Articles on Professional Development
Scientist using CU-SeeMe

Scientist on Tap: Video-Conferencing Over the Internet

© Yvonne Marie Andres, 1995

In education, everyone has heard the old adage about how important it is to teach the three "R's" - READING, WRITING and ARITHMETIC.

My story is about an Internet project called the Global Schoolhouse which teaches two additional and very important "Rs" - RESEARCH and RELATIONSHIPS that get kids excited about learning.

Most of the Internet tools that are presently available revolve around RESEARCH. Global Schoolhouse supports teaching students research skills and they use all the current tools, including ftp, gopher, and the world wide web. These are marvelous tools that can teach students how to access information all over the world and bring multi-media into the classroom with the availability of images, video, and audio. But, we'd like to focus on a desktop video-conferencing tool called CU-SeeMe that we think fosters RELATIONSHIPS.

However, my story unfolds something like this....

One day a scientist named Larry magically appeared in our classroom. Where did he come and what was he doing there? It seems that Larry was a rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Labs.

Larry, the rocket scientist, while exploring the Internet, was lost and needed some help. Our 12 and 13 year old students were eager to come to the aide of our surprise cyber-guest. Larry had been testing a brand new piece of software called CU-SeeMe and had somehow found his way into the Global Schoolhouse.

Our lost guest promised to teach the kids everything he knew about science, rockets, and space exploration if only they would come to his rescue and answer a few of his questions.

Since our kids were expert users of CU-SeeMe and this was Larry's very first time, they easily answered all his questions about configuration, reflectors, and frame rates. This interaction formed a strong bond and a continuing RELATIONSHIP.

Since that magical day, Larry has willingly become a permanent resource to the students of the Global Schoolhouse. He has shared stories, lectures, and up-to-the minute satellite images upon demand. This spontaneous episode led to the development of a new concept we call "Scientist on Tap."

The word spread, as good news tends to do, and before long we met another JPL scientist, named Steven. Steven was so moved by the idea of sharing his work with school kids that he made "Scientist on Tap" an official program, and thus created a permanent partnership between JPL and the Global Schoolhouse.

Before we knew it scientists were "popping up" in our classroom all the time. There was Brian from the High Performance Computing Center who taught our 6th graders how to use the Cray Super Computer and Josh from Carnegie Mellon who taught our kids how to research environmental issues.

  • These are the kinds of RESEARCH and RELATIONSHIP experiences that encourage our students to work collaboratively and give them meaningful opportunities in a real-world context.
  • These are the kinds of RESEARCH and RELATIONSHIP experiences that help transform teachers into coaches, facilitators, and side-by-side learners.
  • These are the kinds of RESEARCH and RELATIONSHIP experiences that keep our kids glued to their keyboards and help our kids to love learning!

Cu-SeeMe software , was developed at Cornell University, and supports multi-party real-time videoconferencing on inexpensive desktop computers via the Internet. The communication and collaboration capabilities opened by this technology are key powerful motivators, particularly in K-12 education.

Global SchoolNet Foundation maintains a directory of K12 schools with the capability for using CU-SeeMe.

CU-SeeMe has opened our students cognitive window by creating a new "virtual schoolhouse" only made possible by worldwide electronic networking. As budgets shrink and resources within the school building diminish, the Internet can connect students to the expanding resources of a "Global Schoolhouse" limited only by bandwidth and populated with fellow students, teachers, scientists, astronauts, and other experts around the world.

I have dedicated the past twelve years of my life to the "electronic frontier," because As a teacher, I have never seen such enthusiastic and motivated students. This experience has provided my students with tools to effectively investigate their world and make them responsible citizens of the twenty-first Century. The impact has been so great that parents in my district have insisted the project be expanded to the high school. Local businesses, libraries and universities visit our middle school to find out how they can establish a RELATIONSHIP with the Global Schoolhouse.

In addition, I have discovered there is a "team" of expert volunteers at my fingertips. These professional RELATIONSHIPS have resulted in my meeting important people like Dr. Jane Goodall, Senator Diana Feinstein, and Dr. C. Everette Koop. My cyber-RELATIONSHIPS have resulted in actual travel to three continents.

How do students feel about live interactive video?

  • From Lyndon (an 8th grade male student)

    "Larry had been holding up-to-the-minute satellite photos of space, which he receives at JPL. After the demonstration, I just thought he was a fun and fascinating person. With his great sense of humor, Larry shares his knowledge with the students and helps us out in any way possible.

    From Erin (an 8th female student)

    "Good friends come along once in a lifetime. I met mine on a window on the computer screen in the Global Schoolhouse where I met Steve who was a professor at Cornell University. I struck up a conversation with him and this spawned a long distance relationship. Steve and I send e-mail to each other often, and we discuss everything from musical instruments to school.

    After five minutes of conversing with a NASA scientist named Simon, Victorio (a student that had been very unsuccessful in school) jumped up and shouted, "This is my dream come true. I wish my science teacher could explain things the way Simon does!"

For more information on the Global Schoolhouse project, contact Yvonne Marie Andres,, (760) 721-2972