A Conversation with Principal Evan Glazer
Q: What is JCIRN?
A: JCIRN stands for Jefferson Collaborative Inquiry & Research Network. Most scientific inquiry requires collaboration, and one of the strengths of our program is that starting in freshmen IBET, our students learn how to conduct and present research in teams. I want our students to have as much experience as possible developing teamwork, a key 21st-century skill, and to be able to practice that skill with other students, and with professors and industry researchers, including alumni, no matter where they are located. JCIRN enables collaboration by creating an electronic platform where students can securely store and retrieve data, access software, interact remotely by video, share reports, identify mentors, recruit participants, and access instrumentation remotely, all within a secure subgroup visible only to project participants.
Q: How will TJ faculty and students use the platform to teach others?
A: JCIRN’s potential to expand TJ’s outreach to elementary and middle school students, including those in economically challenged parts of the county, is extraordinary. Essentially, all the outreach that our students are currently engaged in through our “Stembassador” program, our weekend outreach events such as “Science and Techstravaganza,” and our “8th period” and after- school tutoring and other programs will be amplified by JCIRN.
Once an outreach project is established by a TJ student or teacher, JCIRN members will be able to share curriculum and podcasts, interact via video, broadcast presentations from VIP speakers, and use group or one-on-one tutoring tools. TJ could impact many schools and students beyond our immediate area for the first time.
Q: Why can’t the School use one of many existing document-sharing services or off-the-shelf network platforms?
A: The short answer is that there is no existing platform that supports everything we want JCIRN to do. Instead, JCIRN will leverage open-source technology to fit our unique purposes. One analogy I’ve heard compares JCIRN to a “more robust Intranet.” TJ’s Intranet was created by students to serve our particular student needs and has been modified and upgraded over the years but not replaced with an off-the-shelf product because we can more easily tailor our own product to meet our changing specifications.
The JCIRN portal will be based on the Liferay Open-Source Platform and will be customized and integrated with other modules and software packages to meet our unique requirements, including: compatibility with existing operating systems, browsers, and mobile devices; scalability; user-friendly navigation; varying levels of access and security options; smooth integration of network services; and robust security and authentication. The communications component will provide at a minimum for: traditional and instant messaging and chat; voice and video conferencing; collaborative real-time document editing; podcast/power-point sharing; and video and tutorial recording, storage, and access.
Q: How are you ensuring network security?
A: We will ensure security through a tiered security infrastructure designed for the needs of high school students. In order to access the network, non-TJ users will need to complete a profile describing the reasons for their interest in joining the network and their relationship with an adult member of the school community. A systems administrator will authenticate each user as a trusted source based on their profile and by verifying the relationship with the school community member. Only once admitted to the network will a member have the opportunity to participate in research or outreach projects by requesting permission from the project manager. The broader JCIRN community will be aware of all projects by reading posted abstracts, but full project details will be available only to members of each project subgroup.
Q: How close are you to realizing this dream?
A: A TJ team has been meeting with FCPS IT staff to discuss details. The FCPS procurement office published a formal Request for Information (RFI), which has been distributed widely, and we have received several informative responses. Dwight Yamada of Northrop Grumman, a major JCIRN sponsor, has provided invaluable assistance and intends to continue in a consulting role.
Andrew Hamilton, our school’s IT Specialist, has developed a populated JCIRN prototype so students involved in our 8th period outreach clubs can begin to test all aspects of the network. We are aiming for a June 2014 roll out with the expectation that rising seniors will experiment with the network in advance of the fall move-in date for the new research lab wing.