For the last four or five years, I’ve watched as the Idaho Education Network (IEN) has implemented and reaped the benefits from their distance education program and use of video conferencing, or telepresence. To this day, they continue to improve on success, and during a session at ISTE 2013 last week, Brady Kraft and his team once again illustrated how they consistently stay on top of their game.
IEN is a statewide network that connects every school in the state, including higher education institutions, Internet2, private and public training providers, and first responder training organizations.
One of their mandated goals is to provide equal access to a quality education for all citizens and they’re utilizing technology to achieve that goal. As the 7th most rural state in the nation, half of the counties in Idaho have less than 10 people per square mile, and 75% of Idaho’s schools have < 600 students. These schools havenot been able to offer a full curriculumdue to many factors, including availability of qualified teachers and budgetary restraints.
IEN set out to ensure all students had access to a full curriculum, and video conferencing was identified as the best solution to meet their needs. Over the years, they have been named the National Journal’s Digital Innovation Award winner, and a Computerworld Honors 21st Century Achievement Award Winner in Emerging Technology. And the whole time, they have continued to study video conferencing, how it is used by teachers and students, and have proceeded to improve upon the technology as well as their processes.
As Brady highlighted in the ISTE session last week, their guiding principles are:
- If you do it in a live classroom. you should be able to do it in an interactive videoconferencing (IVC) classroom.
- The use of the video technology must NOT distract the students on either side.
- The teacher is the center of the universe.
As an example, typically, when students enter a classroom, they are talking and greeting each other, and an interactive classroom should be no different. So IEN designed a screen layout that allows the teacher bring all of the students together at the beginning of class.
Like a symphony conductor, the teacher controls the tempo, decides who gets to play the solo, and orchestrates the musicians and notes into an experience of beauty. The teacher should be able to conduct class, and the performance should not be governed by any technology.
Over the next few weeks and this summer, I’ll share more insight and information about IEN and why they should be on your list to watch, too. In the meantime, tell us what you see as the biggest challenge facing your local school(s).