The Future of Networking Technologies for Learning

The Future of Networking Technologies for Learning
Workshop Report

Andy Carvin
Office of New Media
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

----------------------------------------------------------------------

There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change.
Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Many people claim 1995 as The Year of the Internet. First developed in 1969, the Internet itself is nothing new, but in the last 12 to 18 months, it has developed and expanded at an exponential rate previously unheard of in the world of electronic media. The World Wide Web (WWW), for example, was a relatively unknown and unused portion of cyberspace as recently as 1993, when the number of WWW sites numbered only in the hundreds. Now the number has grown to hundreds of thousands, as can be seen on popular online directories such as Yahoo, where roughly 1,000 new sites appear each day.

Once written off by many as a virtual realm for academics and military researchers, the Internet has evolved into a truly revolutionary technological and social phenomenon. Every week, millions of people wander the Internet looking for interesting online events, tracking down friends from school, or even trying to find ways to make money. Yet the Internet's role as a potentially empowering tool in education is only beginning to be realized. While the number of K-12 schools with functional WWW sites has grown in the last year from around 200 to over 1,800, there remain 95,000-plus schools that have yet to take this step. The Internet offers students opportunities to explore, communicate with others, and create complex learning environments, yet less than five percent of American classrooms have functional Internet access. What can be done to improve access to networking technology, and how will this access change how young people learn?

To further explore the future of computer networking in education, the U.S. Department of Education called together a small yet diverse group of Internet experts, including teachers, online service developers, researchers, and computer scientists. These individuals met for a two-day workshop in November 1995, to present their thoughts on the future of educational networking. Perhaps most importantly, they were brought together to try to articulate a concise new vision of what policy makers, network developers, educators, and the community in general can do to further define the role of networking in the classrooms of tomorrow.

As a precursor to the conference itself, attendees were asked to prepare white papers on educational networking as it related to their particular specialties and interests. These 15 reports would then be summarized during the meetings and serve as the foundation for group discussion.

This paper reports the outcomes of these meetings, following the same program as the gathering itself. Attendees presented summaries of their own perspectives on educational networking, based on their white papers. After several groups of attendees had presented their thoughts, they considered the issues raised in the summaries in an open discussion. Presentations and discussions alternated for several rounds, and then were followed by a concluding session that attempted to articulate the issues raised by the participants into a unified vision.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Opening the individual presentations were John Ziebarth and Joseph Hardin of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. They argued that despite the fact that the Internet has been in use for over two decades, we have yet to see a full- fledged "revolution" in education because of it. Many schools have used computers in the classroom since the late 1970s, but even with the recent explosion in Internet use, classroom connectivity remains both rare and underutilized.

Now that the WWW has started to reach mainstream users in terms of ease of use and affordable access, significant numbers of schools have the capability to interact online. The key to successful interactivity, said Ziebarth and Hardin, is not simply offering educational access to preexisting networked materials. Rather, a more valuable role for the WWW is to offer a collaborative environment where users can create, publish, and share information of their own with other users. Clearly, online collaboration will become more desirable to many other schools as connectivity prices decrease and collaboration tool quality increases over time. But this has yet to prevent tens of thousands of students and educators from going online to create their own public spheres and working environments, as well as to explore those sites designed by others. It's an opportunity that many teachers won't let slip by them, for as Ziebarth pointed out, we're reaching a point where "teachers can't be competitivetin other words, prepare today's kids for the un-versity and the modern workplacetwithout the Web."

Bob Carlitz of the University of Pittsburgh and Gene Hastings of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center elaborated on issues of access to affordable technology by focusing on the economics of school networking. In the words of Carlitz, the biggest obstacle that many educational institutions face today is in building the "information driveway," that last segment of connectivity that links them to the information highway. For schools to implement a network policy in which each classroom has the connectivity, hardware, software, and training to access the Internet readily (and effectively, for that matter), the costs are more than just prohibitivetthey are simply beyond the reach of traditional school budgets. And more often than not, schools will attempt to articulate a technology policy that isolates itself from other institutions in the community that use the Internet, rather than collaborating with those institutions to share costs and reduce individual overhead. As Gene Hastings put it, this attitude is not unlike proposing a bond issue to build highways that are used only by schoolbusesthighly inefficient and somewhat absurd.

