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A Virtual IMC Unifying Professional Development and School Reform

This paper provides an in-depth description of, as presented in a paper on June, 1997.


A central tenet of professional development and school reform is the creation of an enabling participant-driven environment for students and teachers alike. Web technology shares and promotes this same imperative. The key dynamics of the World-wide Web and school reform are exactly the same.

Our Virtual Library Instructional Media Center provides a comprehensive environment -- chockfull of the requisite resources -- for unifying professional development and school reform [1]. The site is designed as an immersive environment, supporting collaborative reform activities at key systemic levels: in the classroom with interactive telecommunications activities; within and among schools via multiple conferencing capabilities; and in concert with professional networks and stakeholders such as parents, business and community groups. Teachers not only can collaborate across sites, but can share and receive recognition for their contributions by co-publishing them through the Media Center.

Here, we offer an overview of the site and examples of its use in five key streams of professional development and school reform.


Here is a view of the original Lobby in the Instructional Media Center,

very old version of the Virtual Public Library web site lobby
a view of the original VPL-IMC lobby home page from around 1999, including the large Virtual Public Library banner behind Alice's desk.

and of the current lobby [as it looked in 2005].

old version of the Virtual Public Library web site lobby
the revised lobby home page, with Alice at a blue desk in front of a large bulletin board with icons and text links.

The rooms, sections and shelves of the resource center are arranged hierarchically and stocked with carefully selected electronic learning resources and activities. Over 1000 listings of remote sites propel visitors into the center of networked science on the Web. This seed collection focuses broadly on environmental studies. Each entry is accompanied by descriptions and annotations. The sampling was assembled from many regions in the US, diverse agencies, varied dimensions of telecommunications and integrated subject topics for a wide range in student age, interests and capability. Valuable offline references are cited, too.

The Media Center is an open ended, participatory. and collaborative environment, encouraging teachers at remote sites to cooperatively develop and publish joint network science projects. Visitors start at the librarian's desk where they will find a rich selection of Web tools, technology, and policy guidelines that empower them to develop and customize their own sites. There is also a Plan Book that provides samples of curriculum and assessment frameworks for telecommunications activities in schools. The Cool Projects Room showcases classroom project investigations at national centers, museums, and at field sites and on treks around the world. The Multimedia Room features simulation and authoring software for creating educational products for schools and the workplace. The Student Stuff Room contains basic reference material, collaborative notebooks, and sites where students can participate in contests or exhibit and publish their work. The Professional Development Room includes tips for school reform, as well as tools and resources for professional publishing and networking -- listservs, moos, bboards, Internet training courses, and conferences (both on- and offline). In the Community Center are case studies of school-community telecommunications networks and programs linking schools with homes, businesses and local agencies. A Conference Room facilitates cooperative work among remote colleagues. through various real-time and asynchronous communications tools including a shared whiteboard, video conferencing and multimedia mail. Finally, the Printer's Press provides templates for publishing completed projects through the resource center, expanding the seed collection.

A key decision in the design of this site was the selection of a natural computer-human interface. Computer-human interface researchers have explored many metaphors for virtual, community-building environments. CD's aside, the current crop of educational environments ranges from Web pages with generic button icons (news, links, chat, search, directories, parent sites,) and A-Z laundry lists (lessons, libraries, or listservs) to roadmaps (Hillside, NCREL) to villages (Computertown) to venues within a cityspace(cafes, left and right banks in Paris (Serim)) to universities (Women in Technology International), and libraries with reference rooms (DOEd) and multiple-subject collections (Soloway's includes a MOO,too) to a student's world (Frazier, Kurshan, and Armstrong), to name a few [2].

We selected the Instructional Media Center as a computer-human interface metaphor, because such an environment is often the first stop for teachers undertaking innovative projects. We support familiar resources and work practices, and extend them with new telecommunications powers [3].


Five streams of professional development have been identified in the service of reform by Little [4]. For each stream, we cite a few examples of how the library can help educators pursue reform.

