Access Excellence is a science education program for high school science teachers sponsored by Genentech. It was designed to help the teachers break through the isolation they experience- isolation from other teachers, isolation from the scientific community. The program also seeks to enhance access to scientific resources around the country. Genentech has a long history of doing volunteer outreach activities in the Bay area involving science education. In 1993, we decided to make it a more formal, national program. We started working with several of the local Bay area teachers to design the program. As part of this process we conducted a national Roper poll to document the isolation theory. We realized we needed a group of teachers to act as 'disciples' of the program in order to add content to the program and to draw new users to it. Therefore, every year for the first three years of the program we are working with the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) to select a group of one hundred high school biology teachers from around the country to become AE Fellows. They are selected through a competition process. The Fellows come to San Francisco for a week each summer for the AE Summit, during which time they are provided with a free laptop computer of their own to keep, and training on how to use it, as well as access and training on the online forum. This forms the basis for how they communicate and collaborate around the country after the Summit . The Summit also gives them a chance to get to know one another, as well as the AE staff and Genentech scientists and employees.
Who are the Retro Fellows?
Last year we brought back eight of the Fellows from the first year of the program to experience a month long process of further training. They participated in intensive Internet training and they helped out during the Summit with the computer training and breakout focus groups. The program was so successful we brought back twelve Fellows from the '94 and '95 classes again this year. These Retro Fellows are responsible for facilitating the focus groups of new Fellows and assist with the computer training. In addition, two of the Retro Fellows are Summit online reporters and will be uploading daily updates and interviews from the Summit onto the Web forum so other teachers can tune into the Summit via cyberspace.
Last month you moved from hosting two AE forums on AOL and the Web to having one sole forum on the Web. What changes are being made to the new sole Web forum?
We are very excited about the updated AE Web forum. Based on teacher feedback and recommendations, we made a number of changes and additions to the forum. The biggest change is that we have a whole new GUI, and a new conferencing system. We also added "Classrooms of the 21st Century", a new area of discussions and seminars about new curriculum, learning research and reforms in science education. There are several new content collaborator partners including, Ward's Natural Science Establishment, National Cancer Institute of the NIH, and the University of Texas Health Science Center. The Activities-to-Go area has been revamped to categorize and classify the lesson activities according to the new science standards. Finally, there's an online map so people can identify Fellows by state and region.
What kind of feedback are you getting from the scientific community?
We are getting very good feedback. The scientists we work with tell us they enjoy the on-line seminar experience as a convenient way to communicate with a large number of teachers on specific subjects. This has also stimulated interest from scientists around the country who have voiced interest in participating in these on-line seminars. We have also been favorably received by the media, including articles in USA TODAY, Genetic Engineering News and Science. As the program continues to develop we expect to see more of this.
1996 is the final year of the initial three-year Access Excellence "experiment." What can you tell us about future plans?
In addition to receiving a lot of feedback from the teachers themselves, we have been working with the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) in New York over the past year to evaluate the program. EDC has conducted extensive surveys of the Fellowship program, the Summit, the non-Fellows, and program direction. We expect to have those results soon and will at that time make a decision about the next phase of Access Excellence.
Any final remarks?
I'd like to encourage all high school biology/life science teachers to visit the AE WWW Forum and join our community. The AE program will only be as successful as the teachers themselves make it.
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