Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Discovery takes media into classroom

Silver Spring communications giant partnering with schools

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J. Adam Fenster/The Gazette
Hall Davidson of Discovery Education leads a workshop for teachers last week at the Silver Spring company's offices.

Discovery Communications, the Silver Spring media company best known for its television programming on the Discovery Channel, is among the Maryland businesses making inroads in the classroom.

The company's education division, Discovery Education, launched in 2003 after the parent company acquired United Learning, a streaming video provider whose services were then used by more than 24,000 schools. By 2005, Discovery had almost tripled that number, and it now is employed in more than half of U.S. schools.

"We're very excited about the potential of our products," said Scott Kinney, vice president for professional development and outreach at Discovery Education.

The digital media, including videos, articles and other resources, can be accessed by teachers and students through the Internet to gain a better picture of the subject being taught. Teachers can quickly find the exact clip they want to show without having to wade through a long video, while students can download the videos to work with them and make their own movies, Kinney said.

"We correlate our content to state curriculum standards," he said.

Two control-group studies of students in rural Virginia and urban Los Angeles found that Discovery Education's services have helped students earn higher scores in math, science and social studies.

"Education is rapidly changing," said Stephen Wakefield, communications manager for Discovery Education. "Technology is changing the way students learn and teachers teach, to make the process more effective."

Most schools in Montgomery County access the Discovery services, which include streaming, science and health components, as well as a Web-based content-sharing system through which students and teachers can share documents through a type of online warehouse. The service is also well represented in Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and other Maryland counties, Kinney said.

Teachers who don't have readily accessible computers available for all students in their classrooms can still download videos and print out handouts to use in classrooms, he said.

This fall, Discovery is starting a new initiative with Wilkes University, a liberal arts university in Pennsylvania, offering an online, 30-credit master's degree program in instructional media. The first-time program for Discovery taps into the growing need for teacher training to use the fresh technology tools, Kinney said.

Since 2005, Discovery Education and Wilkes have partnered to help teachers integrate educational technology into their classrooms. "This is the logical next step," Kinney said. "We've had a great deal of interest in this program."

This report originally appeared in The Business Gazette.