On one level, ShareNet is an example of a highly successful district-level initiative to create a regional telecommunications network. The network involves 54 school districts in two states, 462 schools serving over 250,000 students, and 18,000 teachers.
In setting up ShareNet, the Pan Education Institute had to deal with two major problems that confront any broad-scale network initiative:
The common carrier selected (Delphi) was chosen because it could handle the diversity of computer platforms and was the only carrier willing to deal with ShareNet on a flat-rate basis.
Despite the impressive number of schools and districts participating in this initiative, when we look more closely at the network's impact on students and teachers, the picture is much less rosy because of severe limitations on the kind of network access available at most ShareNet schools.
Lack of adequate access to ShareNet for students and teachers is the most serious problem facing ShareNet - and it was cited by nearly every student, teacher, and administrator with whom we spoke. ShareNet districts and schools are in desperate need of more modems and phone lines or some other technology, such as a wireless direct connect, to ensure that teachers and students have adequate access.
A teacher at one of the ShareNet schools pointed out that his school has a staff of almost 100 professionals and a student body of 1,400, and yet they have only 8 phone lines. He claimed that nearly every time he tried to use one of the phones,
This teacher, who is on the technology committee, worries that access problems frighten many teachers who are already technology shy. "They're nervous about it." This concern seems well placed, as borne out by the remarks of a teacher who had been trained to use ShareNet, but was not an experienced user. She pointed out that she couldn't practice her network skills because her classroom had no phone line. She said:
As it stood in May of 1994 when we visited ShareNet sites, each district and school had modem bank access to ShareNet through phone lines. Typically, however, there were not enough phone lines or modems to accommodate the schools' needs. Consequently, students and teachers frequently could not get on the system, sometimes for hours at a time. It would not be "difficult" to obtain more modems or phone lines, but it would be prohibitively expensive. Local districts do not have state phone rates; they report paying more than $50 per month per line.