An Info-Age Function for Md. Public TV

Maryland Public Television's new telecom center will connect the state's students, government officials, and business leaders

Raymond Ho doesn't know what form the information superhighway will actually take, but he plans to make sure Maryland's communities have an easy commute.

Maryland Public Television, under Ho's leadership, recently opened the beginnings of a telecommunications center it hopes will become a technological and training resource for the state. The Maryland Teleplex in Owings Mills will include an interactive distance-learning classroom, a multimedia center, a global-video conferencing center and a special projects unit.

"We are entering an age of interactive multimedia," Ho said. "The Teleplex is a telecommunications complex which we would like to see become the gateway to teleconnecting communities of tomorrow."

The station has asked for $2.5 million from the state to support the Teleplex and provide training and services there, said Ho.

A $13.5 million effort is already underway to develop a statewide fiberoptic network linking 270 high schools, colleges, universities, libraries, museums, and other educational institutions in Maryland. Bell Atlantic is donating the equipment and fiber optics, at a cost of about $50,000 per site. The schools and other centers will then pay Bell Atlantic a reduced monthly fee of $1,365 for the line.

Maryland Public Television later this month will be showing off its state-of-the-art technologies with a series of electronic field trips that will put American classroom students in touch with scientists in Antarctica.

Students at interactive classroom sites in Texas, Alaska, Hawaii and Maryland will be able to talk to researchers in Antarctica live via video, two-way audio and online services.

Other schools around the country will be able to tap into PBS's Telstar 401 satellite to view the four 40-minute educational sessions. Maryland Public Television is collaborating with Geoff Haines-Stiles Productions and WTTW Chicago on the educational program.

But Ho says "Live from Antarctica" is only the tip of the iceberg. The project offers "an exciting glimpse into the future where new technologies create classrooms without walls, allowing students to interact with any part of the globe, anytime, anyplace," he said.

The interactive classrooms being set up around Maryland will allow one instructor to teach as many as four classes at a time. For instance, one Russian teacher in a Baltimore county school could teach three more classes in different schools around the city or state. All of the students can see the teacher on a television monitor at the front of the classroom. At the back of the room, the teacher can see that same view, plus live video from the three remote classrooms. Using the interactive classrooms, four schools could split the cost of one Russian teacher and 100 students could learn Russian simultaneously.

But the Teleplex is not just promoting technology as an educational tool. It also contains a business-style teleconferencing center that uses compressed video communications. The facility provides face-to-face video, audio and data to multiple locations around the world. Ho said a federal agency with international involvement - he wouldn't say which - is considering using the system to communicate with its vast network of people who need training. In January, Maryland Public Television plans to host an electronic town meeting with government leaders around the state.

In the future, the Teleplex will also house a Multimedia Center that will develop new software and store CD ROM, CDI and other interactive, multimedia technologies.

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