The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

November 17, 2008

Distance learning helping in schools

Crista Browne-Krosch teaches American Sign Language and has her fingers full with a complicated lesson on signing the days of the month when she encounters a problem.

Nothing major, but one of her students is not using the correct technique. Given that this is an upper-level ASL class, there is no talking — which presents its own peculiar classroom challenges — so Browne-Krosch uses her hands to stop class.

Turning her back to the classroom, Browne-Krosch demonstrates the correct technique. The guilty student adjusts quickly and class moves on.

Minutes later, the lesson ends with Browne-Krosch smiling and motioning as if cracking her knuckles. The students share in the moment of a job well done and Browne-Krosch is satisfied she’s navigated another of those intimate classroom challenges teachers face every day.

She then reminds her pupils of tomorrow’s homework, disconnects the video link and powers down the Smartboard in her small office at the South Central Service Cooperative building in North Mankato. Some 55 miles away at Granada-Huntley-East Chain High School, her half-dozen students shuffle to their next destination.

“This is a culture we know is coming quickly,” said Glenn Morris, director of technology and applied academics at SCSC. “Twenty years ago, it was just about distance. But now, it’s about remaining competitive.”

Dialing long distances

The term is “distance learning” and it encompasses just about any class in which the teacher is not physically in the classroom. Distance-learning courses include interactive-TV classes — where classrooms at several locations are linked through video feed — and online courses in which students attend virtual class through a computer.

In this area, Project SOCRATES is responsible for most distance-learning opportunities. With SCSC as its fiscal agent, SOCRATES provides telecommunications support and video connectivity to about 30 school districts, 34 public libraries and several cooperatives and service agencies.

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