The Collaborative Visualization Project:

Shared technology learning environments for science learning

Roy D. Pea*
Northwestern University, Institute for the Learning Sciences
1890 Maple Avenue
Evanston IL 60201

Louis Gomez*
Bellcore, Multimedia Communications Department
445 South Street, MRE2D290
Morristown, NJ 07960

Contents of this Document
This paper originally appeared as:
Pea, R.D. & Gomez, L. (1992). Learning through collaborative visualization: Shared technology learning environments for science. Proceedings of SPIE '92 (International Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers): Enabling Technologies for High-Bandwidth Applications, Vol. 1785, pp. 253-264.

NOTE: This paper represents an early vision for the CoVis Project, and therefore implementation details may differ from those projected in this paper.


Project-enhanced science learning (PESL) provides students opportunities for "cognitive apprenticeships" in authentic scientific inquiry, using computers for data-collection and analysis. Student teams work on projects with teacher guidance to develop and apply their understanding of science concepts and skills. We are applying high-performance computing and communications (HPCC) to augment and transform PESL at-a-distance (beyond the boundaries of the individual school), which is limited today to asynchronous, text-only networking, unsuitable for collaborative science learning involving shared access to multimedia resources such as data, graphs, tables, pictures, and audio-video communication. We propose using HPCC to develop advanced tools and assess their uses by learners and teachers in schools for easily accessing PESL resources for remote classroom collaboration in topics such as atmospheric sciences integrating broadband communications. Our work will create user technology (a Collaborative Science Workbench providing PESL design support, and shared synchronous document views, program, and data access; a Science Learning Resource Directory for easy access to resources including two-way video links to collaborators, mentors, museum exhibits, media-rich resources such as scientific visualization graphics), and refines enabling technologies (audiovisual and shared-data telephony, networking) for this PESL niche. We characterize participation scenarios for configuring these resources so users may engage in remote collaborative PESL. We outline how the Directory may provide a model for national network access to science education expertise.


In K-12 science classrooms, there are shifts underway from didactic instruction focusing on a textbook-homework-recitation approach to a more project-enhanced curriculum (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Eylon & Linn, in press; Pea, in press; Ruopp et al., in press; Tinker, 1992). These efforts build on the demonstrated effectiveness of activity-based science education (Bredderman, 1983, Shymansky et al., 1983). In project-enhanced science learning (PESL), to make sense of the world with science, students engage in authentic and motivating tasks that extend over time, that encompass scientific and social issues, that are mediated by various artifacts and expertise, and finally, that require collaboration and communication within the classroom and, most importantly, with resources outside the classroom. The phrase "PESL" was created by the LabNet Project to acknowledge that for now projects have to be integrated with more standard curricular approaches (Ruopp et al., in press).

These PESL conditions support a model of teaching and learning described as "cognitive apprenticeship" (Brown et al., 1989; Rogoff, 1990). In cognitive apprenticeship for science learning, problem definition and problem-solving processes are supported and articulated by mentors, and learners gradually take on increasingly complex tasks. Furthermore, learners participate in authentic inquiry, where the answers are unknown and results matter. An inquiry-driven learning process may contribute to a now-uncommon recognition by learners that science is dynamic and purposeful in nature, rather than static and archival (Linn & Songer, in press). This PESL emphasis is also congruent with recommendations from Project 2061 (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990) and various commission reports (National Science Board, 1983; NSTA, 1985) seeking solutions to failings in contemporary American science education (Mullis & Jenkins, 1988).

The NGS-TERC Acid Rain Project and the TERC Global Lab Project are prototypical examples for PESL (Ruopp et al., 1992; Tinker, 1992). Student teams collect data locally, then use computer and telecommunications tools for pooling and interpreting results. However, transitions to such a radically different model of teaching and learning are difficult, because large role changes and demands are placed on teachers and students. Teachers no longer primarily "deliver" information, but serve as managers, critiquers, and modelers; students engage in inquiry and synthesizing activities rather than seeking to accumulate and recite information, often without understanding. The tone of the classroom becomes one of collaboration, in that students refine their understanding through social interactions over an extended period of time. Student-teacher negotiations of methodology, time frame, project result, and assessment are central to the success of PESL. PESL teachers face many challenges, including arranging for materials and computers to support students' inquiry activities; tracking students' uses of concepts and contributions to PESL for appropriately guidance of development; and finding appropriate materials and expertise. This last goal often requires help from other teachers, resource librarians, and practicing scientists. The problem, then, is how to facilitate and augment this major transformation of science teaching and learning.

