Schools around the country are using distance learning to advance the education of their students, but in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, schools are using distance learning to educate their teachers as well. According to the Washington Post, the use of interactive TV for teacher training is fulfilling a huge need for the county: at least 14 percent of the county’s 7,000 teachers hold only provisional certificates because they lack the required coursework for full certification.

By day, the county’s schools use interactive TV to teach specialized courses–such as Japanese or AP European history–to students. At night and on weekends, teachers become the students, as the same network infrastructure is used to broadcast required professional development courses. School officials say it’s a cost-effective and convenient way to give teachers the extra training they need to obtain or renew their certification, without the expense or hassle of commuting to a local college.

“Instead of having to teach for eight hours, then drive for an hour to a college or university to take a class, teachers might only have to walk down the hall to their class,” said Scott Schiller, supervisor of TV resources for the county’s schools. “This saves our staff a great deal of time and effort.”

Christine Grodt, who teaches music at Kingsford Elementary School in Mitchellville, Md., agreed. Grodt is trying to attain certification after returning to teaching full time after a 25-year hiatus. “I’m so tired by the end of the day, it’s easier for me to buzz [to Bowie High School] than to have to go to one of the campuses and deal with the parking problems,” she told the Post.

Interactive TV allows an instructor to teach at one location and communicate with groups of students at several remote locations. There are currently 15 county high schools using interactive TV, Schiller said, and the remaining five high schools in the county will be added in January.

Most places using interactive TV run two-way compressed video over an ISDN network, Schiller said. In Prince George’s County, however, the schools use a fiber-optic network to broadcast full-motion video to as many as four TV monitors simultaneously. Because there is no compression of video, Schiller said, there is no delay in the signal–so the instructor and participants at up to four separate locations can interact and communicate instantly, as if they were in the same room.

About 500 teachers have participated in the 10 professional development classes offered by the district this fall, Schiller said. During the school day, about 25 classes are broadcast over the network for student use, he said.

Prince George’s County Schools

Washington Post