1. Reforms in Subject Matter Teaching: Curriculum and Pedagogy

Most technology curriculum specialists are well-versed in online, constructivist projects and exhibits and have participated in or viewed email exchanges of data and information (See Cool Projects Room). Recently, some new projects have emerged that subtly yet powerfully alter pedagogy through telecollaboration. For example, by amassing data from online observers around the world, an individual classroom can conduct scientific investigations based on detailed population statistics rather than small data samples or oversimplified estimates (GLOBE, Mendelian studies.) Younger students can explore previously inaccessible nanoworlds by consulting online with university researchers, and accessing costly equipment such as electron microscopes and MRI scanners.

Our site emphasizes projects like the above in which telecollaboration is an essential ingredient. Other examples:, one school in the Colorado mountains sought another school at sea level to partner in biology studies. Schools in Texas and around the Great Lakes cooperated to meticulously plot the microecologies of their regions, which appear as undifferentiated blobs in a traditional CD atlas. The San Francisco Exploratorium moderated the building of a virtual city from design modules, submitted from around the world. None of these projects could have been tackled at all without collaboration. Their content is authentic and rich (see Means [5])and the outcomes unknown [6].

2. Equity

Suffused throughout every library room are resources to facilitate the special needs of diverse student groups (eg.physically disabled, limited English-speaking, young women seeking careers in science). With a few exceptions, such as the DOEd online library, most of these needs are absent in general, online collections and require searches in special databases.

Practioners and policy-makers usually focus on the importance of affordable costs and universal access to establish equity in telecommunications. The implications of equity for education are profound: for the first time, de facto segregation in education can be virtually eliminated. Any teacher and student can visit museums, conduct research at university libraries, view up to the minute news feeds, participate in space, undersea and other farflung expeditions. Moreover, learning communities can easily regulate and adapt their own environments (see Thornberg [7]). Systems analysts regard such self regulation as critical to any reform effort.

3. Nature, Extent and Uses of Standards and Assessment

The commitment of many teachers to integrating traditional and alternative assessment often exceeds the power of the tools available to them--not a good portent for reform. The Plan Book and Student Stuff spaces contain subject matter benchmarks and software for preparating project portfolios. Three resources merit special attention for telecommunications-oriented learning projects: (1) self-assessing student notebooks for online project-based learning; (2) references to materials for assessing student groupwork, a necessity for collaborative projects; and (3) tools for transferring offline student projects to online files so that they can be remotely shared.

4. Professionalization of Teaching

Until now, most professional development opportunities have been outside the teacher's workplace, away from the desktop, classroom and school. Time and funding constraints have limited participation and dampened the sense of immediacy. This is compounded for development approaches that involve collaboration with colleagues. Some of these barriers can be surmounted in virtual environments.

The Professional Development Room assembles direct links to professional networks, associations and affinity groups for teachers and librarians/media specialists. This room also contains digests of successful results-driven strategies for school reform. The Web Tools space includes comprehensive resources and tools for Internet/Web training and site management, and together with the Conferencing Center, tools for doing collaborative research using the Web. Our philosophy is that technology and school reform must be intertwined from the getgo. Integrating both resources on one site should help new teaching professionals enter the world of telecommunications and thus accelerate the pace of change in schooling to better match the breathtaking speed of the evolution of new technologies.

Like other professionals, teachers need opportunities to publish their work. A quick glance through past NECC proceedings will confirm that in recent years teachers have become increasingly aware of opportunities for publishing their own work directly on the Web (eg. Serim, Hillside, Armadillo and commercial hosting services). Mostly, these opportunities involve posting URL's and soliciting viewer feedback. Our site's capabilities advance this dimension of professionalization by including techniques for remote, collaborative authoring and publishing, tips for getting one's work picked up by search engines and listservs, as well as "follow-me" tools for sharing projects with colleagues [8].

