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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Electronic partnership created

By David Nutter

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 08 - October 13, 1994

Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) have formed a partnership with Montgomery County public schools and corporate sponsors Busch Gardens and Scholastic Network Inc., to create a `virtual school' enabling students in six pilot schools to use the Internet to access interactive libraries and digital data bases across the globe and across the county.

Officials from the BEV and Montgomery County schools announced that funding to begin implementing the `virtual school' project will come from a one-year, $100,000 planning grant from the National Science Foundation. In addition to accessing data libraries, the project will include two-way video hookup capabilities via the Internet between the pilot schools, the university and other third parties.

"As we celebrate the first anniversary of the BEV being fully on-line, this project represents an important step up in creating an all encompassing, on-line community of users and learners," said Andrew Cohill, project manager for the Blacksburg Electronic Village.

Busch Gardens has an extensive environmental educational program. Through the BEV, teachers and students will be able to access information on Sea World and Busch Gardens educational programs and general marine science and environmental databases through the Internet.

The Sea World/Busch Gardens Animal Information Database will be one of the most widely accessible wildlife educational resources designed exclusively for teachers and students.

The database, which will be available November 4, will offer information on both marine and land animals, such as killer whales, dolphins, tigers, and elephants.

While leadership for the project will come from Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, other Busch Entertainment Corporation companies will assist in the development of the educational materials.

Scholastic, the world's largest publisher and distributor of K-12 educational materials, is providing Montgomery County's schools with access to the Scholastic Network, an educational on-line service linked to each state's curriculum, and the Scholastic Internet Center, an Internet-based resource that offers educators and students access to the curriculum libraries. Scholastic will provide the project with full access to Scholastic's electronic publications and Internet database listings and libraries.

These full-text libraries in reading, language arts, technology, and natural science are the only complete curriculum resources available on the Internet specifically designed by K-12 teachers and students.

"This National Science Foundation grant offers BEV and Scholastic a chance to integrate a vision of content-rich electronic learning into both the school and the community," said Susan Mernit, Scholastic's director of network development.

"In anticipation of more and more communities moving on-line, it is vital to work with pioneers such as BEV and Montgomery County to develop and enrich electronic-education resources."

Scholastic Network Inc. has educational materials already on the network that the pilot schools will test and evaluate in the classroom at several academic levels. Scholastic is also interested in using the pilot schools in its research and development of databases and digital libraries that students and teachers can use for research and curriculum planning.

"We are enthusiastic about the opportunities this grant brings to the students of Montgomery County," said Superintendent of Schools Herman Bartlett. "Our partnership with Blacksburg Electronic Village, Scholastic, and Busch Gardens brings us a unique opportunity to move toward the creation of virtual schools throughout the county. These schools will be places where students can explore and learn together, reaching beyond the walls of their classroom for the information they need."

Cohill said building an educational network involves more than just making network services accessible; it requires organization and a comprehensive community-wide educational process.

"For the `virtual school' to be successful, everyone in the community--whether physically located in the a classroom, a home or business--is a potential learner and teacher to everyone else on the network," Cohill said.

The planning grant will allow school officials and BEV personnel to assess the best way to fully tie in the online community to the project. Funding will be sought for a three-year grant to bring online all 19 schools in Montgomery County. The six schools selected to participate in the project are Blacksburg's Middle and High, Blacksburg's Margaret Beeks Elementary, Riner Elementary, and Auburn's Middle and High schools.

Cohill said there are 9,000 people on-line on the BEV, or 25 percent of the Town of Blacksburg.

Cohill also said that the BEV will be working with the Virginia Tech-based Virginia Museum of Natural History to begin the process of putting its one-million specimen collection up on the Internet for students across the commonwealth to see and study.