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Panel To Study Technology's Role in National Goals

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WASHINGTON--The National Education Goals Panel has appointed a task force of its members to investigate the ways in which various technologies, particularly telecommunications networks, can help students reach the national education benchmarks.

The task force, which met here for the first time last week, will "draw a blueprint to enable us to use this [technology] to reach our national goals,'' said its chairwoman, Pamela Keating, a researcher at the University of Washington.

Ms. Keating, who has been helping schools across Washington State create electronically linked learning communities through telecommunications, announced the panel's formation and discussed the role that technology can play in the development of national education standards during an unusual convocation held by the National Academy of Sciences.

"Reinventing Schools: The Technology Is Now,'' a three-day meeting held at the academy's headquarters, was designed to address the "technology gap'' that academy officials say exists between schools and the outside world.

"Millions of people, including many of us in this room, got a good education without ever encountering the Mario Brothers [video-game characters],'' noted Frank Press, the academy's president, as he opened the meeting.

But "the technology gap between homes and schools is real and it's growing,'' he added. "And whether we like it or not, the increasing pervasiveness and vitality of this technology is changing the educational expectations of our children, and also their world view. Schools must adapt to this new world. They have no choice.''

Multimedia Spectacular

The meeting provided an open forum for the developers of technologies from video games to virtual-reality systems to display the educational applications of their products.

It also allowed many of the power players in the education-reform movement to discuss what impact the new technologies might have in guiding change.

While Vice President Gore was forced at the last minute to cancel a scheduled appearance, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and Luther Williams, the education director of the National Science Foundation, as well as several governors and members of Congress addressed the convocation.

And the tightly choreographed meeting--which was moderated by Bill Blakemore, the education reporter for the ABC television network--also demonstrated that the academy's reputation allowed it to attract the underwriting and in-kind contributions needed to produce a multimedia spectacular.

Participants were offered the chance to take part in a live satellite broadcast from Sri Lanka by the noted scientist and science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Mr. Clarke is widely acknowledged as having laid the intellectual foundations for the development of the satellite network that made the teleconference possible.

They also could question Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, the chairman of the national-goals panel, as part of an interactive broadcast from his home state.

A similar teleconference linked students here with Alvin W. Trivelpiece, the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and Pavel Velikhov, a Russian student, both of whom were in Moscow.

Although the convocation was the first such meeting held under the academy's auspices, Mr. Press noted that the meeting reflected the increased emphasis on K-12 education, particularly in the areas of mathematics and science, that he has championed during his 12-year presidency.

To What Purpose?

Yet, while many attendees were impressed with the quality of the presentation, several were at a loss to decide just what the purpose of the meeting was. They noted that many of the 700 educators and others in attendance already were well-versed in technology's instructional potential and pitfalls.

Some participants, citing conversations with academy staff members, suggested that the meeting was designed as a parting gesture on the part of Mr. Press, who has a personal interest in the application of technology to education and who is soon to leave the presidency.

Bruce M. Alberts, a noted biochemist who shares Mr. Press's passion for education reform, will succeed him in July.

At a press conference early in the meeting, Mr. Press also stressed that the academy's sponsorship of the meeting should not be construed as an official endorsement by the prestigious body of any specific technological approach for precollegiate education.

"We like to expose our collegaues to a wide variety of ideas,'' he said.

He noted that the proceedings will be distributed nationally in a variety of media within a few months.

Equity Concerns

Mr. Press also said that despite his hope that the academy could raise national awareness of the "technology gap,'' the three panels of scientists and educators that are developing national standards for science content, teaching, and assessment under the academy's auspices have not been charged with providing examples of best practices in the use of technology.

The standards, he noted, are meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive, leaving educators with a great deal of leeway at the state and local levels to choose their own educational strategies to meet the voluntary standards.

"My personal opinion, however, is that [these technologies] will enable them to achieve those goals much more readily,'' he added.

Meanwhile, much of the discussion here centered on the Clinton Administration's advocacy of technology to improve the education system.

Mr. Gore, for example, is widely known as a supporter of educational access to an "information superhighway'' that the Administration hopes to encourage the private sector to develop.

Mr. Riley, meanwhile, said that the Education Department, while not specifically given a role in bringing the digital superhighway to the schoolhouse door, also hopes to take a deeper interest in technological adjuncts to the traditional curriculum.

"In the past, the [department] has not played as significant a role as I would have liked it to play,'' he said.

But amid the glitz and glamour of the new technologies on display in an exhibit hall, Mr. Press and others cautioned that only equitable distribution of resources can insure that technology can play a role in systemic reform.

"We must make sure that this information highway does not bypass the urban centers as the old [interstate] highway system did,'' said Warren Simmons, a spokesman for the New Standards Project.

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