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Student Volunteers Journey to China to Wire Schools for Internet Access


Indranath Neogy--The Tech
Twenty-five MIT undergraduates will intern in China this summer to design web sites and help five high schools connect to the Internet.

By Sharmin Ghaznavi
Staff Reporter

Twenty-five MIT undergraduates will travel to China this summer as part of the MIT-China Educational Technology Initiative (MIT-CETI) program. Interns will go to ten high schools in four cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and Hangzhou. Over the course of six weeks, these students will set up interactive educational web sites and help five of the high schools connect to the Internet.

This connection to the Internet will allow high schools to tap into the educational possibilities provided by the Internet and increase communication with students in other countries. Among the projects the interns have in mind are an International Scavenger Hunt and a Virtual Classroom.

The International Scavenger Hunt will involve communication between the high schools in China and high schools in Canada, England, and Brazil. To obtain clues in the scavenger hunt, students will be required to contact students in the other three countries.

The Virtual Classroom will be a text-based web site where students will be able to carry on classroom discussions, do homework, and obtain information concerning college entrance examinations.

Other plans include establishing Internet pen pals with high school students in Pennsylvania, an inter-China high school network, and conferences on the educational uses of the Internet.

Technology Binds Students

MIT-CETI, now in its second year, was started by Jacob J. Seid G and Ronald Cao MEng '97 to build cross-cultural understanding between younger generation Chinese and American students through the development of computer-related educational projects. "We believe this program provides a bridge between Chinese and American students and allows them to learn about each other," Seid said.

The program is the result of a project started a little less than three years ago by Seid and Cao called the Computer Educational Development Initiative. That project took Seid and Cao to China to advance computer aided education at Chinese high schools. Both said they have a deeper understanding of the Chinese people and culture as a result of their experience with CEDI. MIT-CETI is an effort to extend the opportunity to other MITundergraduates.

The program was advertised to the MITcommunity last fall through open houses and the use of various e-mail lists. There were over 40 applicants. Twenty seven were selected and 25 accepted.

Applicants were selected based on four criteria: fluency in the language, technical competency, personal initiative, and interest in education. The last criterion was a new addition. "[What we found last year] was that it's very important to have people who are interested in education, so we made that a factor in the selection criteria," said Seid.

Interns work in teams of two and three based on complementary language and technical skills, allowing students who do not know the language an equal opportunity to take part in the program. Half of the students in the program have had no exposure to Chinese.

"We've spent [the Spring term] training the students - encompassing technical and planning their project. At the end of the term, the students will have a detailed plan of what kind of web site they want to set up and how they plan to accomplish it," said Seid.

MIT-CETI past and future

In 1997, MIT-CETI interns accomplished a number of firsts: interns set up the first web server at a high school in China, connected a high school to the Internet via wireless technology, and organized the first International Net Day with Sun Microsystems. Interns also held conferences in Shanghai, Beijing, and Xian to bring together students, teachers, government officials, and corporate sponsors to address high school education and the use of the web.

Daniel A. Dwyer '00, and Mandy L. Mobley '99, two MIT-CETI interns in previous years, were coordinators for this year's program. "We're trying to bring interns from the previous year into leadership role this year," said Seid.

"The goal is that each year's interns will become leaders of the program the next year, to help the program continue," said Mobley.

There are plans to expand MIT-CETI to other institutions around the country and to send interns to other countries as well. "The MIT-CETImodel has inspired another MIT program called the MIT-India Technology Initiative Program - they'll be sending students to India," said Seid.

MIT-CETI is made possible by funding from the MIT-International Science Technology Initiative (MITSI) and corporate sponsors. In 1997 donations from Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Accton Technology, Addtron, Proxim, Northern Telecom, Zi Corporation, and Anixter totalled over a quarter million dollars.

Several individuals have also provided significant support including Professor of Political Science and Director of MISTI, Suzanne Berger; Deborah Ullrich, administrative director of MISTI; Li Xing, director of China's Educational Research Network; and Zhang Weijang, deputy director of Shanghai's Education Commission.