Project CIRCLE: A New Paradigm for Training Teachers in the Integration of Technology into Secondary Education Programs was a Learning Technology Center project in 1993-1997, with $558,039 in funding from the U.S. Department of Education, The Secretary's Fund for Innovation in Education; Computer-Based Instruction.
The following is a 1994 article describing some of Project CIRCLE's activities.
On three Saturdays this fall, college students doing their assignments in the College of Education Computer Lab may have found themselves elbow to elbow with high school students. High school students in college? Yes, they were there, not to get college degrees, but to receive technology training to help their fellow students and teachers better use computer technology in their schools. They are the "student mentor" component of Project CIRCLE, a three year project that brings together students and teachers from Travis and Westlake High Schools and professors and graduate researchers from UT to explore how computer technology may be employed to help create and extend "learning communities" in public schools. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
CIRCLE stands for Collaborative Information Resources/Computer-supported Learning Environments and collaboration is a strong focus of Project CIRCLE. Traditionally, teachers in the high school environment are isolated within their classrooms, delivering their subject matter. The designers of the CIRCLE Project have identified computer technologies that may help break that isolated teacher-centered classroom paradigm. Such technologies include telecommunications applications, such a Tenet, the Internet-based Texas educator's network, and TeachNet, a local electronic bulletin board system run through Curriculum and Instruction's Instructional Technology program at UT. Another type of technology that CIRCLE explores is collaborative software such as Daedalus, which runs on classroom or computer lab local area networks, and permits students to engage in collaborative intellectual work.
A common element to the CIRCLE technologies is that they supplement classroom instruction with a new form of communication, computer mediated communication, or CMC, which is able to conquer some of the constraints of teacher-mediated communication that dominates the traditional classroom. For instance, InterChange, a part of the Daedalus program, provides an example of how CMC can change traditional classroom discussion. In a traditional classroom discussion, only one student may speak at a time and expect to be heard. Typically, a handful of students will tend to dominate the discussion, and usually, all the communication is mediated through the teacher who leads the discussion. InterChange is an electronic form of discussion that takes place on a split computer screen in a networked computer lab. Students compose their comments in the lower window on the computer screen and send it to the accumulating group discussion at the top of the discussion. Because everyone can type at the same time in the computer lab, everyone gets to "talk" simultaneously. Also, everyone can be "heard" because their comments get added to the accumulating InterChange. Many students who shy away from traditional oral discussion will bloom in the electronic form. The teacher's role is also much more on the same level as the students'. The InterChange may also take place over several days and across several classes. Another difference is that, unlike a classroom discussion, there is a computer transcript of the discussion which preserves the intellectual work done by the class. This work may then be built upon and used in classroom learning projects.
Telecommunications allows communication to extend beyond the walls of the classroom, bringing students in different classes and in different schools together with experts in the wider electronic community to help them build knowledge collaboratively. One component of CIRCLE is participation in the Electronic Emissary, a world-wide telecommunications project based at the University of Texas. The Emissary uses the Internet to connect teachers and their students with experts in a large variety of disciplines who have volunteered their knowledge and time to help students learn. The database of volunteer subject matter experts currently fluctuates between 200 and 300 and is international in scope. A local version of the Electronic Emissary idea will be implemented through TeachNet, which will bring local professionals, faculty, and graduate students into electronic dialogue with CIRCLE students.
In order to make the CIRCLE vision a reality, however, teachers and their students must acquire new skills in using computer technologies. Networked computer environments, modems, and telecommunications programs are not the staple of the traditional classroom, nor have are they been addressed in the teacher education programs of the past. Participating in education projects like CIRCLE and learning new computer skills are also yet another add-on to the ever-expanding duties and responsibilities of the public school teacher. Recognizing this problem, the designers of the CIRCLE Project decided to tap a vital resource in the schools: students. Now in its second year, the CIRCLE project provides training for the 48 official "student mentors" as well as the 23 teachers in the project. The student mentors adopt teachers, whom they support in their schools, assisting the teachers in learning and setting up the computer programs and maintaining the computer networks in the schools. The student mentors have taken their roles seriously, and have not hesitated to offer their own ideas and vision of a school environment with technical savvy. CIRCLE teachers have been enthusiastic about the student mentors, who take much of the load off of managing the technical component of the computerized classroom, allowing the teachers to focus on matters of curriculum and instruction.
The student mentor concept is definitely taking hold. Both Travis and Westlake high schools have created special classes for student mentors. The focus of the classes includes all of the computer programs and technologies available to the schools, not just the computer programs provided by CIRCLE. By embracing and formalizing the student mentor role, the schools are marshalling a powerful resource for effective educational technology implementation. Now entering its final semester, this is a hopeful sign for Project CIRCLE, which has the goal of creating a computer-supported learning community capable of enduring beyond the period of federal support.