportunity for K-12 teachers and students. The ability to share high-quality visual information allows students and teachers to connect with students, teachers, museums, libraries, archives, and other educational institutions worldwide.


K-12 schools can easily take advantage of one exciting benefit of I2 through videoconferencing. In order to actively participate in videoconferences, schools connected to the I2 network also need a special camera and microphone system. This technology may cost anywhere between $5,000 and $25,000, depending on its capabilities. Once the equipment is in place, classes can connect with other schools, museums, scholars, zoos, aquariums, libraries, research centers, businesses, etc. Students can see demonstrations, interact with other students and with experts, and can actively collaborate with others virtually anywhere in the world.

A number of institutions provide prepackaged programming for schools, offering interactive videoconferences (IVC) for all grade levels on a wide variety of topics. Some sample offerings, from the Cleveland Museum of Art [], include "A is for Apple, A is for Art" for K-1 students and Tessellation Exploration! providing an art-filled math experience for grades 9-12. The National Aviary in Pittsburgh [], for example, provides students the opportunity to see and hear birds of the Rainforest (from the RAVEN project). The Conner Prairie Living History Museum [] offers a range of videoconferences, including Creating Communities, where students in grades 2-3 learn about the role of natural resources in establishing a community, and about the goods and services necessary for a community to thrive. Students in grades 8-12 become members of the jury, or of the prosecution or defense teams in the mock trial of the first white man accused of murder for his role in the death of nine Seneca Indians in the Fall Creek Massacre videoconference. The Manhattan School of Music [] and the Cleveland Institute of Music [] offer programs from rhythm and sound to master classes, from the jazz age to the science of sound, and more. The Apple Learning Exchange's program Lewis and Clark: Then and Now allows students to virtually connect with re-enactors and experts revisiting the historic journey of the Corps of Discovery [].

Many institutions also deliver professional development through videoconferencing. The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal offers an Introduction to Videoconferencing for educators. Among other programs, the Library of Congress [] shows educators how to navigate its online collections, how to use primary sources, and how to download and incorporate materials from their rich Web-based resources. In addition to videoconferences about rocketry, propulsion, and aerodynamics, NASA [] also provides information about its Digital Learning Network for educators. The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) [] has developed a number of videoconferences for professional educators, including Making Videoconferencing Work for You and Engaging the Student Through Video- conferencing, among others.

IVC programs cover a range of topics and cross grade levels. Many of the sites that provide programs are willing and able to modify their programs to meet the needs of an individual classroom teacher. I've listed some organizations in Table 1 on page 13 that include some excellent resources to help I2 users locate prepackaged programs.

In addition to preset programs, I2 videoconferencing allows more informal point-to-point discussions. At the first faculty meeting after our school's equipment was connected we held a brief videoconference with a librarian and some members of the technology team in a neighboring county school that had been connected to I2 for some time. That librarian told us about some of the experiences they'd had, and our teachers were able to ask questions of her and of her colleagues. Such conversations with colleagues can provide a simple introduction for faculty to see what an easy-to-use and effective tool videoconferencing can be.

Over the past year, as more schools have begun using I2, teachers and students have created a variety of programs that range from sharing a wonderful guest speaker who talked with students from other area schools about her survival during the Rwandan genocide to inviting an expert to discuss First Amendment rights to conversations and discussions with local authors. In fact, the program on the First Amendment developed from initial conversations about celebrating Banned Books Week. This year, the project will be held on Monday, Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. EST and will include a representative from ALA and Chris Crutcher, who will help to guide the discussion. More information is available at

The possibilities are endless. Not only could a school connect to local experts (and possibly institutions), but loosely based on the theory of six degrees of separation, one could connect to other experts who are friends or acquaintances of either the classroom teacher or a student's family friend/expert, or the famous child of a school alumnus, Classrooms can connect with one another within a district so that high school students can partner virtually with students at either an elementary or middle school, or with a community college or other institution of higher learning.

Interactive Collaboration

I2 makes available a range of enhanced Web applications and support for interactive collaborative environments. It is now possible to share large quantities of data in real time. Though there are possibilities for a great deal of exploration and development in this area, a few important and exciting applications are already being used in the K-12 community. The University of Akron has partnered with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget to develop an electronic simulation called An Exercise in Hard Choices []. Students experience some of the tensions and become aware of the necessary considerations inherent in developing the federal budget. Connected with other participants from around the country, and using current statistics, students discuss and propose their own plan for the federal budget.

In another project, teams of students work together as emergency responders to save lives as the volcano on the island of Montserrat erupts and a hurricane nears. Operation Montserrat, a joint project from the Wheeling Jesuit University and the Challenger Learning Center [], uses real-time hurricane and seismic data in their interactive project.

Remote Instrumentation

Another unique feature of the I2 network is its ability to provide common access to remote resources such as telescopes and microscopes. K-12 students may manipulate the remote instrumentation at Mauna Kea Observatories, the nano-Manipulator system at The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the environmental scanning electron microscope at The Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology (CAMN) at Lehigh University, and equipment at many other sites as well. These applications require a high level of broadband connectivity not available on the commodity Internet and "freeze" when used over a dial-up connection.