One move toward this transformation will be to make science learning environments more like the collaborative, connected work environments of scientists (Finholt & Sproull, 1990; Lederberg & Uncapher, 1989). Teachers and students will need ways to reduce the complexity of getting access to resources that are inaccessible locally. These resources include expertise in the form of other teachers, scientists and graduate students in business, industry, and research settings, and other learners. They also include tools, instrumentation, hands-on materials and labs, museum exhibits, and computing and telecommunications infrastructures.


PESL offers learning partners opportunities to engage in authentic scientific inquiry through apprenticeship that is often enabled by dynamic interactions among learning partners in physical proximity. Yet scientific and business practice using Internet and broadband services recognizes that not all partners necessary to an interaction can be co-located. Our vision in the Collaborative Visualization Project (CoVis) is to use new technologies to extend the collaborative "reach" of PESL to facilitate the types of collaboration and communication among remote learners, teachers, and scientists which PESL demands.

Applications of advanced technologies can provide educators with critical levers for promoting cognitive apprenticeships in science learning. They can provide the backbone for the transitioning process from didactic science teaching to such apprenticeships. We are extending collaborative media beyond asynchronous text-only email to shared workspaces and two-way audio/video connections that allow for collaborative visualization of science phenomena, data, models - What You See Is What I See (WYSIWIS). Tools for local- and wide-area networked learning environments will enable highly interactive, media-rich communications among learning partners. We call these "shared-technology" learning environments in that they are participated in, or experienced in common across remote sites.

While the HPCC technologies we are developing require sophisticated computing power, and, more specifically, broadband communication connections atypical of today's schools, these tools will become accessible to many schools within 5-10 years. The emerging generation of audio-video information technologies promises high functionality at acceptable costs: significant computing power is coming to be integrated with consumer-level communications technologies.

Scientific work groups now use HPCC for remote collaborations. Yet a classroom teacher does not typically have the resources or the time that professional project managers have to seek out, connect with, and integrate outside expertise. Moreover, classrooms do not support the shared construction and communication of various artifacts, whereas cutting-edge laboratories and corporations have moved beyond the chalkboard and paper notebook to support collaboration (Galegher et al., 1990). National HPCC (high-performance computing and communications) centers and tools are in operation (NSF, 1991a), and Congress has funded the National Research and Education Network (NREN) to extend NSFNet. Scientists also now utilize software for scientific visualization (based on numerical models to simulate complex phenomena, such as climate, storms, fluid dynamics) and distributed computing, e.g., connecting workstations to supercomputers through high-speed networks for computing demanding functions, or rendering animations of complex visual data displays (Office of Science and Technology Policy, 1991). Students need to learn and do science in context of real problems and with such sophisticated tools.

It is not surprising that applications and findings in industry or scientific sectors do not readily translate to a K-12 context (Roberts, 1988). Research is required to make these HPCC technologies fit the specific goals and needs of precollege education. Yet policy arguments for improving science education through telecommunications abound (Carlitz, 1991; Lesgold & Melmed, 1992; NSF, 1991b; OTA, 1989, 1991). Our goal is to circumvent the typical 15-year trickle-down from advanced technologies to educational applications, by directly working in educational settings to develop new learning environments with next-generation enabling technologies.


Current technology allows for very flexible asynchronous (time-shifted) sharing and development of multi-media applications. The Collaborative Visualization Project anticipates the next important technology window, to open onto a new class of applications we call MUMMS, for Multi-User Multi-Media Synchronous applications. Significant research efforts have been underway at Bellcore and other labs to create infrastructure and sample applications for MUMMS. Bellcore has developed a fundamental software ensemble to enable this new communication medium: (1) Rendezvous(TM), Lisp-based software for building rich shared-data tools for domains like instruction and design; (2) Cruiser(TM), a suite of communications services for point-to-point and point-to-multi-point audio-video telephony; (3) Touring Machine, operating system level software providing programmers with high-level communications abstractions to build, deliver, and manage MUMMS tools without worrying about low-level network details like transport and connection management. Parts of this prototype ensemble are in daily use by over 50 people, soon by over 125 people across 50 miles. The ensemble is flexible and robust enough for the CoVis project to build new prototypes which will uncover communication protocols and customized application needs of PESL. We describe several scenarios later in this paper. Current efforts have established the reality of MUMMS applications as an emerging communications medium. The CoVis Project will help them become a communications reality for pre-college science learning and teaching.

