June, 1998
(Source: ICA News, Issue No.2/1998, pp.6-7)

Co-ops and the Internet - The Virtual Community for Co-op Education

The Virtual Community  for Co-op Education

The Virtual Community for Co-operative Education (VCCE - soon available at http://edu.coop.org) is a new, interactive web site which will give  co-operative educators, developers, researchers, learners and communicators a platform through which they can collaborate  for the advancement of co-operative education and research. Through co-operative efforts, the VCCE web site will soon contain  a treasury of materials relevant to co-operative education and research. This site aims to benefit from the Internet's multi-medium platform in order to offer innovative education materials to the international co-operative community. The structure is therefore organised to classify information in a variety of formats to suit different needs: web sites, text, images, photographs, videos, sounds, java applications, etc.

By sharing course materials, course content, research, illustrations and other related material for the purpose of co-operative education, this community will contribute to the development of the co-operative movement and to a stronger co-operative identity.

This web site has been set up by the international co-operative movement as a centre for co-operators to come together to achieve this goal. As in any co-operative, member participation is of paramount importance to the success of the project. This virtual community is therefore designed to enable co-operators to express their needs and work together to fulfill those needs through sharing and pooling resources and to contribute by any means within their potential for the benefit of other members.

Apple Computers is currently working with the ICA to set up the VCCE which is founded upon the same principles as Apple's Educational Object Economy (EOE).

What is the Educational Object Economy (EOE)?
The EOE is a down-loadable model available to anyone wishing to create a database driven web site generated and maintained by its members. It relies on the creation, sharing and use of resources incorporating existing material for web-based learning.

"The EOE is a research project developed by Apple scientists and funded by a National Science Foundation Grant with matching funds from industry and government agencies and universities. It is based on the following three initiatives:

- Creation of an open community that unites educators, developers, and other interested parties around their common interest in promoting an efficient, productive learning process through appropriate - and imaginative - use of advanced technology.

- Development of an innovative licensing approach that encourages the efficient reuse of existing content and appreciation of intellectual capital.

- Use of cross-platform technology standards (...) to build a massive content library of interoperable resources.

Although still in its infancy the Educational Object Economy project is already providing community members with an on-line resource for sharing content, airing ideas about ways to improve the quality of web-based educational objects, exploring innovative licensing and business models for educational software, discussing ways in which to work together, and developing scenarios of future learning environments."

(Source: This extract has been taken from EOE brochure available from the Educational Object Economy Web Site.)

How the ICA became involved...

The International Co-operative Alliance has made the cross-fertilization of resources a priority and endeavors to encourage its members and other co-operative organisations to pool materials and effort in order to build a central resource treasury freely available to the whole international co-operative community and thus help to reinforce co-operation worldwide.

Scientists from the Education and Research Department at Apple Computers met representatives from the ICA through the ICA's Trade and Communication Group which is headed by Byron Henderson, Director of Communications at the Center for Co-operative Studies at Saskatchewan University, Canada.

According to the 5th Principle of the ICA Statement on the Co-operative Identity: "Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation."

ICA and Apple Synergy
The VCCE illustrates the common values held by both the ICA and Apple, and is an example of what can be achieved through the building of an EOE. The VCCE has been implemented to overcome a particular need: co-operative education and research requires a strong co-operative framework within which to thrive. The sharing of co-operative education materials, innovations and experience provides an excellent business model portraying the benefits of building an EOE to overcome this need.

Acting locally, working globally
Until recently, most of the possibilities for pooling resources occurred first at the local or national level. This is no longer the case with the innovative use of current technologies. The evolution of the Internet provides a new platform for the centralisation of resources and has made it possible for co-operators to break the barriers and work on a global level by acting locally.

The Internet has dramatically changed the course of education: an increasing amount of material is being published on the Internet in all areas of education in order to illustrate and animate textual facts by benefiting from the Internet's innovative technology.

How can you participate?
- Become a member

- Search for, download, and use the information available on this site

- Extend the resources by contributing new material

- Adapt existing material and add it to the "resources" to enable different regions or economic sectors to benefit

- Translate existing material and add it to the "resources" to promote accessibility to multilingual cultures

- Inform the community of co-op events about which you know

- Add your organisations calendar of events to the database

The format of the materials in this site is entirely dependent on the members: web sites with information related to co-op education and research, images illustrating co-operative values, photographs of co-operators and co-operative events, java applications, etc. In this way the Virtual Community for Co-operative Education will become an ongoing and high-profile success story illustrating that Co-operation Really Works!

Phase One of this project is now available on-line. This part of the project, completed in June 1998, was funded by the following partners: Apple Computers, Saskatchewan University Center for the Study of Co-operatives, Internet Prolink, Trademark and ICA. It contains the setting up of the infrastructure for the VCCE as well as the following sections:

- The Home Page: which includes  information about the VCCE, the ICA, the internet and its impact on education, and information on how to participate in the project.

- Resources Page: this will eventually become a list of resources and links to web sites which can be searched by subject, sector, region and medium.

- People: a list of members of the VCCE and other contacts, and

- Events: a list of co-op events around the world and links to calendars of individual co-ops.

Phase Two of this project will concentrate on building up a Forum to search and add resources, members and events as well as adapting the interface for French and Spanish audiences. "Founding members", consisting of individuals, committees or organisations wishing to participate in bringing the Forum to the co-operative world, will be able to oversee the development of the Forum and participate in its customisation, as well as benefit from an individual website within the framework of the ICA website. Set within the VCCE, the FORUM will benefit from the VCCE's services and resources, which  include: a pool of co-operative resources for the purpose of education and research, ranging from links to a co-operative study centre's curriculum to an archive of historical photographs of historical co-operators or lists of contacts; information about the members of the VCCE, including address, e-mail, web site, etc.; the opportunity to communicate with a free association of co-operators interested in co-operative education and research; an on-line calendar of all co-operative events, as well as links to individual organisations' on-line calendars; participation in a global community of co-operators.

We need to generate CHF 15,000 and so far CHF 5,000 has been pledged by the ICA, Trademark, as well as an anonymous donation from a Norwegian organisation. All sponsors will be credited on the VCCE web site with a link to their individual site.

A further CHF 1,000 per language is needed to develop interfaces in different languages. Anyone interested in contributing to this development should request the project proposal from Trademark at ICA.