UB Program Links WNY High Schools with Peers in Costa Rica

By Jennifer Lewandowski

Release Date: December 8, 2000 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A "virtual open house" celebrating the successful first semester of a ground-breaking, cultural-exchange program via interactive video between secondary students in Western New York and Costa Rica was held today at Buffalo's City Honors High and Clarence High School, as well as at four separate high schools in Costa Rica.

The project, dubbed Project Loop, was spearheaded by the Center for Applied Technologies in Education (CATE) at the University at Buffalo. It is the first of its kind both for UB and Central America, and the only program as such currently taking place in the United States.

The open house also may be viewed in the distance-learning classroom in 200G Baldy Hall on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

CATE Director Donald J. Jacobs, who will be in Costa Rica for the open house, said the project -- in line with CATE's mission of educational outreach -- is about creating "a new learning community" through the use of technology.

"There's a tremendous interest on the part of high schools to become a part of this," Jacobs said, "and there's a tremendous interest on the part of universities to look for new audiences."

HE added: "We are now in a place where we've got enough technology...to have developed pilot coursework," he said, adding that most significant about the project's September launch is "having pulled the technology together -- successfully connecting our organizations."

Added Buffalo Schools Superintendent Marion Canedo: "We are so enthusiastic about this program because it maximizes the potential for using technology effectively in teaching and learning. It also creates meaningful relationships between our students and others they would never have a chance to meet otherwise."

Three separate courses were part of the pilot project, and all told, 160 students -- including high-school-age students as well as teachers -- were enrolled. The first -- an advanced Spanish course, entirely conversational and focusing on Latin American culture -- was taught each Monday evening from Costa Rica's Lincoln School, a private high school in San José, by Leonardo Sancho to students at City Honors and Clarence high schools.

Two other courses also were part of this experimental semester of learning: "English as a Second Language," taught each Tuesday evening by Grover Cleveland High School teacher Suki Kim, and "Current Educational Trends," a professional-development course for high-school teachers in Costa Rica that was team-taught every other Monday night by Steve Ludwig, director of technology for Clarence Central Schools and adjunct instructor in the UB Graduate School of Education, and Linda Hammerton-Morris, a Spanish teacher at Clarence High School.

"Certainly, the broader purpose here is to begin to connect the kids and the communities and teachers -- for the purposes of creating some international (and) cultural exchange," Jacobs said.

"This puts UB out in the front of developing technologies," he said of the program. "UB has a very strong and prominent national role in the use of educational technologies," he noted, and has assumed "a leadership role in developing these technologies to provide technical assistance training education in the developing world."

Courses -- a combination of synchronous and asynchronous technologies -- are comprised of about one-third real-time videoconferencing and approximately two-thirds Web-based, or on-line, work, according to Christine Chelus, manager of technology application development for CATE.

The enterprise, a "cross-pollinization of thoughts" between the United States and Costa Rica -- some 3,000 miles apart -- is "wholly unique in Central America and to UB as well," Jacobs said.

"(We are) the only group in the country doing this kind of project."

Now more comfortable with the technology and in curricular exchange, Jacobs said the center is hoping to offer courses for credit in the spring. Students who were part of the inaugural semester participated on a strictly volunteer basis.

"We felt it was pretty high stakes to put students and teachers in an...alien technology environment. (But) we're ready to now roll this out, with some credit-bearing coursework," said Jacobs, noting that the center works closely with the Distance Learning Office in UB's Millard Fillmore College. He added that that Verizon Communications, on board from the beginning to assist in engineering, has remained integral to the telecommunications portion of the project.

Next semester, CATE plans to offer a course on conflict resolution, taught both in English and Spanish to Costa Rican students, as well as a course taught by Costa Ricans who have worked in the region's rainforests, called "Rainforest Experience," Chelus said. That course, she said, will be offered primarily to students interested in the environment, biology or science in general.

The idea of sharing a "common educational experience" through technology, Jacobs said, began with a conversation in 1997 between CATE and Costa Rica's then-minister of education.

"We were invited to talk with administration of the Lincoln School," he said, keeping in mind the thrust of the project would be using "advanced telecommunication technologies to deliver primarily education and social-services training."

"The notion," he said, "was to connect high schools and colleges and universities in Western New York with the Lincoln School."

Costa Rica, Jacobs said, was a natural choice for collaboration, with its "progressive approach to developing education" and its "tradition of putting money into education and social services."

"Certainly, from the standpoint of students and teachers in Buffalo, there was terrific interest in Costa Rica -- it has a lot of panache, having a great tradition of "green" tourism and environmentally friendly policy," he said.

A similar project is in the works between UB and educators in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, and discussions about a similar partnership are under way with those in Guatemala, Jacobs said.

Jacobs, who in 1995 founded CATE -- formerly known as the Center for Applied Research in Interactive Technologies -- has worked in Central America, Africa and Eastern Europe for nine years toward the end of reaching and enriching the developing world through technology. The goal, he said, is to "make stronger connections between our country and other countries in the spirit of creating a more global student base."

Jacobs said he "most definitely" sees this kind of partnering not only as feasible, but trend-setting for the future of education.

"Particularly with some new technologies, but through other (academic) departments, working on some innovative technologies, (and) using the Internet as a backbone, (the mode will become) very cost-effective," he said.

For example, Jacobs said, "other parts of the world are very interested in our university's medical community and...in using these technologies to develop (their own) medical-consulting technologies."

The project -- scheduled to run through the end of April -- is funded primarily through a $140,000 Costa Rican USA (CRUSA) Foundation grant co-written by CATE and Costa Rican educators. Supplemental funds were provided through CATE, a unit of the UB Office of Public Service and Urban Affairs. Additional funding is pending to continue Project Loop, Jacobs said.