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LCC to offer distance learning using VisionNet

| April 30, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

Lincoln County Campus will enter a new dimension in education in the fall when the course schedule is expanded to include distance-learning classes transmitted over VisionNet equipment.

³We¹re still in the preliminary planning stages, but it¹s all coming together,² said Pat Pezzelle, LCC director.

A Rural Communities Service grant awarded to the college will finance two permanent VisionNet labs at LCC. A consortium made up of LCC, Flathead Valley Community College, and Libby, St. Regis, and Lustre high schools applied for the grant.

Lincoln County High School in Eureka has had VisonNet equipment for several years. The school upgraded its equipment to build continuity between Libby and FVCC, and lower its expenses.

³Now we can uplink and it doesn¹t cost anything,² said Eureka Superintendent Gary Blaz. ³Our expenses will be minimal.

Blaz and LCHS Principal Doug Woods have shared a common goal to build a triangle between Libby, Eureka and Kalispell. With VisionNet, Eureka Running Start students will have the same flexibility as those in Libby and Kalispell.

The Eureka School District exercised foresight when designing the new high school, constructing a separate public entrance for the VisonNet lab, which contains roughly 20 seats.

³We wanted to expand for the public, for the kids, and for adult usage at night,² the superintendent said.

Blaz praised Pezzelle for his expedience in coordinating Running Start in Lincoln County.

³Pat has brought a whole new vision,² he said.

Although the distance learning equipment will not be fully utilized at LCC until the fall, the new technology will arrive on-site in May with a training period for staff to follow in June.

The addition of VisionNet capability at the college will greatly augment the course offerings. In the fall, five Running Start classes will be available for high school juniors and seniors interested in receiving college credit while fulfilling secondary education graduation requirements.

³It¹s a really good deal for everybody involved,² Pezzelle said. ³If a high school student began taking Running Start courses their junior year, by the time they graduated, they could have as many as 24 credit hours that count toward their college degree. That¹s the best case scenario.²

Setting a schedule for Running Start classes that will accommodate the high school bell schedules was a quandary solved by Pezzelle and Lincoln County public school administrators after a November retreat.

³This is the next part of that work process that came out of the retreat,² Pezzelle said. ³Now that we¹re going to have the equipment, we¹re figuring out how much we can offer and when.²

Classes offered for Running Start students will include Drawing, Spanish, American Government, Introduction to Sociology, and Introduction to Psychology.

College students enrolled in the business administration program will be able to knock out a number of courses via VisionNet. In the past, the Eureka campus has been excluded from the program because of lack of enrollment.

³Now that we have the business administration program running here in Libby already and we have enough students for it, any students that want to take it up there just adds to the enrollment,² Pezzelle said.

Planned obsolescence implicit with technology will be a hurdle for Pezzelle as he budgets for the inevitable VisionNet upgrades in the future. The grant covered the initial cost of the equipment, but upgrades will be the fiscal responsibility of the college.

³This equipment usually has about a 3-year lifespan,² he said. ³We have to look at the future in terms of how we¹ll be able to replace the equipment and keep it updated.²

Distance-learning class scheduling will continue to be a puzzle, Pezzelle said. One limitation of the technology is that a maximum of four sites will be able to use the T1 lines simultaneously.

³There¹s a limitation of how much information a T1 line can handle,² he said.

Any conflicts VisionNet creates will be welcome problems for the LCC director. The technology allows Pezzelle to draw from a much wider pool of instructors.

³This gives me the opportunity to broaden my base of instructors,² he said. ³Now I can have my instructor transmit from Eureka down here. There are a lot of options now, instructor-wise.²

Local organizations and businesses have approached Pezzelle about the possibility of utilizing the VisionNet equipment for their private needs. Once the schedules have been nailed down and the costs of operating outside the network are clearer, he said the college would be open to the possibility.

³If we have space, we¹ll definitely look into that,² he said. ³But there are costs associated with that and we¹ll have to figure out how to keep those costs reasonable and still cover our bill.²