By Dr. Sylvia Charp Editor-in Chief An increasing number of students, faculty and staff have access to networks. Use of the Internet (the worldwide network of separately administered computer networks) is expanding rapidly in education. The number of local and regional networks connected to national networks is growing. In the U.S., it is estimated that over 6,000 regional, state and local networks serve as gateways to the Internet, and more than 12,000 gateways exist worldwide. State telecomputing systems are forming an electronic community of learners. For example, Virginia's Public Education network provides educators in all 2,000 of Virginia's public schools with access to the Internet without charge. It also provides access to individual students, classes (K-12) and to the university community, including pre-service teachers. The majority of states offer e-mail access to the education community. In Connecticut, grants are available for educators in "K-12 who are motivated, willing to consider new education strategies or ideas." One goal is to develop a variety of applications that could be shared. Networks' Impact on Innovation As stated in a recent report issued by the Higher Education Information Resource Alliance (HEIR), the greatest impact networks have made on our colleges and universities to date has been in the areas of interpersonal communication. It also lists the following specific developments, among a number of others, which have occurred due to widespread use of networks: Open Classrooms: Students communicate with each other around the clock; Customized, personalized learning: Interactive multimedia instructional software allow students to replay new subjects at a depth appropriate to their individual needs; Hands-on learning: Use of live-data and real-time simulation; Time-shifted learning: Rigidity of class schedules ignored, thus relieving space pressure and accommodating complex schedules of non-traditional students; Distance education: Communication is maintained through a variety of formats -- voice, data and video; and Collaboration: Institutions sharing resources and reducing costs. National Information Infrastructure (NII) It can be assumed that the National Information Infrastructure (NII) -- the plan advanced by Vice President Al Gore for a broadband, interactive, multi-million dollar network -- has great potential in education. According to a poll of 400 high technology companies responding to an American Electronics Association's survey of its members asked to assess the importance of NII, respondents listed education as the primary user, followed closely by media/publishing, banking and finance. About three quarters of the executives surveyed stated government regulations and lack of standards as two obstacles to the creation of NII. Slightly more than half stated cost as a barrier. Paying for multimedia transmission and the need for new rules to help finance an international information highway is a major concern. As stated in Computer World (March 27, 1994) at an international conference of industry executives held in The Netherlands, "Questions of financing investments and gaining access to global markets must be cleared up before digital convergence -- the merging of television, PCs, telephone and mobile communications -- becomes a reality." Industry leaders agree that government can play a role, but mainly as a watchdog rather than as a regulator. Rates seems to be a big issue. Vice President Al Gore has stated the need to examine "highway" costs and he d'es not exclude tariffs to ensure that libraries and schools be put on the information highway. As Edward A. Fitzsimmons, Special Assistant for Education and Training, Office of Science and Education Policy, Executive Offices of the President reminded us at the conference sponsored by the Society of Technology and Teacher Education, "nothing comes free; someone will have to pay."
Other Factors That Must Be Considered Other factors also need to be examined. For example: There is a lack of communication regarding value of networking and telecommunication to educators. Though the primary reason to build NII is seen as promoting business efficiency, according to the survey of the members of the American Electronics Association, its use in education must be better understood. Training and equipment seems to be more important than access. Instruction on obtaining information from networks, along with virus protection issues, copyright, security, information indexing and retrieval, etc. must all be easily available Strategies for involving educators on the use of networking and telecommunications must get users past the basic skills level and past the unfriendliness of some networks. Filtering truly useful information from all the available information is becoming a real issue. We do look forward to the emergence of the Information Superhighway. We hope educators will play a major role in the planning process so that its proper utilization is assured.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.