ShareNet is a not-for-profit collaborative partnership among school districts, university systems, business, and community agencies that uses technology as a vehicle for educational reform. It encompasses a 10-county area in Kansas and Missouri. The K-12 education partners encompass 54 school districts, 462 schools (serving 250,000 students), and 18,000 teachers. The districts and schools that participate in ShareNet vary greatly with respect to wealth, size, and demographics, and a more equitable sharing of resources was one of the motivations for starting the association. The largest of the 54 districts serves 35,000 students; the smallest serves 127 students. The ten-county metroplex is relatively high tech--one in every four homes has a computer. ShareNet is "located" in each classroom, teacher's office, administrator's office, partner's office, and home that is connected to the ShareNet Telecommunications System (STS), which provides participating members with access to electronic communications, a curriculum library, news and information, reference/research sources, and access to the Internet. The Pan-Educational Institute (PEI), which organized the founding of ShareNet, serves as its physical hub. Under the guise of a small storefront in the quiet business section of Independence, Missouri, PEI is actually a hotbed of technology-inspired educational reform.
PEI had been providing educational technical assistance, consultation, and training in the Kansas City metropolitan area for over 15 years. It was also well aware that the various reform efforts underway locally were underfunded, uninformed and uncoordinated. In 1987, PEI took the lead in convening a meeting of school superintendents, described as "risk takers", because, historically, the school districts in the area had not worked well together and most of the superintendents did not know one another. The original Board of Governors (14 superintendents and the PEI director) created bylaws that regulated the process of putting resources in ShareNet and accessing ShareNet's pool of resources. Many lawyers were involved because of co-ownership issues. It took 18 months for their "cooperative management team" to set up the processes for contributing and using resources. PEI was charged with managing the ShareNet budget and putting a cooperative technology model in place. PEI decided that accessing technology via a network was the best direction to go. PEI recommended Delphi as the common carrier because it would charge a flat rate and could handle the diversity of computer systems across the 54 districts and 462 schools.
In 1991, representative resource partners joined the ShareNet Association in strategic planning and helped to formulate a set of reform goals including relevant, technology-enhanced curricula in health, science, and mathematics. The group produced a five-year plan for developing the eight primary applications of the ShareNet Telecommunications System (STS): (1) Communications (e-mail for teachers), (2) Curriculum Library, (3) Information News, (4) Reference/Research, (5) Quincentenary (information related to the 500th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage to the New World), (6) ShareNet Services, (7) Support Materials, and (8) User Guide to ShareNet.
ShareNet's eight professional staff, including a retired superintendent and a teacher on leave, bring a diverse range of skills to the agency's services. PEI's executive director estimated that approximately 90% of PEI's efforts are currently focused on managing ShareNet. The other 10% of their efforts are dedicated to training teachers; program design; grant writing; program marketing; program coordination; and forming liaisons with universities, businesses, and the community.
ShareNet is used by students primarily as a way to explore databases and access information electronically. For example, the electronic research course developed at one ShareNet high school stresses independent use of technologies ranging from library automation systems, to CD-ROM applications, and services and resources offered through the Internet. After exposure to a variety of electronic research tools such as Dialog searches and Veronica searches with Gopher on the Internet, students practiced using the tools to collect, analyze, and synthesize information pertaining to thematic projects in the areas of student rights, habitats, pollution, and AIDS research. One group of students searched for Supreme Court decisions regarding student rights. After conducting their electronic search and reviewing the case materials, they wrote and presented position papers, and then discussed them in roundtable sessions. Another project involved designing a plan for colonizing a planetary object of the student's choice. Students used the Internet to search for information on their planet and download gifs (i.e., graphic interface formats), such as images of Jupiter's moon. Using all these data, they wrote reports about how they would colonize the planet. Students in a social studies class used ShareNet to access the CIA fact book--rather than relying on textbooks--to collect up-to-date information for class assignments. Students had access to Dialog for researching databases from over 100 newspapers, 200 journals, industry publications, Associated Press, and United Press International. Students felt that computer searches were much easier, more comprehensive, and yielded more timely information than library searches, but the students also complained about the amount of time it took to download files and that the school did not have enough modems to accommodate their need to access the system.
PEI has offered a variety of ShareNet classes, but some teachers have complained that the course schedule demands too much of their evenings or weekend time. To get around this, some of the schools have arranged release time at the school site. PEI also provides a help line so that teachers can call in any type of problem or question. Technology access (lack of phone lines and modems) remains the largest barrier to widespread use of ShareNet at most schools.
Given the scope of ShareNet's membership, objective comparative data are not available. Students participating in our focus groups indicated that they were more motivated to complete a research project if they can use the Internet instead of the library. Students also stressed the value of computer expertise for their futures. Teachers reported that using ShareNet changed their instructional strategies from teacher-directed to student-directed approaches.
10922 Winner Road
Independence, MO 64052-0347
Contact: Joan Williams
T: (816) 461-0201
F: (816) 461-0210