Bellcore's Touring Machine, Cruiser and Rendezvous provide our coordinated suite of computing and communication software platforms and tools. Touring Machine is a sophisticated distributed, object-oriented software platform for a network-based communication services infrastructure for desktop audiovisual and shared-data telephony (Arango et al., 1992; Gopal, Herman & Vecchi. 1992). It provides a general Application Programming Interface for developers. The affiliated Cruiser software allows for informal, real-time desktop videoconferencing among remote users using an audio-video network (Root, 1988). Rendezvous is a development language for creating synchronous, multi-user applications running on the Touring Machine platform (Hill, 1992; Patterson et al., 1990). We utilize a client-server software model with an X-Windows paradigm (Nye & O'Reilly, 1990; Scheifler et al., 1988) commonly used in university computing environments like MIT's Project Athena and CMU's Andrew Project (Borenstein, 1990).


Using the aforementioned Bellcore multimedia software platforms and tools, we are creating new applications for supporting collaborative, inquiry-oriented project-enhanced science learning and teaching. We are developing a network-based Collaborative Science Workbench ("Workbench") which includes a Science Learning Resource Directory ("Directory") for accessing science education expertise.

The software will run on personal computers (68030/80386 - 68040/80486 machines) at our initial two high schools in the Chicago metropolitan area, while a powerful UNIX server in each of these schools will manage call connection for the Directory, and file and application management for the Workbench's multi-user synchronous access to data and views (made possible by Touring Machine and Rendezvous). We will also be augmenting existing classroom computer setups with specialized switching and codec hardware and software. Each school site minimally includes a network cluster of six computers augmented by the additional hardware and software required. This allows for classroom-realistic group assignments, such as half of a classroom engaged in on-line CoVis work, half engaged in hands-on and other off-line work (e. g., five student teams of three, one workstation for the teacher).

In this section, we describe the software while also characterizing "participation scenarios" for its use--organizational arrangements for learning and teaching using our CoVis tools in the school context. These environments are substantially different than the single-worker office environments in which the Bellcore technologies we are working with have functioned in the past.

For effective designs of educationally-appropriate and useful materials, activities, and software tools, we consider extensive science teacher involvement to be essential. Teachers understand the context of work practice in which their tools must function, recognize the time flow of learning and teaching in the classroom, and provide insights into whether specific tool designs are too difficult to learn or use in the realities of classrooms. We are working closely with teachers and learners to collaboratively envision tool designs, refining systems in response to the experienced fit of tools to science education tasks in our participants' work practices. The two Chicago-area high schools we are working with as "high-band schools" have a high level of maturity of educational technology integration, and computing facilities and staff. Each site primarily involves two or three teachers, in a larger science department, who will work with these technologies for several class periods each. Three teachers throughout the U.S. are involved as TERC LabNet Project participants. They are highly experienced in high-school PESL, and will be connected with each other and the high-band sites by low-band telecommunications.

Our CoVis work augmenting PESL builds on knowledge of effective environments for text-only, asynchronous tele-learning. Riel and Levin (1990; also see Hawkins, 1991) describe several properties discriminating successful from problematic educational telecommunications projects. Successes require purposeful collaboration and communication, activities structured around real problems, activities that invite collaboration through software design support or the properties of materials used, and the presence of a coordinator to manage and help out in guiding the activities. PESL fulfills these properties using the Workbench and Directory tools that we will develop. Levin and colleagues have also developed different participation models for collaborative tele-science. They include tele-apprenticeships, and tele-taskforces (Levin et al., 1987; Waugh & Levin, 1989). Our definition of participation scenarios in terms of the learning inquiry model below aims to make this specification more finely-grained.

