At the time, the educational possibilities seemed endless, but as the Internet developed in the public domain more and more of its content was devoted to entertainment that slowly squeezed its educational functions into a narrow margin.
It was not long before schools and universities that relied on the Internet could not get their work done efficiently.
To address this issue, Kentucky has begun a two-year project to get all school districts on a new high-speed information network known as Internet2. Similar to the original, but faster and without the commercial Web sites, Internet2 serves to connect researchers, universities and public schools.
This network also allows very specialized applications such as video conferencing, 3-D visualization and remote instrumentation that could be available to students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Charles Morton, technology coordinator for the Harlan Independent School District, discussed a range of possibilities during a presentation to the board of education during their regular meeting Thursday evening.
Morton provided board members with an overview of five separate but interrelated technology projects currently under way that would connect the city school system to this educational Internet, acquire the necessary classroom hardware, purchase student workstations, receive free teacher workstations and upgrade their video conferencing technology.
In prior actions, the board has approved applications, agreements and some funding necessary to get these projects under way. Morton gave board members a status report on those and brought them up to date on the latest plans and programs available in the state.
Morton reported once the classroom hardware was in place, including projectors and interactive whiteboards, the city school district would be "a little ahead of the game" in educational technology.
He also noted that progress continued to be made despite a drop in district technology funding.
"It's amazing to me what we've accomplished in the last 10 years," said Superintendent David Johnson. "We greatly appreciate the work Mr. Morton has done to bring these opportunities to the district. We also appreciate that the board has bought into the vision we have for our district and supported us."
Morton reported on the state's efforts to build and promote the Kentucky Education Network (KEN), the state's version of Internet2, through the Governor's Office and the Education Cabinet, supported by a $29 million appropriation from the General Assembly.
Except for Sunshine Preschool, the city's school facilities are already interconnected via fiberoptic cable and are prepared for the installation of KEN in the coming fall.
Last year's General Assembly also appropriated $50 million to upgrade student computers across the state. The city district is eligible for nearly $29,000 during 2007, and Morton anticipates using this to add as many as 60 new computers to the district's inventory.
The board previously agreed to a funding plan for more than $200,000 to be used for projectors and interactive whiteboards in classrooms, as well as the wireless network to connect them across the district.
The school system also has acquired 80 new computers for free as part of a research program called "the Dataseam project" and is working on a plan to get up to 90 more from the same source at a greatly reduced cost with funding the district has saved from previous technology projects.
The board was required to approve funding for a project Morton referred to as CenterNet2 that would upgrade the district's video conferencing technology. The upgrade would cost approximately $1,000 more per year than they are paying for the service now, with the benefit that they would receive around $1,500 worth of new equipment. CenterNet2 is a key education technology project of The Center for Rural Development in Somerset.
In summary, Morton said he anticipated these projects would be completed over the summer months. When school begins for the 2007-08 year, the city district will have all new teacher workstations and as many as 150 new student workstations that are less than one year old - that's one new computer for every 4.5 students, and using existing technology, they will have one for every two students.