Live, from Towson: It's French class!

December 02, 1991|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

A story in The Sun Monday about Baltimore County teacher using technology to reach students in more than one school simultaneously incorrectly reported that Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. had donated fiber optic lines to the school system. The error occurred because of inaccurate information given to The Sun. In fact, the school system will pay a negotiated price for the service, a telephone company spokesman said.

) THE SUN regrets the error

Question: How does one teacher manage two or more classes miles apart at the same time?

Answer: Television. The age of Distance Learning, complete with faxed homework assignments, has come to Baltimore County.

Under a pilot program that began in the county this year, teachers can conduct classes at several locations simultaneously, making it possible for schools with a small number of students interested in a particular subject to take advantage of classes that wouldn't normally be offered.


At Towson, Owings Mills and Chesapeake high schools, Spanish, French, Latin, geometry and German are being taught this way.

"We are on the cutting edge of technology. We are the future," said Ben Toll, 17, a Towson High senior. In his advanced French class, taught by Towson language teacher Dot Tucker-Houk, he has electronic classmates at Chesapeake High in the eastern Baltimore County community of Turkey Point, south of Middle River.

Television cameras and audio equipment permit the latter to ask and respond to questions, look at graphs or anything written on the blackboard and otherwise observe the Towson classroom.

As Mrs. Tucker-Houk asks questions of the Towson students sitting in front of her and her five students at Chesapeake, French phrases fly back and forth between the two locations. "Every day is still an experiment," the teacher said.

The Distance Learning program was made possible through fiber optic lines donated to the schools by the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. The program may be expanded to include more schools in September and could include advanced chemistry, Russian and Japanese, said Louis Sergi, principal of Towson High.

The equipment in the three schools includes overhead television screens, a camera and audio equipment. Students at the receiving school -- the one without the teacher in the room -- see the teacher on a television screen.

The teacher, in turn, watches a screen showing the students in the receiving school. Audio equipment is set up on a podium, and the teacher wears a microphone. An instructional assistant in the room without a teacher helps with technical problems such as the need to position the camera or adjust the sound.

At Chesapeake High, only five students wanted to take advanced French, but 24 registered for the course at Towson.

Fred M. Prumo, the principal at Chesapeake, said that the county school system has tried Distance Learning classes in the past but that it wasn't as successful, he said: "There were visual problems and audio problems, but now the fiber optics technology is wonderful."

At Owings Mills High School, where about 35 students are sharing Latin and math classes with the Chesapeake and Towson schools, Principal Frederick W. Cogswell agreed that the new technology makes the program a success. "The old equipment was archaic," he said.

When students in Mrs. Tucker-Houk's French class were asked recently about the program, their reaction was mixed.

Jennifer Dickens, 16, a junior at Chesapeake High, initially had a hard time adjusting to the class. "It was really hard for us at first. We didn't know anyone at Towson," she said.

Joyce Maye, 17, a senior at Chesapeake High, felt she and her four classmates were not getting as much attention as the Towson students.

"I really wanted to take this class, but when I first got here it was really hard," she said. Joyce said that "Madam," as all the students refer to Mrs. Tucker-Houk, does her best to divide her attention equally between the two classrooms.

"Despite all of the problems . . . you learn a lot," said Christine Warsal, 16, a Towson High School junior.

"I look at it this way," said Clay Scott, 17, Chesapeake High senior: "If they didn't have this, I wouldn't be able to take this class."

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