Internet2, the blazing new network backbone that’s supposed to revolutionize technology-based instruction, will be available to K-12 much sooner than previously expected. IBM announced on Aug. 11 that a new grant to support the development of Internet2 was awarded to a K-12 consortium in Virginia. It’s the first grant of its kind that will bring the new superfast network to the K-12 field.

The IBM grant, $3.5 million distributed among four U.S. university consortia, will help the Virginia Tech University develop an expanded ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) backbone throughout the region. The backbone is intended to enable statewide video distribution–yet still be affordable for the state’s K-12 schools and other non-university users.

Tim Blair, a spokesman for IBM, said the Virginia Tech K-12 project is important because it will accelerate the use and understanding of Internet2 throughout the K-12 community. “The benefit of the [Internet2] technology is being shared with a community that will immediately see why this technology is good,” Blair said. “[I2 developers] are not just doing things in a lab, but sharing [their work] with thousands of schools.”

Virginia Tech developed the Commonwealth of Virginia’s statewide ATM network–Net.Work.Virginia–which is expected to connect more than 3,000 sites, including more than 1,000 K-12 schools, by the year 2000.

The other recipients of the $3.5 million IBM grant are Gallaudet University, for network-based applications for the hearing impaired; North Carolina State University for development of advanced networking technologies and applications; and Pennsylvania State University, for work on video-on-demand services.

Specifically, the Internet2 grant will support these programs:

  • A lab for Virginia Tech’s Classroom of the 21st Century project, which will develop, study, and showcase solutions for leading-edge K-12 internet connectivity and other network-based educational research;
  • Basic research in networking to enable collaborative research; and
  • Development of the Net.Work.Virginia and Blacksburg Electronic Village concepts into an integrated model for public and private networking throughout Virginia, using local and regional exchange points for internet data, voice, video, and advanced services.
  • Video-distribution projects, such as the one at Virginia Tech, “could provide teachers, educators, and administrators an incredible amount of control,” Blair said. The state could purchase a single set of educational videos and make them available over Internet2, so teachers could use them when they want for as long as they want, Blair said. Such sharing could become ubiquitous, he added.
  • Collaborative I2

    Internet2 is a collaborative development effort by more than 120 U.S. research universities working with federal research agencies and leaders of the information technology industry to accelerate the next stage of internet development in academia.

    The Virginia Tech project will be the first major Internet2 development that involves K-12 schools. If it unfolds as anticipated, its benefits could be felt in elementary and secondary schools in as little as two or three years, according to Blair.

    Internet2 was started in 1996 with funds from corporations including IBM, 3Com, and MCI Communications. The initiative includes more than 100 universities and is supported by $500 million in private investments. In April of this year, Vice President Al Gore pledged an additional $50 million in annual federal support. Eventually Internet2 would be linked to the so-called “global internet,” i.e., the one currently in general use.

    Right now, the global internet is too slow to support some of the most exciting applications in development. Education leaders are eager to give elementary and secondary schools access to Internet2, because it promises to enable video-based learning-on-demand.

    In addition to speedier downloads and web surfing, Internet2 is expected to reduce the kind of networking frustration that can often prevent teachers from fully incorporating the internet into their curricula, said Greg Marks, associate director of Merit Network, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization that provides connectivity to educational institutions, libraries, governments, and businesses.

    Some of the other applications that will be made possible for K-12 schools through Internet2 include:

    Distributed, on-demand education. That means students (and teachers) can engage in collaborative learning through multimedia courseware (desktop-to-desktop video conferencing) that’s stored and used over the internet;

    Collaborative research, which allows researchers worldwide to share large amounts of data with predictable responsiveness without interruptions or slow-downs;

    Digital libraries, large archives of multimedia files that can be accessed and transferred quickly and with high quality;

    “Tele-immersion,” which significantly changes what’s possible with distance learning by allowing individuals at different locations to interact in a single virtual environment and to communicate and relate to one another in real time.

    Internet2 Home Page
    http://www.internet2.edu/

    IBM Internet2
    http://www.hied.ibm.com/internet2/

    Gallaudet University
    http://www.gallaudet.edu/

    North Carolina State University
    http://www.ncsu.edu/

    Pennsylvania State University
    http://www.psu.edu/

    Net.Work.Virginia
    http://www.networkvirginia.net/

    Blacksburg Electronic Village
    http://www.bev.net/