Photo by George Lauby
Ryan Purdy and Maxine Moul in one of the college's distance learning labs.
Photo by George Lauby
Todd Hatcher demonstrates
“Distance learning” efforts are rapidly improving, compared to the failures of the 1990s.
In the late 90s and early 21st century, teachers and students tried to communicate with video cameras, screens and microphones, but were plagued by poor connections, spotty service and transmission delays.
Connections are getting better all the time.
Distance learning was celebrated Friday at North Platte Community College, which officially received a $123,042 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.
The funds helped purchase video teleconferencing equipment for a system connecting North Platte and affiliated schools in an 18-county area of western Nebraska.
High definition screens, cameras and microphones are being installed in college campuses at Broken Bow, Ogallala and Valentine, Community College President Ryan Purdy said, allowing the college to expand dual high school-college credits and other course work, leading to a myriad of degrees, certifications and licenses.
The immediate goal will be to increase the number of qualified nursing professionals and address a nursing shortage in rural areas.
The equipment can save students the 100 to 200-mile daily round trip to attend nursing certification classes.
“Distance learning is especially important to the rural areas of Nebraska,” said Maxine Moul, the Nebraska director of USDA’s Rural Development. “It helps afford rural residents the opportunities that urban areas can offer.”
College President Ryan Purdy said the equipment “will help us become more accessible to prospective and current students residing in our 18-county service area which spans from Kansas to South Dakota and Gothenburg to Ogallala.”
The network was demonstrated by Todd Hatcher, head of internet technology and distance learning for the college area. During the demonstration, Hatcher talked with Kaci Johnson in Broken Bow. Johnson said the system is reliable, which is good because the college Licensed Practical Nursing Program is an accelerated program, and students have no time for downtime.
Big and growing
Hatcher said the system can link a teacher to up to three other classrooms at one time. Broadband fiber optic cable transmits the video and audio instantaneously, with no annoying delays.
And the system continues to improve. Links to eight sites are expected. Cameras will be able to follow a teacher who walks around the room, tracking the sound of their voice, Hatcher said. Students will be able to watch the classes on I-Pads. Teachers in different locations can team up to give the course.
Video screens in front and back are up to 60-inches wide in the newest classrooms, Hatcher said.
USDA distance learning grants were also awarded to Educational Service Unit 17 of Ainsworth, Educational Service Unit 16 of Ogallala and Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation of Kearney, Moul said.
Hatcher said last fall the college had 1,500 students in distance learning programs. That number could increase with the new health care courses the college will offer this fall from its new health education building.
Moul said Rural Development grants and loans are self-sustaining, because when loans are paid the money stays in rural development, without relying on more appropriations from Congress.
The USDA’s rural development programs took root in the 1930s with the Rural Electrification Administration and continued through the Farmer’s Home Administration that ended in the mid-90s, Moul said.
Since 1996, more than $2 billion in USDA Rural Development grants and loans have been awarded across the country, she said.