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Three schools go the distance with learning.

Several hundred distance learning applications are up and running in the United States today, ranging from the industrial to the college to the local school level.

Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, 40 miles south of Wichita, Kan., draws many of its students from four high schools in surrounding rural towns. Although all five institutions are served by different telephone companies, they are now linked by a jointly provided fiber optic network with a total length of 141 miles.

The towns and telcos involved are Caldwell (Kan-Okla), Conway Springs (Haviland), Oxford (United), Udall (Wheat State), and Arkansas City (Southwestern Bell).

The telcos will run the network and Cowley Community College's Gary Detwiler will run the program.

"We will add courses, we will work to bring new high schools onto the network and we will try to involve local organizations," says Detwiler. He believes that the network could help firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians receive training without ever leaving town.

"It's the wave of the future. Now we have a gateway to and from anywhere in the world," he says.

Before distance learning can achieve its full promise, broadcasters and telephone companies must learn to speak the same language.

In an industry-academia demonstration, students in a Kansas schoolroom served by the High Southwest Plains Network saw the two industries merge during the week of April 19 as National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) delegates in Las Vegas chatted over a fiber optical teleconferencing network to attendees at the United States Telephone Association's Supercomm '93 in Atlanta.

AT&T and Grass Valley Group (GVG), a subsidiary of Tektronix, Inc., put the demonstration together using AT&T's DDM-2000 Sonet multiplexer, and GVG's "E" Series codec and DCC-45 digital cross-connect switch. The result was a T33 (45 Mb/s) interactive network controlled by a GVG system software program.

The two companies are building interactive distance learning networks in Iowa, Wisconsin, Alaska, Kansas and Montana.

Can the benefits of small town schools--a less crowded environment, low crime rates, and a more neighborly atmosphere--include the opportunity to learn within a diversified educational environment?

Dan Rood Jr., project director of the Greater Richland Education and Technology (GREAT) consortium, believes they can if we supplement the more limited educational resources available in rural areas with telecomm technology.

The result of his vision is a distance learning program that has increased the electives available to students by 25% to 50%.

The secret of Rood's success was "to think like a businessman." First, GREAT staff members got state legislators to change eligibility requirements so they could receive a loan from the state's infrastructure improvement fund. This paid for the fiber optic backbone.

A low-interest loan from the state's school construction fund financed classrooms and equipment. The money for infrastructure investment came from the Richland County Jobs Development Authority. Technology became the province of the local exchange carrier, US West.

"We could have just asked the voters for the money, but we went about it differently," says Rood.

The program got off the ground in October, 1991, and a year later 12 courses were offered and about 300 students participated in a distance learning course. During the 1993-94 school year, the GREAT network links with Southeast Interactive Television Consortium, 90 miles to the west.

Together, the networks will provide access to five other districts' high schools, two vocational technology campuses, and a studio at the North Dakota State's College of Science, which will host advanced placement courses.

A word to the wise

Hezel Associates, a communications planning and research firm located in Syracuse, N.Y., recently published a state-by-state analysis that shows lack of state planning impedes the development of a nationwide distance learning network.

"The bottom line is that educational telecommunications planning efforts will continue to be frustrated in states without executive office participation and continuing support from the legislature," notes the report's authors.

School districts lobbying for distance learning networks should stress the extended benefits of such resources. These include health care, government and general business applications. Vice President Gore says one role of the National Research and Educational Network will be to connect public schools.

The examples above show that the schools can help by fostering cooperation between educators, telcos, the legislature and the business community.
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Title Annotation:distance learning applications
Author:Stewart, Alan
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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