Teachers combine know-how on the Net

Teachers combine know-how on the Net

North Carolina uses online program to help classroom preparation

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

Novice teachers often face the first day of school equipped with nothing more than a piece of chalk, a three-day orientation program and the enthusiasm of youth.

North Carolina is changing all that with an online teacher development program, Learners and Educators Assistance and Resource Network of North Carolina (LEARN NC).

The North Carolina Education Department offers students and teachers a Lotus Notes Web forum to share lesson plans and assignments at www.learnnc.org.

Michael Hooker, a chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had a stepdaughter who was bewildered by her first year of teaching in North Carolina's public schools.

To provide more resources for new teachers, Hooker worked with an associate dean to develop what was then called the Electronic Performance Support System for Teachers, which later evolved into LEARN NC.

When LEARN NC started, it had a staff of two. One was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina's School of Education, Dave Peloff. Every three weeks for a year, from 1996 to 1997, Peloff met with teachers from six pilot school systems in North Carolina: the city of Asheville and Buncombe, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Chatham, Johnston and Cleveland counties.

Peloff asked the teachers what kind of Web tools would be most helpful to them in the classroom. The teachers agreed on two things: first, the Web tools would have to save time; second, they would have to be tied in to North Carolina's state-mandated curriculum.

LEARN NC took form in 1997 at www.learnnc.org. Duff Coburn, program director of LEARN NC, said that the staff in about two days trained pilot teams throughout the state to use the Web resource.

Compressing time

Since then, trainers have compressed the two days into six hours. About 33,000 out of North Carolina's 88,000 public and private school teachers have received LEARN NC training, Coburn said.

LEARN NC runs on an all-Lotus Notes platform, said Phil Kaufman, director of information technology for LEARN NC. The site's infrastructure is built in Lotus Notes Domino. Kaufman and his staff use Lotus InterNotes every day to publish data on the Web from Lotus Notes Release 4.0 databases.

Teachers can create lesson plans inside a Notes database that they can share with other teachers over the Web instantly, Kaufman said. The site also has a discussion forum for teachers.

North Carolina teachers submitted about 8,000 lesson plans to the site. A group of teachers who also work in Lotus Notes has reviewed and approved about 2,600 lesson plans.

The LEARN NC staff posts the approved lesson plans to the site, with full text search capability. LEARN NC uses Domino's security features and workflow, Kaufman said.

Kaufman describes the site as text heavy. LEARN NC avoids images because many teachers download the lesson plans over 14.4-Kbps modems. Slow downloads contradict LEARN NC's raison d'etre, which is to save time. 'It's not real flashy, but it's quick to load and quick to run,' he said.

Last month LEARN NC added Lotus LearningSpace Version 3.0 to the site's arsenal of educational tools, Coburn said. LearningSpace offers teachers Web-enabled database modules for preparing syllabi, tests, discussion group topics and grades.

'Every time we do a demo of LEARN NC, teachers want to take the training immediately,' Kaufman said. Perhaps even more appealing, LEARN NC training is free to teachers, he said. The program is fueled with about $1 million each year from North Carolina, a grant from the U.S. Education Department and computers donated by Intel Corp.

The program is building a course database, so teachers around the state can have access to lesson plans and course work for advanced placement physics or German, Kaufman said. A teacher on Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks can teach AP biology over the Web, Kaufman said.

The main idea behind LEARN NC is sharing, Kaufman said. 'We'll give every teacher in this state a license to this program if they are willing to share course content. If a school system wants to keep their lesson plans to themselves, they won't get a license,' he said. 'We're not in this business to compete, we're in it to share.'

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