TDG Essay

"The Cyberspace Challenge: Modernity, Postmodernity and Reflections on International Networking"

Ronald K. Goodenow, Principal, Telework Development Group, LLC

This essay, slightly revised, was published in the British journal, Comparative Education, in August of 1996 [Vol 32 No. 2, pp. 197-216]. The published article is copyrighted by Carfax Publishing Ltd.

This on-line version is for reference only. The author requests that any citation of it refer to the journal in which it appeared.

Introduction: the Networking Landscape

The extensive character of literature on post-modernism is such that this essay will turn to one of the few major contributions by a comparative educator as a starting point. In his pioneering 1991 discussion of post-modernism and comparative education, Val Rust touched on numerous themes worthy of extended consideration. Writing of information technology briefly, he raised critical issues, arguing that In the educational sphere, we find that information technology, with its computers, modems, and telefax modes, has transcended the structural boundaries that typically define schooling, and multiplying communications apparatuses are now taking over education...we must contribute to a new definition of school that is appropriate to the new age...we also need to examine the extent to which the new technology is liberating, and the extent to which it is related to exploitive commercial interests.(Rust, 1991, pp. 621-2)

Rust's apt analysis is situated in a post-modern view that stresses pluralism, the breakdown of old boundaries, and the need for new discourse inclusive of the 'other'. He shies away from metatheory, choosing instead to recognize that vast changes in values and concepts of time and space will ultimately require synthesis across intellectual and disciplinary divides. Appropriately, he points to the central significance of ownership, arguing that the owners of communications media have the potential to own the character of discourse and meaning.

The subject is an important one because the rapidity of changes in communications technologies and their uses represent new frontiers of understanding, practice and research. As put by literary scholar Cecelia Tichi, the growth of computer-based ones is bringing forth not only new images about technology, but "new, technological definitions of the human relation to the world."(Tichi, 1991,. xii) These new definitions are often inscrutable, posing difficult problems to the uninitiated. Rudi Volti writes that

this inability to understand technology and perceive its effects on our society is one of the greatest, most subtle, problems of an age that has been so heavily influenced by technological change.(Volti, 1988 p.8 )

Alert to a need for factual information as well as theoretical consideration, this essay explores aspects of the wide-spread and rapid growth, particularly in the USA and industrialized nations, of the 'cyberspace' phenomenon: the new computer-based communications technologies that, particularly when combined into multimedia (e.g., cd-rom, cable and satellite television) programs on what is called popularly the 'information superhighway', are changing the nature of work, learning, commerce, discourse and, arguably, relationships of many kinds.

A general objective is to pick up on some of Rust's themes and explore in more detail the texture of modern networking. In so doing, it considers policy issues related to the growth of an international infrastructure, and the emergence of new market forces, concepts of pluralism, the development of localized models, and for the purpose of gaining a multidisciplinary and comparative research perspective, observations from the author's research on networked health care. It concludes with recommendations for enhanced network utilization by comparativists. The author's perspective is informed by professional experience in education, industry and consulting, as well as his scholarship on networked services, information technology, educational reform and the international transfer of educational influences. (Goodenow, 1992a,b,; Goodenow and Carpenter, 1994; Goodenow and Marsden, 1992; Goodenow, 1990; Goodenow and Cowen, 1986)

Coming increasingly to replace or complement television and other established technologies for the provision of instruction, information and communications, the international networks host unique potential. They have interactive capabilities that render national boundaries meaningless, permit immediate access to huge amounts of data, and, on a twenty-four hour a day basis, are fully usable from wherever a telephone call can be made, and are now an indispensable component of international competition (Behling and Records, 1995). Their adoption is rapid. An estimated 2 million individuals per month are joining the international Internet and associated networks. Untold others are using cable and satellite systems which are increasingly capable of offering interactive video and data services which, with the Internet, are melding technologies, entertainment, learning and services in a potent mix destined to make deep inroads into the popular cultures of an increasing number of nations, with, in the United States at least, a 'cyberspace subculture', populated in part by members of the 1960s 'counterculture' generation, apparently taking shape.(Cutler, 1995, Rheingold, 1993)

The ownership of the international networks and the services offered on them vary and will be subject to much change as the communications industry and network providers change. Many of the networks, such as the Internet, with its vast array of World-Wide-Web (WWW) Servers, electronic mail services, .ftp and gopher sites, and news, chat and user groups, are themselves 'public', albeit increasingly with various 'firewalled' information and services erected by commercial or professional groups for paid or other selected audiences. Others, such as the commercial networks (e.g., Prodigy, America On Line, Compuserve) that enjoy wide acceptance in the USA, are privately owned, as are cable companies which provide multi-media services and the telephone lines over which the Internet is currently made accessible. This said, most of the technologies which enable communication, the data which is disseminated on the networks, as well as the research and development which is leading to very powerful mixes of hardware and software, are coming increasingly from the private sector, and are increasingly likely to do so as defense spending decreases.

Some of this private sector initiative is spurred in the United States by defense conversion programs intended to transfer government-funded research to the private sector or spur innovative research and development though public-private partnerships. The Clinton Administration, led by Vice-President Albert Gore, who sponsored enabling legislation for the National Information Infrastructure initiative (NII), sees networking as a significant means of meeting national priorities in healthcare, manufacturing, commerce and education, and has set off considerable debate over its shape, funding, access, and security. The NII and cooperative agencies, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, within the U.S. Department of Commerce, have published numerous reports on the application of networking, as well as funded grants to spur innovative programs. (National Institute of Standards and Technology,1994a) Several states are developing highly integrated information infrastrastructures to provide medical, educational, government services to their dispersed populations. Utah, for example, has devised elaborate plans to provide services and promote electronic commerce over statewide networks and have put extensive documentation on the Internet. Councils of governors, such as the Western Governor's Association have come out with proposals for regional services. Some states, such as Nebraska and Iowa, have made information infrastrastructure development central to overall economic development strategies with considerable success.

