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Orange County Focus

Countywide : Dialing Up Face-to-Face Phone Call

October 20, 1993|ZAN DUBIN

Fifth-graders at Fullerton's Richman Elementary School met sixth-graders from a middle school in Pennsylvania on Tuesday to get acquainted.

"I'm 10," Richman's Linda Moreno told a boy at Dorseyville Middle School in Pittsburgh.

"What are you going to do this weekend?" Richman's Sean Musacco asked another Dorseyville student.

"We've got 33 kids in our class," Moreno added.

It was easily the farthest field trip Richman children ever took--about 2,500 miles by car. Nobody, however, boarded a plane. These students met via videophone, standing face to face, as it were, thanks to new technology that lets callers see as well as hear one another.

Welcome to the future. Step this way.

The videophone call was made through "Techno/Studio," a hands-on educational program at the Fullerton Museum Center and aimed at fostering creativity, communication and cultural awareness through interactive computer technology.

Using E-mail (the "E" stands for electronic), or messages transmitted by computer, local students using two Macintosh computers at the center learned about everything from Jim, the bird that Dorseyville students keep in their classroom, to Pennsylvania's cool fall weather. Dorseyville students learned that many Fullerton students speak Spanish and that Southern California is sunny and warm in October.

Students in both cities sent via facsimile machine computer-generated art they've made, and they've seen one another's faces over a 3-by-3-inch color videophone screen.

Center curator Lynn La Bate based the program on the "Telecommunity Project," devised by Robert Dunn and Melanie Carr of Pittsburgh, which she saw in action in Anaheim at this summer's Siggraph (the Assn. for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics). The annual conference is devoted to computer graphics.

Said Dunn in a recent phone interview from Pittsburgh: "It's a way to broaden consciousness . . . and our understanding of other peoples' experience and incorporate that into our own worldview. Users are sharing ideas and personal experience."

Like students across the country, Richman fifth-graders have a computer in their classroom. Still, the more hands-on experience, the better, said teacher Karen Twardos, "especially for those students with limited English-speaking ability."

On Tuesday, one group of students drew traditional pictures of their homes, which were to be faxed later to Dorseyville. Another wrote E-mail letters to Dorseyville students and a third made art on a computer, captivated by the myriad designs, shapes and colors they could create by manipulating a small Macintosh "mouse."

The videophone call seemed to be the biggest hit, however. The videophone itself, which operates with a computer chip, looks a lot like a regular telephone with a small computer screen attached. Its visual images aren't perfect, though. Faces appear in something of a series of still photographs that change every few seconds.

That didn't bother these 30 fifth-graders, however, many of whom crowded together to see the tiny screen and yell goodby to their new friends in Pittsburgh.

"Techno/Studio" will be available for public use from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and 1 to 3 p.m. on the weekends through Nov. 11 at Fullerton Museum Center. For information, call (714) 738-6545.

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