Sprechen Sie Deutsche? Well, you could learn to speak German when the Distance Learning Project in Halifax is completed. With funds from the state’s Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, Halifax has partnered with the Millersburg and Upper Dauphin school districts in a consortium to expand course offerings, enhance professional development, and share district resources with the community through interactive video conferencing.
Here is how it works: Using video and computer links between classrooms, a German language teacher in Upper Dauphin can teach classes simultaneously in Millersburg and Halifax. Full interaction is maintained as all connected locations can see and hear each other on special monitors. Additionally, notes written on or video projected onto a special white board will be seen in real-time on identical boards in the other classrooms. The SMART Board, as it is called, can also be used without the video conferencing units. Teachers in Upper Dauphin have been using this technology for a while now and are very enthusiastic. Halifax teachers are already requesting the use the board. As a whole, though, the video conferencing system will also allow the schools to connect to any similar facility in the world. It is entirely possible that the language class in this example could have a guest lecturer live from Germany speak to the class.
To expand course offerings within the districts, our own Mindy Lorah volunteered to teach her American Sign Language class to remote location students participating through video conferencing as a test for future courses. This proposal is being considered by the three consortium school boards. Other high school teachers have also volunteered to teach their classes through the program. As such, Mindy, along with Roger Getz, Mike Weaver, and Dwayne Lahr, each from the high school, will also be trained to teach the use of the hardware to other staff as the program expands. Another avenue being investigated could link Halifax to local colleges. Articulation agreements, plans that allow students to earn college credit while in high school, are being sought from Harrisburg Area Community College and Central Pennsylvania College.
Universities and colleges will also play a role in another aspect of the Distance Learning Program: Professional development. Teachers will have the ability to take college courses for additional credit from school that otherwise would be practically inaccessible because of travel requirements. Intra-district plans are also being examined. One such idea was to share a teacher in-service day between districts in October 2001. By using video conferencing, travel time will be reduced and productivity can increase as teachers share their differing perspectives and experiences.
The community can also benefit in a similar fashion. Like the various ways that teachers might use this resource, the services of the Distance Learning Program will be available for local business training, meetings, and area residents to take college courses, too. Ideas for this phase of the program are still in the planning stages, but the possibilities are numerous.
Currently, the equipment and special telephone connections to the schools are being installed. Teachers and administrators representing the three districts have been meeting regularly to discuss the needs of each district and to seek solutions that can be found through video conferencing. This will be a continuous process as the program expands to include middle schools, elementary schools, and more of the community over the next few years.