You walk in the room to teach a class. You're faced, not with a sea of
shining faces, but row after row of gleaming monitors. You have
10,000 students at 300 different sites around the world. Welcome to
the global classroom.
Information technology is changing philosophies in education daily.
Many colleges and universities now offer distance learning programs,
including degree courses. A pilot project in Ottawa, Canada, is forging
new partnerships in education.
Through information technology, students can participate and
interact with historic events as they unfold. Information technology
is tearing down international boundaries faster than governments
can remove tariff trade barriers.
Trekking to the North Pole
Canadian Richard Weber and Russian Dr. Mikhail [Misha] Malakhov
embarked on the toughest Arctic exploration ever attempted in
modern times. They left Canada's northernmost point of land in late
February, and will travel on a 750-kilometer trek across the polar ice
cap to the North Pole in 70 days. They will then retrace their steps in
a 40-day race back to Ward Hunt Island before the ice becomes too
treacherous for travel.
Weber and Malakhov hope to complete their return voyage along the
traditional and historic route traveled by previous explorers using
only their own resources--no dogs sleds and no air-lifts of supplies.
Each will ski the entire journey pulling 230 kilograms (506 pounds)
of equipment and supplies in backpacks and on sleds.
Their voyage will actually cover about 2,200 kilometers because the
Arctic Ocean presents an obstacle course. Pressure ridges of buckled
ice reach 20 meters high, and the stretches of open water can be
hundreds of meters wide.
Temperatures range from a low of -60 degrees Celsius in February to
a balmy -10 degrees C in June. Accurate navigation will be achieved
using the Global Positioning Satellite System.
On their journey, they will have a satellite-linked cheering section of
10,000 students whom they hope to excite and inspire through their
heroic venture. By taking an active role in collating information
about the journey then distributing it widely, Weber and Malakhov
anticipate students will gain a greater understanding about the
sensitive and delicate nature of the High Arctic environment.
The team decided not to carry a two-way radio, but will maintain
communications though TUBSAT (Technical University of Berlin
Satellite), which uses a micro-satellite under the supervision of
Professor Udo Renner.
The team has a small keyboard similar to a pocket organizer
connected to a modified hand-held transceiver (walkie talkie). The
satellite can capture up to 140 alphabetical characters on each orbital
pass, which occurs every 100 minutes. TUBSAT stores these
characters and downloads them to the University of Berlin for
transmission via e-mail to Confederation High School near Ottawa.
The system also works in reverse for sending messages to the team.
The team will also use the Argos Satellite Navigation System,
allowing the outside world to monitor their progress. Telesat
Canada's Sarsat weather satellite serves as a backup. The three
satellites are necessary to provide communications capability.
Signals must be leap-frogged as none of the orbits takes any of the
satellites to 90 degrees N.
Planning the Expedition
Weber and Malakhov spoke to Confederation High School students
about their expedition last year. A group of 90 environmental studies
students developed the idea for interactively participating in the trip
and approached school authorities for help in putting their plan into
action. They solicited funding from private sector sources and
initiated a new partnership arrangement with businesses,
governments, universities and research facilities. Confederation
serves as the communications headquarters for the expedition.
The project is connected with 100 sites across Ontario, 100 sites in
other provinces in Canada, and 100 international sites in countries
that include the United States, Russia, Romania, Australia and New
Zealand. The areas of curriculum development in the project range
from environmental studies to arts, astronomy, communications,
ecology, geography, history, mathematics, biology, sociology,
archeology, nutrition, space, weather and psychology.
Each school site received a resource kit courtesy of Sony Canada. Kits
contain: a wall map showing the planned route; a video of the 1992
expedition that failed when the polar ice cap melted to dangerous
levels; a northern survival guide; and a copy of Canadian regulations
governing Arctic expeditions, including the charges the expedition
will incur if northern search and rescue become necessary--about
Students in elementary, intermediate, and secondary schools at
remote locations will be able to ask questions directly of the
explorers and the expert pool. Questions will be filtered and directed
to the appropriate resource by Confederation students. Responses are
returned via the Internet to international locations, and by SchoolNet
to sites across Canada. The experts have been assembled from
graduate and post-graduate students and faculty members from the
University of Ottawa. They are joined by scientists from the National
Research Council and personnel from Indian and Northern Affairs
Canada and Natural Resources Canada.
Along with the answers, schools will also receive daily updates on
the precise longitude and latitude of the expedition so its course can
be tracked and charted. Students coordinating the project will be
encouraged to publish stories about their experiences in newsletters
and trade journals of participating sponsors. In the final phase of the
project, 14 students will join the explorers to ski the last three
kilometers. Ten students from across Canada, two from Russia and
two from other participating countries will be chosen by lottery.
Expenses for these students and their chaperons will be paid by
Universities' Arctic Lab
The expedition will also provide useful data for university
researchers. Scientists will gain a broader understanding of the
global and environmental impact of air pollution on the Arctic
ecology. The team will collect snow samples for chemical analysis to
help scientists monitor world pollution and climate change. The study
will be co-ordinated by Dr. Roy Koerner as part of a review
conducted annually since 1986 by the Geological Survey of Canada.
Medical researchers have been offered a unique opportunity, since
there will be no re-supply by air. Studies will be conducted on
subjective stress assessed by brief psychological tests, stress
hormone levels, stress metabolics, and cold adaptation. Dr. Malakhov
will oversee the on-ice collection of data. Education faculties also
have a unique opportunity to monitor the shift in educational
philosophies. The Confederation High School project provides almost
a laboratory environment for study.
In a speech to the Canadian Association of School administrators,
Confederation Principal John Spence and Vice-Principal John Hindle
outlined how the project explores four different components of
It fractures the idea that local boards of education are responsible
for curriculum development. Each participating school will submit a
learning activity developed within that school. All activities will be
shared with other participants. This advances the global preparation
The Follow Us Project will stimulate a commitment from each
student. Through this commitment they will realize they belong to a
Participating students will begin to understand the global community
of learners. They will also recognize that information does not reside
exclusively in books at the library, but in the vast storehouse of their
minds and experience.
Finally, the project allows students to gain an awareness of the scope
of technological advancements.
All of this has been accomplished at no cost to taxpayers. This is key
to one of the biggest problems facing educators at all levels: How can
the status quo be maintained when money is scarce, yet new tools
are needed to enhance the students' capacity to learn? The best way
to accomplish this is through well-planned integration of information
technology into the learning environment, using it to heighten
existing learning or provide new learning opportunities that would
be impossible without it.
The Follow Us project will provide educators with a sound case study
demonstrating the value of the continuing evolution of education.
Through the use of technology, educational theories will be
transported from the classroom to the farthest reaches of the
hemisphere. And, as students make the connection between the
expedition's activities and the day-to-day curriculum in their schools,
their educational experience will be immeasurably enriched and they
will truly become part of the global community.
Brian Graham is media analyst to the Prime Minister's Office and Canadian correspondant to Edupage. He may be reached at [email protected]
� 1995 Educom.
Take me to the index