The Reston-based Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), a 65,000-member association of professionals, parents, and others interested in educating exceptional children, announced last week that it is working on plans to use international satellites to train teachers and professionals.
Under the label "exceptional children," the council includes learning disabled, physically and mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed, visually and hearing impaired and abused and neglected children as well as gifted and talented children.
The plans to use satellites are being developed under a six-month study program called the Special Education Satellite Project, funded by $60,000 from the National Institute of Education and other sources, according to Richard Otto, telecommunications project officer at the institute.
"The grants are to plan new and innovative uses of applying commercial satellites to education," said Otto.
As part of the study, the council recently sponsored a three-hour broadcast of part of the CEC-sponsored First World Congress on Future Special Education held at Stirling University in Scotland. The conference was transmitted by three satellites from Europe to 55 sites in the U.S. and Canada, including the CEC Reston headquarters.
The week-long congress, which was attended by representatives from 40 countries, had as its topic the education of exceptional children throughout the world.
"Satellite video-conferences, such as the one you are participating in now, provide an opportunity for people with language and cultural differences, separated from each other by continents and oceans, to work cooperatively and to communicate more effectively," Louis Bransford, director of service development for the San Diego-based Public Service Satellite Consortium, told the conference and his trans-Atlantic television audience.
The consortium operates earth relay and receiving stations and small terminals capable of supporting satellite broadcast demonstrations and experiments, according to a brochure printed by the group.
Otto and Frank Withrow, education program specialist at the National Institute of Education, contend that satellite communications systems, like the one being developed by the CEC, are cheaper, in the long run, than communicating by telephone.
"It's like a big party-line in the sky," Withrow said. "Its cheapness depends on volume."
In other words, he said, if a professor wants to reach 100 students scattered along the East Coast, he would ordinarily have to make 100 phone calls. By satellite, he would only have to make one call and it would be beamed to all 100 students - thus the cost and time saving.
"There are only so many experts. The more people those experts can reach in one shot - the cheaper," Otto added.
The cost of any satellite education program devised by the CEC would be borne by the hospitals, schools and other institutions that work with exceptional children and choose to participate in the satellite program, Otto said.
Two satellite projects sponsored by the Institute of Education have been in operation for the past four years, he said. One is in the Appalachian region and beams lectures and lessons for training teachers at 20 colleges in 13 states. The other operates in Alaska and provides satellite communications between the state supervisor of education and his widely scattered district supervisors, Otto said.