'Wired' Learning

The "wiring" of schools has been a hot topic in education for years. Proponents view universal classroom access to the Internet as learning's new, and very bright, horizon. Skeptics see a dark side: feeding kids' addiction to technology and devaluing face-to-face contact with teachers.

Experience lies somewhere in between. Certainly the Net offers students a research and communications tool more stimulating - and more complex and hard to harness - than any set of encyclopedias they've ever leafed through. Even schools wired for years are finding fresh ways of using this resource - and new problems in monitoring its use.

Britain's Tony Blair has just joined Bill Clinton in a commitment to have all schools online by early in the next century - 2002 for Britain, an optimistic 2000 for America. The British, like their US counterparts, are working out a cut-rate way of hooking schools into the communications grid.

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On this side of the Atlantic, a special "E-rate" for schools and libraries was created last May by the Federal Communications Commission. It's scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Teachers are the biggest question mark in this process. Computers allow an unprecedented degree of independent learning. And teachers, as one observer put it, must make "the pedagogical shift from being the 'sage on the stage' to mentors who are 'guides on the side'" in this area.

That shift - or something like it - won't arrive as quickly as the technology. But it will come.

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