O.M.N.I. Listservs: an Effective Application of College Technology

in Support of K-12 Teachers and Teacher Preparation

 

 

James R. Ebert - Earth Sciences Department

Nancy A. Elliott - Secondary Education Department

Reuben J. James - Physics and Astronomy Department

SUNY College at Oneonta

Oneonta, NY 13820-4015

 

 

            O.M.N.I., the Oneonta Mentor Network Initiative, has made extensive use of listservs in support of teachers during a turbulent decade of educational reform in New York State.  The number of listservs, subscribers to the listservs and e-mail traffic have increased dramatically with the approach of new high-stakes Regents exams, which students must pass in order to graduate.  Regents examinations in the sciences will be based on Core Curricula derived from the state’s Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST) Learning Standards.  In addition to the graduation requirements, there is also a new examination at the eighth grade level.  These new curricula and assessments are driving changes in what science is taught, but more importantly in how science is taught.  OMNI listservs have played a key role in disseminating information and in helping teachers mentor each other through these changes.

 

            Implementation of the curricula and assessments is taking place at a time when student enrollments are rising, thousands of teachers are retiring and new, inexperienced teachers are entering the ranks of the profession in large numbers.  Professional development of teachers is vital to helping New York’s students achieve the standards that have been established for graduation. Providing professional development for veteran teachers and intensive mentoring of inexperienced, new teachers are perhaps the most crucial elements in assuring the success of the reforms.  Professional development of novice teachers is especially important since mentored teachers: make more effective transition from teacher preparation to practice; have greater confidence in their teaching skills; focus on student learning much sooner; have significantly higher retention rates (New York State Regents Task Force on Teaching, 1998, p. 13).

 

            O.M.N.I. has been training and supporting a statewide network of regional mentors in Earth Science and Physics since 1989.  Networks for Mathematics and Technology Education were begun in 1999 and 2000 respectively.  OMNI mentors attend an intensive one week workshop at SUNY Oneonta in the summer.  Following this, they provide workshops, resources and mentoring services for teachers in their local areas throughout the school year.  A closed listserv has been used to facilitate communication among the mentors and the college faculty who direct the networks.  Open listservs for Earth Science and Physics teachers were launched to promote wider dissemination of information and to provide a forum for discussion.  In the past two years, additional open listservs have been added for science teachers in the middle grades (5-8Science), New Science Teachers (NESTLING), and a closed list was created for regional coordinators of the Science Olympiad.  Teachers of Chemistry and Biology requested listservs and these were also initiated (ChemBond and BioForum)

 

            Current subscriptions to the OMNI listservs are shown in the table below. The easiest way to subscribe or unsubscribe from any of the listservs is via an interactive form on the OMNI website: http://www.oneonta.edu/~mentor.

 

CURRENT SUBSCRIPTIONS TO OMNI LISTSERVS AT SUNY ONEONTA

LIST NAME

DISCIPLINE and GRADE LEVEL

NUMBER OF SUBSCRIBERS

NYSESM-L

Closed list for O.M.N.I. Mentors

73

ESPRIT

Earth Science (typically 9, some 8)

433

OPHUN-L

Physics (11 &12)

87

5-8Science

Upper Elementary and Middle School (5-8)

169

NESTLING

New Science Teachers

(all grade levels and disciplines)

98

ChemBond

Chemistry (11 & 12)

102

BioForum

Biology (typically 10)

166

SciOlymp

Closed list for

Science Olympiad Regional Coordinators

17

 

            OMNI listservs have been tremendously well-received by teachers.  The listservs are remarkably effective in reducing teachers’ feelings of isolation. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the listservs are having a positive impact on teaching and learning.  By directly supporting teachers in the field, the listservs make efficient and valuable use of the college’s technological resources.

 

            The following are examples of the types of services provided by the OMNI listservs: dissemination of information from the State Education Department, forum for discussion, questions regarding content are answered by other teachers, college faculty and/or staffers from SED, announcements of meetings, sharing resources, websites, etc., sharing innovative teaching strategies, and sharing of information (e.g., How is this done in your district?).  The listservs have had an impact on candidates in science teacher preparation programs.  Pre-service teachers have asked for ideas on activities, lesson plans, etc. and have arranged interviews with teachers through the lists. Students have indicated that they have benefited simply by “eavesdropping in the teachers’ room.”

 

            The OMNI listservs are not without problems.  A few subscribers have used the listservs as a soapbox for complaining.  Recurrent postings of virus-bearing messages plagued the lists for a period of weeks until the college’s technical service staff found a solution.  Fortunately, the greatest problem with the listservs is transparent to the teachers/subscribers.  The manager of the listservs (JRE) receives “bounce backs” of undeliverable messages in addition to all messages posted.  At times, the volume of this e-mail can be ponderous!

 

SOME COMMENTS, QUESTIONS AND OTHER POSTS ON OMNI LISTSERVS

 

“I am really happy that you have created such a useful listserv for new teachers.”

 

“The postings on the ESPRIT listserv have been really interesting.  Although I’m not in the classroom yet, I can see the wealth of resources it provides!”

 

“An example of an Internet activity is below.  These are really great and the kids love doing them!!!!”

 

“Wow!  This NESTLING site is taking off.  I think I received like 16 messages from it since I wrote my e-mail yesterday :)  THANKS TO ALL who responded!”

 

“Classroom management is a tough issue.  This is especially true once students get into the habit of being unruly.  I suggest not showing anger.  Your angry response gives them the idea that they control the situation and they control you. I’ve taught in six different schools.  The first year is usually the most difficult.”

 

“Thank you for all the good websites.  What a great net (listserv) this is.”

 

“Despite the volume of e-mail, which is a good problem to have, kudos to you and the people at Oneonta that run this thing.  I love it.”

 

“I am so impressed by the community of Earth Science teachers which exists through the ESPRIT listserv!  So, do other lists exist for Bio, Chem and Physics?”

 

“Thanks!  This was a terrific idea (5-8Science listserv) and I will be passing it along to all the members of our Regional Curriculum Council - we have the possibility of connecting 28 school districts - powerful stuff.  Thanks again.”

 

“Thank you for all you have done to make communicating in science education over these last several years in New York State a breeze.”

 

“I am a new science teacher.  I teach 6th grade general science.  I was wondering if anyone had any good ideas to teach the earth’s crust or plate tectonics?”

 

“Thank you and Oneonta for sponsoring this valuable service.  It allows people, who during the rush of the day, don’t get a chance to communicate, an opportunity to share information, ask and answer questions.”