5. Organization of Schooling

The Community Center Room includes resources for involving the larger community in teacher-led school reform. These include case studies of successful shared networks linking schools with homes, businesses (school to work programs), universities and other community activities. The potential impact of these school-community partnerships is unbounded. Wouldn't it be exciting if a whole community could "follow" students during their virtual trek to the Amazon? The BBN Testbed2 project is compiling a typology and catalog of such school-community partnerships [9].

At long last, the business community is providing the fuel for educational reform while acknowledging that educational professionals belong in the driver's seat. In a letter of support to LEA's for a 1995 DOE Challenge grant, for example, Ed McCracken, Chairman and CEO of Silicon Graphics and Chairman of the NIIA Advisory Council, wrote, "Silicon Valley companies are contributing $20 million (for equipment and connectivity) but we are not taking the leadership of or responsibility for these programs away from educators or the community...No one is better qualified to develop this educational content than the teachers...themselves". [10]


Our virtual library and instructional media center empowers teachers to play a leadership role at ALL systemic levels of school reform. Traditionally, professional development has been geared toward "outmuscling" the system--more money, more training, more technology. More is important, surely, but the real source of strength in effecting change lies in identifying and applying pressure at critical points of control within the professionalization streams. Then, our professional community can be transformed into the lighthouse of this fable, transmitted from the electronic frontier in Puget Sound:

Station #1: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.

Station #2: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

Station #1: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

Station #2: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.


Station #2: This is the Puget Sound lighthouse. It's your call.


[1] - This library was developed as a prototype of the Instructional Media Center of the 21st Century under the auspices of the National Science Foundation through a contract to TERC, Cambridge MA (617-547-0430) and a subcontract to Enterprise Integration Technologies, Menlo Park CA (415-851-8608).

[2] URL's:;;; (Serim) or; (Women);; (Soloway) Deneen Frazier with Dr. Barbara Kurshan and Dr. Sara Armstrong, INTERNET FOR KIDS, Sybex, 1995.

[3] Technical Note: This configuration was also chosen to satisfy technical constraints, such as the use of multiple windows and display of multimedia. For instance, K-12 educators have not fully exploited the Web's capability for displaying multiple windows at once. A project might display an information source (e.g., museum exhibit, CD atlas or software demo, TV transmission or MRI image) in one window, while at the same time providing collaborative media such as a MOO, chat with a mentor, a shared white board or a student notebook in other windows. Another advantage of this site is its potential for scaleability, such as easy integration with distributed "branch" libraries.Other pertinent technical issues were presented during the Teaching and Learning workshop at the World Wide Web conference in Paris in May 1996.

[4] Judith Warren Little, "Teacher's Professional Development in a Climate of Educational Reform," EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION AND POLICY ANALYSIS, Vol.15,#2, 1993, 129-153.

[5] Barbara Means and Kerry Olson, TECHNOLOGY'S ROLE IN EDUCATION REFORM, SRI International, 1995.

[6] Yet, these projects, even as a set, are one-up exemplars; a taxonomy for collaboration would link a spectrum of activities with expected learning outcomes.

[7] David Thornberg in Sara Armstrong, TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN THE CLASSROOM, Computer Learning Foundation and ISTE, 1995, p.69ff. Bonnie Bracey, teacher representative on the NIIAC, also underscores the connection between these capacities and equity.

[8] The chaotic state of naming and structural organization of site resources gobbles precious learning time. This issue merits attention by relevant professional associations.

[9] // From their collection of case studies one tidbit for promoting reform stands out; encourage school folk to use technology to meet a specific community need, such as conducting a survey. We would add: select a need which can BEST met via telecommunications.

[10] Silicon Valley Challenge 2000: Improving Learning and Strengthening Communities with New Technologies, Submitted to the Department of Education, 1995. This author is a consultant on technology and student assessment for this project.

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Slide Show

A version of the power point slides that were used in the original talk are available.

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