Cal State Dominguez Hills chemistry professor Oliver Seely was burning wood in a test tube recently to show how chemical reactions occur.
The experiment was relatively simple, but school officials point to its wider significance.
Seely and his class at the university's California Academy of Mathematics and Science--a specialty high school established this semester with 120 ninth-graders from six area school districts--had a participating TV audience.
Students from Dominguez High School in Compton were tuned in as part of a program that allows teachers and students at both schools to see and hear each other via a two-way television hookup.
"About the only thing they can't do is smell the wood burning," Seely said of the Compton high school students.
The audio-video link--a cooperative effort among the university, the Compton Unified School District and Pacific Bell--gives the Compton students a sampling of what college instruction is like, helps improve their academic achievement and offers them courses not available on their own campus.
Classes are broadcast from a studio-classroom on the Cal State Dominguez Hills campus. A second television camera and a microphone at Dominguez High School allow students there to interact with the instructor and class at the university.
Pacific Bell gave the college a $148,000 grant to purchase equipment and administer the two-year program, the second of its kind in the state. The other has linked Cal State Bakersfield with the mountain community of Tehachapi since November, 1989, phone company officials said.
The Bakersfield link "bridged a geographical barrier of 40 miles," said Bob Lee, Pacific Bell executive vice president for marketing. "Here, it's not so much the physical distance but the psychological barriers" the Compton students may face concerning the difficulty of college classes or what college is like.
University classes being broadcast to Dominguez High include one-day-a-week courses in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics and algebra, and a five-day-a-week German course. Plans are to offer other five-day courses in mathematics and science. Time is also allotted for guest speakers.
Access to university professors allows Dominguez High School to fill staffing needs unmet by the Compton school district, said Laura Brown, technology coordinator with the district.
"For example, we did not have instructors to teach German," Brown said. "The university did, and now our students are able to take a German course."
Academy freshman Staci Davis, 14, said the hookup allows her small German class to carry on a conversation in German with Dominguez High students "as easily as doing it in our small group."
When the program started three weeks ago in Compton, academy student Jose Arredondo, 14, was surprised when he "looked up into the screen and there was my brother," Juan, 16, a junior at Dominguez High.
Students and instructors praised the system's ability to let them interact. It "allows students (at Dominguez High) to participate in the class and not just view it as they would with one-way video," said Warren Ashley, Cal State Dominguez Hills' director of distance learning.
Many of the classes broadcast to Compton will be those offered at the academy, which is expected to become a full-fledged high school. Ashley said the telecommunications link will someday allow other schools to use the academy as a resource.
"In a sense," he said, "the university becomes a broker" of enriched teaching by creating "an electronic forum" for education.
Ashley said the program gives the university a way to recruit potential students, stimulate development of innovative and non-traditional teaching strategies and promote better relations with the community.
Compton school officials hope to expand the system to the district's two other high schools.
"We're fascinated by the program here," Dominguez High Principal Ernie Roy said over the audio-video link during a demonstration last week. "We feel there is no limit to what we can do."
University President Robert Detweiler praised the system as being on "the cutting edge of today's educational technology."
"When I was a boy," Detweiler pointed out, "distant learning meant walking two miles to school."