Recent policy pronouncements, such as those made in February 1995 by Group of Seven (G7) leaders, which will be discussed below, reflect NII influence and recognize explicity the leading role of private enterprise in a global environment regulated to assure access and common standards. The overall policy debate in the United States assumes the same, with conservative Republicans, recently in the ascendency, looking suspiciously at government investment and partnerships with large corporations. It is dominated, in an intense political environment, by debate over the censoring of pornographic materials, privacy, government and industrial spying on network communications, and struggles between telephone and cable companies for the provision of multimedia services. Such disputes are occuring in a post-Cold War world where the market economy has apparently emerged triumphant and as telecommunications monopolies, such as British Telecom, AT&T and Tele Danmark, to name a few, are forced to expand the nature of their services and compete in increasingly open markets.

Of perhaps more significance than the immediate regulatory debate in the United States and other countries, is the fact that the character of work is undergoing transformation. Telecommuting, networked-based home and other 'telework', including cross-national consulting and software engineering, provide opportunities for new employment in traditionally low-wage or attactive rural areas. This allows cheaper compensation by many metropolitan enterprises able to employ large numbers of engineers in India or Latin America at lower rates than they would pay domestic labor. It also, however, offers new 'on-line' telework work opportunities for rural isolates, single parents and the disabled -- meeting legal, environmental and other pressures to decentralize work environments and lower overhead costs.(Kuglemass, 1995; Tomaskovic-Devey and Risman, 1993). Much of it is inevitable as highly-distributed organizations tailor workgroup activities to powerful communications technologies.

Whatever the case, the word "cyberspace" is rapidly becoming part of the popular lexicon of 'the Information Age'. International trade and services are characterized increasingly by a rapid growth of 'borderless' economic supply chains made possible by new and standardized forms of networked communication, the 'stuff' of electronic commerce.(Office of Technology Assessment, 1994, Committee on Applications and Technology, 1994a) In many areas, such as health care, work with the disabled, concurrent engineering design and product development, international aggregates of experts use 'groupware' on networks to diagnose and solve problems, offering the supportive training as well as the data, project management and training required. (Tapscott, 1995) Programs in vocational education and training, such as the Techprep program in the U.S., are struggling to adapt to these changes in the nature of work, and national and multinational policy makers are doing likewise.

Clearly, there is a 'pluralism' of users emerging in cyberspace, though the definition of this pluralism does not necessarily reflect traditional definitions of 'cultural pluralism'. Affinity groups of 'senior' or retired citizens, feminist scholars, individuals who share knowledge on health afflictions, hobbyists, professionals, political organizations, and many others are also using the Internet to educate, proselytize, and organize, cutting across national boundaries with seamless ease. Though these constellations of users have yet to include large numbers of the poor or others disfranchised by race or income, they do constititute a very diverse group of independent voices reaching out to each other over the network from what Bellah, et al call 'lifestyle enclaves' (Bellah, et al., 1985) -- something akin to the 'Cyberspace Subculture' noted above (Talbott, 1994; Negroponte, 1995). The creation of the World-Wide-Web, with its easy-to-use graphical 'browsers', such as Netscape, are spurring an explosion of network usage, communication and bonding arguably democratic in character because any network user can give voice in a very open and non-elitist fashion. Indeed, there is growing speculation that this combination of user-friendly software, openness, and interactivity will make the Internet, as opposed to television offerings on cable and satellite systems, the commercial bedrock of the information superhighway. Whether these network communities are sustainable or capable of the forms of interpersonal communication and bonding often associated with community life is not clear -- a critical issue at a time when technology is seen as contributing significantly to alienation in post-industrial society.(Turkle, 1995)

In this mix there are innumerable K-12 and university-based projects, many of which feature school and student 'home pages' or international collaboration. Britain, as an example, developed a national K-12 program in the 1980s, the Times Telecommunications Network for Schools, which tried to market its services, unsuccessfully, in the United States. Unesco, the World Bank and Non-Governmental-Organizations have encouraged the development of educational and bootstrapping networks in the non-industrialized world, with, apparently, varying degrees of success. The Open University in the UK, and other institutions of post-secondary education, including American technical universities, have used satellite television and data networking to provide distance learning, within national boundaries, and to other parts of the world, for some time, with some, such as the Open University, striving to provide access for Third World peoples and ethnic minorities in Britain.(Rossman, 1992; Evans and Nation, 1993) Semi-official cultural and educational organizations, such as the British Council and Unesco, now feature World Wide Web sites or other on-line services. Large numbers of companies, universities, business schools and individuals are designing distance learning programs for use over the Internet, utilizing multimedia packages and powerful new software which allows the transmission of sound and video at very low cost.

The Internet and private networks such as America On Line contain many interest and help groups for educators, and most American universities have WWW, gopher or .ftp sites, many of which are linked to other sites of similar interest, with the Universities of Maryland and Arizona State providing substantial sites on issues facing educators. There is a usenet group for educational researchers, and many other Internet working groups for psychologists and other educational researchers, with 'conferencing' across national, institutional and disciplinary lines becoming a ubiquitous feature of modern academic life and the international exchange of ideas. (Gresham, 1994) The University of Hong Kong's Comparative Education Research Center has established a WWW home page for comparative educators with electronic 'pointers' to course descriptions and archived materials. SUNY/Buffalo advertises its program, the 1996 World Congress of the Comparative and International Education Societies is announced and numerous courses at several universities may be identified on the WWW.

Professional organizations such as the American Educational Research Association, which has a public home page and bulletin boards for its divisions, and publications such as The Times Higher Education Supplement and the Chronicle of Higher Education now offer on-line information about employment and other issues, and newspapers such as the New York Times and the London Daily Telegraph offer free on-line subscriptions on the Internet, with access to their considerable archives available to researchers and students. The U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement has a network site, in which it reports on new trends and funding opportunities, and it as well as the NII effort in the U.S. Department of Commerce have published documents on the significance of information technology to American education, noting the need for equalization of access -- a widely recognized problem.(Committee on Applications and Technology, 1994b) CAUSE, EDUCOM and other networking advocacy groups maintain active sites on the Internet.