Access to Resources

Enhanced capabilities allow I2 to support the development of rich multimedia digital libraries. A number of these libraries have identified resources specifically for librarians and also for teachers. WGBH in Boston provides a Teacher's Domain with high-quality multimedia resources for public television, correlation to national and state curriculum standards, media-rich lesson plans, and customizable resource folders. High-quality video of more than 3,000 searchable programs is available free from the Research Channel []. The Exploratorium [] provides a large and growing collection of high-resolution images and DVD-quality videos showcasing the diverse set of organisms that can be seen with the light microscope. In the National Science Digital Library [], teachers and students can use and make available to their students the wealth of high-quality, interactive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and research resources.

Other Developments

One of the primary goals of the I2 consortium is to develop opportunities for the creation of new knowledge and new opportunities. Such projects allow students to be scientists, historians, and creators of information. U.S. and Canadian institutions are collaborating on the NEPTUNE program [http://www.
] to provide real-time and archival oceanographic, geological, and ecological data to the global community from an observatory on the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Shore-based scientists and students will have access to instruments and robotic vehicles via I2. They will be able to study earthquakes, tsunamis, fish stock assets, marine mammal populations, metal and hydro-carbon deposits, and human influence on ocean climate systems. The Jason Project [] has supported math and science learning based on scientific expeditions from volcanoes in Hawaii to the wetlands and the rainforests to frozen Alaska and all the way to Mars.

Practical Matters: Connectivity

One of the easiest ways to check connectivity to the I2 network is by linking to the Internet2 Detective site at There are two ways for schools to connect to the I2 network. Schools can become Sponsored Educational Group Participants (SEGP), but there is a hefty fee ($30,000, plus $2,000 for each member of Congress in the state). It is also possible to connect through a SEGP. In my school district in Pennsylvania, for example, our county Intermediate Unit pays for membership in the SEGP, and our district pays the Intermediate Unit a fee to participate in I2. The I2 consortium does not locate Sponsored Participants or SEGPs (from 36 states) for institutions, but those connected institutions are listed at and it is possible to locate a group to contact from that list.

Support Systems

In addition to holding down the cost to individual school districts, our Intermediate Unit provides significant I2 support services to our area school districts. The Montgomery County Intermediate Unit [] has developed a network of I2 users and provides opportunities for sharing and for collaboration among area school districts. Additionally, the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit has worked with other Pennsylvania Intermediate Units to welcome new I2 users and to discuss learning opportunities.

MAGPI [] is our regional SEGP and infrastructure provider that promotes I2 applications for K-12 schools. They not only provide training and connectivity, plus wonderful free programming, but also opportunities for sharing through Virtual Forums so that I2 users may learn about what other schools—both locally and across the country—are exploring and developing in specific disciplines: arts and humanities, social sciences, math and science, and health care and medicine.

The MyK20 site [] provides a wealth of information about I2 and supports partnerships and explorations between the K-12 community and other I2 member institutions. The site has news about I2, a Projects Search link that allows users to locate potential partnerships, and a People Search that at this moment includes 79 librarians.

Developing Collaborations: Megaconference Jr.

Each spring since 2004, students from around the world have shared some of their ideas and experiences about videoconferencing in the annual Megaconference Jr. []. Based on the higher education community's worldwide online Megaconference, Megaconference Jr. is managed by another Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit, the Chester County IU. Although more than 200 sites participated in 2006, students were easily able to communicate, collaborate, and contribute in real time to each other's presentations about academic and cultural issues. Follow-up projects continue from the conference, and there will be more opportunities to share student-designed, student-run projects again next spring.

Librarians and I2

As the professional who works with each faculty member and with all students and administrators in a school to locate and provide the best resources, the school librarian needs to know what is available through I2. School librarians should be able to guide and support their faculty in developing programs and collaborations through the I2 network. The videoconferencing and collaborative opportunities that abound are a source of rich experiences for our students and our school communities.

It might be possible to develop a school librarians' I2 Usergroup to encourage the exchange of information and potential for I2 applications. It is certainly possible for librarians to use the People Search in My K20 [] to begin to develop such a support system. AASL could work with the Research Libraries Group to connect I2 users and help develop new collaborations. We will help our faculty and better serve our students if we find ways to help them connect to the world of opportunities that I2 opens.

Erika Miller is the librarian at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. She can be reached at


Organization & Web Site Features of Note

Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) Can search database by content provider and keyword, and identify technology requirements.

My K20—Project Search Can search past, current, and developing projects. Can search by keyword. Members can post new projects and invite collaborators. Sign up in the People section to help others identify you as a potential partner.

Berrien County Intermediate School District (BCISD) Distance Learning database Partner with TWICE (Two Way Interactive Connections in Education) and Polycom, this database is searchable by keyword, by MI standard, Subject Area, Grade Level, Program Fee, and Technology connection. It is possible to review new programs and to search for free programs only.

Polycom,,pw-4859,FF.html Provides list of links of content providers for K-12.

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