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Riley Sees E.D. Role in Pushing Use of Technology

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The U.S. Education Department and other federal agencies should collaborate with state and local education officials and the private sector to help develop universal classroom access to electronic-communications networks, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley told an audience of technology-using educators here last week.

In what aides described as his first major address on the use of technology, Mr. Riley adopted a stance that contrasted with the relatively low emphasis placed on educational technology by the Reagan and Bush administrations. Instead, he emphasized technology's ability to enhance communications and to bride gaps between school and home and parents and children.

"We must embrace our technological progress and not shrink from the challenges it poses,'' he told several hundred educators attending the first Secretary's Conference on Educational Technology.

"We must find time for teachers and those in schools of education to learn to use technology in creative and innovative ways as a way to link students up with one another and the world,'' Mr. Riley added.

Technology Emphasis

Secretary Riley was one of several key Administration officials who addressed the three-day meeting, including Reed E. Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Education Department officials said Mr. Hundt's participation highlighted the need for cooperation between experts in pedagogy at the department and regulatory officials at the F.C.C.

More than 400 teachers, technology professionals, and policymakers from every state attended the meeting, which was designed to demonstrate how electronic networks can help develop teacher professionalism and enhance student learning.

The meeting comes at a time when the department is placing a new emphasis on incorporating technological tools into teaching.

The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which President Clinton signed in March, authorizes $5 million to create a technology office within the department and to underwrite state planning grants to promote the use of technology in reform.

The Administration also has requested $50 million in the proposed fiscal 1995 budget to implement a strategy for increasing the use of technology in schools.

Mr. Riley also noted that the National Center for Education Statistics this fall will attempt to assess how many of the nation's schools and classrooms have access to the Internet, a global computer network, as well as to other electronic networks.

He pointed out that only an estimated 4 percent of classrooms have such access today.

New 'Fault Lines' Feared

Educational access to the Internet and other electronic networks is a central goal of the Administration's National Information Infrastructure Initiative, which has been championed by Vice President Gore.

Across the nation, a growing number of states and school districts are taking on the technically difficult task of wiring schools to connect to the "information highway.'' But most do not yet possess the technical expertise or teacher training capacity to bridge what has been termed "the last mile'' between the classroom and the networks. (See Education Week, March 2, 1994.)

Mr. Riley said cooperative efforts between the public and private sectors will be vital to achieving the vision of access to telecommunications for all.

"What purpose will it serve for us to create an information superhighway that benefits only an educated elite and creates new fault lines in our society,'' he said.

But Frank Odasz, the director of Big Sky Telegraph, a Montana-based educational network, argued that schools need to develop their telecommunications expertise more slowly on simplified networks.

"If we had full Internet access tomorrow,'' Mr. Odasz said, "the money would be wasted because our teachers and students are not ready for it.''

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