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Interactive University Ties Outreach with Internet-Based Efforts

Posted April 5, 2000

At a symposium on the future of the university, Stanford President Gerhard Casper remarked that universities originally developed around libraries because professors and students needed to be near books. With the extraordinary resources of information technology, teachers and students no longer need to share a physical space. Texts and reference materials are available through our desktop computers that would stock a respectable library, and the Internet has provided a vehicle through which teachers and students can work together without being in the same place.

These revolutionary capabilities of information technology have led some pundits to predict the death of the university as we know it; others see in information technology utopian possibilities, allowing teachers and scholars far broader and more democratic communication of their knowledge.

The Interactive University is a project with just such a utopian vision. It is the brainchild of David Greenbaum, a visionary and talented leader in Information Systems and Technology. I've had the privilege of serving as the Interactive University's principal investigator since its inception in 1996. The goal of the Interactive University is to use the Internet for K-12 outreach and community development. It was first funded by a grant from the Department of Commerce's Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Project program.

When we received funding, we issued a call for proposals to the campus. Departments as various as mechanical engineering, art history, the Center for Particle Astrophysics, and the Bancroft Library answered the call. We funded 20 projects with the aim of experimenting with a wide range of Internet tools and content. We learned a great deal from these early projects, not only about what worked and what didn't pedagogically but about the school/university relationship necessary for a successful project. In Phase II (1999-2001), we are supporting 11 projects, each developed by a team of faculty, staff, graduate students and K-12 teachers.

The projects all have in common the development of Web curriculum built upon Berkeley resources. The content varies widely -- from California History, presented through archival materials of the Bancroft Library; to interactive interviews with world leaders, conducted by the Institute of International Studies; to the rich Web materials created by the Museum of Paleontology. Each project seeks to realize several complex and difficult goals: to train teachers in the use of technology, to develop high-quality curriculum, to improve student achievement, to build models for the use of technology for K-12 outreach, and to explore innovative ways of using the Internet for teaching and learning.

We've learned many lessons from our work so far. The Internet has acted as a magnet for student interest; through it we can provide extraordinary new content and learning activities to our K-12 partners. The Interactive University provides a new means of collaborating with the schools, one that campus departments are open to developing because it builds on their resources and strengths. However, we are not building a virtual university that we put up on the Web merely for others to use. The success of our projects depends on finding the right balance between online and personal interaction. Although technology can extend and reinforce our partnerships with the schools, it cannot in itself create them.

Furthermore, there are significant barriers, technical and systemic, to using technology in urban school districts. Schools lack functioning computer systems and technical personnel; teachers often lack training and equipment. Nonetheless, the power and potential of these tools inspires the faculty and staff to continue their development. I am proud to have helped create the Interactive University; I hope the campus will find ways for even more departments to participate in the future. It is a powerful model of the way in which we can integrate research, teaching, and public service to support our school and community partners.


The 11 projects of the latest round of the Interactive University project, found online at, will be highlighted over the next year in occasional articles in the Berkeleyan. The first story will feature Project First: Foundations in Reading through Science and Technology, a project of the Center for Science Education at the Space Sciences Laboratory. The 11 projects are:

Archaeological Research Facility Project

The Archaeological Research Facility project uses multimedia and Internet technologies, as well as hands-on, experiential activities, to teach archaeology to middle school students in Oakland. Berkeley graduate and undergraduate students work directly with teachers and students in classes and after-school programs to enhance students understanding of archaeology as a practice, and to encourage the development of critical thinking skills.

Bay Area Writing Project: Teaching Writing and Technology Project:

The Bay Area Writing Project, in collaboration with the Graduate School of Education, works in Oakland middle schools using expository writing in social studies and language arts curriculum to improve students historical thinking and writing skills.

California Heritage Project

The California Heritage Project explores how the Bancroft Library's California Heritage Collection, an online archive of more than 28,000 images of California history, and other related primary source materials, can best be used to support local, California and U.S. history curriculum standards in San Francisco and Oakland schools.

Connecting Students to the World

The Institute of International Studies uses online conversations and digital curriculum to link Berkeley faculty and distinguished visitors to San Francisco and Oakland high schools. The institute employs these resources to enhance U.S. history and civics curriculum.

Office of Resources for International and Area Studies: History through Literature

The History through Literature project is developing Web-based materials to support sixth and seventh-grade curriculum about world history. This project will integrate literature and resources from International and Area Studies and other partners, to help students understand the histories of the Near East, China, India, Africa, Japan, Western Europe and the spread of Islam.

Integrating Science, Teaching and Technology

The Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, the Center for Particle Astrophysics, the Center for Science Education at the Space Sciences Laboratory and the Museum of Paleontology have developed a partnership for Integrating Science, Teaching and Technology. The team works with sixth through 12th-grade teachers in San Francisco to create inquiry-based digital science curriculum materials.

Project First: Foundations in Reading Through Science and Technology

In Project FIRST, the Center for Science Education at the Space Sciences Laboratory leads a partnership with rich expertise in the areas of literacy, science, technology and curriculum development. The goal of Project FIRST is to increase the literacy development and proficiency of Oakland elementary school students through a model program that integrates inquiry-based science curricula, Internet technology and a mentored learning environment.

Center for Latin American Studies: Exploring Latin America

Exploring Latin America investigates contemporary and historical aspects of Latin America and its relationship to teachers and students in the Oakland and San Francisco Unified School Districts and at the Center for Latin American Studies. The Center for Latin American Studies is working with teachers to explore the best approach for setting up conversations with visiting experts on Latin America, faculty and graduate students, and with students in Latin America.

College of Natural Resources: CityBugs Project

The Environmental Leadership Program of the College of Natural Resources is exploring how to best use a unique Internet-based tool to support science curriculum standards across grade levels in the Oakland Unified School District. This tool will enable students to use insects to explore their local ecology, gain an appreciation for biodiversity, learn scientific classification, and integrate science education with technology literacy skills.

Environmental Science at Galileo Academy of Science & Technology

The Environmental Sciences Program and the Department of Ethnic Studies works with the Galileo Academy of Science and Technology of the San Francisco Unified School District planning how to develop and implement digital learning materials for an online course in Environmental Science for 11th and 12th grade students. These learning materials integrate the resources and expertise of the Urban Watershed Project at the Presidio of San Francisco. The project also explores how to involve Environmental Science and Ethnic Studies students as mentor/tutors through a Berkeley service learning class.

Institute of East Asian Studies: Cultural Exploration

The Institute of East Asian Studies is building a prototype of an interactive electronic tool that will help San Francisco schools use the resources of the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative to support social science standards in world history, culture and geography. With this prototype, students will use archeological digs, tomb excavation, underwater salvage, and other techniques to explore the artifacts of a "virtual island" with a history, culture and economy similar to that of Japan or Korea.




April 5-11, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 27)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
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