To address this situation, Carlitz and Hastings advocated encouraging competition among technology developers and local service providers to offer schools inexpensive standard user devices, software, and servers. As long as PCs remain in the range of $1,200 to $3,000 a unit, ubiquitous Net access for students is unrealistic. Community institutions can play a role by developing pilot programs that involve partnerships between schools and area businesses. And as the federal government continues to deregulate technology industries, local governments can serve as role models for schools by implementing their own technology programs, while also offering mentoring programs and other networking outreach activities.

Turning the conference's attention toward curriculum reform and development, James Kaput of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, explored what he has termed "the Component Revolution." With the continuing expansion of Internet access, Kaput argued, it is necessary for educators to rethink mathematics curriculum for all levels of students. Scientific and mathematical knowledge is increasing at such a rate that the mathematics of the early 21st century will differ more from the mathematics of today than today's math differs from that of two centuries ago. Thus, marginal changes in mathematics curricula will not suffice. According to Kaput, we must develop profoundly different models of mathematics teaching that allow for the adoption or replacement of new curricular components as it becomes necessary.

These new strides in math curriculum, Kaput stressed, must go beyond working with elite groups of top-notch students, as is often the case with experimental curricula. In his words, "our [current] layer-cake, filter curriculum is a silent, efficient engine of structural inequity. We can't afford to waste a single person, but our curriculum wastes millions." It is imperative to recognize the need for a radical overhaul of the math curriculum, one in which an open architecture allows for new discoveries as well as new technologies. And with the help of distributed networking, object-oriented scripting, and collaborative WWW environments, such a curriculum would be both possible and desirable.

Chris Dede of George Mason University continued the presentations with a brief talk on the evolution of networking. "We mustn't think about networking as mere channels for people's content," he said. Instead, we must recognize the Internet as a synthetic environment where interaction and group creativity can occur, just as they can in real-world situations. And this means more than just interacting with other humans; advances in the development of "smart objects" allow online designers to create characters in cyberspace that can explain their role in a given environment, as well as orient themselves and adapt as users and other objects affect that environment.

Dede also stressed that we ought not to forget that networking technologies affect more than just the domain of education. Networking has the power to impact a much broader and general audience of people, as can be seen in the mass popularity of commercial online services. The key, then, is to come up with strategies that encourage people to use networking tools to continue learning throughout their lives, even after their period of formal education is long past.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

At this point in the agenda, conference chair Gwen Solomon opened the floor for questions, comments, and debate. Many attendees focused on the issue of networking economics, introduced earlier by Carlitz and Hastings. Beverly Hunter of Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) pointed out that it is not uncommon for communities to begin implementing a comprehensive technology plan, only to be overridden by a state education agency that prefers to institute an educational network from the top down. John Ziebarth responded by arguing that statewide networking policies can be valuable as a means of avoiding the spread of incompatible community networking endeavors, each developed with only one or two project goals in mind.

Clearly, teamwork between state and local institutions is necessary for systemic development of educational networking, noted Bob Kozma of SRI International. "When we talk about access," he explained, "it's not just access to the technology itself; it's access to the decision and policy-making process." To this, Bob Carlitz added, "It's fine if a state entity leads the effort as long as [the technology plan] is scalable and creates a true collaborative environment."

Carlitz suggested that state education agencies pay keen attention to the potential impact they have over local technology efforts, both for good and for ill. While some states have adeptly developed solid technology policies, others have not been as successful. In the latter case, community-based efforts to implement technology in schools have tried to fill in the leadership gap and often have become the driving force in technology policy. State agencies must take a leadership role and encourage bottom-up, locally driven technology solutions when possible, while offering outreach and matching support to help community efforts catch hold.

Margaret Riel of InterLearn emphasized the need for network planners to remember the human face of Internet policy. "We need to change our idea of professional development," she said. "Teachers like to learn, yet they rarely learn while they teach, and that's a shame. It would be powerful to get classes to be a learning environment for everyone involved."

And perhaps the key to changing teacher and student roles, said Nora Sabelli of the National Science Foundation, is to find ways to change a community's understanding of what teaching and education is all about in the first place. "The school boards, the parents, the voters, need to understand that teachers and schools need the leeway to do this, to spend time learning and exploring," she said. And as Chris Dede observed, "There are multiple stakeholders in this "new learning" we're talking about, so we need to consider that."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Returning to the next round of individual presentations, Bob Tinker, President of the Concord Consortium, is especially interested in the role of handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs), like Apple's Newton series. As the price of PDAs plummets, he argued, they will become more accessible for everyday student use. This economic advance would be a great step for students who don't have full-fledged PC access outside of school and who are unable to maintain any personal authority over the PCs within the school.

