Managing the Mountain
Teachers Who Change Lives
AROUND THE OVAL
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
About the Montanan
By Gary Jahrig
Make no mistake about it. John Kuglin is a technological pioneer.
But if you go to his office on the UM campus to talk technology, Kuglin, the man charged with leading the University into the age of virtual education, is most likely to pull out a rumpled map of the world pieced together ten years ago by fourth-grade schoolchildren at Missoulas Cold Springs School.
The map, covered with pasted up computer-generated snippets from top news events of the early 1990s, serves as a reminder to Kuglin of not only his roots, but the roots of the technology that propelled him from a position teaching grade school in Missoula, Montana, to a perch as one of the leading experts on classroom information systems in the nation.
Some teachers at Cold Springs found the map in a closet a few years ago and gave it to me when I came back to Missoula, Kuglin says. It represents the beginning of the information age. It represents learning at an unprecedented rate. It takes me back to my roots.
In less than ten years Kuglins roots have put forth heady fruit. His career graph parallels the rise of the technology he espouses: from classroom teacher to technology coordinator to director of a training center in Denver, director of technology in the U.S. Department of Educations Denver office and finally back to Missoula. He now serves as UMs associate dean of continuing education, director of educational outreach and director of the Earth Observing System Education Project.
I think he brings a wealth of experience in two areas, says UM President George Dennison. He was a public school teacher and coordinator and he worked in the private sector. Its kind of unique to have experience in both areas. ... The background he brings is invaluable.
Sharon Alexander, UMs dean of continuing education and Kuglins immediate supervisor, says Kuglins insight into education and technology makes him a hot commodity. What he has brought to us is that outside industry vision, Alexander says. He was a classroom teacher who went to Denver. Hes a visionary and hes a mastermind and hes the plumber, too. He does everything needed to get a job done.
Kuglin didnt set out in life with aspirations to be a visionary or a mastermind or even a plumber. He just wanted to teach school. I always enjoyed working with kids, Kuglin says. As a senior in high school, a teacher let me help teach freshman P.E. classes. Thats where I really got the bug to teach.
A Great Falls native, Kuglin graduated from Western Montana College in 1972 and landed his first job teaching fourth grade in Hamilton; the next year he headed north to teach in Missoula. Over nearly two decades, Kuglin taught everything from fourth through eighth grades in Missoula classrooms.
First Taste of Technology
At Cold Springs School on Missoulas southside Kuglin got his first real taste of what technology could do when used as a classroom tool. I began to realize what converging the power of a personal computer and the power of television could do, Kuglin recalls. Together they became a powerful learning tool that showed a lot of relevancy to education. Students were coming to school in the same package but were acting a lot different. I wanted more access to information.
Kuglins use of computers — a relatively new classroom staple – and cable television brought him attention, both locally and nationally. Cable News Network crews from Atlanta visited Kuglins classroom to film Cold Springs students putting technology to work. He traveled to Washington, D.C., with two of his students to testify before a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the role of telecommunications in education. And he helped forge a partnership with Missoulas local TCI Cablevision outlet that eventually brought educational programming channels into classrooms across the school district.
In 1993 Kuglin was lured out of the classroom to become the technology coordinator for all of Missoulas elementary schools, a position he took with some hesitation. It was very difficult to leave the classroom, he says. But I knew the job would mean I would still be in classrooms a lot, working with other teachers. That all changed a year later when the national arm of TCI Cablevision offered Kuglin a job in Denver as the director of its J.C. Sparkman Center for Educational Technology.
It was an opportunity to start training educators on new and emerging technology, Kuglin says. It also coincided with the start of the World Wide Web. I remember we worked for a week to get our first Web page up and running. We jumped for joy when we did it.
A New Age in Education
As director of the Denver center, Kuglin was at the forefront of an exciting new age in education. Teachers from all over the country traveled there to learn how to better use computers and other forms of technology in their classrooms.
I dont think any of us realized the impact technology was going to have on us, even as late as 1994, Kuglin says. We didnt really know what would happen. But we did see results in students. I thought, Somethings happening here. I dont know exactly what it is, but Im really going to work it.
In 1997 an offshoot of the cable conglomerate offered Kuglin a job, which called for him to set up a similar training facility in Washington, D.C. Kuglin spent a significant amount of time in the nations capital, setting up the new center. But after much thought, and thousands of air miles, Kuglin decided the job wasnt for him. The more I traveled to Washington, the more I began to resist moving to Washington, he says.
