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New Satellite Network To Beam Instruction to Schools in Texas

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To help schools meet mandated educational reforms and survive an ongoing teacher shortage, the Texas Education Agency has linked up with what is being called the nation's first private satellite network designed specifically to provide academic and inservice programs to public and private schools.

The cooperative venture between the tea and TI-IN Network Inc., a Houston-based firm incorporated a year ago, was announced last week in San Antonio.

TI-IN programming will originate in San Antonio, at Texas's Region 20 Education Service Center. Classes conducted in the studio there will be transmitted, via satellite-signal, to sites throughout the state.

Students at the remote locations will then be able to use cordless telephones to call in questions and responses to classroom instructors, with the teacher-student dialogue becoming part of the broadcast program.

Courses will be conducted by instructors from state agencies, schools, universities, and professional associations, and by nationally prominent educators, according to network officials. The tea will monitor and evaluate the TI-IN programming to ensure that it meets state standards.

So far, 51 districts and education service centers in Texas subscribe to the network. An additional 18 schools in California subscribe through the California State Polytechnic University.

The capacity for nationwide programming was made possible recently, when TI-IN signed a multi-million-dollar contract with the GTE Spacenet Corporation for Ku-Band capacity on its Spacenet II satellite.

Texas Commissioner of Education William N. Kirby said last week at ceremonies announcing the new network that the interactive instructional satellite-delivery system will address two major problems--"the ongoing teacher shortage and the equality of access to curriculum."

"Small school districts may not find it economically feasible to hire teachers to provide certain courses," he said, limiting access to such subjects as French, psychology, or advanced computer science to relatively few students statewide.

"But through programs like the network, access to these types of courses can be equalized," said the commissioner. "Districts might find it more cost-effective to install satellite-receiving stations to provide access to many different low-enrollment courses than to hire teachers and purchase instructional materials."

Telecommunications in Dimebox

Such is the case in Dimebox, Texas, a town with one K-12 school for 240 students that has just subscribed to the new network.

"We just couldn't offer any advanced courses such as a foreign language because we couldn't get teachers in a small town like this," said the school's principal, Larry Bennett. "It would not be economically feasible for us to put two students in a classroom with one teacher, yet we want to provide what is necessary for our students to go on to college."

Texas school officials view the network not only as an aid to schools facing tougher course requirements, but as a way to help teachers complete the training needed to advance in the state's career-ladder program.

The network offers "a lot of programs we can be viewing through the satellite, rather than sending a whole bunch of teachers and administrators out of town for training," said an official in the Denton Independent School District, also a network subscriber.

The first-year cost for subscribers in Texas is about $15,000, which includes a basic subscription fee and a programming fee.

The subscription fee covers the lease, maintenance, electronic-monitoring, and control of the receiving satellite dish each subscriber must install. It also includes the cost of a toll-free telephone line students and instructors will use to communicate directly.

In addition, the network provides an integrated audio-video unit for the classroom that includes a television set, a videocassette recorder, cordless telephones, and a dot-matrix printer.

With the printer, said Patsy Tinsley, president and founder of TI-IN Network, Inc., examinations and handouts can be electronically distributed to classrooms as the instructional program is being broadcast.

She said that this is the "first private satellite network developed specifically to provide direct instruction to schools."

"Other satellite networks are state or federally funded and offer periodic programming. This is a 7 A.M. to 10 P.M. central-standard-time, six-days-a-week network for public and private schooling."

Ms. Tinsley said that although last week's announcement was made in San Antonio, the network plans to offer its service nationwide.

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