The author's experience suggests that professional schools of education and educational researchers in many fields, including educational foundations, educational administration and comparative education are not nearly so well represented on the networks as researchers in psychology, including educational psychology, health care, and business schools. Though increasing in numbers, there are still relatively few major progams in teacher education that emphasize the use of networking. Indeed, the most recent authoritative study in the U.S. suggests that as late as 1993 fewer than half the K-12 educators surveyed had access to the internet, that actual use of the network for instructional purposes is far more limited than it is for professional ones, and, as in other fields, resistance to technology remains high (Honey and Henriquez, 1993).

Contextually, many new community networks, and programs located in science museums, or sponsored by national environmental projects, NASA's Jason program, and humanities education programs funded by national and state agencies are proliferating, and tie directly to schools. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have produced elaborate guides to these and other programs, as well as to technologies, curriculum resources, and consultants available to develop state networking initiatives.(Massachusetts Software Council, 1994) Educational publishers and other commercial interests are using the network to market their products and provide content.

The long-term social implications of these trends are not entirely clear, though as in other domains, utilization so far tends to be among the professional classes, with it widely recognized that issues of wealth and location place many urban or rural populations outside the networks. This said, there is considerable and growing speculation about their meaning for democracy. One scholar of the cyberspace phenomenon writes of the equality inherent in the new networks that

Electronic conferences tend to be interesting and illuminating mixes of teachers and students, academics and non-academics, graduates and undergraduates, theoreticians and practitioners with all having equal access to contribute to and learn from the ongoing conversations. For those with access to the electronic networks, entrance into these scholarly discussion groups comes quite easy. More resistant barriers of race and gender prejudice which had the potential of forming invisible colleges along the lines of 'old boy networks' are overcome through the text based medium of communication.(Gresham, 1994, pp. 46-7)

If the diffusion of populations and the globalization of training and work are also obvious outcomes --with political and social significance as yet unknown -- some critics also anticipate the formation of new elites amidst these seemingly democratic elements. David Ronfeldt wrote recently that "something called 'cyberocracy' is coming...this revolution and its associated technologies seem to be at an early stage of development, and analysts have barely begun to discern its political effects."(Ronfeldt, 1995, p. 1) Although much that makes it to print is speculative or promotional in character, a contextual literature on information technology and work, of value to scholars and practitioners in several fields, is fortunately emerging. There have been useful studies on the paradigms of 'knowledge work' and its implications for organizational transformation.(Eason, 1988; Savage, 1990) There is helpful new literature on the impact of technology on social networks and power, and work groups in general (Burkard and Brass, 1990; Nelson and White, 1990). This said, however, the rapid emergence of the Internet and new multimedia capabilities leaves considerable room for new research.

Minimally, then, it will be necessary to comprehend and relate to entirely new constellations of organizations and relationships that extend well beyond cultural groupings, with the current conditions impacting both the hierarchical character of organizations and new sets of relationships between them. As put by Vigdor Schreibman,

The steady proliferation of the networked information community across geographically dispersed locations...has engendered a breakdown in the historical barriers of organizational and management hierarchies, in professional and industry groups, promoting a remarkable shift from centralized toward distributed architectures of network communications...(there is) a significant clash in governing values as these heretofore distinct groups, historically separated by cultural boundaries and territorial prerogatives are now compelled to confront each other directly in the open cyberspace. Such conflicts are daily fare on the internet.(Schreibman, 1995, p. 1)

In this heady stew of technological and social change, issues of localism and cultural pluralism must, then, be looked at against not only economic, organizational and structural changes, but changes in the character of education itself. This is happening over and against new concepts of space, distance and location.

The Information Superhighway Globalized: Policy and Localism

The globalization of the 'cyberspace' phenomenon has, until recently, been something of an ad hoc phenomenon, with national systems 'gatewayed' to each other. American-based networks such as ARPANET, Bitnet, the Internet and private industry ones (e.g., DECNet) have emerged out of defense, research, academic and industrial need, going back to the 1960s. Commercial ones have proliferated over the past decade. The European environment, historically more regulated, has featured the rapid growth of JANET in Britain, and the French Minitel system, as examples, with commercial networks expanding their reach as national systems deregulate and East Europe and the Far East increasingly go 'on line'.

This somewhat 'national' condition is about to change in important respects. As in the United States, where the information superhighway has risen to the top of state and national agendas, it is being taken up at the highest multilaterial ministerial levels, and there is now considerable discussion of an international information infrastructure. It is important to look at one recent manifestation of this phenomenon to gauge the place of thinking about national and cultural pluralism -- localism amidst globalization -- as well as about the role of the private sector.

A February 1995 meeting of Group of Seven (G-7) leaders in Brussels called for a Global Information Infrastructure (GII), concluding that

A new revolution is carrying mankind forward into the Information Age. The smooth and effective transformation towards the information society is one of the most important tasks that should be undertaken in the last decade of the 20th century. The outcome of this conference shows that G-7 partners are committed to playing a leading role in the development of the Global Information Society.

