Gov. Parris N. Glendening stopped by Howard Community College yesterday, but he didn't come to Columbia for the visit.
Standing in a classroom 25 miles away, the governor spoke with a group of Howard students through interactive television -- demonstrating Maryland's fledgling "video distance learning" network, which Howard Community College joins this fall.
"This will be another significant leap toward bringing education to all Marylanders," Mr. Glendening told the 30 Howard students from a classroom at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold. "By the turn of the century, it will change dramatically what education is all about."
The state video learning network allows students at one location to participate in a class being taught elsewhere.
Teachers are able to see every student, answer questions and even focus directly on an individual papers. Handouts can be sent instantly to classrooms by fax machines.
State educational officials hope that by 1997 the network will connect 270 sites, including all Maryland high schools as well as some colleges, museums and research facilities. That would permit classes in specialized subjects to be offered at multiple places.
"Some smaller classes, like an upper-level foreign language course, may only have five students at one school and six at another, but you can combine the enrollment and are able to offer the class," said Martha Matlick, chairwoman of Howard's learning centers division and instructional assessment.
The distance learning will help the state's community colleges keep costs down by removing the need to hire individual instructors for those smaller classes, said Dwight Burrill, Howard's president.
Bell Atlantic-Maryland has agreed to pay about $50,000 a classroom to install the necessary video and computer equipment, and schools must pay a $1,365 monthly subscription fee for every classroom on the network.
Under the state-approved contract, that fee doubles to $2,730 a month after three years.
This fall, Howard Community College will use the network to offer two classes jointly with Anne Arundel Community College.
Anne Arundel will transmit an introductory sociology class to Howard, and Howard will transmit a sociology class on marriage and family to Anne Arundel.
By spring, Howard hopes to work with at least four schools -- Anne Arundel and Harford community colleges, Towson State University and the University of Baltimore -- to offer as many as a dozen classes in such subjects as sociology, sign language and art history.
"As we start offering more classes with more schools, we can really get our money's worth," Dr. Matlick said.
Yesterday's interactive video session was more of an introduction to the network than an actual classroom experience, as students at Anne Arundel and Howard community colleges and Towson State simply listened to the governor talk about higher education and asked him a few questions.
But the Howard students who had the chance to participate quickly were convinced that distance learning will be a step in the right direction for higher education.
"I think this is great," said Johnette Henderson, 25, of Columbia, a part-time student at Howard, who asked the governor a question. "I think that it allows the class to be much more interactive and everyone gets to participate."
Mr. Glendening said he also is a video distance learning convert, particularly in comparison with his years of lecturing before 425-student classes at the University of Maryland College Park.
"I found that more distant and impersonal than we have here with the technology," Mr. Glendening said.
He said he hopes to teach a political science class next year via the state video learning network -- a class that may be offered at undetermined schools in western Maryland and the Baltimore and Washington suburbs.