Tinker also encouraged people to look beyond the whole notion of a personal digital "assistant," a description that can give the misleading impression that these devices are merely a glorified datebook or memo organizer. Instead, he said, they are powerful microprocessors of data that tif ever combined with wireless communication, Web browsers, and free modular softwaretstudents could use for experiments, field studies, and other forms of authentic science assessment. Yet Tinker also sounded a cautionary note by pointing out that these tools will never be free, no matter how much we might wish that were the case. This comment once again raised the issue of technological equity; only the cutting-edge schools acquire PDAs for their students, thus widening the gap between themselves and the schools or parents that cannot provide the same.

Many educators tend to assume that science and mathematics are the subjects best suited for enhancement by Internet access. But Scott Stoner and Janice Abrahams of the Kennedy Center's ARTSEDGE program argued that arts education has just as much to gain from this new technology. Arts education is often ignored when educational institutions are budgeting for technology or planning innovative pilot programs, said Stoner and Abrahams. Yet technology has enormous potential for bringing artists and musicians into the classroom, whether in person or virtually, and for involving the community and parents in arts education.

Stoner and Abrahams also highlighted the critical need for teachers to develop and have access to a broad knowledge base of arts information, just as they often do in other disciplines. Arts educators need more than static lesson plans to enrich their curriculum. Online image libraries and digital sound archives must be created to offer students and teachers building blocks for learning. In addition to accessing art, technology also makes it possible for students and teachers to publish art, a capability that can be vital force in fostering student creativity. While other issues such as copyright and assessment still have to be worked out, it is quite clear that arts education has much to gain from open access to educational networking.

Elaborating on the notion of online creativity, Sue Mernit, editor of New Jersey Online and former director of Internet development for Scholastic, Inc., tackled the important issue of student publishing on the Web. She painted a scenario where students everywhere have the ability to publish content online. This potential, of course, raises the question of how teachers will be able to handle this glut of information, much of it not worth publishing the first place. "If we don't want 500 TV channels," she said, "why would we want 5,000 school portfolios online as well? Are we willing to pay for all of this online information?"

Student publishing is one of the most exciting possibilities of educational networking, yet Mernit insisted that we need to focus on what kinds of opportunities this potential actually gives to students and teachers. Certain common guiding principles would help ensure the effectiveness of student online publishing, she said. For instance, students who publish ought to recognize a target audience for their work and do their best to interact with that audience when possible. In the commercial world, it is the smaller sites with defined goals and good interactive ability that stand above the rest, and this model can certainly apply to student publishing as well.

As more and more content appears online, the need for high-quality archiving ability and directory services increases proportionally. Jan Hawkins and Margaret Honey of the Center for Children and Technology, Education Development Center, outlined some basic issues related to organizing online information as practically and as robustly as possible. When it comes to simple text documents, they said, search engines and basic hierarchical directories do an acceptable job for categorizing data. But as the Internet becomes more multimedia oriented, the need to categorize visual and audio data alongside simpler textual data makes the job of so-called "cybrarians" much more complex.

Additionally, according to Hawkins and Honey, new search tools will be needed to track down and prioritize these new data forms. Honey posed the questions, "How can a museum or library make a huge archive relevant to the educational community? How do they sort it out?" Advances in search software, as well as in data organizing, will make this process easier. "We need to encourage inventiveness and tinkering," she continued.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

At this point, the conference moved into another general discussion. Exchanges centered on issues of how to develop quality learning environments, both online and in the classroom. Some attendees voiced distress at educators who see virtual and real-world learning environments as being in opposition, rather than being complementary. "We tend to focus on virtual space," warned Jan Hawkins, "instead of embedding it in real-world classroom work. Content needs that connectiveness to it."

Beverly Hunter expressed concern that even in cyberspace, kids aren't given enough credit for their abilities. "It's too common when people say, our education has a problem, lets offer more workshops," she said. "This then avoids the real problems, like getting students to take responsibility for their own learning.

"Sure, you need to know that a kid is in the right class in the first place," Hunter continued, "but at least that kid has some control and awareness of their course. Too many schools believe kids can't learn unless you send them through a course and with a guide."