Addressing the needs of non-industrialized nations, it was stated that

Our action must contribute to the integration of all countries into a global effort. Countries in transition and developing countries must be provided with the chance to fully participate in this process and it will open opportunities for them to leapfrog stages of technology development and to stimulate social and economic development (G-7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society, 1995, 1)

A review of documents produced at this summit illustrates the growing significance of the new network environment and the role of the U.S. government in marshaling action for a Global Information Infrastructure (GII) , which it promotes as an extension of its domestic National Information Infrastructure (NII).(Brown, 1994) Philosophically, the G-7 documents promote diversity and pluralism, and would seem to lay out a challenge to the private sector. In education,

The information society should serve cultural enrichment of all citizens reflecting the cultural and linguistic diversity of our peoples. The private sector should therefore develop and build information networks with abundant capacity to accomodate a wealth of information, both locally produced and that developed in other regions and nations. (G-7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society, 1995, p. 2)

Beyond this, the "knowledge-based society" requires openness, greater creativity in schools and universities, highly adaptive forms of life-long learning and "an open approach to education that combines local and national cultures and promotes mutual understanding." (G-7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society, 1995, p. 3) Information technologies, primarily multimedia ones, it is argued, will promote improved vocational education and enhanced preparation for work. To reach these objectives the private sector must guarantee open access, and encourage consumerism, the opening up of markets, and the interconnectivity of networks. International organizations, such as OECD, the World Trade Organization and others should guard against monopolistic practices. Pilot projects should be developed to better understand how to create consensus, build collaboration, establish demonstration projects that show social value, better understand barriers to success and help create markets for new products and services. These are to "stimulate cooperation amongst different players: industry, academia, administrations, public authorities, etc." (G-7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society, 1995, p. 12) that are not shackled by bureacracy and are revenue generating. The overarching principles are globalization and open access. (G-7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society, 1995, passim)

There are some differences between this GII pronouncement and those produced by the NII on education. While both advocate open access, and various types of public-private partnerships, the key American report stresses the diversity inherent in populations which learn across the life-span, mainly by age group, and points to the considerable disparity of access to technology in domestic U.S. education. It does not reference multicultural issues to the degree found in the GII document. Internationally, cultural issues seem more important than critical structural ones, while the highly controversial issue of 'multiculturalism' is given shorter shrift in the American domestic setting. (See Committee on Applications and Technology, 1994b)

Reports from the news agency Reuters on the Brussels conference, which were widely distributed on the Internet, highlighted the important role of corporate representatives at the meeting, most of whom used the occasion to lobby for open markets, minimal regulation, and concerns over the pirating of intellectual property. As put by MIT professor Michael Dertouzos, the issues went far beyond what would be broadcast on television networks. This, he argued "is about books, about managing money, health, recipes, it's about learning, human speech and a lot more." ("Industrialists Urge G7 to Set Info Highway Rules", Februrary 25, 1995, from Conferees from the private sector expressed concern that if governments attempted to control rapid technological advance there would be 'information starvation' and, as they fell behind in the race for technologies, protectionism. Some cited a lack of benchmarks to understand when open markets truly exist, problems surrounding universal consensus of security and censorship issues, and, as put by a Japanese executive, the need for individual nations to construct their own infrastrastructures before building a global one.. Educators were not cited, nor were critical issues regarding the impact of the GII on educational infrastructures addressed.

Progressive rhetoric of the GII report and the critical perspective of some industrialists notwithstanding, American corporations, in particular, are playing a seminal role in both supporting U.S. government efforts and defining the public agenda, often downplaying the importance of the academic and research and development communities in putting the primary infrastructure and NII content in place. These communities, as well as numerous public advocacy, civil liberties and other groups are universally expressing concern about the commercialization of the Internet, access costs, and efforts at censorship to placate conservative or religious political constituencies.

Indeed, the degree to which even the relatively liberal Clinton Administration has allied itself with various collections of experts and corporations was evident at a top-level invitational NII telemedicine policy planning meeting attended recently by the author. Here there was a heavy mix of corporate representatives, defense interests, government bureaucrats, and federally-funded program heads, all of who had to pay substantial fees to attend. There was virtually no representation from small companies, application providers, public health workers, medical practitioners, university researchers, or community organizations likely to be impacted by legislative and other initiatives expected to come out of its deliberations (See participant list in Health Information and Applications Working Group, 1995)

A similar situation was encountered by the author in his participation in the development of a rural telemedical program in the American South. In this case high-status medical professionals designed a clinical outreach program to a small impoverished community with a majority Black population without any community involvement beyond collaboration with the local white-dominated power structure and (white) medical providers. Here, as in much of the existing thrust towards implementation of network-based services, initial planning was dominated by a mix of interests dominated by medical and technology specialists versed neither in community health nor socio-technical learning. Reasons for this include their unfamiliarity with a rapidly changing field, a lack of literature and commonly accepted standards, and the exigencies of quickly developing a program to meet cost and other internal institutional needs. In this light, social context was given scant attention. (Goodenow and Carpenter, 1994)

A Note on Networked Healthcare

The author's experience in the area of telemedicine, the provision of medical services and data over distance with the aid of multimedia technologies, and other healthcare areas, including disability/rehabilitation networking, has therefore been instructive. Its introduction into this paper is intended in part to further raise issues and point to literature of potential value to comparative educators concerned with cultural and cross-cultural issues.

Though experiments have been underway for over 30 years, the large-scale development of telemedical applications on the global information superhighway has been relatively recent and if promoted heavily by international and national agencies, somewhat devoid of a critical scholarship: a condition which opens a door for new collaboration and multidisciplinary perspective across fields. As in education, moreover, scholars and practitioners have generally not explored issues of power, empowerment, pluralism and the situating of advanced communications-based services in pluralistic community settings or complex professional ones, though it is hoped that a new concern about 'barriers to success' will change this condition (Committee on Applications and Technology, 1994c; Office of Technology Assessment, 1995). As these barriers come to be seen in terms of professional jealousy, competition, changes in status brought about by the use of communications technologies and the institutional changes they are driving, we can expect more sophisticated discussion. (For an excellent general overview of issues see Sanders and Bashur, 1995)

That these issues will be addressed is unavoidable because telemedical programs, as an example, are intended manifestly to serve diverse cultural groups over distance -- they are increasingly impacted by political and other pressures to serve 'at risk' and 'isolated' communities in rural and urban areas, and, as in the case of the field of rehabilitation, to use new information technologies to equalize access to education, communication and work. In sum, comprehensive recent U.S. government reports a mix of influences, some democratically consumer oriented and others more attentive to profit or simply applying new technologies. (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995, Chapter 5, pp. 159-191) They are becoming part of larger debates on technology, the role of government, and communications policy.

