Challenge issued on the superhighway
She has asked companies and schools for ideas on how the Internet global computer network could be used in the curriculum and for other educational uses, such as in-service training.
Launching a Department for Education consultative paper called Superhighways for Education on the Internet, Mrs Shephard said: "In terms of global communications, we now contemplate a leap into the future. This is likely to be as great as the changes brought about by the development of printing, the internal combustion engine, and powered flight.
"But it will take place over a much shorter timescale. We have a long way to go, and a relatively short time to chart our path."
The consultation document comprises 20 questions to be addressed by the education service and telecommunications, broadcasting and multi-media industries on how superhighways could be used in schools. The UK already has an education superhighway in the form of SuperJANET - the Super Joint Academic Network - but its use is still limited.
Mrs Shephard said Britain already led the world in the amount of computer hardware available in schools, and developing a superhighway was a natural extension of this.
She added that the role of the DFE was to set out "a provisional framework for the development of broadband pilot projects in schools and colleges".
She said: "We shall, if the criteria are met, ensure that industry's investment is reflected in Government-funded evaluations of the pilot projects.
"These will help to ensure that a framework of clear and open standards for education can evolve."
Several pilot projects using the Internet are already operating, the most recent being a multi-million pound scheme launched by the Department of Trade and Industry in March.
Responses to the latest consultation should be submitted to the DFE by July 7.