Column: Computers

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An unusual exchange program between schools in the United States and the Soviet Union will link students, teachers, and administrators by computer and video-telephone lines.

A joint venture of the New York-based Copen Foundation and the New York State Education Department, the three-year program will bring together a dozen American schools with counterparts in the ussr

Peter Copen, the foundation's president and architect of the project, recently signed the agreement with Evgeny Velikhow, vice president of the Academy of Sciences and chief science advisor to the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

The new undertaking will be geared to research, Mr. Copen said. "The idea of the academic integrity of this is particularly important," he observed, noting that it has the support of the powerful Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Soviet officials are especially interested in studying the effects of telecommunications on intercultural understanding, teaching methods, and learning outcomes, he added. They have assigned five scientists to monitor the project.

Mr. Copen made his initial contacts with Soviet officials to launch the project earlier this year because, he recalled, "It occurred to me that the world is at a very important crossroads, and also at a very great risk."

"Given my background in education and my love for education, we wanted to find a way for elementary and secondary education to make an important contribution to the future," said Mr. Copen, who once founded an experiential-learning program in New York.

In addition to negotiating the agreement with the Soviets, the Copen Foundation is providing the hardware to equip each of the 24 schools.

Sponsors hope that the electronic links will encourage immediacy and spontaneity in the exchange.

The project's creators also expect that computers and telephones will facilitate the complex interactions needed to achieve the project's goal of enabling students to develop projects that have "measurable products and results"--for example, jointly published newspapers or studies of world ecology.

The program, which also involves traditional visits by students, is unique, said John Murphy, assistant commissioner for planning, testing, and technical services of the state education department.

Mr. Copen said that he envisioned the exchange becoming "a model for global connections."

The department is already considering development of similar arrangements with China and Argentina, Mr. Murphy added.--pw

Vol. 08, Issue 14

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