Other, international forces, are at work. From a global perspective, the World Health Organization, to cite one important example, has been in the forefront of organizations promoting the use of modern information technologies to provide distant services, often to the developing world. Advocating the need to develop wide-scale 'health enterprises', the WHO contends that

The role of telematics, mainly for computer networks and public services like videotext, will increase its significance in primary health care. Individual health care centres will have greatly increased access to health information and computing services. Timely and accurate reports of epidemiological data, of morbidity statistics, and of utilization of health services, etc. can be greatly facilitated by a network for data collection and pre-processing at primary health care centres. Finally, integrtaion of primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of the health care system is facilitiated by computer networks. (World Health Organization, 1988, p 39)

The WHO argues strenuously for 'informatics' policies that are, in national context, carefully integrated across sectors, standardized, and attentive to local and regional interests (World Health Organization, 1998, p. 10). The WHO report is particularly sensitive to the issue of pluralism, the character of community and potential conflicts between forces of modernization and tradition, arguing that

The importance of integrating self and community care (i.e., from other members of the community)with the more organized, usually state-supported, primary health care has been particularly recognized in developing countries. In these societies, psychosocial, political, and economic considerations often force modern medicine to respect the alternative or traditional forms of health care.(World Health Organization, 1988, p. 34)

Another leader in the application of international health networking is the European Community, which with its very mobile work force and various efforts at creating a 'single market', is striving for standardization in medical informatics, as well as in such areas as record security, occupational health benefits and 'telework' in medicine and areas such as telecommuting. (Svenmson and Stephenson, 1993) EEC telemedical efforts include numerous studies and initiatives to understand the relationship between economic development at local and regional levels and networked healthcare, as well as the improvement of services and cost-benefit analyses. One notable initiative is the Advanced Informatics in Medicine Program (AIM). It focuses on the development of multiple technologies, including multimedia ones to deliver medical services to isolated rural and urban areas, the integration of databases, cross cultural teaming, the standardization of telemedical programs, the development of open system regional community health networks (in Italy, Ireland and Portugal), primary health care, and the integration of child health care into WHO recommendations.Within Europe, Norway has devised extensive programs to serve its Arctic region, and numerous national efforts have been developed in France, Greece, Scotland and other nations.(Sarasohn-Kahn, 1993) Several non-European nations, including Singapore, Brazil, Japan, Korea and the Gulf States, are developing home-grown projects or linked to hospitals and medical centers in the United States and Europe. (Center for Public Service Communications, 1994; Tangalos, Pedersen and McGee, 1995)

In the USA, where there have been telemedical programs since the late 1950s, the federal government is stimulating rapid program development -- perhaps a doubling of programs over the past 12 months. It has published several influential reports, including an important one by the Office of Technology Assessment and numerous others produced by NII projects. Rural Electrification, Technology Redeployment Project, Office of Rural Health Policy and other grants for research and development and demonstration projects are expected to be funded at approximately 150 million dollars in fiscal year 1996, though if telemedicine seems to enjoy bi-partisan support in Congress, significant reduction of that project funding level is possible in the current cost-cutting and government restructuring climate.(Bashshur and Neuberger, 1995)

National and state 'information superhighway' legislation also targets health care, and huge corporations, such as Raytheon and Bell System companies, are developing new products and services for it. Provisions of the (unpassed) Health Security Act regarding patient records, rural services, and health alliances all create awareness on the use of information technologies as a major means of cutting costs, with one major study, by Arthur D. Little, a major consulting firm, suggesting cost savings in the vicinity of 36 billion dollars as telemedical services come to replace costly hospital stays, the maintenance of physical facilities, travel and other cost-intensive factors. (Arthur D. Little, 1992; Grigsby, et al. 1994) In this context, many states, especially those with large rural populations, such as North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Iowa are now investing heavily in telemedicine projects, and many medical centers and institutes, such as those at Dartmouth College, the University of Kansas, campuses of the University of Texas, and the Georgia Medical College are designing programs to serve rural areas, prison populations, urban populations and, in the case of Georgia, participants in forthcoming Summer Olympics and even a local zoo. Medical informatics programs at Stanford, Harvard and numerous other universities are addressing telemedical issues.(Shortliffe and Perrault, 1990)

The field of rehabilitation has been particularly quick to pick up the use of information technology and networks, and it here that one can see strong democratic impulses. The rehabilitation community has played a long-standing leadership role in developing 'adaptive technologies' to meet a variety of needs. Stimulated in part by the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is a growing number of reports, books, bulletin boards and data archives intended to empower people with physical impairments in their lives and workplaces, with a substantial emphasis on issues of gender.( Lazzaro, 1993; Perlman, 1993)

Rehabilitation programs are creating specialized local area networks which interface with adaptive technologies and on-line services. New journals, such as Information Technology and Disabilities, located at St. Johns University in New York, are available on line and St. Johns has its own rehabilitation gopher server, as does the University of Washington, which hosts DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) services funded by the National Science Foundation. New lists, such as Mobility, which address the use of information technology, are now appearing on the Internet, and there are many sources in Usenet and internet lists to serve health impairment and other user communities. Indeed, the literature of rehabilitation provides witness to many personal stories of how adaptive information technologies have helped overcome isolation, develop new skills and become successful in the workplace. The networks have wide international use.

As in industry and education, the explosive growth of telemedicine and networking in such fields as rehabilitation can be attributed to the shrinking costs of technology, miniaturization, new digital communications capabilities, growing public and professional understanding of technology. Changes in the competitive marketplace are distributing services and work as well as requiring new forms of keeping records, filing for insurance and managing highly distributed organizations. Health care delivery systems are undergoing a transition from highly specialized or point based (e.g., radiological) services to those that are more comprehensive in scope and oriented increasingly to individual and community need as a means of attracting business, grants, and political support. Much of the new focus is on primary medicine.

