Volunteer Subject Matter Experts Needed

Anthro-l Listowners & JWA Editors (ANTOWNER@UBVM.BITNET)
Thu, 19 Jan 1995 23:29:40 EST

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

Hello! I am not a member of your list, but I think that regular readers
here might be interested in the call for participation that I have
included below. I direct the "Electronic Emissary" project, which
"matches" volunteer subject matter experts with pre-college teachers and
students who are studying in the experts' specialty fields, helping them
to teach and learn via electronic mail exchanges.

We are currently seeking additional subject matter experts
(SMEs) interested in participating in the project. We seek SMEs in *all*
fields, but have special need at this time for SMEs with expertise in:

1. French language, history, and/or culture
2. Acid rain research
3. Rainforests (biological, historical, political, etc. perspectives)
4. Native American history, culture, and/or current issues
5. Paleontology
6. Texas history

Would you please consider posting the following call for participation to
your list? I realize that it is a long posting, but I wanted to give all
pertinent information to folks who might be interested in participating
in the project.

If it is against the policy of the list to distribute postings by
non-menbers and/or postings of this length, please accept my apologies for
this inadvertent intrusion.

Thank you.

Judi Harris
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
University of Texas at Austin


Recent estimates indicate that there are now more than 300,000 classroom
teachers from primary, middle, and secondary schools who hold accounts on
the Internet. This makes a very special kind of learning available to
them: one which directly involves subject matter experts communicating
with students and teachers about their specialties, via electronic mail.

With support from the Texas Center for Educational Technology, the JC
Penney Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education, we (at the
University of Texas at Austin) have piloted and are now expanding an
Internet-based service (the "Electronic Emissary") that brings together
pre-college students, their teachers, and subject matter experts (SMEs)
electronically, helping them to create telecomputing exchanges centered
around the students' learning in the SMEs' disciplines. For example,

- Fifth grade students in Council, Idaho who were studying animal
behavior received suggestions on how to improve their observation
techniques from a primate ethologist working at the Wisconsin Regional
Primate Research Center.

- Ninth grade students from San Angelo, Texas corresponded with an
anthropologist from Los Angeles, California about civil rights, both as
they could be explored in reference to the first Rodney King trial (that
was taking place at the time of the exchange) and historically, by
examining the struggle for African American rights during the late 1950's
and early 1960's, with particular emphasis upon the contributions of Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

- Third grade students from San Antonio, Texas communicated with a naval
officer and meteorologist stationed at Fort Biloxi, Mississippi about
atmospheric physics and atmospheric dynamics, even though, as the subject
matter expert indicated, they probably didn't realize that their
questions concerned such complex topics.

- Sixth grade students in Houston, Texas, who were engaged in
multi-disciplinary study of the Middle Ages, posed questions to a
medieval history professor who worked at the University of Illinois,
addressing her as "Learned Sage." She, in turn, answered their
questions, calling them "Seekers of Knowledge."

- Twelfth grade students in Atherton, California corresponded with a
computer scientist from British Columbia about their individual projects
in cosmology that dealt with physics beyond the solar system.

- Fifth grade students in Amarillo, Texas communicated with a researcher
from A, T & T Bell Laboratories about sailing and celestial navigation.
The subject matter expert in this team both answered questions and
suggested simple experiments for the students to try to help them to
understand the information that he was communicating.

- Ninth grade students in Hart, Texas corresponded with an engineering
professor from Boston University about waves and wave phenomena,
including radar, sonar, light, sound, radio, seismic waves,
ultrasound, and water. The focus of the communication was discussion of
applied physics experiments and activities that the students conducted
about different types of waves and their interactions.

- 16-to-18-year-old students from Salmon Arm, British Columbia, who were
curious about virtual reality technologies, corresponded with a computer
scientist working for Boeing and NASA, later commenting upon his skill in
using humor and professional anecdotes to help them to understand
technical information.

- Fourteen gifted high school students from Nacodoches, Texas interacted
online with 14 different subject matter experts on topics of individual
and mutual interest and research, including: marine biology, blues
music, harmony in music, computer graphics, the Elizabethan era,
biotechnics, black holes, documentary direction and production, the
physics of fire-fighting, the effect of the media on public opinion,
genetic engineering, the New Age movement, reincarnation, and the effect
of day care on child development.

In successive phases of the project, increasing numbers of SMEs or SME
groups are needed to correspond regularly (approximately 4 times per week)
with primary, middle school, or secondary students and their teachers (1
SME or expert group per class, study group, or "special student"). Each
electronic exchange will begin with approximately 1 week of project
planning via electronic mail between the SMEs and the teachers.
Communications with students will begin on mutually convenient dates, and
will continue for previously-arranged periods of time, usually between 4
and 12 weeks. An "online facilitator" (one of the Emissary staff) will
monitor the communication and be available throughout the exchange to
assist with project organization, effective communication strategies, and
technical help, as needed.

Subject matter expert volunteers are sought in all academic disciplines
and areas of practical expertise. Communications with classes will occur
during the rest of the spring 1995 semester, then again in the fall 1995
and spring 1996 semesters, and beyond.

==> If you would like to find out more about
==> participating in this project, please read on.

* - * - * - * - * - * - * - * - * - * - * - * - * - * - *

Hello! Thank you for the interest that you expressed in the "Electronic
Emissary" project. I am Judi Harris, a faculty member in the
Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at

What follows is more detailed information about the Electronic Emissary


We are now expanding the Emissary project, which was successfully
piloted during the spring 1993 semester. Through our work, we hope to:

1. refine and implement a workable, useful
service for educators and their students,
2. study the ways in which adults and children
converse via electronic mail,
3. and plan for further expansion of the Emissary.


