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Distance learning lab to extend LCC reach

| March 9, 2004 11:00 PM

A distance learning lab at Lincoln County Campus will expand the college¹s geographical reach and enhance the course offerings, said LCC director Pat Pezzelle.

The college has set aside ample space in the newly remodeled facility for VisionNet equipment, which Pezzelle said would ideally be installed before summer, pending funds from a rural utilities service grant.

³It is absolutely critical that we get our distance learning equipment in place,² he said. ³I¹ve been told that we should be expecting a letter saying the grant has been awarded. Then we can move ahead.²

VisionNet will allow courses to be taught simultaneously, giving students in Eureka an opportunity to take classes that otherwise would not have the required minimum enrollment to run.

³If a class has three students in Eureka and four in Libby, that¹s seven students and that class would run,² Pezzelle said. ³We don¹t have the solid numbers in Eureka yet for on-line classes, but VisonNet changes that whole thing. That¹s how big it is.²

For an area the size of Eureka, the number of qualified instructors is astounding, Pezzelle said. VisionNet will allow the college to tap into the resource.

³I won¹t have to only find instructors in Libby,² he said. ³That expands my geographical search area to Eureka. There¹s a wide population base up there with very strong backgrounds in a variety of academic areas.²

With the distance learning equipment in place, courses may be taught in Eureka or in Kalispell, with students at each separate facility participating in real time.

VisionNet will also expand Running Start options for high school students interested in receiving college credit before graduation. Pezzelle has worked with public school superintendents in the county to fine-tune the schedule and augment the course offerings.

³The distance learning will start providing the kids of services we need to be providing county-wide,² the director said. ³That will be a challenge, but I¹m excited for it.²

Formulating a schedule with the new technological capabilities will be akin to piecing together a giant puzzle. Although daunting, Pezzelle said he and his capable staff are up to the task.

³We will be coordinating a massive schedule,² he said. ³My goal is that those VisionNet labs be turned on from 8 o¹clock in the morning until students go home.²

Having VisionNet available for use in the summer is contingent upon training all LCC staff in the operations of the equipment.

Aside from setting up the distance learning labs, in the future the college will also continue to contend with budgetary issues.

³I¹m kind of joking with folks now and telling them, ŒWe need to come up with a way to face $800,000 worth of needs with only $600,000 worth of money,¹² Pezzelle said. ³If we can figure out how to do that without going to jail, we will have solved the budgetary problems inherent in education.²

Pezzelle sees the role of a community college as an anchor for a rural area. Without cohesiveness with the public school systems, which face similar budget woes, the college is not fully serving its purpose.

³I need to be real sensitive to the changing needs in the public school system,² he said. ³How do we help them when they face all of their budget cuts? How can we work as a team?²

With the overwhelming cooperation and support of county public school superintendents, the LCC director is confident the partnerships will bolster productivity and yield solutions.

³We all share the same visions and are willing to work together,² he said.