Telecommunications - Its Future in Education

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Use of telecommunicationsis expanding at all levels of education, particularly in highereducation. This was very evident in the number of sessions devoted toTelecommuni-cations at the most recent EduCause Conference, "TheNetworked Academy," held in Seattle, Washington, December 8-11,1998.

In the eight tracks, thetitles included Distributed Computing and Networking Technologies,Applications Development in the Age of the Web, Staff Development andTraining to meet the needs of a Distributed Environment, andProviding Support in a Networked Environment. Awards for Excellencein Campus Networking had been established to recognize exemplarycampus-wide network planning, management and accessibility, as wellas effective use of the network to enhance teaching, learning,research, administration and community service. This year DukeUniversity received top honors for its extensive, technologicallyviable network infrastructure and careful planning, which hasresulted in network uses for both teaching and services and the useof the Web as an instructional tool in all academic departments.Receiving honorable mention were Northwestern University and WakeForest University. Northwestern University works with K-12 schools,museums, research foundations, etc., in a number of strategicpartnerships. Wake Forest was recognized for its commitment toinformation technology and mobile computing, including laptopcomputers in tuition for every student.

Though it is possible toattend only a few of the many track or poster sessions in the 2 1/2days of the conference and speak to a limited number of attendees(3,500 were representatives from higher education and from companiesoffering exhibits), a number of observations can be made relevant tothe topic of this editorial.

The spread of networks inclassrooms, computer labs, student dormitories and administrationoffices is causing rethinking in areas such as resource management,user training censorship, hardware and software advancements, etc.For example, need for greater bandwidth was frequently expressed,since a significant amount of time is necessary to download graphics,audio and video. The growth of Internet use was well documented.Reasons cited include:

  • easy for faculty members to change course content
  • capability for global connectivity
  • low costs of distribution
  • platform independence

Internet2, involved withnew network capabilities, created interest. Over 130 universities areworking with industry representatives and government organizations toupgrade the technology of the Web to make it run up to 1,000 timesfaster, providing access to data for an increasing number ofapplications that require very high speed computer-to-computercommunication and human/computer interaction in real time. As Dr.Douglas E. Van Houweling, president and CEO, University Corporationfor Advanced Internet Development, stated: "A primary goal ofInternet2 is to make the advanced networking capabilities required bythose new applications broadly available on the global Internet.These capabilities will enable new ways of communicating andcollaborating among university and college campuses, as well as therest of the world." See www.internet2.edu for moreinformation.

Papers on the systematicassessment of use of networked resources and the evaluation ofstudent learning using telecommunications were few. A report by theCoalition for Networked Information (CNI) - "Assessing the AcademicNetworked Environment: A CNI Project" - provided some guidelines(www.cni.org/projects/assessing/). Seven institutions field testedmeasures of the impact of networks and networked informationresources on higher education institutions. Those participating wereBrown University, Dartmouth College, Gettysburg College, King'sCollege (London), Mary Washington College, University of Washington,Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).The report includes guidelines for institutions such as:

  • Align the overall goals of the assessment with the institution's goals and priorities.
  • Consider using more then one assessment technique to measure the aspect of networking that you have chosen; particularly consider combining quantitative and qualitative approaches as complementary techniques.

Educators have usedtelecommunications to enhance student achievement and improve schooladministration and management for a number of years. However, theimprovements in networking tend to be evolutionary rather thenrevolutionary, even though every aspect of the use of technology ineducation has changed, including hardware, instructional content andconnectivity. It is recognized that the network is an evolving,expanding and increasingly important facet of the infrastructure ofevery educational institution.

Networks are judged by theease of their connectivity, functionality, flexibility andaffordability in all educational institutions at every level. Weshall continue to use networks to develop, deliver and administereducational materials and resources, removing geographical barriersand time restraints. As we assess, refine, improve and build uponwhat we have learned, we must not overlook the fact thataccessibility belongs to all.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.

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