FrEdMail Global Curriculum Center
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Copyright (c) Jan 30, 1990
The FrEdMail Foundation
Linking Educators and Students
Around the Globe
Global SchoolNet's roots can be traced back to that summer of 1984. The Internet was not yet fully realized. Apple computers dominated classrooms—if there were computers at all. Teachers were just beginning to use computers in the teaching environment, but educational software was not well developed. The importance of computers in education was never in question. The predominant question was “How do I successfully integrate computers with curricula?” Al Rogers and Yvonne Andres had an answer.
At that time Al Rogers worked for the San Diego County Office of Education as a Computer Coordinator. Rogers, a 20-year veteran teacher, was interested in how educational software was being developed. He was especially fascinated with developing effective teaching methods for writing. Yvonne Andres was a middle school teacher and Title I coordinator in the Oceanside School District and was seeking innovative ways to improve student literacy skills and to help her students develop an awareness of the world beyond their local neighborhood. It was obvious to both Rogers and Andres that the computer could play a powerful role in improving student literacy.
Because commercial word processors were awkward to use and did not address any issues regarding a good writing program, Rogers developed Free Educational Writer (FrEdWriter). This application would become the first in a suite of tools that Rogers would create to support effective writing instruction. FrEdWriter introduced the concept of Prompted Writing and enabled teachers to focus on the development of effective writing instruction. Because FrEdWriter was free, schools were able to design a writing program without worrying about software budget limitations.
A good writing program also requires an audience beyond the teacher. Thus the idea of telecommunication was introduced. Most methods of connecting computers between schools were too inconvenient or complex. This prompted Rogers and Andres to explore bulletin boards.
One of the commercial products that he evaluated was FidoNet. Once again, the program was too complex for the school environment. Also, it was IBM based. Schools were equipped with Apple IIs, not IBMs. So they developed Free Educational Mail (FrEdMail), an Apple II–based networking application. This was a tool created by a teacher for teachers. The technical strength of FrEdMail lay in the fact that the program did not require any special technical skills or knowledge to operate, which addressed a key concern—the system operators (sysops) were most likely English teachers, science teachers, and elementary school teachers. These sysops were also the moderators in the classroom—determining what was appropriate to post or censor.
In 1985, Al Rogers set up the first FrEdMail network. Composed of five systems in different schools, it was administered by teachers. FrEdMail proved to be an effective way to encourage students to write and participate in a cooperative learning environment. The network expanded slowly at first, primarily through word of mouth and personal contacts made at conferences. In 1986, FrEdMail systems were set up in Philadelphia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Puerto Rico. Eventually this grassroots movement would spur the network to grow from 5 San Diego schools to 200 and, eventually, to 350 nodes with a total of 12,000 participating schools and 350 worldwide Internet evangelists.
FrEdMail encouraged one-to-one correspondence. However, good writing instruction is not born out of pen-pal correspondence. FrEdMail enabled schools to overcome distance and create an online environment. It encouraged students to write because students were more willing to write for a sympathetic audience, and this generated wonderful grist for reading. Three successful online learning projects were NewsDay, Tele-Field Trips, and GeoGame.
GSN's NewsDay was based on a number of predecessors, including the early Computer Chronicles (1981–1983) and the London Times Newsday project. GSN adopted, blended, and adapted the ideas and developed its own curriculum to support it. NewsDay became a biannual favorite. For this project, classes posted ten articles each on the NewsDay newswire service. Students spent two weeks acting as reporters for their local areas, states, and the nation. Each class picked the ten best news articles for posting. For the two or three days following Newsday, the students at each site downloaded articles, read, selected, and edited them. Then, they assembled and published their own newspaper, which they mailed to all the participating sites.
Another FrEdMail project was Tele-Field trips. Teachers submitted a list of places that their classes would visit during the school year. Every three or four weeks, FrEdMail administrators published a database of these destinations. If a teacher found a destination that applied to his or her curriculum, the students would write questions for the other class to answer. The other students would visit a destination armed with the questions posed by their peers. These students were more likely to be observant and to report than if they were simply completing an assignment for a teacher.
In GeoGame, each participating class researched and answered eight questions about the local geography and sent it to the FrEdMail Foundation. The administrators collected the responses, scrambled the cities, and mailed the list to all participating classes. The students had to match the descriptions with the cities. In 1984 Tom Clausett conducted the first GeoGame on the FrEdMail Network in North Carolina. There were over 50 cities represented. There were schools in Puerto Rico, South Africa, Finland, and the Virgin Islands. At one point, over 1,500 classrooms participated in this project.
In the fall of 1990, CERFNet and FrEdMail Foundation received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a gateway between FrEdMail and the Internet. The gateway software was completed in 1991. By 1992, there were over 200 systems that composed the FrEdMail Network, and there were nine Internet gateways, creating the first low-cost International backbone for FrEdMail teachers.
Look at a Promotional Message from 1993.
In 1993, FrEdMail Foundation changed its name to Global SchoolNet Foundation (GSN). During that same year, the NSF awarded a grant to GSN to create an educational Web site called “Global Schoolhouse.” Global Schoolhouse’s vision was to provide a living curriculum that made the world a laboratory, promoted the quest for lifelong learning, and established a “global” electronic community that would benefit all sectors: education, health care, local government, business, and the home. The main objectives of the Global Schoolhouse were as follows:
- Demonstrate how people and information resources on the Internet can be used as a classroom tool for research and as a medium for interactive collaborative learning.
- Teach students how to become active learners and information managers.
- Develop an online system training and support for teachers, so they can use technology in an effective and appropriate manner in their classrooms.
- Demonstrate the most current technologies in both conductivity and network tools and their use in a classroom.
- Encourage business, government, school, higher education, and community partnerships for ongoing collaboration.
By 1995, Global SchoolNet Foundation had over 350 nodes with a total of 12,000 participating schools.
In 1996, Global SchoolNet Foundation launched CyberFair, GSN’s premier collaborative project. Now in its ninth year, it is an award-winning learning program used by schools around the world, in which students conduct research about their local communities and publish their findings on the World Wide Web. Prizes are awarded to schools for the best entries in each of eight categories: local leaders, businesses, community organizations, historical landmarks, environment, music, art, and local specialties.
At the end of 1999, the last FrEdMail server was taken offline. FrEdMail was not year 2000–compliant and the FrEdMail Network ceased to exist.
However, with the Internet as the new medium, Global SchoolNet Foundation continues. Its mission is to recognize and applaud the innovators—the teachers who serve as role models, mentors, and pioneers in combining the physical teaching environment, curricula, and cyberspace.
Learn more about Global SchoolNet at