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Philanthropy Column

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Philanthropy Column

Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, working with five other science museums, has launched a national school-networking project that allows students and teachers to enlarge the Internet's global knowledge base.

The Science Learning Network, expected to be fully operational next fall, is a cooperative venture of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Miami Museum of Science, Boston's Museum of Science, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and the Science Learning Museum of St. Paul.

The network will open the educational resources of each museum to a partner K-8 school through the Worldwide Web, a graphics interface to the Internet.

The project is designed to counter the existing misperception of on-line networks as passive repositories of information, said Stephen Baumann, the project director.

"It's about production, not consumption," he said. "We want students and teachers producing information that can be added back into this knowledge base."

The project aims to create a use for the global computer network that will not only allow educators and students to become active Internet users, but will also help change the way schools use on-line resources.

"One of the reasons why the S.L.N. is hooked up to specific schools and not to individual teachers is that the idea is to change the culture of the school," said Elaine Wilner, a Franklin Institute spokeswoman.

"You have not made significant progress toward that goal if you have created only one or two acolytes in a school," she added.

Funding for the $6 million project is being provided by the museums, the Unisys Corporation, and the National Science Foundation.

The project also builds on the Franklin Institute's longstanding relationship with Unisys, a Blue Bell, Pa.-based computer maker and software company. Unisys helped develop a system of touch-screens throughout the museum that informs visitors about each exhibit at a variety of reading levels.

As part of the networking project, Unisys engineers will help devise software to enable users to search the network's electronic libraries.

These software programs, called "intelligent agents," can "learn" a user's preferences in order to constantly update the information available. (See related stories, 01/11/95 and 03/01/95 .)

The Franklin Institute already is on-line. The museum's Web address is

--Peter West

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