ERIC Identifier: ED340390
Publication Date: 1991-12-00
Author: Bishop, Ann P.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information Resources Syracuse NY.
The National Research and Education Network (NREN): Update
1991. ERIC Digest.
This digest updates THE NATIONAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION NETWORK (NREN):
PROMISE OF A NEW INFORMATION ENVIRONMENT, by Ann P. Bishop.
This digest reports on the current status of Federal policy initiatives
related to the National Research and Education Network (NREN) and discusses
trends and issues in electronic networking that are of interest to members of
the education and library communities. The NREN is envisioned as an expansion
and enhancement of the existing U.S. Internet, the collection of interconnected
computer networks that is currently used by over one million United States
researchers, educators, students from K-12 to postgraduate levels, and others.
STATUS OF FEDERAL NREN INITIATIVES
the creation of what has been referred to as an electronic "information
superhighway" was first introduced by Senator Albert Gore in 1988. The latest
version of the NREN legislation, called the High-Performance Computing Act of
1991 (P.L. 102-194), finally passed both houses of Congress on November 22, 1991
and was signed into law by the President on December 9, 1991. In addition to
establishing the NREN, the Act calls for the implementation of a government
research and development program in advanced computing technology and
applications. It serves, for the most part, to mandate goals and strategies that
are already being pursued in the executive branch under the name of the High
Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program. The HPCC Program is
outlined in a 1991 report entitled "Grand Challenges: High Performance Computing
and Communications," issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The intent of both the legislative and executive branch initiatives is to
improve the information, computing, and communications infrastructure for the
country's researchers and educators, while at the same time promoting the
development of new computing and communications technologies. The government
hopes that such efforts will enhance national productivity and competitiveness
as well as speed scientific and technical advances in a number of fields.
Important features of the Federal government's plans for funding, creating, and
managing the NREN include:
network linking educational and research institutions in all fifty states in
order to facilitate communication, computation, and access to information
resources and research equipment;
technologies and providing electronic information products and services;
for providing networking infrastructure support and information on NREN access
advantage of private sector NREN connections;
directories, user training, and access to commercial information services--and
technology designed to support computer-based collaboration;
stored in government databases;
mechanisms for ensuring intellectual property protection, assessing and
collecting user fees, guiding the eventual transition to commercial use, and
maintaining security and privacy;
information science, as well as in computing and computational disciplines; and
representatives from industry, network providers, and research, education, and
library communities--whose mission is to assess Federal initiatives in
high-performance computing and communications.
Government plans for the NREN have evolved over the past year or so to
include a much greater emphasis on educational and library perspectives. Due in
large part to successful lobbying efforts by organizations and coalitions
representing these communities, NREN policy statements contain more language on,
for example, the importance of providing access for educational institutions of
all levels and locations, the need to promote shared access to information
resources by linking users to libraries and databases, and the importance of
promoting NREN applications such as digital libraries and distance education.
It should be remembered that both legislative and executive policy statements
only outline, in broad strokes, government plans and strategies related to the
NREN. Within this framework, a number of important controversies remain to be
resolved, some of which are suggested by the list of NREN policy features
presented above. Individual agencies and other key players will make specific
decisions that will affect the actual use of the NREN. The National Science
Foundation, for example, will be issuing new contracts in 1992 for both the
management of NSFNET (a high-speed national network that serves as the backbone
to the U.S. Internet) and the provision of network information services. In
addition, it will be chiefly responsible for deciding how funds for NREN
connections will be allocated among individuals, institutions, and various
network service providers.
GROWTH OF NETWORK USE IN THE EDUCATION AND LIBRARY
It is clear that the education and library communities are
continuing to expand their use of electronic networks. Researchers, students,
librarians, and educators subscribe to electronic conferences, newsletters, and
journals on a wide range of topics of concern to them in their work. They use
electronic mail to communicate with remote colleagues; file transfer to acquire
a variety of public domain information resources, such as software and full-text
files; and remote login to access supercomputers. In addition, members of the
library and education communities are contributing to the creation of electronic
information resources and services. For example, many library catalogs and
databases created originally for local use are currently available over the
Internet. Further, some librarians and educators are an important source of
network training and support for their clientele.
As new users and applications are brought online, the potential of computer
networks to dramatically transform the nature of education and scholarship is
becoming more apparent. In some cases, computer networks are used to make
existing processes more efficient, e.g., putting library card catalogs online
and disseminating memos from teachers to students. But in other cases,
networking is being used to create new relationships, processes, services, and
products. For example, students may use electronic networks to learn another
language by engaging in electronic conversations with distant peers who are
native speakers, and libraries may create and "publish" electronic information
resources over the network to an audience far broader than their traditional
patron group. Both individuals and institutions are reexamining their goals,
capabilities, roles, and responsibilities in learning and scholarly
communication as their experience with the use of computer networks grows.
Development of the NREN, obviously, has the potential to expand even further the
use of computer networking services and products in schools, universities, and
Even with the passage of NREN legislation, the
transition to a networked information environment will not be easy. Educational
and research institutions, libraries, and publishers are faced with difficult
social, economic, legal, ethical, and management issues in their attempts to
incorporate the provision and use of network services within existing
organizational structures and operations. With networking policies,
technologies, and user expectations in seemingly constant flux, these issues
become even more difficult to resolve. Important policy changes include the
recent Supreme Court decision allowing regional Bell operating companies to
begin providing commercial information services. Technology trends that could
have a tremendous impact on networking include the proliferation of multimedia
applications and the development of standards and user-friendly interfaces for
information search and retrieval.
Bishop, Ann P. (1990, November). THE
NATIONAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION NETWORK (NREN): PROMISE OF A NEW INFORMATION ENVIRONMENT. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources. (EDO-IR-90-4).
ERIC Document number ED 327 219.
EDUCOM REVIEW. (1991). Special double issue. 26(3/4).
Lynch, Clifford A. (1991). The development of electronic publishing and
digital library collections on the NREN. ELECTRONIC NETWORKING: RESEARCH,
APPLICATIONS, AND POLICY, 1(2), 6-22.
Mabrito, Mark. (1990). Annotated bibliography of resources in computer
networking. COMPUTERS AND COMPOSITION, 7(4), 23-39.
McClure, Charles R., Bishop, Ann P., Doty, Philip, & Rosenbaum, Howard.
(1991). THE NATIONAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION NETWORK: RESEARCH AND POLICY
PERSPECTIVES. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Okerson, Ann (Ed.). (1991). DIRECTORY OF ELECTRONIC JOURNALS, NEWSLETTERS,
AND ACADEMIC DISCUSSION LISTS. Washington, DC: Association of Research
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. (1991). Special issue: Communications, computers, and
Tennant, Roy. (1991). Internet basic training: Teaching networking skills in
higher education. ELECTRONIC NETWORKING: RESEARCH, APPLICATIONS, AND POLICY,
U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy. (1991). GRAND CHALLENGES: HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTING AND COMMUNICATIONS, THE FY 1992 U.S. RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM. Washington, DC: OSTP.