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Information networking and schools: The international scene; how the network is changing our schools

Mary-Louise Parkinson
Cisco Systems

This paper will cover issues such as the growing use of the Internet by educators around the world. Why is the Internet growing so rapidly? How are educators expected to keep pace? Examples of working projects and networks already established will be discussed as well as issues facing educators and policy makers regarding the introduction of networking into the education environment.

George Bernard Shaw once observed that all progress depends on the UNREASONABLE man. His argument was that the REASONABLE man adapts himself to the world, while the UNREASONABLE persists in trying to adapt the world to himself; therefore for any change of consequence we must look to the UNREASONABLE man, or woman. While in Shaw's day, perhaps, most men were reasonable, we are now entering an Age of Unreason, when the future, in so many areas, is there to be shaped, by us and for us - a time when the only prediction that will hold true is that no predictions will hold true; a time, therefore, for bold imaginings in private life as well as public, for thinking the unlikely and doing the unreasonable. (Charles Handy, "The Age of Unreason")

"A 1975 report predicted that by 1980 there would be NO MORE growth or requirement for disk drives and PCs". The introduction of both Radio and TV were predicted to vastly change education. In fact it has been entertainment NOT education most affected by these mediums. For more than 40 years the major use for petrol was kerosene lanterns, no-one foresaw the use for aeroplanes, cars etc" (George Strawn, NSFNET Program Director of National Science Foundation).
There are now 20-25m users worldwide on the Internet, with connections to over 140 countries. It is estimated that every 20 minutes, another network is connected to the Internet. An example of some of the vast material now available on the Internet is a recent announcement by IBM to place the Vatican library online via the Internet. Carnegie Mellon will shortly be making its 1 million volume library available on the Internet.

A recent consensus conducted via voluntary reportings over the Internet estimates the number of teachers and students in the US using the Internet at almost 250,000. The number of educational resources, databases, mailing lists, and archives is also growing rapidly - so much so that one educator recently lamented on an education mailing list there was too much available, that the sheer number of distributed services was large enough to overwhelm the novice teacher embarking for the first time on a digital professional development trip. (This problem is being addressed with the appearance of user friendly search and retrieval tools, such as NEXUS developed locally in South Australia.)

The early adopters of the internetworking technology that created the original ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency) and subsequent networks, were the universities. Many universities took on the role of network construction workers, building campus wide backbones and connecting them to regional networks. In the early days, it was the network engineers at the universities who tested and improved new networking protocols and technologies.

This was how Cisco was created. At Stanford university our founders provided and operated the network on campus and were challenged by the requirements of that educational environment. How to provide unlimited access for students, a heterogeneous set of computer equipment, media and protocols and access to a growing national and international Internet.

Stanford University currently has an enrolment of 12,000 students. Each is assigned an account on the campus network and has access to the network via some 16,000 connections (including 6000 dorm rooms). Cisco, by the way, is now a US$billion dollar organisation, the world's leader in internetworking products and is listed in the Fortune 500 group of companies.

46% of the 3 million + computers connected to the Internet are in education. Files on literature, art, the latest science data, are all available to anyone on the Internet. Between 5 and 10,000 news groups, with over 70 megabits of data daily are available through the Internet. In Tuesday's Australian there was an article referring to famous Irish art pieces becoming available through the Internet. The Internet provides a wealth of information, truly a GLOBAL SCHOOLHOUSE - LIBRARY and MUSEUM - without walls or boundaries. But perhaps the greatest future potential for networks in education is not the university - but in primary education and lifelong learning. Of all the institutions that are part of our life, the one that has changed perhaps the LEAST in the past 50 years is primary (or K-12) education.

