Distance learning benefits on show

Published 1:11 pm Saturday, February 12, 2011

Troy University’s ACCESS Distance Learning Support Center highlighted Distance Learning Week Thursday with an open house for students, teachers and the public.

The University’s Extended Learning Center on South Brundidge Street demonstrated 21st Century learning wth plasma-screen televisions and a video control panel.

“Classrooms have two big plasma-screen televisions and a video control panel where we can call from here to Mobile by dialing a phone number,” said Kay Sanders, ACCESS associate director of academics. “This is so different than the old TV courses that were taught because these classes are completely interactive. If a student is in Mobile, they can raise their hand and I can answer them from here in Troy. There’s only about a two-second delay.”

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Troy University serves as one of three regional support centers for ACCESS (Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide), an initiative begun by former Gov. Bob Riley as a way to expand advanced-placement courses to high schools based on TROY’s distance learning model. Administered by the Alabama State Department of Education, ACCESS offers 67 courses – including AP and foreign languages – to all high schools in the state. Troy Universitys Center supports the school systems in 27 counties and has enrolled some 13,000 high school students since August.

Casey Mack, who coordinates learning management at the Troy Center, said the Center expects to enroll about 20,000 students in the next few years. Last year, Troy University served 10,000 students in the service area.

“The ability to share teachers from one school with another school across the state through video conferencing equipment has provided a lot of opportunities for students to take courses not offered at their home school,” he said.

Distance Learning Week had weeklong events that showcased not only technology advances, but course content such as “virtual field trips.”

This year, virtual field trips are scheduled for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the McWane Center, Dauphin Sea Lab, the Confucius Institute, the Cleveland Institute and the Manhattan School of Music. There will be presentations by NASA, the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Embassy in Germany, Discovery Alabama with Dr. Doug Phillips, and others.

Reba Davis, Troy University’s ACCESS director, said providing such opportunities open a new world to high school students in south Alabama.

“Instead of the school paying the costs of travel by bus, they have the opportunity to participate in field trips from their 21st Century classrooms with no cost to the schools,” she said. “Schools simply don’t have the money for field trips, so now we bring the field trips to the students in their school classrooms. They can see these things happen as if they were there – live and in real time.”