Instead he accepted a job with DOE in Denver as its technology director. A little more than a year into his career with the federal government, Kuglin was presented with a pair of new opportunities – a chance to go back to TCI in a new position or move back to Missoula to become UMs director of educational outreach. It didnt take long for Kuglin to make his choice: My wife and I looked at each other and said, Lets go home.
EOS Education Project
In 1998 Kuglin became the director of UMs Earth Observing System Education Project, an offshoot of a NASA-backed rocket science program that had been brewing in the laboratories of UM forestry Professor Steve Running for more than fifteen years.
Running and his associates had been developing software for NASA that could be loaded onto a satellite that would send back images allowing scientists from around the world to better monitor the Earths land, water and atmosphere. The project culminated last December when the UM-developed software was launched into orbit aboard the Terra satellite, NASAs most expensive and extensive earth-science endeavor to date.
Kuglins job is to bring educators to UM and teach them how to use the data in their classrooms. Running and his people do all the hard science, he says. We take the hard science and teach teachers how to use it.
While on-campus education is a primary function of the EOS Education Project, Kuglin also has gone national to spread the word about UMs work. Over the past few months, he has crisscrossed the country, making stops at conferences in cities such as Atlanta, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa, Los Angeles and Orlando. My goal is to share my knowledge and diverse background in such a way that motivates educators to jump in and use new tools, Kuglin says.
Along the way, Kuglin also gets an opportunity to plug the programs under way at UM. The University gets a real bang for their buck at virtually no expense, he says. Im out there standing in front of thousands of people talking about whats going on at The University of Montana.
National Lewis & Clark Teacher Education Center
One of the offshoots of the EOS Project is the National Lewis and Clark Teacher Education Center, a UM-based program that opened last spring as a way to help educators develop a better understanding of the famed expedition that will celebrate its bicentennial beginning in 2003. The center uses technology, including images downloaded from the Terra satellite, to help educators bring to their classrooms an understanding of the explorers journey and the trails and landscapes they encountered along the way. (EOSs Website can be found at http://eoscenter.com.)
Our goal is to use NASA satellite resources in the context of the Lewis and Clark journey, Kuglin says. Not often does research at UM blend in so much with mainstream education. But this does. Were so far ahead with this research that other states cant even see our taillights. We have a satellite revolving around the Earth that the University has direct access to.
The Virtual University
More recently, Kuglin took on another challenge – to create an Internet-based program at UM to deliver courses to students in other parts of the country and around the world. He is working with UM administrators and faculty to assemble an extensive online offering of courses in the near future. Many other colleges already are offering Internet programs that allow students to register, pay fees, take classes, solicit advice from faculty and graduate, all without ever setting foot on campus. Kuglin sees the virtual university as an inevitable step in the future of higher education in Montana.
We need to move from the stand-and-deliver, Gutenberg model of education to an online digital face, he says. That way, you dont require students to be located geographically on campus.
I look at the 1900 photo of UM taken from the M on Mount Sentinel and see one building. When I talk about our online ideas, what Im saying is that were standing on the M right now and the year is 2000. We need to look ahead to the digital campus. Most people in responsible positions know we need to do this to stay competitive.
Kuglin also is quick to point out that a number of precautions need to be taken to make sure the quality of the online courses meets UM faculty approval. There is concern on the part of the faculty that we maintain the high quality the University is known for, and those are very legitimate concerns. Part of my responsibility is to try to put the glue together to build sound courses and bring together a cohesive plan. Thats a pretty formidable task.
But those entrusting Kuglin with the task are confident he can get the job done. He has been so diligent in moving this idea forward, says Alexander. And thats not always easy to do at this University. It takes ideas a long time to germinate. But I believe John can do it.
UM President Dennison also is firmly in Kuglins corner when it comes to the new Internet outreach proposal. We need to persuade faculty members that this is a good thing, Dennison says. The emergence of technology doesnt mean that traditional college campuses are going to go away. It just means that this is something we can do to attract more interest in The University of Montana.
As for Kuglin, he views the online campus project as simply another step down the technological highway. What I get out of technology is getting to watch the excitement I see on both teachers and students faces when they apply something in a new way. I had to discover technology on the job. I started out doing it at the school-building level. Then I went districtwide, regional and national. Now Im getting a chance to go worldwide.Gary Jahrig 85 covers the education beat for the Missoulian.
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