Bob Tinker put his own spin on the argument by noting, "Well, kids can't figure everything out for themselves, but we at least need to offer kids a sequence of activities, a true course, for them to explore." Margaret Riel concurred with Tinker, adding that "a course, remember, must be a group of people led by a trailblazer of sorts. You can't do everything on your own."

Robbie McClintock of Columbia University's Institute for Learning Technologies and Jan Hawkins both reminded the group that no matter which ideal vision we may have for a learning environment, it still must be implemented amid the numerous real-world dilemmas that plague all educators and students. "How do teachers and students have time to do all of this?" Hawkins asked. "It's still an issue of practicality." McClintock added, "How do you put the kids to these tasks? What kind of projects do we set them towards, and with what tools do they navigate?"

As the discussion period drew to an end, Bob Carlitz suggested that even though there are no simple answers to these problems, the distributed nature of the online environment makes it much easier for groups of students and teachers to spread out tasks in the hopes of achieving common learning goals. "Projects must follow the network modeltthe layering and distribution of services," he said. "Raw exploration can be fun, but some organizational structure is needed, a hierarchy for information access."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Returning to the individual reports, Margaret Riel focused on the role of networking in humanities education. Traditionally, she said, schools have served as a medium for passing knowledge from one generation to another. "Communication allows us to preserve ideas across time and space," she said, and new media such as the Internet can play a vital role in that process. With the Internet, according to Riel, students may communicate and interact with information as simple as raw data and as complex as real people on the other end of a modem. Learners are no longer limited to receiving knowledge from a teacher within their personal space. Now, they may reach out to other educators, as well as to other students, to share ideas, impart knowledge, and combine their talents to create new things.

Ferdi Serim, district computer coordinator at Princeton Regional Schools in New Jersey, tackled the Internet's role as a potential reformer of professional development and of information exchange between educators. Traditionally, teachers learn from other teachers using the conservatory model: a given set of skills, a repertoire, is passed down generationally, with little room for experimentation or personal adaptation. In contrast, Serim proposed what he called a "carava/serai" model, named after the oasis points on Mideast trade routes where camel caravans stopped to exchange goods and prepare for the next journey.

According to Serim, educators need places, both virtual and real-world, where they can come together, learn from each other's experiences, and join other groups for potential project collaboration. As an example, Serim cited his own virtual Caravanserai, the Online Internet Institute, an ever-changing group of online educators who work together to complete projects based on similar interests. "Every person is both a learner and a teacher, no matter who they are," Serim noted. And the Internet can be a powerful medium, he said, in which learning and teaching can occur among all of those who care to visit.

Beverly Hunter and John Richards of Bolt Beranek and Newman presented their thoughts on how students can contribute their knowledge and demonstrate their learning to their larger community. According to Hunter, "People of all ages have reasons, the purpose, and the means for learning and building knowledge together." Instead of educators isolating the learning process within the confines of the school walls, she said, they should forge links to the outside community to find ways of imparting and sharing their knowledge with others.

Richards cited the example of BBN's Co-NECT, an authentic assessment project where students share their work with community participants from outside of the school. "The kids are producing work read by adults for real life," he pointed out, "so they put more effort into it editorially." Co-NECT uses networking technology as a catalyst for sharing student portfolios away from the school grounds and effectively bringing the community into the school by means of the network. The challenge is to get school districts to work in their communities to access networking technologies and to develop projects in which citizens and organizations may participate.

David Rothman, author of the recently released book NetWorld! and a writer who has studied copyright issues, brought focus to the difficult and complex issues of copyright, students, and cyberspace. "Copyright drives all NII policy," he claimed. "We've become paranoid about intellectual property." This paranoia, unfortunately, is somewhat to be expected, for very few people outside of the world of copyright law have a strong sense of what is legal to copy and what is not. "If you transfer too much to your Mac, you might be a criminal," he said. "It's not as big a deal if you make a xerox or tape a movie, but when the issue is online, it's dissected and attacked by all sides, for one reason or another."

Returning to the general issues of education and knowledge, Robbie McClintock targeted his presentation on how new technology can be used for social construction and learning. If educators wish to make the most out of networking tools, he asked, just what key ideas should they be framing in their classrooms? Internet technology has the ability to empower users with instant, transparent access to knowledge, debate, and criticism. With the improvement of online multimedia, we will become free of what McClintock termed "the tyranny of textuality," allowing us to create and learn with our visual and aural abilities.

