Guest Editorial (untitled)
by Raymond A. Smith CEO, Bell Atlantic Corp. The Information Age is not without its town criers. Nor is it without the constant din of their message: "The information superhighway is coming! The information superhighway is coming!" Media frenzy aside, there is little doubt that advanced technology is dramatically transforming the way many of us live, work, play and learn. But even as the media celebrate the wonders of information technology, educators and administrators are wondering how to maximize its availability and ensure its effective use in the classroom. There have been far too many stories of dusty, over-priced computers sitting idle and unused in locked storage rooms. Public/Private Partnerships Bell Atlantic's experience with more than 70 projects in our region involving the integration of information technology and education suggests one way to ensure that dramatic advances in educational outcomes are realized: creation of innovative public/private partnerships to deliver educational technology to the classroom. The public and private sectors, working together, are a lot more powerful than either one working alone. And corporations, with their need for a highly skilled, adaptive work force plus their extensive experience with information technology, are natural partners in educational technology projects. Our experience suggests there is no "one size fits all" method for creating successful partnerships. The focus can be as narrow as our distance learning trial in New Castle County, Delaware, comprising five high schools and a two-year technical college. Or it can be as broad as Bell Atlantic's entire mid-Atlantic region, where we will connect all K-12 public schools to our "full service network" as it is built. But whether broadly or narrowly focused, whether simple or complex in its technological implementation, our most successful educational technology partnerships are characterized by three basic principles : First, clearly share and delineate mutual interests. At Bell Atlantic, we're not interested in writing a check and walking away. Both partners need to learn from the experience. Second, provide benefits for corporate customers as well as students. We want to make sure we're working on projects that can directly improve the well-being of our customers. And we want to ensure results - so we select just a few opportunities at a time, and we put our heart and soul into them. Third, involve employees. Their participation will ensure that the techniques, skills and wisdom developed in the partnership can be shared with our customers. Some Active Examples When public and private institutions working together meet all these criteria, there are no limits to what can be accomplished - even in the smallest, most focused programs. Delaware's New Castle County distance learning trial is not only sharing scarce educational resources, but also generating potential revenue opportunities from local businesses interested in providing basic skills training for their workers. Bell Atlantic's "electronic mentoring" efforts in Delaware are providing us with valuable experience in increased network usage as well as the educational uses of broadcast-quality, two-way audio and video transmitted over fiber optic cables. We've even joined New Castle's distance learning network ourselves. In Blacksburg, Virginia, Virginia Tech, collaborating with Bell Atlantic and the township of Blacksburg, has created a network connecting residents and students to businesses, town government and university administration. Results have been dramatic: a surging sense of community, broad participation rates, a tighter integration between town and university, and a model for universities and municipalities around the country. Bell Atlantic's donation of equipment and services "jump-started" Blacksburg's effort while also providing Bell Atlantic with a test bed for new technologies and services, making it easier for us to duplicate other "electronic villages" around our region. And many municipalities are interested. In Union City, as part of our "Opportunity New Jersey" partnership with the state of New Jersey, Bell Atlantic provided 170 high-risk junior high school students, their teachers, parents and administrators with computers for school and home, which we networked to each other, the Internet and an extensive CD-ROM multimedia library. After almost two years in place, student test scores are up dramatically, language skills are vastly improved, absenteeism has declined precipitously and parents are enthusiastically involved in their children's education. And Bell Atlantic has developed skills, technology and software that we can package and deliver to other hard-pressed school districts around our region. Educators Are Not Alone Bell Atlantic's extensive educational partnerships in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Washington, D.C. and New Jersey underscore the mutually beneficial principles of successful public/ private partnerships. In every area, the willingness of the public sector to work in close quarters with private corporations is creating unique synergy. The education technology revolution has begun and, with it, the transformation of learning. Our nation's future depends on your success. The stakes are high, the challenges huge. The good news is that you're not alone in your efforts. We in the private sector have a vested interest in your success. And by working together, we can ensure the delivery of positive outcomes for students, educators, corporations and their customers.
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.