In this months Broadly Speaking, we speak with Duane Ackerman, Chairman and CEO of the Atlanta-based BellSouth Corporation. A keynote speaker at this years NECC conference, his focus is on the enormous opportunities that the information economy and broadband technologies have created for students as learners and future employees, for educators as shapers of technology, and for communities as the standard-bearers for quality of life.
T.H.E.: What new doors will be opened to education when high-speed delivery systems become the standard? Can it, and will it, affect how instruction takes place?
Ackerman: High-speed delivery means more user-friendly, efficient access. The work of the BellSouth Foundation is showing that teachers and students increasingly favor the technology, and are beginning to drive the best use of it for learning both in and out of the classroom. Working together, teachers and students can control how much, how fast, how often and how deeply they will delve into subjects that not only meet the curriculum requirements, but also satisfy the curiosity and commitment that children bring to learning.
Obviously digital content can be extremely current compared to resources historically available. Primary sources are now available without the screen or translation of the media or commercial vendors. This demands that teachers guide learning rather than impart knowledge, and that students work together to identify and digest the larger amounts of information available to them. Thus, effective use of online content effectively changes the roles of teachers and students in the learning process.
T.H.E.: How will online content change as a result of faster delivery? Who do you think will supply this content?
Ackerman: Online content specifically directed at our instructional system will increase to take advantage of the growing ubiquity of the Internet supported by the E-rate and local initiatives. Over 90% of schools are now connected to the Internet.
Whatever content is on the World Wide Web is content that is available to the classroom. However, learners want some help in organizing and qualifying that information. We already see local and state educational systems aligning their curricula with online sites. Communities of educational interest, such as teachers of mathematics and other disciplines, will promote content. Home-schooling associations direct their constituents to valuable content, and subject matter experts, teachers and students themselves can provide content. The traditional textbook companies are digitizing their information for online use, and new companies are springing up to meet the demand. Individuals and institutions must find a way to determine their confidence in the content that is available.
T.H.E.: Define the Information Economy.
Ackerman: The Information Economy is the networked economy, encompassing the new set of commercial, financial and social transactions that exchange information through high-speed transmission. Through the new information technology, we can store, manipulate and retrieve incalculable amounts of information. And, through new telecommunications services, access to this information is unencumbered by time or distance. These technologies not only expand the productivity and growth of our traditional businesses; they create new businesses, as new skills and knowledge are required to apply the technology. Most importantly, they give the average person tools once used only by government and big corporations, extending personal and economic opportunities to more people than ever before.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.