4.1. Collaborative Science Workbench

From the user's perspective, the Workbench will allow teams to work together within and between classrooms, jointly constructing and sharing PESL artifacts (such as data, notes, graphics, models) relevant to their inquiries, which they can talk about and see in real-time. As later described, projects in atmospheric sciences on phenomena such as thunderstorms, winter storms, ozone depletion, the lake effect's contribution to rain/snow severity, are likely as a focus of work. The Workbench will also function as a "telephone" for establishing and managing the needed audio-video and shared data connections. The Workbench will provide design support for PESL collaborative work by students across distinctive phases of a commonly-used "inquiry model" in science education. We expect that these PESL phases will have distinctive media and bandwidth support needs, to be determined in our classroom studies.

For purposes of Workbench design, we consider these phases to be:

* Motivating Inquiry: In this phase, learners observe phenomena, often arranged to lead to puzzlement and surprise of expectation, or interesting things not easy to account for. Using the Directory, one might experience 3 minutes of remote shared team video experience with a severe thunderstorm; or remotely share a view of an animation of real-time weather data visualizations depicting changing weather conditions before an impending storm.

* Project Definition: To define a project, learners raise, log, classify, and prioritize scientific questions, and finally come to negotiate a manageable scope and method for a project.

* Project Investigations: During the course of a project, roles and tasks for different persons/teams in a project collaboration are defined; questions are asked of experts; a plan is developed, monitored, and refined given time and other resource constraints; teams use empirical strategies to address questions; data-recording tools, and analytic tools appropriate to questions are used. Collaborative visualization needs may include joint view of data windows, and provision of audio and/or video channel for collaborative analysis and interpretations. May include provision of real-time weather data viewed with scientific visualization tools, including color maps of clouds, temperature, moisture, barometric pressure.

* Project Reporting: Presentation of scientific results; remote critique and annotation of reports by peers and mentors. May need to involve video and high-quality graphics.

The teacher perspective on the Workbench is a superset of the student functions described. In addition to being able to view and manage ongoing inquiries by individual students and teams, teachers will be able to craft designs of "participation scenarios" for these PESL collaborations. These scenarios may serve as plans for future use by the teacher, and for sharing with other teachers. Participation scenarios are plans noting project goals, activities, people, resources, and technology configurations. The teacher may add documentation to the Directory to share these experiences with other teachers or for the teacher's own future use. The Workbench will extend the model provided by Bellcore's Conversation Board (Brinck & Gomez, 1992) to a synchronous, multi-user software environment that provides students and teachers with the functions of collective note-taking and writing, media capture, and access control, organized in terms of the PESL inquiry model above.

There are key differences between the Rendezvous strategy for supporting collaboration, and current LAN-based "integrated learning systems (ILSs)." In each, multiple students use a file-server to access software and do computer-supported work. But there are major pedagogical and technical differences. The ILS paradigm is a computer-extension of the textbook-problem-recitation approach to instructional computing. The Workbench instead views the learner as active contributor to an inquiring team where problems are not predefined and answers may be unknown. Rendevous-based applications exploit the file-server to solve the versioning problems for multiple versions of artifacts (such as notes, or sketches) created through collaborative work by separating the program from the view onto it (thus enabling different views, such as by learner teams, and teachers).

We may also distinguish three models of video use that learners and teachers will try out in participation scenarios. The broadcast television and distance learning paradigm defines the "information transmission model," in which lecture, demonstration or video source material is sent one-way. The second is an "experience port model," which opens a minimally-interactive videoport (e.g., two-way audio, one-way video) to experiences or demonstrations that are difficult or impossible to replicate locally for the school -- a virtual fieldtrip. The third is the "conversational model," in which highly-interactive communications are facilitated. Participants at both ends of the video link see common visual referents and discuss them, as they would face to face. This provides plenty of opportunity for cycles of negotiation of important but subtle shades of meaning, and refinements of skills. While the third model is the most demanding in terms of bandwidth and computing power, we believe it is vital as an instructional tool. Pea and Gomez (1992) review studies on conceptual change in science in face-to-face settings that indicate the need to support highly-interactive conversational interchanges with shared visual field and data in new communication infrastructures for remote teaching and learning.

