Distance Leaning centers up and running in area schools

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Buffalo Island Central students learn Spanish II through Distance Learning. The lab is equipped with new wireless computers. Lynn Smith serves as facilitator as the students are taught by a Maumelle instructor.

Buffalo Island Central High School is offering Spanish I and Spanish II using the newly installed Distance Learning lab.

Homer Craig, high school principal, said the distance learning lab will allow BIC and other smaller schools to offer additional classes to the students.

"We are looking at using the Distance Learning technology for Advanced Placement classes next year," Craig said.

The lab is being utilized at BIC for four class periods. Presently the afternoon classes are open.

Lynn Smith and Trish Brightwell, teachers at BIC, are the facilitators. They trained during the summer months. They attended CIV Boot Camp learning to use the equipment.

"We wrote a grant for the sending and receiving equipment," Smith said. "The equipment included two cameras, monitors, screen, and electronic equipment. The programs are free through the Arkansas Department of Education. We are fortunate to have 15 new state of the art computer units provided through a private donation."

Distance teacher, Amy Bull, is from Maumelle. She instructs the BIC students along with high schools from western Arkansas. Students from both schools can interact with the instructor as well as each other.

"It is like having the teacher right here with us," one student said.

The students and teacher have visual and verbal contact with the use of the equipment. The teacher knows the students by name and comments on a new hair cut or a new outfit.

"When someone talks, the camera automatically goes to the speaker," Smith said. "BIC is one of the few schools to have the program up and running without problems."

Smith said there is a facilitator in the room at all times with the students.

"She (the instructor) keeps them busy for the entire 54 minutes," Smith said. "We send the major tests to her for grading but we do the homework grades."

Both Smith and Brightwell agree the students seem to be enjoying the classes.

"I'm finding the kids are working harder," Smith said. "They focus on what is going on. Young people love using technology and are comfortable with it."

Brightwell, Spanish I facilitator, teaches in the science department.

"I love the distance learning," she said. "I am learning myself. I like the interaction they receive. Unlike the regular on-line classes before, this is different. The instructor is there in the classroom with them. So far we have had no discipline problems. The students really stay focused on what is going on. The teacher really makes it fun."

Brightwell teaches four classes of science and Smith is the media specialist. They take two classes each in the Distance Learning classroom.

Smith said there is no charge for the services. The four classes are at maximum with 15 students in each.

During parent/teacher conferences, parents will be able to talk to the teacher one on one about the progress their children are making.

Smith said the Distance Learning has great possibilities for the future.

"Once the system is up and running in all of the schools we could share teachers and be able to offer more subjects," Smith said. "Our administration and board have never denied us on the technology equipment we need. Their goal is to keep BIC as well prepared as possible for our students."

Riverside High School is offering Spanish I through the Distance Learning lab. The facilitator at Riverside is T.J. Eakins. The equipment was purchased through a grant. Presently there are 25 students in two classes enrolled in Spanish I.

Riverside High School Principal Tommy Knight said more classes will be added.

"We will be adding Spanish II," Knight said. "We will be looking at other course options for the students. It also has great possibilities for in-service workshops for our educators."

The district provided the computers for the Distance Learning lab.

Manila High School also has a Distance Learning class up and running. The first class to be offered at MHS is a business class in marketing. There are three enrolled in the class.

"We are using the existing computer lab for the Distance Learning class," Manila High School Principal Pam Chipman, said.

Chipman said the students seem to be enjoying the class. She took three graduate classes from Arkansas State University at Arkansas Northeastern College and is familiar with how the system works.

"Our curriculum is good at Manila," Chipman said. "We have Spanish I and Spanish II and French I and French II offered. The Distance Learning capability will allow us to offer extra courses."

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