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Visitors study distance learning program

The availability and effectiveness of the Alabama Department of Education’s Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators & Students Statewide (ACCESS) distance learning program is receiving attention from international school programs.

Stacey Kelly, the collaborative learning technologies officer for rural and distance education in New South Wales, Australia, and Mark Nixon with the Calabar Foundation in South Africa visited with the ACCESS staff at the Troy Support Center and toured Goshen High School and observed Katie Scott’s Spanish classes Nov. 18-20. Kelly and Nixon also visited Northview High School in Dothan.

Reba Davis, Troy Support Center ACCESS director, said she is excited that other countries are looking at Alabama as a model for their future educational programs.

“We are also honored because we were told that Alabama was chosen because we are further advanced with what we are doing to implement online learning, virtual schools and blended learning environments,” Davis said. “And, we also include professional development for teachers and that is something other states aren’t doing yet.”

Davis said both Kelly and Nixon were impressed with the ACCESS Program and the way it is being conducted. “Mark Nixon said the amount of knowledge that he gained while here is invaluable,” Davis said. “He said there is no way that he could pay for what he learned on this trip.”

Through video conferencing, the private and national schools in South Africa are partnering to provide Internet service to rural and poverty stricken areas.

“These are areas that can’t afford to hire their own teachers,” Davis said. “Now, with these connections, the schools in the poverty stricken areas can offer courses they couldn’t otherwise.”

Kelly was awarded a Premier’s scholarship to research and visit different educational programs that offer distance learning.

She will be in the United States and Canada for about five weeks researching virtual schooling, online learning and blended learning environments.

“I was interested in visiting the Pike County Schools because they seemed to be similar to the schools in New South Wales,” she said.

“The school here at Goshen would not be considered a rural school in New South Wales. This would be one of the larger schools. The schools here seem to be more progressive in terms of the professional development that is offered to the teachers. The quality of content that is delivered to the students is of a higher standard than what we are currently offering.”

Martha Donaldson, program administrator of ACCESS Distance Learning for the Alabama Department of Education, Technology Initiative sections, said the ACCESS program strives to ensure that the individual needs of all students are met through the blended learning environment that incorporates the face-to-faced and distant components.

Kelly said she is interested in doing something similar in Australia.

“I will take many of the innovative ideas back to Australia and they will be valuable as we continue to implement distance learning programs in our schools,” she said.