Students in several Spokane area schools took an electronic field trip to CNN headquarters in Atlanta this week to watch television journalists, producers and technicians work.
Televised live over cable, the trip was designed to allow students to ask questions by telephone, fax and electronic mail.
Students heard CNN Executive Vice President Ed Turner spout maxims such as “No story is worth getting killed over” and “Plagiarize. That’s why God made your eyes.”
The field trip was a free sample of a new product offered to schools by Turner Educational Services Inc., a division of Turner Broadcasting.
Turner charges between $300 to $400 per field trip. Its slogan is “Lunch is all you need when you travel with Turner Adventure Learning.”
But the free sample raised more doubts than interest for two Spokane teachers. Cost, content and technical problems will discourage schools from buying, they said.
“It does take you places that you wouldn’t go otherwise,” said Shadle Park High School teacher Don Story. “But $300 is hard to come by in schools.”
Story is Shadle’s high-tech guru. He teaches an experimental class to 16 students on publishing on the Internet. For $300, he could buy 100 CD-ROMs or Internet access for 15 months, he said.
The content level at times was below his class, Story said. His students snickered when a host demonstrated how he could turn his microphone off and on.
At Franklin Elementary School, librarian Dinah Coble thought the level was too high for most elementary school students.
The interactive aspect of the field trip would have been lost on Franklin Elementary, said Coble, who watched it and taped it for possible use. The school has no fax machine, no electronic mail and only two telephone lines, which usually are busy.
Shadle Park’s Story also recorded the program because his class starts one hour after the live feed began.
“If we had to pay for it and didn’t get the live feed I don’t know if it would be worth it,” Story said.
Turner Educational Services produces a free 15-minute, commercial-free news program for schools called “CNN Newsroom.”
Turner executives believe the field trip venture will turn a profit by next year, said Gary Rowe, senior vice president of Turner Educational Services.
“The use of television in the classroom shouldn’t be when we say it’s appropriate, but when teachers and students find value in what we do,” Rowe said.
Telephone and cable companies are investing millions of dollars in long-distance learning, raising a question about who will control what schools teach, said Michael Sullivan, executive director of the non-profit Agency for Instructional Technology in Bloomington, Ind.
Whoever spends the most and gets into the market earliest will control instructional content, he predicted.
“If you’re getting lessons via satellite or via cable, all of a sudden that might become the de facto curriculum,” Sullivan said. “Someone might decide in Atlanta that everyone studies Gettysburg in sixth grade.”