4.2. Science Learning Resource Directory

A broad range of sites will serve as nodes of distributed science education expertise for learners and teachers. A major rationale is to provide help during project activities from a broader community than the isolated classroom. Our challenge is to provide software tools that minimize the effort of teachers and students in establishing these connections, while enhancing PESL. From the user perspective, the Directory helps teachers and learners identify relevant non-local resources, negotiate connections, and manage the telecommunications issues underlying the "conversation." From the software perspective, the Directory will provide a live port, with specific categories of resources, which can be "dialed up" by selection, including live Cruiser video links to some participating project sites. During our work, we will refine the following taxonomy of types of resources in our Directory[1]. These types will include our collaborating partners in the CoVis Project, whose contributions are shortly described.

* PERSONS AND PLACES: Access to Internet (and other gateway-supported) connections to PESL- experienced teachers and researchers; virtual travel to guided-tour Exploratorium science-museum exhibits; the expert help of practicing scientists and graduate students as mentors for PESL (such as NCSA, Exploratorium); other students in connected sites.

* SOFTWARE Tools, such as NCSA science visualization software for viewing weather data in terms of color maps and other representations.

* MATERIALS: Media-rich databases for use with software tools, including image databases from NCSA, the Exploratorium, and TERC materials; science kit materials supplier product information (Science Kit, Inc.); and student project reports.

* PROJECTS: Both "live" ones in development by student teams, and archival PESL activity ideas, indexed according to curriculum areas involved, and in terms of "participation scenarios" as the project builds them up with teacher experiences.

Each of our project collaborators below represents a different type of distributed science expertise for the Directory (i.e., Exploratorium = science education museum; NCSA = HPCC scientific research center; UIUC/NCSA = university scientific research context; TERC LabNet teachers and researcher = PESL-experienced teachers; Science Kit, Inc. = science education materials supplier). Thus, computer-based simulations, and remotely-accessed physical demonstrations and on-line expert support to scientific inquiries will be complemented with in-classroom, physical, interaction with scientific apparatus.

The Exploratorium will participate as a remote node on the proposed network, providing access for remote learners to activities within the Exploratorium's three divisions: the Center for Public Exhibition, Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Center for Media and Communications. Project schools in Illinois will connect via high-speed communications lines to the Exploratorium Museum regularly. Broadband links will provide students with remote live access to exhibits on the museum floor, Exploratorium science education staff and local natural phenomena; students and teachers will also have access to new materials to be developed for the CoVis Project, including an image database of weather-related phenomena for real-time video viewing, and file transfer activities from various museum exhibit and educational databases developed by science teaching staff, including a topic-based interface allowing search among descriptions and affiliated materials for over 700 exhibits representing 400 natural phenomena.

UIUC/NCSA (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; National Center for Supercomputer Applications). Besides bringing a software base that enables scientific visualization, collaboration, and distributed computing, NCSA and UIUC-affiliated science faculty and graduate students will contribute to developing precollege materials and activities in computational atmospheric sciences using these tools. They have developed a computerized weather laboratory and introductory freshman course permitting interactive access to real-time weather data (image data from remote sensing; ground observations), and to output from numerical weather prediction models. Networked computer workstations such as MacIIs permit the use of public domain, general visualization tools NCSA has developed for interactive exploration of these data for exploratory and simulation activities that can be connected to experimental information, and used to exemplify "abstract" physical concepts. The UIUC/NCSA group will also make their domain experts available for periodic live and asynchronous interaction with our participating schools, so they may experience scientific professional activities involving uses of visualization and high-speed networking technologies.

TERC (Technical Education Research Center). In the NGS-KidsNet, Star School, Global Lab, and LabNet Projects, TERC has pioneered the development of computer tools, scientifically-sound materials, and participation models for PESL which use "low-band" telecommunications. TERC's LabNet Project, involving an electronic teacher community of over 400 PESL teachers in 37 states, has developed new understandings of teacher development assistance needed to establish and sustain PESL in the classroom. TERC is providing contributions from an experienced team of three PESL science educators and researchers, who will be accessible over the network.

Science Kit, Inc. is one of the world's leading suppliers of science education equipment and materials. The Directory will include on-line access to their 19,000 product database, indexed by science curriculum topics, and cross-referenced to major science textbooks. Hands-on equipment and materials that complement the classes' investigations can be selected for immediate delivery. Science Kit will also cooperate in efforts to disseminate project materials and results to the community of science educators.