The elements of this change vary. They range from health care professionals having greater access to bibliographic materials, such as those produced by the National Library of Medicine, and help networks such as Grateful Med or Lonesome Doc over data lines, to the sending, via multimedia technologies, of information about a patient from a rural area to urban medical centers for diagnosis. Some programs are geographically bounded in nature, as in the case of a medical school serving a rural clinic. Many offer a wide range of services to metropolitan areas. A growing number are state-wide in character, involving a range of radiologists, cardiologists, general practitioners, and continuing education specialists. Others are truly international, such as imaging programs centered at the Massachusetts General Hospital that reach out to the Gulf States and various services sponsored by the U.S. military. NASA provides services to astronauts in space. In addition to federal support, some have been funded by foundations, such as the Kellogg Foundation, state agencies, and large metropolitan medical centers and hospitals. There are no 'standards' for telemedical business models or programs, but it is fair to say that they are going through a period of transition from which demonstration projects, with mixed public and private funding, are giving way to revenue-generating, if not profit-making, ones.

This all said, change is taking place in something of a knowledge void, as is much of the application of new information and communications technologies in education, manufacturing and other sectors. The author's preliminary research suggests that, as opposed to specialized radiological imaging where accuracy has been measured successfully, the development of more comprehensive, often community-oriented, programs is taking place in a clinical research vacuum. There is little formal knowledge on program success or failure, and appropriate guidelines and instructional material to aid program development are lacking, as are criteria for the selection of participants in new programs. Fields like medical sociology have been slow to pick up on networking.

There are important lessons here for educators. Partly the result of 'newness', this lack of critical perspective is exacerbated by the secrecy of vendor-dependent non-public projects, the fact that many university programs are trying to develop proprietary products to support their efforts, and the reality that relatively few medical sociologists or cross-disciplinary scholars are brought into project planning and implementation. Whatever the case, legislators, program planners, and a vast array of public and private interests need far better information on factors which inhibit or facilitate program success, and tools to measure them. In sum, too little is known about what works and what does not work in the new telemedicine paradigm. Variables which impact success and failure have not been studied, with the results incorporated into assessment tools and instructional materials. These are issues which such federal programs as the National Information Infrastructure and Office of Rural Health Policy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are attempting to remedy in the funding of new initiatives, several studies from which will be available in 1996.(Grigsby, 1994) Their results will provide the first set of evaluations on program accomplishments to provide data for the Health Care Finance Administration (HCVA) and private insurers to determine if telemedicine meets standards well enough to permit federal and other reimbursement for services, lack of reimbursement currently representing a major barrier to telemedical program development.

We are not in a complete void, with literature on organizational communications becoming broader in scope. There is a growing literature on social factors in computer-mediated communications (see essays in Harisim, 1994), networked medical training services and medical education (Mason and Kaye, 1989) as part of the growing area of medical informatics. (Parsons, 1993) The subject of computerized medical records is sparking an increase in interest and research, in part because of debates on privacy issues (Miller, 1993), as is the area of networked clinical consulting (Parsons, Fleischer, and Greenes 1992) and interhospital computing (Parsons, 1992). If little of this literature is based on clinical study or sensitive to socio-technical issues, forthcoming reports sponsored by the U.S. Department of Rural Health Policy will begin to fill some of the void and there is significant new literature pointing to the need to study information technology in increasingly complex, cost-conscious, highly politicized and distributed medical environments (Weaver, 1991). Scholars and many federal officials argue that the use of modern information systems to better diffuse medical knowledge will be critical to health care reform, and while the character of the reform in the United States is open to question, there is bipartisan political consensus on the importance of telemedicine (Bashshur and Neuberger, 1995).

The complexity of issues in this whole domain has been highlighted in recent European socio-technical research which suggests that even where there is consensus on the need for using modern information technologies in distributed networked clinical settings, traditional attitudes on physician-patient relationships provide a significant barrier to technological implementation -- the kind of issue which permeates much current American discussion on the introduction of 'smart cards' or the sharing of medical information across departments and programs (Moidu, et al. 1992). Indeed, recent important publications on medical informatics point to barriers around legal, individual and other attitudes as critical factors in designing distributed systems (Shortliffe and Perreault, 1990).

The highly-distributed wide-area networks that are emerging in healthcare, as in education and other sectors, include a very broad cross-section of professional and non-professional medical and non-medical personnel. They include academics, regional planners, infrastructure specialists, state development workers, and many other neophytes who will be brought rapidly into new health delivery systems. It is on gaining collaboration amongst them rather than looking at cultural pluralism that most of the professional literature focuses, and this in spite of the fact that they work in diverse environments of varying status, wealth, education, and culture.

In this context, as well as in that related to the issue of post-modernism, the work of Wilbert Gesler is extremely useful as a stepping-off point for further discussion and research. In The Cultural Geography of Health Care he argues cogently for extreme sensitivity to such factors as ethnicity, ethnomedical systems, the importance of social context and the significance of understanding the political economy of a project's domain. Gesler urges that in the development of research and assessment tools sensitivity to the 'artifacts' surrounding feelings, inter-generational communications and such issues as localized attitudes on high-status medical centers, non-traditional medicine and professionalized project management be understood and integrated fully. He writes that

Influential recent work, often associated with the humanistic movement in geography, has revived interest in place and land- scape... Very little research in health care delivery has been done that is explicitly based on the importance of place or the idea of symbolic landscapes...concepts such as sense of place, lifeworlds, fields of care, negotiated realities, rootedness, symbolic systems, ideology, and therapeutic landscapes could usefully be applied to studies of health care deIivery. (Gesler, 1991, p. 13)

If one message of this book is that culture matters, then the other is that geography -- the spatial aspects of health care delivery -- matters as well.

