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Teleconferences: High-Tech Links Advance High-Tech Talks

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A telecast from Ohio State University's public television station, WOSU, is relayed to Detroit where it catches the "up link" to the public-television satellite.

The telecast is then relayed to local public tv stations around the U.S. and Canada or sent directly to satellite dishes stationed in hotels, schools, and college auditoriums.

For four hours, more than 5,000 principals, curriculum specialists, teachers, and professors of education watch from 58 different locations across North America. Participants at 18 of the sites can ask the panelists at Ohio State questions, then see and hear them respond on video monitors.

Once only the fancy of communications visionaries, such scenes are now not only possibilities, but realities.

Ohio State's "teleconference"--said to be the first such independent venture in precollegiate education--took place earlier this month. It enabled thousands of educators to take part in a four-hour meeting with specialists on "The Use of Microcomputers in Education."

Educational Uses of Computers

Coincidentally, that same week, the federal Education Department's Project best (which stands for Basic Education Skills through Technology), sponsored the second of a series of teleconferences. (See Education Week, June 9, 1982.) That meeting linked state-level officials with experts and federal officials to cover the same topic: the educational uses of computers.

Project best was initiated to help improve the quality and availability of computer software designed for educational uses. The teleconference gave employees of state education agencies the opportunity to learn more about the new educational technologies and to share information.

The Education Department's "open-communication" teleconference--in which participants could talk with those making presentations--reached about 1,300 people at 43 public-television stations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, according to Frank B. Withrow of the Education Department's division of educational technology.

The Ohio State conference also permitted conversations between listeners at 18 sites and panelists on the university campus; participants at another 40 locations could hear and see, but could not relay questions to the panelists.

"We used one technological medium to explain another," says Jack A. Culbertson, professor of educational administration at Ohio State, who developed the idea of the independent teleconference.

Over the past two years, the number of microcomputers used for instructional purposes in public schools has skyrocketed, according to Mr. Culbertson.

Microcomputers accounted for most of that gain, increasing from 30,000 to 96,000 in the 14-month span covered by a recent study by the National Center for Educational Statistics (nces), Mr. Withrow says. He estimates that there may be as many as 160,000 microcomputers in the schools now.

On-Line Educators

Educators "on line" (able to transmit responses) to Ohio State included principals, curriculum advisers, and teachers from: the Milwaukee area; Lakewood, Colo.; Shawnee Mission, Kan.; Norfolk, Va.; Orange County, Fla.; and Oklahoma City. Other participants were educators in districts near participating universities, including the University of British Columbia, Indiana University, Georgia State University, Texas A&M, the University of Texas, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Michigan, Arizona State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Alberta, and the University of Regina in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Mr. Culbertson says he got the idea for the conference after an advisory commission meeting in Washington of the eric Clearinghouse for Policy and Administration a few years ago.

"We were discussing the importance of emergent technologies for organizations like eric," he says, "and it occurred to me that educational administrators would be interested in a conference on the subject. When I came to Ohio State, the dean of the college of education was enthusiastic about extending the conference to teacher-education programs at other universities and to administrators.

"We made the teleconference independent because the federal government isn't always going to be involved," Mr. Culbertson says. "Someone is going to have to provide a network of support and information. It was important for us to learn to do it and demonstrate how such programs can be provided to the education community."

Promising Concept

The low cost of renting satellite time and equipment (compared with the often prohibitive expense of sending educators to a convention), makes teleconferences in which participants can see and talk to experts in a specific field a promising concept, according to Mr. Culbertson.

The whole teleconference, he says, cost about $100,000, plus additional costs at each location, compared with the $2 million it might have cost to gather everyone at Ohio State.

Each on-line viewing group for the Ohio State teleconference paid local a public-television station $2,500. As part of the package, the participants can use CompuServe, an electronic-mail system that will enable them to exchange messages with each other through their computers weeks after the event.

The 40 groups that did not have the direct linkage to Ohio paid $300 each to watch the conference on closed-circuit video monitors.