4.3 An Example Scenario

It is 1996, and in a high school classroom in Alabama, Olivia Jones is worried about the loss of a cousin's home to a twister. When her physical science teacher asks her to think about possible projects, she considers learning more about tornados, and examining how her community might set up a local early warning system.

* Motivating the question: First of all, Olivia wants to see examples of what tornadoes do and what they look like. At her workstation, Olivia is encouraged by her teacher to open the Science Learning Resource Directory, and begins to explore available resources. She finds that the Exploratorium Science Museum has an experimental whirling air setup, providing a vivid demonstration of tornado wind effects. Science Kit, Inc. has videos illustrating a range of tornadoes. The National Center for Supercomputer Applications in Urbana has stunning graphic simulations of tornado conditions, historical archives of digital imaging data for U.S. weather conditions, and experts in atmospheric sciences who may be contacted as mentors. Moving beyond a "yellow pages" directory service, the Resource Directory makes connections with these resource providers, and establishes the subsequent call exchanges.

* Students working together: Engaging and illuminating follow-up activities are needed so that Olivia and her student team (including two students from another school she found to have similar interests) develop a deep understanding of the scientific content and social issues that arise with tornadoes. She and her fellow team members negotiate project scope and methods with their teachers, using asynchronous email and Cruiser-style informal audio-video conference chats as needed. They use the resources described earlier, and also find out from followup discussions with meteorology content specialists at NCSA how early warning systems have been developed. With the Collaboration Science Workbench, Olivia's team works together to create their own multimedia report incorporating video of twisters, digital imaging data of precipitating weather conditions, audioclips of an interview they have conducted with a meteorologist, and a written synthesis detailing specific early warning system properties, for each location identified in their research. The Workbench facilitates intra-class shared data and collaboration, and provides the telecommunications support for inter-school collaboration.


What are the demands placed on the networks by such collaborative visualization activities?

Our approach involves much more than "switched T1 service". The key is not a specific transport implementation but the increased bandwidth and real connectivity through the public switched network to communities of interest. In fact, T1 itself is not important. What is important is that the CoVis Project will provide much greater communications bandwidth to schools to create new learning media. It will, when necessary, be switched and make contact with the greater public-switched network. From the perspective of teachers and students, they will only see enhanced or radically new applications. From a communications research perspective, several new technologies can provide roughly 1.5 Mb/s of transmission. It could be T1 (dedicated private line), or switched (DS1), or as the classroom PESL applications dictate, some fraction of the 1.5 Mb of bandwidth. With switching technologies to be used, we can conduct experiments that can provide the schools with "fractional DS-1" services that do not currently exist commercially.

Our key objective in the research is to inform the world of technology in education of the worth of the types of technologies we will construct in the project for science learning and teaching. What breakthroughs might they provide educationally? What are the bandwidth requirements to provide satisfying collaborative learning environments for students and teachers? To address these questions, we expect to conduct comparative studies in the classrooms that focus on the utility of different bandwidth "services" which we can provide with the mini-"phone company" our switching technologies will give us control over.

With this testbed in place, we will be able to examine the utility for PESL of different designs for available communication services. We can vary communication-service details such as bandwidth-transmission rates, synchronous/ asynchronous needs, symmetry, and packet/circuit switching telecommunications infrastructures. We will examine computing and communications infrastructure needs for the PESL participation scenarios that teachers and learners find important, concerning the amount and type of collaboration allowed by the Workbench and Directory tools, and how flexible the call models are that allow that collaboration. For example, can PESL communications between classrooms be done with less than full T1 transmission rates (1.5mb/sec), such as swift DS-1 (allowing fractional DS-1 rates such as 384 kb/sec)? What roles should emerging technologies play that vary from T1, and which develop high-bandwidth services on copper (rather than fiber optics) infrastructure? We refer here to asymmetric technologies like ADSL, and symmetric technologies like HDSL[2].