An investigation of the larger health systems within the community, both traditional and modern, is essential in developing an understanding of how the health program's care might be coordinated with other community health services to provide the most effective service for the local area. This leads us to the important idea that medical systems must be seen in the context of larger cultural and environmental systems. The context consists of many subsysterns-social relationships, political and economic systems, attitudes and beliefs, topography and climate-- all of which influence how health care is delivered. Changes in the context produce changes in the medical system.( Gesler, 1991, p. 20)

Conclusion: Challenge and Solutions

Gesler's analysis and the case of telemedicine provide a useful framework for addressing the post-modern condition as outlined by Val Rust, the mains lessons from which may be transferred to education in its international and community settings. While some historians of education, including William Marsden, have used geographical concepts extensively to analyze the provision of urban education in spatial terms, such education came to be of a highly institutionalized kind, coming to replace some of the more traditional forms of apprenticeship, religious education, and learning in the streets and on the job.(Goodenow and Marsden, 1992), just as medicine has become highly centralized in metropolitan medical centers. Indeed, it may be argued that as the new networking technologies take root and training becomes dispersed increasingly over networks by a wide range of agencies, a reversal may be taking place in a much more infinite space. As in health care, schools and universities, with all their costly buildings and overhead, will become subject to intense competitive challenges from any institution which can reach students over networks, or will be required to design far more extensive and geographically dispersed distance learning and services than is now the case. In this instance, the spacial dimensions of education will not be bounded by physical characteristics and traditional social demographics, but the context discussed by Gesler. Herewith an excellent reason for looking at domains beyond education.

The problems facing educators and their medical counterparts are, then, substantial and reach well beyond issues of discourse and meaning -- they cut to the very legitimacy and survival of the places where they have traditionally worked, and how those places have designed and disseminated knowledge to prepare young people for a technological age of 'knowledge workers'. Indeed, arguments for change more radical than institutional reform are butressed by the power of networks, expressed through new forms of distance education and the self-paced use of interactive media that transcend the school and university and make the home a new center of learning (Perelman, 1992). As in health care, where medical services will be provided directly to the home via networks, home-based education will doubtless continue to evolve - another direct challenge. Arguably, therefore, educators will face deinstitutionalization pressures from the power of cyberspace as well as from more conventional competitive and cost ones. Consumers who receive health, financial and other services into the home will ask hard questions of local schools and universities now forced to offer product in a global market.

The issues noted above beg open-mindedness and close interdisciplinary scrutiny, as well as comparative study. Yet, the very structure of universities and inquiry may well hinder understanding. Specialized scholars of education, for example, too seldom incorporate research done by sociologists of medicine or organizational development and change. Nor is much attention given to the uses and outcomes of information technology utilization in manufacturing environments or other sectors in which 'knowledge working' is growing. Education is conservative by nature, and educators are highly accustomed to institutionalization and traditional ways doing and of disseminating their work. Yet, much discourse is now taking place in 'non-traditional' on-line publications and over the network itself. The print-dependent scholar or non-network user may hence be at considerable disadvantage in the evolving debate; a condition exacerbated by the status hierarchies which surround traditional printed journals and books In sum, it may be argued that the resources and paradigms for conducting such study have yet to reach maturation. Certainly, educational endeavor as an aspect of the exploding 'telework' phenomenon begs serious attention and scholarship.

The challenge to comparative educators here should be clear. With regard to global initiatives such as the GII we need to know who is involved in national decision making, and in particular, how support for GII may impact national systems. Far more needs to be known about the actual representation of interests -- from the educational establishment, communities, and private sector. Are informed voices being raised from the comparative education community and international education communities about them? One cannot be optimistic that these voices exist. There is seemingly little comparative research on the outcomes of networked-assisted or networked-based learning in national settings and on their international or comparative implications, particularly with reference to international cultural and educational relations, knowledge transfer, the status of North-South relations, and a wide range of cross-cultural issues. The same may be said of the rapid changes taken place in technological, competitive and regulatory climates.

Further, though obvious disparities between technological 'haves' and 'have nots', whether identifed by nation, geography, gender or ethnicity, are recognized, it is questionable that the full means to address this problem are being considered effectively as yet by national governments and international agencies, and there is scant literature to link issues of democratization and justice to the new trans-national network communities. Indeed, in the United States, for example, though hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent stimulating new 'information superhighway' projects in education and healthcare, and the Clinton Administration is promoting the Global Information Infrastructure, there is yet to emerge a coherent body of literature on what works and does not work, and what constitute the psychological, cultural and social barriers which must be overcome for successful program implementation (Committee on Applications and Technology, 1994d). In this light, focus by comparativists on areas such as rehabilitation, where networks have been developed and used extensively to promote democratic objectives, should be studied. So, too, comparativists must be able to look at definitions, discourse and meaning alert to the new cultures, subcultures and 'communities' arising in cyberspace.

Examples, moreover, of national practice which lend support to pluralistic arguments need to be brought forward, especially with regard to non-G7 nations which have traditionally suffered from dependence on cosmopolitan nations for information and publications. Much more needs to be known about capabilities, because if nations do not have the infrastructure or basic tools to utilize the GII (issues not mentioned in the report), access will become moot, particularly at a time of rapidly declining foreign and multlateral assistance from the Western industrial nations. Henry Jay Becker writes that the adoption of computers in educational environments is expensive, requiring carefully thought through instructional and organizational adaptation and experience. In system terms, moreover, there needs to be alignment of national school system, individual school and individual teacher objectives and preparation -- with issues of diffusion, duration and density being critical variables.(Becker, 1993) Becker studied only industrialized nations, and his research paradigm did not include highly complex multi-media networks, nor applications intended to be used outside school settings. Nor did he look carefully at international transfer issues. Current data suggests, predictably, that the Third World represents only about 10% of Internet access -- with the U.S. accounting for 70% of utilization.