True, in parts of the world PCs have made it into the lab or perhaps the classroom. But the value of computers increases dramatically when they are connected to each other. There is a story about the magic of networks that asks you to imagine a car plunked down in the jungle. Checking it out, you might find it a very useful piece of equipment indeed. A multipurpose wonder with lights, seating, radio, tape player, mirrors and air conditioning. In awe of the features of the machine, you might never realise that the real magic of a car comes in conjunction with roads. So it is with computers in the classroom. The real magic comes when they are networked to the world.

Cisco has adopted two schools in the schools district near our head office in California. The student population is principally Hispanic, Black and Pacific Islander. Both schools have computer labs and have dial up network connectivity.

This past year, the fifth grade class at one of the schools undertook a science project via the network with a fifth grade class in a Caucasian and very affluent community school about ten miles away. While the learning was an important part of what took place, the most important factor was the electronic friendships that developed. At the end of the project, a joint presentation of the two classes was held at the Hispanic school and their electronic friendships became personal friendships.

In the global schoolhouse, the benefits of networking come in many subtle ways. At the Bush School, in Seattle, Washington, Internet accounts have been given to all the students, not just the teachers The school's headmaster related how two ninth graders were experimenting one day with online library access. Not content with the local libraries, they connected to a catalogue in Mexico. To their surprise, the interface greeted them in Spanish. That floored them, as they had lived their lives in English speaking Washington, had taken classes in Spanish, but hadn't realised it was actually USED somewhere. They also realised their entrance into other countries wouldn't be blocked by the technology, but by language barriers. It was a very powerful discovery that they made on their own. This experience couldn't have been duplicated in a classroom setting.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, schools are ranked very close to the bottom in primary and secondary education. The State is currently in the process of installing a statewide ATM network connecting all of its schools in order to provide quality teaching, state wide, via distance learning, using the State's very best teachers.

Since February this year, Cisco has shipped over 100 high end 7000 routers to Japan to help build a national Internet in that country. The core to this new Internet is education. In addition, ~ of some 75 Japanese universities will be equipped with ATM campus backbones tied to the National network.

Internetworking education activities and conferences are developing in Chile, the UK, Canada and Asia. A recent Internetworking group of workshop teachers was held in Prague a couple of weeks ago and the next will be held in Singapore.

Some of the international direction and evangelism for K-12 networking is being headed by the Internet Society's K-12 Committee. This Committee was formed about 2 years ago to promote the use of networking in the classroom, discuss issues relating to teachers and children accessing the Internet and to propose concrete and useful solutions to barriers facing educators and students.

The most recent (June) Internet Draft "K-12 Internetworking Guidelines" states:

"The future goal of an integrated voice, data, and video network extending to every classroom is exciting, but so far from what exists today that the investment in time and dollars required to realise such a goal will be greater than most districts can muster in the near term. We suggest that a great deal can be done immediately, with relatively few dollars, to provide modern communications systems in and between all schools around the nation.

The present goal is to define a highly functional, homogeneous, and well supported network system that could interconnect all K-12 schools and district and statewide offices. that will enable teachers and administrators to begin to use new communications tools and network based information resources. It takes considerable time to adapt curricula and other programs to take full advantage of new technology. Through the use of standard models for implementation of current network technologies, schools can begin this process now."

Many states have already developed communications services for their schools. A notable example is Texas which provides terminal access to central information resources from every classroom over a statewide network. The requirements for access are minimal; an educator can dial into I of 18 local centres (where Cisco CommServers and modem pools are connected to THEnet via member universities) using existing equipment such as a computer, modem and phone line. Costs for access are low: teachers can currently get an account on this Network for $5/year.

The success of this project is obvious: after little over 2 years of operation, 30,000 educators are using the network.

I was in Des Moines, Iowa at an Education networking conference just last week. Iowa is another example where a backbone network has been established enabling schools and districts to connect to the Internet. They have gone a step further and developed a series of training courses on how to use the Internet and distance learning for teachers. These courses are made available through regional colleges (equivalent to our TAFEs).

