sealPurdue News

April 6, 2001

Technology goes the distance in Purdue's School of Education

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Future educators from the Purdue University School of Education are using Internet videoconferencing to connect campus classrooms with school children across the state, and potentially the country.

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The distance learning initiative, developed from a three-year, $1.1 million U.S. Department of Education technology grant, partners four teacher-education classes with four K-12 classrooms each semester. The primary goal of these partnerships is to engage teacher candidates with distance education technology in at least one of their many field experiences.

At the same time, teacher candidates are able to see many different types of classrooms, schools and districts through these technology-based field experiences. K-12 students also are benefiting from the exposure to this technology and from the direct contact with university students.

"When you think about it, we are basically surrounded by cornfields," said James Lehman, professor of educational technology and project co-director. "Our students typically come from rural communities and do not have very diverse backgrounds. This technology gives us an amazing opportunity to expose our students to classrooms that are very different from the ones from which they came."

Approximately one year ago JoAnn Phillion, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, was talking with Purdue administrators about the lack of diversity in her students' field experiences. It was suggested that Phillion consider using the Internet to bring more diverse experiences to her students.

"I am not a technical person," Phillion said. "So the prospect of teaching a class so dependent on technology was a little daunting, but you cannot believe the rewards my students have seen from this program."

Purdue students currently are working with classes at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Ind.; Laura Hose Elementary School in Crawfordsville, Ind.; Brook Park Elementary School in Indianapolis; and Harrison Elementary School in East Chicago, Ind.

Phillion's classes, one last fall and one this spring, have worked with Harrison, which is located in the poorest school districts per capita in Indiana.

"We are breaking stereotypical notions about low socioeconomic schools weekly," Phillion said. "Plus, we have gone to Harrison at the beginning of each semester for Purdue students to get to know Harrison students before the long-distance interactions begin.

"The students are always pleasantly surprised by what they see upon arriving in East Chicago. Harrison is a beautiful, modern elementary school that could be found in any city anywhere in the country. It just happens to serve children who are mostly very poor," Phillion said.

She said the program seems to be working. Phillion's students are learning about technology, watching master teachers in action, discussing what they see and stretching their ideas about what schools they might want to work in after graduation.

"Of course we can't duplicate a 'regular' field experience in which our students go into a classroom and observe the teacher in action," Phillion said. "There certainly are limitations, mainly because we're looking at a screen rather than being there.

"But these students probably are getting more time to discuss what they see than students who do 'regular' school visits. I can talk about what the teacher is doing and why she's doing it, in real time. On the contrary, when our students actually go into a classroom, they usually can't talk about the experience until their next class time on campus. That can hamper our ability to help them understand what's going on in that classroom."

Distance learning never will take the place of being in the schools, but Phillion and East Chicago administrators say they are pleased with the opportunities virtual observation provides.

"This experience is showing many future teachers that urban education is not scary. Rather it is very rewarding," said Linda Nolan, School City of East Chicago director of instruction services. "Schools often are the mirror for their communities. It's our goal to set the expectations for our community. A high poverty level does not change the fact that we have high expectations.

"We have very modern, attractive school buildings with well-dressed, well-behaved students. And we find every conceivable way to expand our technology and get as much mileage out of our technology dollars as we can. Most of our students won't have a computer at home and would never know what a video conference was without our schools."

In addition, Nolan said the direct contact Harrison students are getting with university students is invaluable. "Our kids are seeing what they can aspire to be," she said.

Phillion said the project also has been a learning experience for her.

"Not only have I learned the advantages – and limitations – of technology first-hand," Phillion said, "but this project has proven two of my cardinal rules for future teachers: flexibility is the key to managing a classroom; and given a good environment with good teachers, all children can learn."

Lehman said it is conceivable this program could connect Purdue with any school in the country, even the world.

"Basically all we need is a videoconferencing camera in the classroom and an Internet connection," Lehman said. "It's incredible how much the technology has improved, even within the year that we've been putting this program together. The first video we were able to work with was jerky and had a little trouble with time delay. Now we are working in real time with little to no delay and excellent video quality."

Lehman says these four partnerships are prototypes for what eventually will be a large program within the School of Education. He says eventually all Purdue education students may have at least one virtual field experience before graduating.

Purdue's School of Education began as the Department of Education in 1908. It now offers bachelor's degrees in elementary, social studies and special education. The departments of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Studies also offer graduate-level courses and degrees. The school serves more than 2,500 students with more than 70 faculty members.

Sources: James Lehman, (765) 494-5670,

JoAnn Phillion, (765) 494-2352,

Writer: Jenny Pratt, (765) 494-2079,

Other sources: Linda Nolan, (219) 391-4100 Ext. 336

Purdue University Professor JoAnn Phillion discusses teaching techniques being used in a third-grade class at Harrison Elementary School in East Chicago, Ind. Phillion's students observe the East Chicago classroom from Purdue's West Lafayette campus via the Internet as part of a distance learning initiative in the School of Education. (Purdue News Service Photo by Nick Judy)

A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Phillion.distance

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