NSFNET Facilitates Teacher/Student Motivation

By Rebecca A. Doyle
U-M News and Information Services

November 19, 1990

Imagining a situation in which Howard Hughes, Spike Lee, Barbara Jordan and the Pope might sit down in a round-table discussion of the uses of space in the 21st century is about as easy as imagining George Washington and George Bush discussing the U.S. Constitution.

But that is exactly what the Interactive Communications and Simulations (ICS) project at the [University of Michigan] School of Education accomplishes using the MTS message system and Confer conferencing.

Clancy Wolf, assistant director of the project and a doctoral student in the School, began work on the project about 4 years ago as part of his dissertation.

27 states, 15 countries

Wolf presented the project at a recent seminar given by the Merit Network, Inc. (see story on page11). Currently, he says, more than 300 schools in 27 states and 15 countries participate in the simulations and communication programs offered through ICS. Schools use their own computers and telephone lines, and generally only need to purchase a modem and have a high level of commitment from the teachers to run the program, according to Wolf.

"I think it puts the teacher where the teacher ought to be," Wolf says. "It puts the professional responsibilities back on the teacher to say 'Here are the objectives we are meeting; here are some other things we can do.' It really gives the teachers a wide-open playing field."

Intermediate/high school students

Although they change from year to year, there are about six simulation programs, and two or three communications exercises that introduce students from intermediate and high schools to the innovative role-playing method of learning.

"The kids love it," Wolf says. "They worry quite a bit about what is going on and they get very excited and motivated."

Among the simulations that are available through ICS are an "Arab-Israeli Conflict" simulation that was first used at U-M in political science classes in 1974; "The United States Constitution"; "Space Forum"; and the most recent addition, "1990s Earth Odysseys," which has Wolf most excited.

Driving across the Sahara

"The idea behind these [the Earth Odysseys] is to do some extraordinary trips, and while we are doing these, the students will be in communication with the travelers," Wolf says. "There will be a variety of exercises for the kids parallel to what is going on during the trip. The first one we are planning is to drive across the Sahara desert."

Students involved in the program, he says, will electronically monitor the progress of the half-dozen University staff and students who actually make the journey, helping to calculate needs such as water, fuel and waste disposal.

"The group will be in daily, or almost daily, communication over Confer," Wolf says.

The Sahara trip is scheduled for spring 1991. Other trips Wolf foresees are a 1992 sailing trip from Spain to the "New World" to duplicate the trip Columbus took 500 years ago, a train trip from Vladivostok to Lisbon and a journey by boat down the Amazon River.

Communications over NSFNET allow students to communicate electronically in a matter of seconds with counterparts in many countries who participate in the U-M-developed simulations programs.


Taken from The Link Letter, Vol. 3 No. 5, December 1990.