Network Links Rural Students to Education Opportunities
DENVER – Students in rural communities are gaining easier access to educational opportunities. A new approach to video communications is making it possible for students to connect to specialized teachers, universities, and other knowledge bases that are often difficult for them to access.
Leading the way is a cooperative project in rural Eastern Colorado. A team of telecommunication specialists — Trillion Partners providing the overall service, POWER Engineers providing the fiber optic network engineering and construction – is completing the network for the East Central Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services (EC BOCES).
“This single project will positively impact the lives of over 6,000 rural students,” said Brent Lackey, Vice President and Senior Project Manager of POWER Engineers’ Telecommunications division. “We are pleased to be part of this innovative telecommunications approach.”
The EC BOCES project will link 19 school districts in the region. Known as Video Network for Education and Training Services (VNETS), this hybrid fiber optic and wireless network offers the following benefits:
Telelearning. Telelearning, or distance learning, is the ability for students to attend remote classes through interactive, televised sessions. This technology is not new; however, the variety and number of classes available is increasing considerably, Lackey said.
University access. “Above all else, what makes the BOCES VNETS project so unique is that the distance learning will be done in cooperation with Colorado universities, connecting students with some of the state’s top educators,” said Lackey. This portion has been headed by Pat Burns of Colorado State University.
Enriching entertainment. “The educational and communication opportunities created by this network provide an enriching, entertaining activity for students in rural areas,” said Kevin Manweiler, Communications Consultant for POWER Engineers. “With filters and other security measures, parents can rest assured that their students are exposed to appropriate information.”
Global networking. This system increases the speed and availability of Internet connections with students and destinations around the globe, Manweiler said. “For example, students in rural Colorado could take a virtual tour of a museum in Paris – complete with a real-time, interactive tour guide – and still be home in time for dinner.”
Reduced expenses. By allowing students access to online libraries, distance learning, and other opportunities, the network provides more “bang for the buck,” said Manweiler. “This can ease the strain on already-tight school budgets and create a larger budget for textbooks, facility maintenance, and other needs.”
Affordable. Entities that qualify for E-Rates (such as most school districts) can implement this system with no upfront costs. Qualifying groups pay only their portion of E-Rate; billing doesn’t begin until after the network is functional.
“This funding arrangement makes it possible for schools to afford the upgrade, which is very important to lower-income and rural schools.” said Manweiler. “The flexibility of this approach helps ensure equal educational opportunities for all students.”
Help with teacher shortages. Many districts struggle with teacher shortages. Telelearning reduces the number of on-site teachers required, providing students with the quality education they deserve, said Manweiler. “For example, two rural districts could share the same high school English teacher via telelearning.”
Teacher certifications. This system allows teachers to complete certification and continuing education requirements online.
Support future needs. “The network is designed to meet the future telecommunication needs of the region’s growing economy and population,” said Lackey. “Our goal is to both meet the needs of today’s students and equip schools for future success.”
Partnering in this effort are POWER Engineers, Trillion Partners and Wire One Communications.
Trillion Partners (www.trillion.net) has provided rural K-12 schools with wireless Internet access for nearly a decade. Trillion established networks in eight states, reaching approximately 630,000 students, and is coordinating project efforts.
Wire One Communications (www.wireone.com) is the world’s leading provider of videoconferencing technology. They offer a variety of services to link business, education, government, and healthcare facilities and will be responsible for running the system once it is established.
POWER Engineers, Inc. (www.powereng.com) is a global engineering firm specializing in energy, facilities, and communications. Founded in 1976, POWER is an employee-owned company with offices throughout the United States and abroad. POWER’s Telecommunications division offers a variety of design and engineering options to improve traffic flow, increase reliability of LAN/WAN communication systems, and implement wireless systems. POWER is designing and building the fiber network.