The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 11, 2013

Technology gives sense of being there

Conference explores use of TelePresence

By Amanda Dyslin
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — The Anoka-Hennepin school district, like many others, was running into problems with having to cancel high school classes that only a handful of students signed up for.

Tom Skoglund, district instructional technology facilitator, gave level 5 French as an example. A few students at different high schools would sign up, but it wasn’t cost-effective to end up offering the class.

“Our students were losing out on educational opportunities because we couldn’t afford to support the classes with low enrollment,” said Skogland, speaking to rooms in Mankato, Bloomington, Edina, Grand Rapids, Albert Lea and Madison, Wis.

The technology by which Skogland was able to deliver his message also served as the solution to the district’s problem. And he and various others shared the challenges and opportunities of TelePresence — which connects spaces through life-size and life-like HD video and audio technology — at a conference Monday.

Skogland’s session discussed TelePresence in the K-12 environment and how Anoka-Hennepin has used such technology. In addition to merging classrooms across the district to create a larger student pool for less-popular classes, the district also has brought experts into the classroom, such as authors and math experts. The technology also connects students with other students around the world, assists in delivering information to homebound students and helps staff collaborate across the district.

The purpose of the conference was to share ideas, create partnerships and inspire partner organizations about the possibilities of the technology, said Bryan Schneider, director of technical services in Minnesota State University’s Office of Information and Technology Services.

Sessions including teaching and learning with TelePresence, tools and techniques, and issues and challenges.

MSU purchased the equipment in June 2011, in part with funds from President Richard Davenport’s “Big Ideas” campaign, funding made available for innovative ideas that advance the university’s mission.

Schneider, a tech buff, is reluctant to describe the equipment as television screens when asked. But essentially, he said, students sitting down in the Wissink room are looking at Humphries and the Edina students on 65-inch plasma screens, and three cameras in the room are sending their images to the Edina screens.

Last fall, Schneider said the equipment “gives you the illusion that you’re sitting right across the table from the people at the other end. What TelePresence is all about is the experience. You don’t get that fly-on-the-wall experience. You feel like you’re sitting directly across from the remote people.”

Schneider said the technology will be used in the future as a connection between MSU and satellite campuses, as well as schools the university has partnerships with. There may also be opportunities for businesses to connect employees to MSU through TelePresence for training sessions.