As this vision becomes more of a reality through new technological developments, we must also articulate a policy that includes all potential learners, McClintock said, instead of one that limits educational technology interactions to select groups with specific skills or experiences. Activities must become student-centered, not teacher-centered, McClintock urged. "Who is the central practitioner of education? The learner!" he said. The more networked our schools become, the less segregated the students will be, allowing for broader, more equitable, learning opportunities.

Robert Kozma and Edys Quellmalz of SRI International's Center for Technology in Learning wrapped up the presentations with a discussion of how we can develop models for assessing educational networking. Despite the hundreds of pilot projects, testbeds, and other educational experiments going on at any given time, no one has yet formulated a broad model for assessing the success of these projects. Investigators must be able to define clear goals for a given project, as well as articulate which educational approaches are being followed, which technologies and resources are made available to the participants, and what context the broader community plays in the project.

In evaluating the success of a project, said Kozma and Quellmalz, researchers must consider numerous factors, some obvious, some not. Beyond looking at the basic pedagogy and outcomes of a project, they ought to consider issues of technology equity and access, professional development, links with community resources, and cost-effectiveness. Project leaders must be willing to examine and critique all of this data, as well as the general results of the project itself, in order to serve successfully as a model for other projects on a much broader scale.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

At the conclusion of the presentations, Gwen Solomon charged the conferees with the difficult task of articulating a unified vision for educational networking. Solomon initiated discussion by raising a core dilemma that plagues all types of reform: "What ideas do we carry in our heads that make educational institutions resistant to change?" she asked, reiterating a question p√Ęsed minutes earlier by McClintock.

John Ziebarth began by painting a somewhat grim picture of the many obstacles that impede reform. "K-12 administrators are affected by educational court decisions, higher education needs, the community (including parents, school boards, and so on), local businesses wanting new employees, and the state and local government. How can you be a pioneer within this siege structure?"

Beverly Hunter then turned to the work of technology critic Neil Postman. "Postman says that we need a new set of myths and stories. The old stories don't work any more. We need new narratives. We keep working on the re- engineering of schools, but not on the metaphysics of education."

Nora Sabelli responded by suggesting that what schools need even more are clear- cut, practical reform goals. "How will other people measure the success of a new educational model?" she asked. "If we want to succeed, it's not by creating new metaphors, but by providing real changes and goals. We must think of how we can build this transition to achieve these goals. Why isn't the system changing? Why are people reluctant to change?"

Sabelli's comment struck a powerful chord among attendees. For years, educators have tried to come up with ways to reform the system, yet many people have reached a point where the enormity of the task breeds only cynicism and frustration. Ferdi Serim, the only currently practicing K-12 teacher in the group, added: "Teachers feel oppressed from all of the crap about how they do their jobs, just like [government workers] during furlough. We need to take into account this negativism . . .

"Schools are isolated, that's why none want to change," Serim continued. "It ain't the real world. Changes can't be forced from the outside, except by parents and by the students themselves."

Margaret Riel concurred that the education community must do more to boost the morale and the integrity of the teachers themselves. She cited some of her own work on professional development projects. "With collaborative projects, the teachers would get and stay excited, and they'd go back [to their own classrooms] pumped," she said. "The power is in the teachers creating not for development in itself, but for ways to help yourself and your teaching of kids." She added, "Professional development should help meet an emotional need of improving a person's impression of their own art. Working directly with other teachers expands your own teaching ability and style."

Jan Hawkins asked the group to step back and consider why it is that change in general is so difficult. "We talk about whole-scale change," she argued, "and psychologically, that's huge. When was the last time you changed your mind about anything significant? Whole-scale change scares us to death. What do we want to preserve from what we have? What are we still committed to any more? We need something to hold onto just to stay sane."

Janice Abrahams concluded, somewhat sardonically," It's a systemic divorce; we need some therapy first before we try to do this." Debate about how to fight "the system" continued for some time, and it became clear to everyone involved that the notion of building a simple, unified vision of the future of educational networking would not be as attainable as one would hope. Many participants, though, agreed that the purpose of education had to keep evolving. A century ago, schools were aimed at generating a basic industrial workforce, while those few students who wanted more advanced education or vocational pursuits continued their education through universities and apprenticeships.

And now, as our information- and technology-driven economy evolves, schools must evolve, too, so that students are prepared to tackle new problems, solve them, and adapt as necessary. "Learners must at least be prepared to act as producers," Bob Kozma argued. Margaret Riel viewed the issue from the students' perspective: "Kids must be able to know for themselves, 'What can I do? What am I good at? What do I do well that I enjoy doing?'"

