Hopkins, Bell To Go Distance for Education By Ken Keatley Without bricks and mortar, Johns Hopkins University is about to embark on an expansion that will enable university lectures, conferences and special events to reach vastly more people. Hopkins has been selected by the Maryland Higher Education Commission to participate in the Maryland Interactive Distance Learning Network, which links schools, colleges and other educational/cultural institutions via interactive television facilities provided, installed and maintained by Bell Atlantic of Maryland. Theodore O. Poehler, vice provost for research, said that Hopkins will receive all necessary electronic equipment for three distance learning classrooms at no cost to the university; users do pay a monthly access service charge. The sites include the Homewood campus, the East Baltimore medical campus and the Montgomery County Center. The university may, at its expense, add additional Maryland Interactive Distance Learning Network classrooms in the future, Dr. Poehler added. "This may significantly improve our ability to reach markets we wouldn't otherwise reach," Dr. Poehler said. "There are a lot of different applications, but the principal function we envision would be to broadcast some of our part-time courses to a number of locations simultaneously. It's potentially very practical." Robin Radespiel, project manager for the Maryland Interactive Distance Learning Network, said that Bell Atlantic has committed to providing classrooms at 270 sites in Maryland, including all 230 or so public high schools, public community colleges and public four-year colleges and universities. The remaining 40 or so sites are chosen at the discretion of the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which selected Hopkins to participate. "Having a major research institution like Johns Hopkins on board really elevates the program," Radespiel said. "Their involve-ment should serve to inspire other educational and cultural institutions to participate in order to improve the access of their programs, especially in underrepresented areas." Bruce Griffin, Bell Atlantic's distance learning project manager, said the company is committed to spending $30 million over a four-year period to establish the network. In addition, Bell Atlantic is donating $13.5 million in classroom equipment and related services. "This was designed with the help of educators, and they and students have been coming up with all sorts of applications," said Griffin. "A lot of the community and four-year colleges are finding this to be an effective way of reaching additional students." Griffin added that the broadband, two-way interactive video provided by a fiber optic digital network produces television pictures and sound that are of broadcast quality. Fully interactive, the network allows participants at as many as four sites to be linked during a class, conference or other event. For example, a class instructor on the Homewood campus could lecture, respond to questions by and also observe the actions of students in that and as many as three other classrooms on the network simultaneously. "The instructor can literally oversee the activities of students in four sites," Griffin explained. "We have the capability of linking more sites, but we've found that four is as many as one instructor can handle at once." Dr. Poehler said that the specific locations for the three Hopkins classrooms have yet to be determined. "But all three sites are places where several schools within the university are located, so we want to ensure that the classrooms are properly placed and managed for everybody's benefit," Dr. Poehler explained. He mentioned the School of Continuing Studies and the part-time programs in the School of Engineering and the School of Hygiene and Public Health as likely users of the network. Dr. Poehler added that a list of possible sites will be identified and presented to Bell Atlantic within about a month, and that final selection and installation should occur within about four months thereafter. To date, 32 sites have been chosen for the Maryland Interactive Distance Learning Network, and 20 are up and running, accord-ing to Griffin. Among the on-line sites are five public high schools in Baltimore County, four in Baltimore City, the University of Baltimore and Towson State University.
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