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Published in Print: March 13, 1991, as I.B.M. Equips 'Distance Learning' Project in Miss.

I.B.M. Equips 'Distance Learning' Project in Miss.

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The International Business Machines Corporation has donated equipment worth $1.25 million to a fiber-optic-based "distance learning" project designed to link schools across the state of Mississippi.

The donation will assist Mississippi 2000, a partnership of the state government, the South Central Bell telephone company, Northern Telecom, Apple Computer Inc., and ADC Telecommunications Inc.

The project, which began operating this month, is described as the first distance-learning network to connect schools over a public, rather than private, communications network.

It also is seen as a high-profile test of the effectiveness of fiber-optic technology in distance learning.

The project links predominantly rural schools by a network of fiber-optic cables, allowing each school to send video images to others over hair-thin glass rods that transmit information by bursts of laser light.

Experts say fiber optics could revolutionize the way computer data, video images, and voice messages are transmitted. The technology's increasing role was underscored last week by press reports that the communications giant Time Warner Inc. planned to begin fiber-optic transmission of educational and other programming to many of its cable-television subscribers in New York City.

The use of fiber optics has been a point of contention between telephone companies and cable-television concerns.

The phone companies are seeking economic incentives to replace their existing copper wires with fiber-optic cable. The cable-TV industry fears that the phone companies will gain Congressional approval to compete directly with them in programming to underwrite the multi-billion-dollar costs of the rewiring.

The competition has spilled over into schools, with the competitors offering experimental distance-learning and other services to win the favor of educational customers. (See Education Week, Oct. 24, 1990.)

The Mississippi 2000 network, which currently serves secondary schools in four communities, provides classes in German, creative writing, statistics and probability, oral communications, and computers.

It also links the schools to instructors from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women, and the Mississippi Educational Television Network studio.

I.B.M.'s contribution to the project includes installation of 119 microcomputers to be used as student and teacher workstations at eight sites statewide. The company also donated more than 70 educational-software programs for science, math, reading, and language arts, and arranged for technical support and training.

Vol. 10, Issue 25, Page 12

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