The transfer of educational technology and content has, of course, been studied. In Thomas and Kobayashi, Educational Technology, Its Creation, Development and Cross-Cultural Transfer, individual writers looked at computers, radio and television and print media. They presented useful data on decision-making models, what has been learned from the past, the significance of national resources and the importance of understanding that technological innovation is linked inexorably to the transfer of pedagogical, administrative and training models. They highlighted a need to understand the perspectives of those innovations that are not 'technologically advanced,' building on earlier studies by Apple, Altbach and others which show the cultural and economic biases inherent in much transfer. What this book does not do, perhaps a function of the fact that it was prepared eight years ago, is look at its subject within the context of an emerging global superstructure held together by a vast international set of on-line services, most of which utilize English as the means of discourse. Nor does it develop a paradigm for studying comparatively the diffusion of different technologies, or the relationship between transfer and the broader subject of international educational relations and how they are being shaped by the thousands of communications which daily link educators working together on research, publishing, project management and distance learning (Thomas and Kobayashi, 1987) This said, volumes such as it, as well as Larry Cuban's Teachers and Machines, which explores the importance of understanding technological innovation within the context of the psychological and political climates of schools as complex organizations, present interesting and valuable jumping off points for new scholarship(Cuban, 1987) Whatever the character of modern inquiry on these issues, moreover, there is no doubt that, as put in the International Review of Education by Henry Ingle,

The practice, theory, and research of the past 75 years in educational technology are converging to argue convincingly for the use of communication technologies - both existing and evolving - to achieve advances in the field of education and for related socio-economic development needs.(Ingle, 1986, p. 251)

The post-modern condition requires more than consideration of top-level global infrastructure issues and what may be transferred by it, and for what purposes. Stated simply, we need to look at it from an emerging systems perspective, and so while volumes such as Coulby and Jones's very useful Postmodernity and European Education Systems identify usefully cultural, knowledge distribution, policy and other issues worthy of consideration by practitioners, policy makers and scholars, such critiques need to become far more alert to the internationalization and transfer implications of new communications technologies and networks. (Coulby and Jones, 1995). One such approach is advanced by Lemke, who writes of

ecosocial change, with changes in the practices and institutions we call education in the context of changes in the practices and institutions we call information technologies...both these foci must be embedded in much larger and more complex systems, if we are to truly imagine the nature of likely and possible changes.[Lemke, 1993, p. 3]

The identification of examples of localized model development and their intersection with the global system is important, as is developing network assessment and 'capabilities' studies to determine education, cultural, social, economic and other outcomes. The cross-cultural and international challenges posed by the use of communications technologies are significant and remain 'unknowns' in many work domains, such as the emerging phenomenon of telework, where some scholars are beginning to apply models of research which consider the intersection of gender, culture, distance and other phenomena (Hofstede, 1991,1994). Many nations do not as yet have the capability to network beyond a handful of universities, development projects and corporations, or, as in Columbia, they are struggling with the design of indigenous models which meet local needs without external cultural domination or the easy exploitation of human and natural resources from afar (Ayish, 1992; Bowonder, Miyqake and Monish Singh, 1993, Hogeboom.1990). At the same time, they are witness to powerful new networks of manufacturing suppliers and health care providers who can use distance learning, language translations and other technologies to educate large numbers of workers. Is there a role for comparativists in studying this phenomenon? In participating in it?

There is, moreover, the critical challenge of learning across sectors and disciplines. The new networking environment will be an increasingly integrated one. Programs in various sectors such as education, healthcare, manufacturing and commerce will face many similar challenges. These include the integration of functions and being able to learn about research in areas heretofore separated by departmental and institutional, as well as practical and theoretical boundaries -- hence, the citing of literature from health care in this essay.. Indeed, at a time when many programs are under pressure to be highly 'practical' and 'revenue generating' as cost centers, it may be time to focus heavily on theory as the precursor to change in the practice of education. Any examination of the communications, information technology and disciplinary literature shows enormous parochialism based in large part on 19th century disciplinary and departmental classifications, early 20th century professional school classifications and the enormous gulf that exists between educators formally charged with addressing the needs of systems of schooling and those who reside in corporations, government agencies and the many new clusters emerging on the information superhighway. Issues of pedagogy, status, and work are, in the new environment, constraining, something that will be difficult to overcome at a time when many nations, and parts of many nations, have either poor resources or formal educational systems badly in need of development.


Finally, the field of comparative education, a field which by its very nature can be open to scholars from varying disciplines and workplaces, is not well represented in cyberspace and so this paper will conclude with some basic suggestions and recommendations.

Though at least one University, Hong Kong, has endeavored to provide an on-line service for comparativists, I would urge that the main national and international comparative organizations put together a working team of comparativists and other experts to design a state-of-the-art world-wide database and services, accessible through the World-Wide-Web and other means for those who may not have graphical capabilities (e.g., .ftp, telnet, a human archivist accessible by electronic mail, a voice-mail retrieval system) to:

This program would be complemented by accelerated discussion of 'cyberspace' issues in comparative education forums, and increased attention to them in course and degree offerings, with syllabi, papers, lectures and other content made available on the Internet

Ultimately, comparative scholars would make a major contribution to national educational policies and curriculum development were they to address many of the issues raised in this paper. The puzzling issue of 'postmodernism' in one of its technological forms is an excellent place to begin both theoretical discussion and the clarification of some of the practical and political problems of the contemporary world crisis in education -- a crisis which will be deepened if issues of access and utilization of networks are not addressed immediately by educators.


Note on sources

In selecting sources for citation I tried to be aware of what would be available to an international audience on subjects that are producing extraordinary amounts of new literature and data -- a proverbial information overload within which there are still too few truly scholarly studies. Initially, I intended to site World Wide Web and gopher sites extensively, but I rejected that notion on two grounds. First, with contemporary search engines (e.g., the Digital Equipment Corporation's Altavista at or Webcrawler at it is possible for those with access to the Web to quickly track down virtually all of the publications, organizations, and agencies mentioned above. Further, with the character of the Web and web technologies and sites changing almost daily it is quite possible that the information I would render will be dated by the time this essay appears in print. Finally, I did not wish to put those readers who have yet to have access to these technologies at any disadvantage. To them I offer whatever assistance I can provide if they will write me directly: Dr. Ronald K. Goodenow, 226 Howard Street, Northboro, MA 01532.


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Please e-mail Ron Goodenow or call 508-393-5619 so we can help you.

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