"And how can I learn new things," Ferdi Serim added.

Members of the group seemed to agree that students need increasing problem- solving abilities and environmental adaptabilitytcognitive malleability skills, as one might put it. "Nothing is ever what we anticipate," Janice Abrahams pointed out. "People always do things differently."

"And that's the point," responded John Richards. "Things change, so we need to teach people to learn, to adapt. A secretary of 10 years ago isn't the secretary of today. If we don't train kids to do Information Age jobs, we're in trouble. Sure, you can be in the service industry, that's secure. Repetitive jobs are moving abroad. So we're stuck with expanding the information industry just to have a future. What's the alternative?"

As the conference progressed, it seemed for a time as if cynicism would win the day. Beverly Hunter expressed concern that focusing only on technology skills and adaptability would leave out the important goals of fostering among young people creativity, artistry, and love of lifelong learning. "As long as people are told that job security is the end in itself, that stinks."

Ferdi Serim countered, "It's hard to be a lifelong learner without a job . . . People have always created their own jobs. They just need to really know how to learn well. We need to equip them along the way so they can take their place in society."

In order to help bring the group to some form of closure, Gwen Solomon asked everyone to compile their own personal list of fears and hopes for the educational system. As the lists were presented and compared--it became clear that they were dominated by certain basic issues that had been expressed previously in the individual presentations and group discussion. For one thing, all agreed that educators need to be given more opportunities to explore and learn while they teach. "There's no way to change education without changing teachers," Margaret Riel concluded. And Janice Abrahams reminded the group, "Education is supposed to be about empowering people and making them feel good about learning . . ."

Conferees again expressed their desire for a stronger relationship between schools and their communities, including businesses, higher education, and individual citizens. If more ties were createdtties that are technological, social, or economictbetween the classroom and the community, all parties would stand to gain from the experience. In Margaret Riel's words, "Schools become networked community learning centers."

John Richards pointed out how increased community partnerships also increase the exchange of values, ideas, and the desire to learn; "a society transformed by information, in order to value learning and to respect individual differences."

But perhaps Ferdi Serim best summarized the need to change our own attitudes towards reform. When people are asked to try something new or help out in reform efforts, he observed, there is often a certain amount of reticence that creates friction in the process. "We end conversations with 'It's not my job,' whether it's to do this or to do that," Serim pointed out. "Instead, we should start off with things and say, 'It's not my job, but I know what I know, so I can help out.'" Elaborating on this point in an e-mail a few days after the conference, Serim wrote, "The gatherings of such people on the Internet give me much hope for our collective future. Only when many of us, whose jobs consist of an entire spectrum of activity, decide to go beyond our mandates will the very important work that is nobody's job finally begin to get done."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

As the two-day meeting came to a close, there was a sense among many participants that the group hadn't accomplished everything it had started out to achieve. Originally, the goal was to define a clear vision covering systemic reform, equity, and innovation, and the role that networking might play in those processes. But as time passed, each attempt to answer questions only led to more questions, and participants found themselves contending with the realities of the current system, where apathy, stubbornness, and a lack of hope often win out over the desire for radical change.

If anything, the meetings made it clear that we as reformers, educators, and technologists aren't as close to overhauling the entire system as we would like. But despite this looming frustration, the desire to change remains strong. The Online Internet Institute, BBN's Co-NECT, and other endeavors demonstrate that the will is there to offer students, teachers, and the community at large the chance to make a difference in their own lives as learners. While policy leaders encourage reform efforts on a national scale, the real changes will continue to occur locally, as communities and schools tackle their own particular problems head first.

The need to reform our schools still exists, and network technology may help bring about some important reforms. But as the conference participants repeated time and time again, it isn't enough to develop technology policies and then assume that they will serve as the catalyst for full-fledged, systemic change. Reform through technology must go hand in hand with a much broader education reform that recognizes the futility of continuing to isolate schools from local institutions and citizens. Otherwise, we will indeed continue to build private highways for schoolbuses, as Gene Hastings and Bob Carlitz suggested, while ignoring the need to connect schools with the community and the home. If that link can be fostered, then maybe it will be possible to find more people who will say, "It's not my job, but I'm willing to help." And with all of the needs in education reform today, we'll appreciate all the help we can get.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

[ Back to the Futures Page ]
Last modified May 1, 1996 (gls).