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A U.S. Education Department pilot program to encourage educators to use a national computer network to access its system of ERIC clearinghouses has handled roughly 200 inquiries a week from teachers since its inception in November, far exceeding expectations.

"Demand is overwhelming,'' said Michael Eisenberg, a professor of information science at Syracuse University and the director of the "AskERIC'' project.

Mr. Eisenberg held an informal briefing for Education Department employees late last month on the status of the project, which is part of the office of educational research and improvement's "Smartline'' initiative.

By logging on to the Internet, a global "network of networks'' that connects scientists, researchers, and others, teachers in New York, Texas, and North Dakota are able to exchange electronic-mail messages and to search for information through the AskERIC system.

A simplified menu system that allows users to search specially designed data bases and electronic versions of texts is used more than 5,000 times a week, he said.

An electronic discussion group for K-12 administrators similarly has grown rapidly in popularity, attracting more than 300 users in less than three weeks, he added.

The pilot program targets states where an electronic infrastructure already exists.

But any expansion of the service, Mr. Eisenberg said, will depend on how rapidly states develop a means of connecting to the "information superhighway'' envisioned by the nation's telephone and cable-television companies.


The state of Kentucky, meanwhile, took a major step toward its long-range goal of interconnecting all levels of its educational system through one central computer network last month by choosing the vendors from whom schools may buy computers using state funds.

Seven vendors were designated by the state as meeting the specifications necessary to insure that the computers used by schools can communicate with each other.

The companies will eventually furnish 135,000 computers, at an estimated cost of $400 million, to equip the state's 1,400 public schools.

In addition to local firms, among the approved suppliers were Apple Computer Inc., the International Business Machines Corporation, and the Digital Equipment Corporation.

Some lawmakers were concerned because Digital is also a paid consultant to the state on the technology initiative. But officials said an independent review shows that the company did not unfairly compete for the business.--P.W.

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