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Technology and Science|
Leaders plan nations digital future
By Celena E. Kusch
| We are living in a time of fundamental cultural change. The way people interact with knowledge is changing, noted Dr. Gary E. Miller, executive director of Penn States World Campus and associate vice president for Distance Education, during the Penn State Conference on Public Service Media.|
Meeting the challenge of adapting to that change was an important theme of the conference, which drew nearly 100 national leaders in K-12 and higher education, public broadcasting, libraries, museums and public foundations to The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel last fall. Sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Penn State, this was the second University conference focused on the potential impact of digital media on the nations most prominent public institutions.
I think it speaks well of Penn State that we have been the host institution for these important conferences, Ted Krichels, assistant vice president for outreach and general manager of Penn State Public Broadcasting, said. Penn State is a major land-grant university with public broadcasting affiliates and a history of involvement in communications and telecommunications issues. Going back to Milton S. Eisenhowers 1952 conference to develop educational public television, Penn State has a credibility that is essential to tackling issues of national importance. We have a history that shows the University doesnt approach these issues with a bias; instead, we come in with a genuine desire to chart a course for the future.
Looking to the future, Public Service Media conference participants from across the country worked together to formulate implementation strategies for a collaborative vision for museums, libraries, educational institutions and public broadcasting stations in the digital age.
Reading like a Whos Who of public institutions, the participant list included Dr. Warren Washington, chair of the National Science Board and Penn State alumnus; Linda Kay Benning, associate director of extension and outreach for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; Robert T. Coonrod, president and chief executive officer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; Dr. John H. Falk, director of the Institute for Learning Innovation; John Lawson, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Public Television Stations; Andrea Taylor, president of the Benton Foundation; Gary Knell, president and chief executive officer of the Sesame Workshop; and Ed Cameron, director of the Advanced Services Division for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among many others.
Participants engaged in dialogue about the future of their institutions, which conference-goers called primary public gateways for knowledge. The group confronted the urgent need for those public institutions dedicated to education and knowledge to assume a leadership role in maintaining the security and prosperity of our nation in a global, knowledge economy. Their role, they stressed, is to fill a national gap in public service and community education.
Molly Corbett Broad, president of the University of North Carolina, explained the challenge in vivid terms.
We are in a global skills race. If we as a nation are to maintain our preeminence around the world, we are going to have to increase education and skills in ever-broadening circles. The clarion call is to create a nation of learners, she said.
Seventy percent of CEOs identify the lack of adequate, well-trained workers as an obstacle to their companies growth, Broad continued. We want workers who can use information technology tools, work in teams, understand the value of diversity, think critically and write and communicate well. If the U.S. is to compete, then we must find new ways to meet the needs of learners in this ever-changing environment in a way that addresses their individual needs and learning styles. We must deliver education and instruction that is learner-centered, individualized, interactive, experiential, flexible and outcome-orientedboth just in time and just for you. The best tool for this is information technology. We need to look at the land-grant university as the 19th century model and bandwidth as the model for the 21st century.
Broad and the other conference participants agreed that the need for such ongoing education cannot be met by one kind of institution alone.
This is a time when we have a tremendous need for education and knowledge in its broadest sense, said Larry Grossman, co-founder of the Digital Promise Project and former president of NBC Television and the Public Broadcasting System. We ought to come out with a major and historic call to action, and one part of that call should be the need for a joint effort by all the great institutions of our country that have a common mission of educating, informing and improving our society to come together both nationally and locally to get something done. We have to do it on the not-for-profit side.
Driving this collaborative vision is the need for both equity and equality in education at all levels, Miller added.
Benjamin Wu, deputy under secretary for technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce, underscored that point.
The current disparity of access to knowledge and technology is significant, Wu said. We must make sure that the introduction of new technologies will not exacerbate these problems. Already many public broadcasting stations have adopted a datacasting strategy, because so many areas do not have access to the Internet. Public service media can lead us in bridging the technology divide, and we need to sustain all public service media for generations to come.
Wu explained that the goal is equal access, bringing information and knowledge to every desktop in ways that it is available in the best universities around the world.
Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf, director of opportunity and accountability for the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, gave a practical view of the public need for such access to knowledge. In a climate where future generations need much more education and deeper levels of it than ever before, she stressed, We need to provide for parents who do not have as much education as their children. We need to give secondary educators texts that make thought visible, palpable, exciting and interesting.
According to Eleanor Joey Rodger, president and chief executive officer of the Urban Libraries Council, meeting these needs is well within the mission and capability of public service media institutions, if those goals drive digital priorities.
Our only reason for being is to serve the communities that we serve. Our only reason for being new is to serve them better. Our only reason for serving them better is because they have issues that need to be addressed in more skillful ways. The good news is we can do that, Rodger said.
Beverly Sheppard, deputy director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and president of Old Sturbridge Village, concurred, saying, At every point we have to recognize that information is a fundamental part of democracy. Right now we have a window of opportunity for action.
We are on the cusp of something that could be visionary, but once its no longer visionary, it can no longer happen.
Pointing to the promise of collaboration, Sheppard added, When libraries were given the opportunity through funding to come into partnership with museums, that was probably the most fundamental change in what we were able to do. In the future, we will all need to be seen as laboratories of very exciting things. Do we collectively have the will to make the changes that show that we can be on the cutting edge of visionary?
In the coming months, the group will strive to be visionary. Conference participants and the Steering Committee plan to remain an active organization and to develop a vision statement and policy paper for implementing large-scale, national collaboration among their institutions. The group aims to release a new, nationwide project and legislative agenda at a National Press Club meeting in the next year.
Reflecting on the conference in his closing comments, Dr. James H. Ryan, vice president for Penn State Outreach and Cooperative Extension, also noted the Penn State meeting was just the beginning.
The days we invested in this conference were clearly very exciting, very challenging and very candid, Ryan said. The idea of collaboration in service to our various publics is an idea whose time has come. It is time to reframe, rethink and move onward. We have that power to change the future.
An outreach program of Penn State Public Broadcasting, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Penn State Continuing Educations Conferences and Institutes and the Institute of Museum and Library Services