Teleconferences not only save money, they provide the people who most need the information--those who work at the operational level--with the opportunity to receive data and procedural information firsthand, according to Mr. Withrow of the Continued on Page X
,000 Educators Linked in Computer Teleconference

Continued from Page 6

Education Department.

"At annual meetings, it's usually the boss who attends," he says. ''But teleconferences, by being able to reach more people, reach more people who do the day-to-day work."

The Education Department's teleconferences, like the one conducted at Ohio State, not only offer a space-age way to make high-caliber expertise available to widely disparate local groups which might otherwise not have access to it, but they also offer such groups an opportunity to exchange information, Mr. Withrow says.

ed's programs stress communication between sites, he notes. During the teleconference, there are pauses during which local groups discuss their particular issues, which they then share with other teleconference participants.

After the telecast, conference participants continue to talk by telephone about such related topics as new technology for handicapped students and technological developments in vocational education, the ed official explains.

"Teleconferencing," as it is known, can also enhance local con-ferences, the enthusiasts point out. Texas A&M, for example, used the Ohio State teleconference as part of a 25-session computer fair that brought educators from local communities, professors of education, and engineers together to discuss and demonstrate various applications of computer software.

Expectations Exceeded

"The teleconference exceeded my expectations by one-thousand percent," says Vincent F. O'Connor, coordinator for mathematics education for the Milwaukee public schools. The event, he says, drew 55 administrators--principals from neighboring districts and nonpublic schools, superintendents, directors of instruction, and teaching staff members--who gathered at the city's public-television station.

"I don't see teleconferences replacing conventions," Mr. O'Connor says. "You lose a lot of interaction that takes place in the smaller sectional meetings of conferences. But for a finely-focused topic, on effective schools or new legal issues, for example, teleconferences are especially useful."

Milwaukee, which had one microcomputer in its school system four years ago, now has 200 and will add 100 more this semester. One of the city's secondary schools, Washington High, has a curriculum that concentrates primarily on the uses of the computer.

Educators participating in the Ohio State teleconference were warned by experts that before they go out and buy computer equipment, they should have an instructional plan.

"School administrators have to define their needs and plan accordingly," says Mr. Withrow. A common mistake, he says, is for school officials to buy one brand of equipment in the hope that it will standardize maintenance and training.

That is dangerous, Mr. Withrow argues, because the changes in the technology are such that to stick to any one line will guarantee obsolescence.

And school officials often forget, he notes, that money needs to be allocated for maintaining the equipment and training people to use it, as well as for hardware itself.

"Funds for educational technology need to be divided three ways," according to Mr. Withrow. "One-third needs to be allocated for hardware, one-third for training and maintenance, and one-third for courseware and courseware maintenance."

Microcomputers Added

School officials from Jefferson County, Colo., one of the school districts that took part in the Ohio State teleconference, are in the process of adding to the 200 microcomputers currently operating in their schools, according to Jan W. Bybee, resource specialist for instructional technology for the school system.

"The teleconference didn't answer all our questions, but the speakers raised important issues that, quite frankly, some of our people were not aware of."

He says it was helpful to hear what people in other states and in Canada were thinking. "Each site asked unique questions, but they were all pertinent to what we need to consider," Mr. Bybee explains.

Joining the 40 administrators from Jefferson County, the largest school district in Colorado, were 40 administrators from Denver and 15 principals or representatives from other neighboring districts.

The Ohio State teleconference included documentary films on the use of computers in the Lyons Public School District near Chicago and in the Niskayuna, N.Y., school district.

Mainstreaming Computers

"Computers have been mainstreamed into our society, and assuming that education prepares students for society, computers must be mainstreamed into our curriculum," John Bristol, superintendent of Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, Ill., told conferees.

Other speakers included David Moursand of the department of computer and information science at the University of Oregon; Henry Olds, editor of "Classroom Computing" and "Window"; Joseph Deken, professor of business administration at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Electronic Cottage; P. Kenneth Komoski, executive director of the Educational Products Information Exchange Institute; and Andrew Molnar, a program officer at the National Science Foundation.

A videotape of the Ohio State conference is available from the sponsoring group, the Dean's Network, Ohio State University, 2400 Olentangy River Road, Columbus, Ohio 43210.

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