The Education Network of Ontario is the province’s second-largest provider of Internet services. And it’s free for teachers.
By Rosemarie Bahr
"Five years ago, says Ed Clark, "there were very few teachers comfortable using the Internet. Now there are very few teachers not comfortable using the Internet."
Clark teaches communications technology and computer engineering at John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in London. For the past 10 years, he’s also been involved in the Educational Network of Ontario/Réseau éducatif de l’Ontario — ENO to English-speaking subscribers — and its predecessor.
The statistics about the growth of this electronic network bear out Clark’s statement. Two and a half years ago, 55,000 people subscribed to ENO. Now it’s 100,000. Two years ago, ENO had one million minutes of connect time — that is, teachers and other education workers were connected to the network for one million minutes a month. Last year, it was 10 million and now, it’s nearly 20 million minutes a month.
ENO, a non-profit corporation, was set up in 1993 as a collaborative project between the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ontario Teachers’ Federation. It has become the second largest Internet service provider (ISP) in Ontario, second only to Sympatico. The network has 22 points of access (local phone numbers that people use to dial in) across the province as well as a toll-free telephone number for areas not covered by local numbers.
That means that any teacher anywhere in Ontario, can get free Internet access. The Educational Network of Ontario/Réseau éducatif de l’Ontario is a bilingual service for the JK to OAC education community.
Members get Internet access, an e-mail account, student and teacher education projects and online conferences. Teachers, school and board staff, and trustees are all entitled to subscribe to the network. There is no cost.
ENO also has contracts with other organizations. "It’s separate, but it’s all complementary and provides extra value," says the network’s executive director, Val Blokowski. One example is an agreement with the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology for the robotic challenge student project. Another is with Industry Canada to provide the tools for the discussion groups of SchoolNet.
Andre Lisowyk sees the Educational Network as an "enhancement and furthering of curriculum delivery in the classroom, not an alternative. Joining a student project adds an innovative and intriguing aspect to learning for the students." Lisowyk teaches Grade 7 and is vice-principal at Our Lady Immaculate Catholic School in Strathroy. He moderates for student projects like Marsville, the community project and the robotics challenge project.
The network hosts several student projects and is developing more. The Canadian National Marsville Program, also available in French, connects Intermediate students as they plan an environment for the pioneer astronauts and settlers of Mars. Students upload air, water and food supply system drawings to web pages. They get comments from mentors at Spar Aerospace and the Canadian Space Agency. And they communicate with one another to prepare for link-up day.
In the Community Project, middle-level students design and build a model community. Weather Reporters has students collect weather data and post it to an interactive web site.
The Robotics Challenge is aimed at students in Grades 4 to 12 and involves designing, building and testing robotic devices.
Music CyberFest is an online school music festival where students create web pages for their music.
In the Flat Stanley project, students send a paper Flat Stanley, accompanied by a journal with blank pages, on a visit to other classes. Flat Stanley’s host writes in the journal about Stanley’s activities and sends him back.
Special education teacher Susan Dykstra names the education resources available through ENO as one of her top reasons for joining. She describes the network as a "portal to other education sites."
She notes that using a regular search engine will turn up hundreds of thousands of hits, and teachers can waste a lot of time finding the good ones. "This is where SchoolNet and moderated conferences come in," she says. "Within the ENO conferences, someone will say ‘I’ve got this great site for geography lessons’ and they’ll post a hotlink so that you can click it and away you go. You have the testimony of someone you probably know online. It’s very handy for that."
The ENO site contains links to many useful teaching tools, as well as the ones posted by ENO participants.
The site is designed without elaborate bells and whistles so that subscribers who have older machines don’t have to wait for hours to download. Technical support is good for both Mac and PC computers.
The Ontario College of Teachers recently approved ENO to provide Professional Learning Program courses. Blokowski says ENO expects to focus on courses on curriculum, student assessment, special education, teacher strategies, classroom management and leadership, use of technology and communications with parents and students.
"It’s very important to the College that teachers everywhere in the province have access to Professional Learning Program courses," says Rick Chambers, who manages the College’s Professional Learning Unit. "The Educational Network provides that access to teachers right across the province in both languages, 24 hours a day."
Seconded this year to work with ENO, professional development co-ordinator Suzanne Riverin is part of a team that is creating online courses. "We’ve just piloted one in English called Learn the Web and we expect to pilot it in French soon," she says.
Although ENO has offices in Toronto, Riverin works from Huntsville. She’s been involved in the network for years, moderating a conference in French and English while teaching at the secondary level. "When you live at a distance," she says, "you feel like you’re in a little tiny community and don’t know what’s going on in the rest of the world. Once there became this ability to connect it was really exciting. You had these people you could chat with and a really attractive option for resources. You can take it for granted in a large centre — the ability to communicate."
Ed Clark praises ENO as a dynamic organization. "It’s been able to keep up with the technology, with the newer developments in conferencing."
He talks about his role as a conference moderator in getting a group up and running: "Sometimes you feel like you’re the only voice in the wilderness. However, there are many people who participate by reading, not necessarily by posting messages. When I first started, I was hesitant to post. I’d type a message and then when I went to press send it was like speaking in front of a group of people. Once you find your voice, then it becomes second nature. But it can be a hurdle for some people."
Susan Dykstra, who teaches at Wexford Public School in Toronto, moderates two conferences, one on politics and another on teachers’ concerns. "What’s wonderful is you’re encouraging debate and drawing from a wealth of knowledge that teachers have — Catholic, public, secondary, elementary, Native, French. It helps me get a view of education that is not Toronto-centric any more. It’s neat," she says, noting that for teachers in remote areas, this network may be the only Internet access available.
The concept of creating one electronic village in the education community in Ontario is coming closer to reality. The proof: Flat Stanley can go around the world, and students from different places can work together to design an environment for Mars.
You can check out ENO by going to its web site at www.enoreo.on.ca. Teachers and others in the Ontario education community can register online for free e-mail and other services.
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