If you want to be a subject matter expert (SME) for the project, we will
ask you to agree to:

1. Send and receive/read electronic mail to and from
the class (teacher and students) with whom we ask
for as long as you and the classroom teacher agree to
conduct the exchange. There will be two electronic
conversations taking place: one between you and the
students about the topic(s) of your expertise, and another
between you and the teacher with whom you will
collaboratively coordinate the activity. Please note that we
would like you to engage in *inquiry-based* exchange with
the students, during which they will have many opportunities
to ask you questions, rather than you delivering an
"electronic lecture."

2. Allow automatically-generated copies of your
messages to the teachers and students to be read and
retained by those of us coordinating the Emissary project, for
use in our research in adult-child conversation via
telecomputing networks. Your names or identities will not be
revealed in any way in any report (oral or written) that we
present on the results of the research. We will also supply
you with electronic copies of all manuscripts that we create
that summarize our research results.

3. Complete a short electronic project evaluation questionnaire
at the end of the exchange period.

4. Respond to weekly+ questions and suggestions from
an "exchange facilitator," concerning your perceptions of the
communication and ways that it could be improved upon,
both during and immediately following communication with
the students and their teachers.

5. Help the teacher to compose a one-page summary of your
project (to post on the Internet for other educators to use)
in the two weeks immediately following the exchange period,
using the category template that we supply electronically.


Each SME-classroom team in this phase of the Emissary project will
arrange its own communication schedule according to your availability and
curricular considerations, such as when the unit(s) that concern your
area(s) of expertise will be explored in the classroom. Each exchange will
begin with approximately one week of SME - teacher (only)
communication, so that the details of the exchange can be collaboratively
planned before the students begin communicating with you. Average
exchange periods will probably range in duration from 4 - 12 weeks.

The Application Process

To volunteer to serve as a subject matter expert for the Electronic
Emissary project, we request that you Telnet to the Texas Center for
Educational Technology's server, and fill out an application online. To do
that, please follow these steps:

1. Get to the "system prompt" in your Internet account. (If you don't
know how to do this, please ask the folks in your Computer Center to help

2. Type this at the system prompt:

telnet tcet.unt.edu ...and then press the <Enter> key.

3. You will then be connected to the TCET server. When you see the
login: prompt, type:

sme ...and then press the <Enter> key.

4. You will then see a menu of options. Select the one that is labeled
"Subject Matter Expert."

5. Follow the instructions on the screen, providing all of the
information that is requested.

6. Since we are still refining this interactive software, if you
encounter problems, please contact the Emissary's programmer, Greg Jones,


==> PLEASE RESPOND ASAP; the next set of teacher-SME
==> pairs will be formed beginning on 1/25/95.

After you have completed the application online, it will be stored in the
Emissary database. As support for more matches becomes available to the
project, teachers wanting their students to correspond with a subject
matter expert will be permitted to Telnet to the database and search it
for a subject matter expert who can address their students' content
information needs. They will be able to read all of the information that
you supply about yourself *except* for your email address, street address,
or telephone number(s), so that you will not be inundated with requests
from classrooms.

When a teacher requests that a match be made with you, an Emissary staff
person (an "electronic facilitator") will contact you by email. S/he will
ask you whether you are available and interested in communicating about
the topic at the time that the teacher has specified. If so, a special
account on the TCET server will be set up as the Internet address to which
everyone on your team (you, the teacher, the students, and the
facilitator) will mail your messages. Emailing to this address will cause
a program that we have created to execute that will automatically generate
copies of all of the messages exchanged among the members of your team.
The log of these messages will be kept for us to study as part of our
research about adults and children using electronic mail to teach and
learn asynchronously. The program will then automatically forward the
students' and teacher's messages to you, and your messages to the teacher
and students.

The Future

We hope to continue to expand the numbers of classrooms and subject matter
experts that are "matched" with the Emissary's services as the semesters
pass. Each semester, we will seek support for this purpose, making groups
of 10 - 40 "matches" available as each proposal is funded. We will also
continue to add to our database of subject matter expert volunteers. The
availability of these opportunities will be made known to both SMEs and
classroom teachers via periodic LISTSERV and private distribution list
postings. Participating classrooms will be selected on a "first come,
first served" basis. SME volunteer applications will be welcome at any

Since we are presently staffed rather meagerly, we will only be able to
"match" a relatively small number of SME/classroom teams at this time.
We hope, therefore, that we can retain your application for use as the
project grows during the next few years (keeping fingers crossed, of
course, that we are able to obtain funding). If you are *not*
willing for your application to be made available in later years,
please make sure that you include a statement of that preference in the
text of your application.

Future Communications

**Due to the unusually (wonderfully!) large volume of potential SMEs for
this project, please do not be disappointed if we cannot "match" you with
a classroom right away.** Also, please forgive us in advance for not
writing to acknowledge receipt of your completed application. We would
love to be able to respond to each of your applications individually, but
time does not permit what hospitality and gratitude would recommend.

Please know how *very* much we appreciate your willingness to help with
this volunteer effort! You are making a direct and meaningful contribution
to the education of young people by offering to share your time and
expertise. Please accept our heartfelt thanks for this gesture.

- - - - - -

Judi Harris
Electronic Emissary Project Director
University of Texas at Austin