Elizabeth Montgomery
Speaking Notes, STEM~Net Conference
Forum on Networking and Distance Education

I've been asked to speak to you about the Canada-Newfoundland Human Resource Development COOPERATION Agreement, and the role it plays in partnerships that support networking and distance education.

Most of the time, bureaucrats, teachers, and students must of necessity focus on small parts of things: on rules, on budgets, on parts of speech, timetables, times tables. Excitement comes when we glimpse the whole. This is the kind of experience we are having here: a chance to celebrate how parts become partnerships, and larger than the sum of their parts. This is the kind of experience we want our children to have. And it is the kind of experience that distance technologies can help create for them.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, one of the sponsors of the HRD Agreement, has a economic development mandate. ACOA has long recognized the importance of networking and distance education to economic development. In 1987, ACOA helped extend the Telemedicine Network to new sites and establish the Telemedicine and Educational Technology Resource Agency, or TETRA. In 1988, the ACOA/Enterprise Network's pilot telecenter was launched in Clarenville. The Agency sponsored "Awakening the Entrepreneurial Spirit" teleconferences in 1988 and 1991. And the full roll out of what is now Enterprise Network Inc., with networked business information telecenters serving every region of the province, was completed between 1991 and 1994.

The HRD Agreement partnership includes ACOA, HRDC, and the provincial Departments of Education and Training, Employment and Labour Relations, Intergovernmental Affairs and Industry, Trade and Technology. This paradigm of extended partnership to achieve common goals is relatively new for government. But it is not new in industry, where teams of professional routines assemble from distant locations to deal with specific tasks, and use computers and telecommunications to manage their work. Thanks to communication networks, the model is now becoming more common in government, especially in education.

The HRD Agreement supports a wide variety of human resource development in educational institutions at every level in communities, and in the workplace. To date, approximately 43% of its funding has gone to the K-12 sector. The focus is on science, technology, mathematics, entrepreneurship, and communications - the skills that industry tells us will improve our chances for employment. The Agreement's resources are small compared to the amount spent on education in the province each year, and small compared to overall need for human resource funding. Agreement contributions are meant only to be a catalyst, and lost projects use them to lever at least as much, and sometimes many times more, from other sources.

STEM~Net is the HRD Agreement's flagship project, and over 10% of all funding goes to support it. Your presence here speaks its value to teachers. It also helps the Agreement serve its clients. STEM~Net connects bureaucrats, field partners and clients; it provides a platform to advertise the Agreement's programs, its approved projects, and the lessons learned from them. Soon, it will bring you Prospects, the journal of the HRD Agreement, online. The Agreement is a partner in many of the projects being highlighted at this conference: Technology in Learning Environments, or TILE, the SchoolNet Community Access program Writers in Electronic Residence, Computers in the Schools. Other exciting networking and distance education initiatives are underway. These are described in Prospects, particularly in Volume 2, Number 2. Compared with other provinces across Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador is unusually rich in telecommunications networks and distance learning resources. We have the experience to teach others how to do this well.

About STEM~Net, a teacher in Labrador wrote; "For the first time in my life, I no longer feel professionally isolated." The HRD Agreement's external evaluator has observed that some technology projects have made a noticeable difference in enthusiasm and motivation among students. And a speaker here today declared, "If you want to learn something, teach it - then you'll retain 90%." These different thoughts add up to a powerful argument for using networking and distance learning technologies to create collaborative classrooms, where students and teachers learn form one another, and teach one another - and make all the parts in their partnerships stronger. Thank you.