Maryland parents, students, and teachers will be among the first to reap the educational benefits of enhanced digital television programming, thanks to a $10 million grant awarded to Maryland Public Television (MPT).

Using the grant money, MPT will develop educational video and online content for digital TV broadcasting, as well as professional development tools for Maryland educators. “With the advent of digital broadcasting, technology finally enables the television set to become a self-contained, fully interactive communications device. MPT is proud to bring this promise to life for Maryland and the nation,” said Robert Shuman, MPT president and chief executive. The U.S. Department of Education’s “Star Schools” program provided the grant. Founded in 1988, Star Schools funds innovative projects using technology for distance education.

What makes MPT’s ambitious plans possible is a physical feature of the digital broadcast signal enabling the transmission of several content streams simultaneously, known within the industry as “multicasting.”

Multicasting allows broadcasters to transmit not only the audio and video signals commonly associated with television, but also large streams of data. The combination of the two into a single program is known as “enhanced television.” Using enhanced television signals, viewers can explore content addressed in the program in detail, providing a more meaningful viewing experience. Data accompanying enhanced television programs is likely to include web links, bibliographies, transcripts, and detailed background material on the show’s subject.

‘Digital Schools’ initiative While all broadcasters will transmit signals enabling multicasting by 2003, MPT’s initiative is unique in that the station is devoting a portion of its new digital spectrum to enhanced educational programming for teachers and the public.

An entire department of creative talent is being added to MPT to develop original enhanced television programming. These new programs will incorporate lesson plans, internet tools, and guided learning activities for use in the classroom and at home, all embedded within the digital television signal.

The materials will be prepared in conjunction with teams of teachers throughout Maryland and will be distributed under the moniker “Maryland Digital Schools.”

Content will be delivered via MPT’s statewide network of digital stations located throughout Maryland and surrounding areas.

MPT’s Gail Porter Long, vice president of Community Learning Ventures, said, “We want to target the bulk of our programming to teachers, students, and the families of students in grades K-12. However, we also want to include material appropriate for the community at large.”

According to Long, MPT’s signal extends beyond the border of Maryland, touching the District of Columbia, northern Virginia, southern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and parts of eastern West Virginia.

Long notes that educators, not broadcasters, will decide what is useful in Maryland schools. Montgomery County, Baltimore County, and Prince George’s County Public Schools, in particular, will be important to the development of the Maryland Digital Schools project.

“All of us in education have learned that projects to improve teaching and learning cannot be developed apart from schools. We are working closely with teachers, curriculum specialists, technology specialists, and administrators,” she said.

Plans for the future MPT currently broadcasts a digital signal only from WMPT-DT in Annapolis. The network won’t have all six of its transmitters converted to full-time digital broadcasting until 2003. Nevertheless, the pieces are in place to begin implementing the enhanced television project.

According to officials from project partner Johns Hopkins University, the grant will support the creation of a web portal with supplemental content for both parents and educators, designed to complement the digital television programming by MPT. The web portal is expected to be up and running by the start of the next school year. As digital signals become more accessible to viewers in the next 24 to 36 months, this content will migrate to the programs themselves, where it will be embedded in the transmission.

“It is going to change TV from a sit-back, passive medium to a lean-forward, active medium. When enhanced television is fully implemented, we’ll be able to invite viewers to send inquiries to our experts and engage in chats related to our programming,” Long said.

Joining MPT in this venture are the Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education and Macro International Inc., a Prince George’s County research firm that will provide a third-party evaluation of the project’s effectiveness.

Johns Hopkins University will provide training to K-12 educators on how to use enhanced television and how to anchor the broadcasts to effective instruction, according to Lynne Mainzer, program director at the Johns Hopkins Center for

Technology in Education. The actual number of teachers to receive instruction has yet to be determined, but Mainzer said workshops and training institutes would begin this year to prepare educators for the program rollout in the 2001-02 school year.

Other organizations sharing their expertise with MPT are Verizon Maryland Inc., Maryland Teaching and Learning with Technology Consortium, National School Boards Association, and Towson University College of Education.

Maryland Public Television http://www.mpt.org

Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education http://cte.jhu.edu