The importance of networking and the Internet in K-12 education has been clearly demonstrated. The benefits include:

As a note; I was surprised at the number of Librarians attending the Iowa Conference, either wanting to know how to learn more about the Internet and accessing it through their local Library or school; or how to extend the Internet as a service to their local community.

Unlike the schoolhouse of today the global schoolhouse of tomorrow will not look, act or feel like the schoolhouse in which we learned. That new schoolhouse is being architected, designed and tested as we speak. One excellent example is the Global Schoolhouse Project (of which Wanniassia Primary, ACT, is a participant).

A number of classrooms have been conferencing monthly using the technology provided through this project. They have demonstrated its benefits on television, to the business community to the education community and even to US Senators in the United States associated with Vice President Gore, who as many of you may know, has along with President Clinton made a recent statement: "That by the year 2000 the challenge will be to connect all schools, universities and libraries in the US to the Network".

I would like to play you a video that took place at the recent INTEROP Conference in the United States where our President and CEO, John Morgridge spoke with students and teachers involved in the Global Schoolhouse Project.

The increased pace of change that has been fundamental to the development of the Information Age has made continuous learning as important with respect to human capital as continuous improvement is to organisations worldwide.

Recently Tom Peters, author and management consultant, declared that the new global competition would not be based on the cost of labour but would be a battle of the brain - individual and collective.

In tomorrow's world, a new form of education will be available via the network. In some parts of the world, it has already arrived. Of the 20-25 million users of the Internet, all are not students or researchers.

The world of work is changing as we know it. Through downsizing, right sizing (call it what you will) more and more organisations are turning to part time more flexible staff. More cost effective and efficient ways of doing business. Smart Londoners now get their typing done more cheaply and as quickly in Taiwan as in London, using the new communications technology, while a New York Insurance company has located its New Jersey claims office in Kerry, Ireland, where the people are clever but taxes lower. A legal firm in London, uses international time differences to work to its advantage, passing legal documents and projects from London at the close of day, to peers in Canada, then Asia, completing a job well before their competitors, within 24 hours. Today we are building a new communication model, unlike most earlier forms. A global highway that carries data today - voice and video tomorrow. An information and knowledge environment without boundaries where you don't have to be known to join. A model that grows strangely within and upon itself. Today much of the technical plumbing is available or planned.

Despite barriers and challenges, the K-12 community is moving ahead. The K-12 community is considered one of the FASTEST GROWING groups involved in the Internet. This market is treading on the edges of technology and telecommunications; some schools have adopted technology for the classroom and distance learning projects with open arms, while others may be one of the 80-90% in the US who have yet to connect a telephone line for access into the classroom.

It must be stressed that the Internet by itself is not a panacea for educational reform. The Internet can enhance classroom activities and professional development by creating global awareness, providing access to the latest information and enabling communication on a large scale, but you cannot just "throw" the Internet into a school and expect projects to magically occur. The success of the Global Schoolhouse Project has mainly been due to the structured projects provided for the students and teachers and the involvement of a project coordinator in each location.

On thing is sure: We cannot go back. The Internet provides a motivational, enabling and empowering tool for education. Our challenge is to embrace the technology, harness its breadth and deliver it in a manner in which it can be effectively used to ensure we educate our students to ride the wave of CHANGE that will be their REALITY.

Author: Mary-Louise Parkinson is Channel Manager for Cisco Systems Australia. A user of the Internet since 1984, Mary-Louise has been involved in technology in education for over 10 years. One of the early instigators in introducing computers to schools, Mary-Louise was responsible for establishing the original education market in Australia for Apple Computer. She was also responsible for developing and implementing the Apple University Consortium and establishing the use of SUN Workstations and networks throughout many Australian universities. Recently returned from attending several overseas conferences on the use of internetworking within the education community, Mary-Louise will share an overview of the current networking scene on a global level.

Please cite as: Parkinson, M. (1994). Information networking and schools: The international scene; how the network is changing our schools. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 224-227. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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