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Distance-Learning Network To Be Developed

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Student authors in New York City could collaborate on a short story with their counterparts in San Francisco. Teachers in Chicago could swap ideas with their peers in Pittsburgh.

A consortium of big-city school districts and businesses were scheduled to announce this week plans to create a national distance-learning network that would make those educational experiences--and many more--possible for urban students.

The four school districts will cooperate on the multimillion-dollar telecommunications network with several leading technology companies.

Under the direction of the New York Institute of Technology, representatives of the New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco districts will participate. The districts enroll a total of about 1.5 million students.

The "Technology 21" project is designed to aid and advance educational reforms already under way in those cities. It is expected to help change the nature of teaching in the districts as well as strengthen the partnerships between schools and the telecommunications industry.

"The idea is that technology breaks down time and geography so that whole new learning communities can be created," said Matthew Schure, the president of NYIT, a private college in Old Westbury, N.Y.

Those communities can include both higher and precollegiate education, he suggested. "There are wonderful things that are happening in K-12 schools that we all can learn from."

Several states, including Iowa and North Carolina, are developing sophisticated telecommunications networks to enhance distance learning. But the Technology 21 venture is unusual in its national scope and its effort to target urban schools.

Corporate Support

NYIT already depends heavily on distance learning to serve students at its campuses in Manhattan and Nassau and Suffolk counties, Mr. Schure said, and Technology 21 will build on that experience.

Several of the nation's most prominent technology companies have signed on to the venture. Among them are NYNEX Corp. and Ameritech Corp., two of the regional Bell telephone companies; Silicon Graphics Inc., a maker of sophisticated computer workstations; and Viacom Inc., a communications conglomerate.

A budget proposal estimates the project could need as much as $12 million to get under way, including donated equipment and services from the telecommunications companies.

Whether the project will link every school in each of the districts or only certain central facilities is one of the many details that remains to be worked out.

"It's going to vary from site to site and is still under discussion," Mr. Schure said.

The crucial difference between the Technology 21 project and many previous efforts to marry technology and education, Mr. Schure said, is that this effort is aimed at advancing existing reforms, rather than merely installing computers.

"That's a much better starting place," he said, "than wiring up the schools and then saying, 'What do we do with all of this technology?"'

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