Washington--The back-to-basics movement may be the first stage of resistance to the transformation of education by new electronic technologies, according to a report conducted by a team of “future” researchers and released here last week.
But resistance, the researchers suggest, may be futile: Over the next 20 years, public education and family life as we know them may be changed dramatically by the “transformative effects” that will accompany the growth of the emerging technologies and the electronic information networks they spawn.
The report, Teletext and Videotex in the United States, was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (nsf) and prepared by the Institute for the Future, a private research organization based in California.
Teletext and Videotex
Acknowledging that there is no single accepted name for these forms of technology, the report’s authors focus on two systems, teletext and videotex, that provide “means of widespread dissemination of textual and graphic information by wholly electronic means for display on low-cost terminals,” according to a summary of the report. Videotex is the generic name used to describe “the provision of two-way information services"; teletext is the term used for one-way services.
The report’s authors also use the term videotex to refer broadly to ''the class of systems which provide electronic information to the home.” The technology is not new, but is a combination of communications systems and computing: new combinations of hardware and software.
The changes that may occur in education as the use of such technologies becomes more widespread extend far beyond the “computer-in-the-classroom” situation that many educators already foresee, according to the researchers.
“Because this evolving technology has the potential to change how people use information and indirectly how they think, it may well have an impact on many aspects of daily life as well as on the services currently provided by society.”
Hence, as they examine the question, “What’s going on in the American home in 1998?,” the researchers conclude that family life and schooling may become more closely linked. The “electronic home,” equipped with terminals and plugged into a variety of informational networks, will become a reality, they suggest.
“The family will determine the electronic schooling required for children and for retraining adults in the home of the future,” the authors write in a summary. “There will be a shift away from the traditional school and work socialization processes to ones in which peer groups and alliances are electronically determined,” they note.
Wide use of the teletext and videotex systems are already changing the role of the teacher in education, and more change is probable, the researchers say. “Rote learning is greatly facilitated by numerous interactive systems accessible at school, home, and work,” they write. ''The teacher’s role in this environment is to help young learners synthesize data and develop creative problem-solving skills.” The best teachers, the authors say, have always assumed this role, but “the ‘best’ are far from ‘all.”’
Hence, some teachers may resist the advent of the electronic classroom, and some may already be resisting, the researchers say. “Retraining is a possibility, but the bureaucracy of education is big enough and powerful enough that many may resist. This resistance is likely to be politicized,” they write.
Students, too, will feel the impact of the technology profoundly, according to the report. For example, the researchers write: “Just as the pocket calculator has changed the way that students approach mathematics, videotex will change the way they approach education.” The job market will require fewer specialists, and more generalists. If students want to prepare for the changes in the job market, they will need to become “knowledgeable generalists": that is, “a person who knows enough about the job area to function in it and who knows how to use information tools.” This is so, the researchers say, because by 1998 information technology will be so widespread that job requirements will undergo a major shift. “Rather than increasing specialization,” they write, there is, at the end of the century, a much greater demand for generalists with multi-specialties. Since so much of information technology is devoted to relieving tasks that have, in the past, required highly specialized skills, it becomes advantageous to hire a knowledgeable generalist.”
Large Consumer Market
The potential consumer market for the technology is vast: every household with a television or a telephone--a market totaling more than 98 percent of all households as of 1980, according to the report. Close to 40 percent of all U.S. households could use teletext services, the more common of the two systems, by the early 1990’s, according to the researchers’ best estimates.
The most important factor in how quickly this possibility becomes a reality, if it does, will be the extent to which advertisers are persuaded to adopt the new medium, since advertising revenues will subsidize the cost of service and reduce costs for users.
New uses for technology will bring new problems, too, the researchers note. Privacy, equity of access, and consumer protection will become more important as the use of teletext and videotex becomes more widespread. How these and the societal issues that arise will be resolved will depend in large part, the researchers say, on “the underlying regulatory climate of the day.”
“Though few of the issues it raises are novel or unique, they still provide a difficult challenge for policy makers,” the researchers conclude. “It is only through continued monitoring and anticipation of its consequences that the technology will be shaped to maximize its benefits and minimize its threats to society.”
The report will be available by June 28 from: Data Communications, McGraw-Hill Publications, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y., 10020.
A version of this article appeared in the June 23, 1982 edition of Education Week as Video Merger of Home and School Is Envisioned