Cable television's boom echoes through the classroom

Television, social scientists say, is as much a part of our living environment as streets and avenues. And the ability to find one's way around these streets and avenues is what John Flores calls ''visual literacy.''

As director of media services at Watertown High School, Mr. Flores is responsible for taking instructional advantage of the town's new franchise agreement with Continental Cable Vision. He sees cable television as a new trend in education - a trend that runs parallel to the movement toward computer literacy.

Visual literacy is how he describes the skills necessary to become ''more critical consumers of television.''

Students of TV production learn, ''how camera angles and scripts can be used to manipulate them,'' Mr. Flores says. In a Watertown High class taught by Peter MacLauran students produce a daily news show that is ''cable-cast'' to the community through Continental Cable Vision's local station.

The students rotate between the different tasks necessary to produce the show. They all take turns anchoring the news; writing the stories; running the cameras, the audio, the character generator, and so forth.

The franchise agreement, which Mr. Flores helped negotiate, has some interesting benefits for educators who feel that teaching students how to critically watch and produce TV shows is almost as basic in today's society as reading and writing. These benefits include:

* An institutional loop that connects the city's eight schools by cable TV lines so that a videotape or live cable program can be transmitted to all of the schools at any time.

* A total of $100,000 worth of TV production equipment, including a character generator (essentially a typewriter that places words on the video screen), color cameras, and a control panel. The cable company will also take responsibility for the maintainence of this equipment.

* A tie-in with Continental's regular educational channel so that the schools can cablecast outside as well as inside the institutional loop. (Last semester, a class in television production at Watertown High produced, live, a daily news show for the Watertown community.New students this fall are expected to continue the show.)

''I can't imagine for a minute a town not getting what it wants from a cable company today,'' Mr. Flores said, if advocates for the schools vocally express their needs before a franchise agreement is made between the city and the cable company. Everything, he said, has to be agreed upon long before any cable is installed or any agreement is made between the city and the cable company.

Once an agreement is made, communities without public-access stations or institutional loops cannot expect to receive these benefits from the cable companies until the initial franchise agreement expires, opening the way for new negotiations.

Mr. Flores qualifies his enthusiam, however, by adding that some cities will have more trouble getting public-access ''extras'' from cable companies than others. High-density areas are more desirable to cable franchises than areas of low density.

In cities like Watertown, where much of the population lives in apartment buildings, the company has to lay much less cable per customer than in cities where the population is spread out. This might explain why Newton, Mass., a city close to Watertown has only the institutional loop as part of its franchise agreement - and not the $100,000 worth of equipment that Watertown has.

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