Imagine sitting at home in front of a computer and watching a lecture from a teacher miles away scroll on the screen. By pressing a button, you can stop the lecture and type in a question that the teacher will respond to.
If this sounds futuristic, it's not. Anyone who subscribes to a computer information service has access to several such lectures or discussion groups weekly.In that sense, Gov. Mike Leavitt's vision of the electronic school is not as revolutionary as it may sound. But public school systems are lagging far behind the technological world. That's why an announcement Thursday that a group of educators have obtained $500,000 to develop the school of the future is exciting news.
The group, known as the Utah Education Consortium, is a partnership of five Wasatch Front school districts, the State Office of Education and the University of Utah. Its goal is to design a school system that will completely redefine traditional notions about education.
High schoolers, for example, may some day have the freedom to attend a job or an apprenticeship program during the day, returning home to attend class via computer. Homework could be submitted via modem. Such a system would accomplish two purposes. It would allow teenagers greater flexibility and it would thoroughly acquaint them with a computer world that can put a vast store of information at their fingertips. A wide range of classes would be available.
Of course, many questions need to be answered before such a futuristic school becomes reality. Not the least of these is how to include students who lack the funds to buy a computer. Such questions soon may become moot, however, as computers become as common as television sets.
The group wants to assemble a blueprint and begin pilot projects within a year or two. The sooner the better. With electronic schools, students will be better prepared to live in an electronic world.