TV Tech Plugs in Where Schools Leave Off
Teleclasses, interactive videodiscs, and news programs help fill resource gap
`HALLO, Michael ... kannst du mir bitte deine Notizen leihen?'' ``Ja, Gern!''Skip to next paragraph
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So began a normal day's German class at Banning High School here recently with one important difference: The teacher was in Oklahoma City, and student Brian Rice sat with six classmates next to a flickering television monitor in this small, desert community school. Outside, framed against the desert sky, a mammoth black radar dish was aimed at the sky.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Rice and his classmates practice their German with the aid of this live satellite hookup. A telephone on the desk allows them to call the instructor and ask questions. For the sake of dialogue practice, the sounds of another class - this one in Fairfield, Mo. - are piped live into the studio.
``No, no, Fairfield, you are pushing the `a' sound into your nasal cavity,'' says professor Harry Wohlert. ``It should always remain in the chest. Let's try it again.''
The Oklahoma State University Arts and Sciences Teleconferencing Service (ASTS) began to offer ``German by Satellite'' in 1985 in response to requests from local districts seeking help in meeting new state, foreign-language requirements. Seeing his curriculum with chronic holes in math, language, and the sciences, principal John Porter applied for a county district grant. The $6,000 he received nearly paid the $7,200 bill for a satellite dish, control panel, and wiring to two rooms.
Nationwide, many others have followed in a rush to teleclasses. Strapped by limited funding and short staffs, many districts have found it impossible to meet curriculum requirements mandated by states.
At least 33 states currently promote ``distance learning,'' real-time instruction that uses electronic links to enable teachers and students to interact with each other. In 1987, the number was only 10. Last year the Kentucky Education Network began math classes to 65 remote high schools. Virginia took aim at having stations at all its 289 high schools. In Texas, a private network known as TI-IN has gone even further, sending instruction to more than 750 school districts in 29 states.
This year 12,000 to 15,000 students in 40 states will learn such previously unavailable courses as Japanese, Russian, trigonometry, and calculus through satellite education. The idea is to let technology - primarily TV - transport information, not people.
``[Distance learning] represents the great harnessing of television technology as the great equalizer,'' says Frank Withrow, designer and administrator for the federal Star Schools program, which is distributing about $20 million in grants to four projects designed to expand educational opportunities. ``The idea is to bring equal access and choice to students regardless of where they live.''
Fueling the push to distance learning are sponsors that include federal and state governments, universities, public-television stations, and commercial networks.
Training teachers for such a setup can be a problem, a number of critics of satellite education point out. ``The biggest shock is the camera lens,'' agrees Lloyd Otterman, TI-IN's executive director, ``and the absence of students.''
Bruce O. Barker, an associate professor of education at Brigham Young University, says that many producers turn out good products, but he cautions against calling distance education a ``panacea.'' Besides the lost nuances of eye contact - which lets the teacher know if his messages are being accepted and understood - the possibility of 2,000 students calling in by phone can either cause logjams or be an effective deterrent to asking questions.
Not far from Banning, at the Condit Elementary School in Claremont, another part of television's techno-revolution is taking hold. While her fourth graders kneel around a TV monitor, teacher Loretta Wilson punches keys on a Macintosh II personal computer. Paintings by Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro appear on the screen. Discussion ensues and students are back to their desks working on art assignments.
What makes today's lesson remarkable is that the pictures were derived from a bank of 50,000 stored on a 12-inch videodisc. By typing the word ``garden,'' Ms. Wilson instructs her computer to find every painting in the collection under that classification. With her CAVI (computer assisted videodisc instruction) interface, she has control of the speed and direction of presentation.
``I would've had to go through a library's worth of books to create this lesson,'' says Wilson. ``But even then, holding up the books wouldn't have been nearly as exciting to the kids.''