Long ago in 1993, before the birth of the www.com, I filled out an application and was selected as one of twenty telementors in the California Telemation Project. This statewide initiative aimed to bring telecommunications training to California educators by focusing on the integration of online resources into site-level planning, curriculum, learning strategies, and student-centered activities.
Through the innovation of telementoring, teachers throughout the state received training in a TeleLearning Mobile Unit -- a semi-truck equipped with the latest technologies, including an Internet connection via a microwave satellite hook-up. This project was an early pioneer in creating technology leaders!
The most daunting aspect of the selection process was that all of the applicants had to e-mail the application! Later, when those of us chosen as state telementors compared notes via e-mail, we found that each of us had experienced similar difficulties in using technology during the application process. At the time, e-mail was an activity for the intrepid. Thus, our first bonding experience as a community was in the sharing of our adversities and how we overcame them.
Planting Seeds of a Powerful Relationship
During these initial communications, the seeds of powerful relationships, many of which continue today, were planted via the most basic, and I believe, the most change-making telecommunications technology -- e-mail. Sharing ideas about teaching and peer-to-peer mentoring happened before we ever came together face-to-face for our first session of inservice training as state telementors.
Our primary task as a group was to develop a common syllabus of workshop materials to take back to the teachers in our regions. While maintaining communication with our fellow telementors via the Internet, we were to implement a one-week institute in our home region. This institute would focus on designing meaningful Internet-enhanced curricula.
For example, my project explored how changes in the Earth's surface influence climate. Working collaboratively, my multi-age, special needs students created hypotheses about changes in the Earth's weather, developed science journals, used maps and weather charts, and developed a "weather-over-time" pantomime, while accessing Internet, video, CD-ROM, and super-computer technologies at various stages of the project. The state telementors developed a wide range of activities across all grade levels and curriculum areas.
When the telementors came together for the first face-to-face meeting, the planning process became a powerful collaboration as a result of the combined skills and experiences from the diverse group of educators. Impromptu collaborative sessions hatched overnight via e-mail were proposed to the whole group the next morning over breakfast. Often, the pre-planned daily agenda was torn up and revised on the spot. Project leaders and telementors were learning together each step of the way.
A Web of Communication
Our three days together were soon over, and we returned to our schools throughout California to begin our local workshops and implement our classroom projects. However, the dialogue we had started continued and grew. Whenever I wanted to ask a question about a sticking point in my classroom project, I sent a message to the group mail list, and quickly received many solutions and pointers to resources from other members of the list. This web of communication and collaboration began to have a life of its own.
The Telemation Project fostered a powerful learning community which grew in unexpected and synergistic ways. Yes, we accomplished the official tasks we were mandated to complete. But, more important, we arrived at that goal via new paths. And the paths that carried me to new people and resources continue to inspire me today.
Since my work with the Telemation Project, I continue to teach second- and fourth-grade students with disabilities. My students and I participate in the National Education Supercomputer Program and I continue to lead online courses for educators, as well as offer professional development courses through the California Technology Assistance Project (CTAP) and a local university education extension. Some of the original telementors partner with me online for some of my in-class projects!
Rob King is a teacher at Empire Elementary School in Empire, California.