One of the challenges for a rural area like Gila County is how to get the maximum educational benefit from limited resources. What can school administrators do if they have a great teacher in Globe, but also need her services in Young or Payson? She can't be in three places at once! Or can she?
Thanks to funding provided by the Gila County Board of Supervisors and the active participation by the Office of Gila County Superintendent of Schools Linda O'Dell and Gila Community College, our county has made a major technological leap forward during the summer months this year.
Interactive television (ITV) units have been installed at ten educational locations around the county and are now undergoing their final testing and debugging. The two "teaching station" hubs are at Gila Community College's Gila Pueblo Campus in Globe and at our Payson Campus. Other units have been installed at the high schools in Globe, Miami, Payson, San Carlos and Young, and additional units are up and running at the Globe Education Center and at the elementary school in Tonto Basin. A separate unit, reportedly funded with the help of the Cobre Valley Institute of Technology, has been located in the Hayden/Winkelman area.
Leading the technical implementation of the project is Jeff Baer, director of technology for the Gila County Education Service Agency within Dr. O'Dell's office. Dr. Stephen Cullen, dean of the Globe Campus of Gila Community College, has been charged with implementing the instructional components -- including courses, instructors and scheduling.
Some $250,000 of necessary funding was allocated to the project by the Board of Supervisors. In doing so, the supervisors noted that the county has been relieved from paying more than $1 million a year of out-of-county tuition since voters approved and funded provisional community college legislation in 2002. In my view, the money is being very well spent on this project.
The teaching stations at the two college campuses are particularly sophisticated, with cameras that can home in on the speakers and follow them as they move around their classrooms. These units will be ideal for projecting college-credit courses into the various high schools or to other campuses of the college.
At the other locations, the new ITV units, though less costly and less high-tech, also can allow classes to be originated and transmitted to other school locations, since each unit has its own separate Internet identity.
These geographically-distributed ITV connections can also serve other purposes, such as facilitating county-wide meetings, hearings or conferences. Hosting this complex network is an AT&T facility in Mesa.
Gila County is not the first place in Arizona to inaugurate this form of interactive television linkages among various locations. For example, Pinal County has a very good system, according to Baer. Indeed, the experiences of other areas like Pinal have worked to benefit Gila County by providing useful guidance about what works best and what paths to avoid.
Some months ago, I moderated a meeting at the Payson Unified School District offices, bringing together then-PUSD Superintendent Sue Myers, Globe Unified School District Superintendent Tim Trent, the principals of their respective high schools and others to discuss how our students could have greater access to dual enrollment classes (college credit courses taught at the high schools) and concurrent enrollment classes (college credit courses taught at the college campuses, but available to high school seniors and juniors).
There was general agreement that such classes were desirable. The major stumbling block was the limited number of "masters-qualified" instructors available to teach the courses at any one location.
So, one reason why the ITV hook-ups really excite me, is that we now have the technology in place to more efficiently leverage the skills of our best-trained educators, in order to reach Gila County students at their diverse locations.
I have referred in previous Payson Roundup articles to a "21st Century Learning" environment. This project represents an important step in that direction and hopefully there will be more than follow.
This 21st Century technology is now in place. The next challenge for Dr. Cullen and his associates at Gila Community College: designing the curriculum, courses and other uses to take advantage of it.