On May 6, students from nearly 100 schools worldwide will collaborate and share ideas in the first-ever Megaconference Jr., a web-based conference hosted via Interent2 technologies.
The conference, which is organized by and for K-12 students, emulates a widely successful Internet2 event called Megaconference.
For the last five years, Bob Dixon, chief research engineer at Ohio State University, has organized and hosted Megaconference, the world’s largest web-based video conference with no central location.
Nearly 1,000 people from five continents participated in Megaconference V, which took place last December in three sessions totaling 13 hours.
With various musical performances and demonstrations, Megaconference V played like a light-hearted, amateur talent show where participants from around the world–many of whom wore funny hats–took the spotlight for a few minutes to show their talents and the capabilities of Internet2.
One presentation, for example, showed video clips of Northern Quebecois children banging on electronic keyboards as their Canadian instructor taught them music from a remote location. In the course of the presentation, viewers learned that the project first started with remote violin lessons but was so successful organizers expanded it to keyboarding.
The conference proceedings were broadcast in real time with the highest quality video and stereo sound, so participants could watch the events on a full screen and not miss a single whisker, wrinkle, or expression on the presenter’s face.
Megaconference Jr., which puts the Megaconference concept into a K-12 context, is the brainchild of Kim Breuninger, instructional technology specialist at Chester County Intermediate Unit in Pennsylvania.
“We wanted our students to see what is going on in education around the world,” she said.
Megaconference Jr. intends to bring schools with Internet2 access together so they can create sustainable partnerships in which students collaborate on projects and learn from each other, Breuninger said. Already, 10,000 schools in the U.S. are connected to Internet2 through sponsoring universities and partners.
Only schools that have Internet2 access are eligible to participate. Approximately 98 schools and districts from nine countries–Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Iran, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, and the U.S.–registered before the April 15 deadline. Schools from 22 U.S. states will participate, and 74 people offered to make presentations.
Student and teacher teams volunteered to organize and complete the entire Megaconference Jr., including activities such as building a web site, taking registrations, troubleshooting technical requirements, defining the program’s structure, creating promotional materials, and more.
“The idea is that this would be student-lead,” Breuninger said. Students made the majority of the decisions, while teachers acted as facilitators.
Planners have had to learn about and accommodate many challenges, such as different time zones, languages, and even small details–like will recess bells interfere, and do organizers need signed release forms before broadcasting students on the internet? (Answers vary for each participating school.)
“The kids are not only looking for a challenge; they’re looking to challenge us,” said Mike Maison, media consultant at St. Clair County Intermediate School District in Michigan.
Some of the conference highlights will include songs about lore and friendship in Turkish and English; a news broadcast put together as if it were filmed during the Lewis and Clarke expedition, complete with weather and sports; and testimony about what distance learning has meant to a girl from a rural community. Students will be able to ask the presenters questions and interact.
Megaconference Jr. planners are already thinking about next year. Maison suggested that maybe organizers will group presentations into thematic units in the future, so teachers can relate them to their curricula.
“There are lots of virtual field trips, but there seems to be an untapped market in ongoing collaborative programs that are not just a single event,” Maison said.
At the Internet2 Spring Member Meeting, held April 19-21 in Arlington, Va., an international team was presented with an award for setting a new Internet2 Land Speed Record. A team from the California Institute of Technology and CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory) sent 6.25 gigabits of data per second from Los Angeles to Geneva–a rate 10,000 times faster than a typical home broadband connection.
Contestants must send data for 10 minutes across a distance of at least 100 kilometers and past two routers. “By pushing the envelope of end-to-end networking, their efforts demonstrate new possibilities for enabling research, teaching, and learning using advanced internet technology,” said Rich Carlson, chair of the judging panel.
Used primarily by research universities, Internet2 was launched seven years ago to develop advanced networking applications that could be transferred to the commercial internet.
Led by more than 200 U.S. universities working with industry and government partners, the initiative develops and deploys advanced network applications and technologies for research and higher education, in effect creating a super-fast, “next-generation” internet.
Although the main focus of Internet2 is higher education, 32 state education networks now connect to Abliene, a 10 gigabits-per-second backbone used to access virtual laboratories, digital libraries, distance-education facilities, and tele-immersion projects.
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