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March 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 6

Trends: Science / Science Online

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," said Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He very well might have been referring to the magic of Access Excellence and labnet, two Internet communication web sites for science teachers. These online science communities provide wonderful sources of information and support for science teachers across America.
The first project, Access Excellence, was created in 1994 by the San Francisco based Genentech Corporation. Genentech made its mark about two decades ago as the first company to genetically engineer insulin. Today, the biotechnology pharmaceutical company is one of the country's biggest science consultants. Its current claim to fame is its ability to educate and consult with science teachers via the Internet. Although the project is still in its infancy, Access Excellence has already linked thousands of science teachers with scientists at Genentech. These links provide an especially wonderful support mechanism for those who are developing ways to communicate knowledge to students, policymakers, and the public.
If teachers want their students to monitor the fall foliage change throughout the Midwest or to know what actually causes the death of a cell, they can connect with Access Excellence for a project idea. All teachers need to do is access America Online, then type in the keyword excellence (or it can be accessed on the World Wide Web at http://www.gene.com/ae). Once online, teachers can scan lesson plans on such topics as AIDS and ethnobiology, talk to scientists about issues that crop up in classrooms, or arrange regional projects. Teachers can also scan current research periodicals such as Scientific American. When they are finished, they can have a quick chat with colleagues from across the United States in an area called "teacher's lounge." Because Genentech funds the entire project, the only cost to teachers is paying to connect with America Online.
The second magical cyberspace project worth accessing is labnet, an electronic meeting place where teachers can query students, talk with distinguished scientists, and glean numerous teaching techniques and lab protocols. The labnet forum allows teachers to talk to scientists specializing in every discipline from physics to phytochemistry. The symbiotic link between online hosts and 1,500 members makes labnet the best in-service education available to science educators. It is definitive in cooperative learning.
Labnet, however, isn't quite so inexpensive as Access Excellence. Because of cutbacks at the National Science Foundation, labnet founders are now charging $50 per teacher to access the web page. Until June 1996, interested teachers can access labnet through America Online by typing in the keyword, labnet. Come July 1, teachers can access labnet directly on the Internet through the address: labnet@terc.edu.
Access Excellence and labnet are doing what inservice education can only hope for. Technology has done much to propel the entire professional science community toward excellence by disseminating its best resources. Of course, new challenges await science teachers: Instead of struggling to remain informed on slim school budgets, we're now forced to fit all of this wonderful new information into the few months remaining in the school year.
End Notes

1 If more than five teachers per school want to join, the charge goes down to $45 per teacher. Should more than 10 teachers join, the cost is $40 per teacher. To order, call (617) 547-0430.

Jeffrey Weld has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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