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USU CENTER TARGETS LEARNING DISABILITIES

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Potential for national exposure is a major factor in selecting programs for Center of Excellence designation, says Alan Hofmeister, director of technology for the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

The school's Center for Information Technology, named in 1988 as a Center of Excellence in Utah, is delivering national exposure on four main fronts:- A national cable television station is negotiating to air USU-designed mathematics lessons, then market videotapes featuring further helps.

- The center's expert system, which aids in the diagnosis of learning disabilities in children, functions through boards of education in five states.

- For Utahns, whose taxes provide funds for Centers of Excellence, Hofmeister creates meticulous training manuals for paraprofessionals and volunteers in Utah's school system.

- Center staffers look at alternatives to closed-captioning on television.

As an example of how far-reaching the center's math education programs could be, Hofmeister says that even if only a modest percentage of the 50 million cable households in America watch a math education program, hundreds of thousands of viewers would be involved.

If the cable guide listed geometry as the topic of the day, it could attract parents and teenage children who know from past segments that the presentation will be feature bright and entertaining graphics. Concepts are presented two or three ways, each time using different graphics. Hofmeister's staff members constantly field tests to find the most successful way to teach a concept.

Much of the center's research and design focuses on the Discovery Channel's negotiations to air math programs. Discovery purchased The Learning Channel and contracted with Systems Impact, Inc., to develop the first five math programs. Systems Impact and the center have worked together since SI moved its production facility to Salt Lake City to be near USU.

Systems Impact was formed to capitalize on laser video technology developed at USU. The companies will work together on the pilot programs and many more, Hofmeister predicts. He foresees the Learning Channel moving into language and science programming for home and school as well.

To further enhance learning, the center is developing training packages for education paraprofessionals. With dozens of children per classroom for a single teacher to deal with, aides are playing a larger part in education than ever before. Faced with a new task in the classroom, such as teaching youngsters to button their coats, an aide can type a key word into the computer and open a file giving step-by-step instructions for teaching the skill.

Packaged in a wallet-size compact disc available to every school in the state, the computerized training manual is growing to include how to's in tutoring, behavior management and language/motor skill development.

While demand for the education training system is growing, the center's most popular system helps teachers and administrators identify learning disabilities in children.

Hofmeister said 50 percent of children diagnosed with learning disabilities are misdiagnosed - meaning hundreds of children are carrying the learning disabled label, attending resource classes or assigned to special education classrooms, when their difficulties may actually stem from environmental factors such as poor teaching or home problems.

Five states use the center's expert system throughout their school districts, reducing the misdiagnosis by more than 50 percent, Hofmeister said.

One of the center's newest efforts focuses on closed-captioned television, which has been a boon to hearing-impaired audiences.