We expect to be able to provide fractional DS-1 rates across computing sites, in 64Kb/sec increments, up from 64Kb/sec (telephone) to 1.536 Mb/sec (T-1). These can be asymmetrically defined, for example, high-band one way and lower-band on the return. We can develop interactive demonstrations for students, teachers, and PESL activity developers in our team of different bandwidths, that range from two-way video with shared data (high demand) to only shared data (low demand). These demonstrations will be used to ask for their intelligent guesses as to which PESL activities need which kinds of bandwidth support. After defining a set of options we will then examine several questions in the flow of PESL classroom work over the school year: First, do students and teachers notice the difference between the steps in this progress as they are engaged in collaborative inquiry? Secondly, we expect to develop experiments in tradeoffs of utility/cost by providing communication bandwidth as a limited resource, which teachers and students can choose to use in the ways they find most helpful for achieving the different activities of PESL. They will have the opportunity to refine through their experiences which bandwidth configurations work best for which purposes. For example, consider two bandwidths A and B. If bandwidth A is twice that of bandwidth B, they might only get half the use time of bandwidth A as compared with bandwidth B. This design has the advantages of: (1) having some market realism, since broader-bandwidth services are likely to be more costly; (2) leaving the design of their communication environments up to what they discover to be useful in their classroom experiences with specific PESL scenarios; (3) overcoming the problem that, in an unlimited resource situation, more bandwidth is very easy to prefer; and (4) providing powerful data on what the primary users of these technologies find most useful about which bandwidths of CoVis functionality. We will through this work be able to provide the first empirical results of user-selected variable-rate telecommunications services to support distributed science learning.


In the CoVis Project, we are creating an experimental testbed for new forms of science learning and teaching supported by broadband technologies, and hope to define a national model for the kinds of distributed multimedia science learning environments that will be supportable with the future NREN.

Experience with Internet has shown that ubiquity of access exposes the true value of a new communications medium. We are going far beyond known uses of Internet and such technologies as videophone for remote communications, in using the Bellcore enabling technologies. These tools will allow us to create software applications for student and teacher use that provide audiovideo and shared data connections, both within a local carrier exchange, and, with significantly more challenge, using long distance public switched networks. And in a significant way, we see Internet as too limiting because it is not a public utility. Our vision leads to use of the public switched network for highly interactive multimedia conversations among groups of collaborating students and teachers.

How will MUMMS applications focused on PESL become available to all students in the United States? Today only the public-switched telecommunication infrastructure of current and planned services can meet the basic technical needs of next-generation MUMMS applications because it provides national point-to-point and point-to-multi-point connectivity. The open question for the CoVis Project is not whether high-bandwidth (>1.5Mb/sec) and multi-functional digital services can be provided, but how such services will be structured to meet classroom needs. Since our design work is situated in classrooms, not laboratories, we will learn what teachers and learners find useful, in ways that could significantly influence the broadband services and technologies that will serve education in the future. We foresee a future of the provision of research-guided, and educationally-sensible uses of the public switched network for highly interactive multimedia communications for science learning/teaching, and collaborative inquiry. If appropriate broadband services can be defined for science education, the scaleup will come through first, the commercial availability of such services, and second, their use by public educational institutions.


This research is being supported by the National Science Foundation, Applications of Advanced Technologies. We would also like to thank our partners and colleagues, including Gene Dunne, Robert Fish, Shahaf Gal, Arnie Lund, Marie Macaisa, Douglas Macfarlane, Rick Omanson, Mohan Ramamurthy, Nora Sabelli, Rob Semper, Elliot Soloway, William Spitzer, and Robert Wilhelmson, for their contributions to conceptualizing the project.


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[1] While we are aware of Internet Resource Directories and many efforts underway (e.g., WAIS, the DARPA PSI White Pages X.500 Project, and Z.39.50) to make these databases readily searchable for educational and other uses, in this phase of our project we are not planning to integrate these predominantly text-based resources.

[2] DSL = Digital Subscriber Line. ADSL and HDSL exemplify a class of technologies for increasing bandwidth of services over existing copper wire (Waring et al., 1991). ADSL is high-band one-way (1.5 Mb/s), and low-band (19.2Kb/s) for return signals (e.g., control, audio). HDSL is high-band both ways but for shorter distances before requiring repeaters.

*Both authors are now located at the School of Education and Social Policy, 2115 North Campus Drive, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208