Education Nation: CSU helps rural schools with technology

8:06 PM, Apr 12, 2012   |    comments
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"We have better connectivity from [Colorado State University] to places like Bangalore, India than we have to many rural places in rural Colorado," said Dr. Patrick Burns, vice president for Information Technology at Colorado State University.

CSU has taken an active role in trying to help small town schools expand their Internet bandwidth.

"It's more severe in places where we're geographically challenged like Colorado," said Burns. "But, it's an issue across the country."

In fact - compared to other industrialized countries across the world - the United States scores mediocre rankings from access high speed connectivity to the number or broadband subscribers. Nearly 75 percent of households with limited-Internet access are in rural areas of the U.S.

"We really need to catch up," said Burns.

Flagler used to be one of those places. It's located out on the eastern plains in Kit Carson County.

"We actually used a satellite system to get out Internet service," said Tom Arensdorf, superintendent of Arriba-Flagler Consolidated School District #20.

But, things changed with the re-construction of Interstate 70.

"We run actually on a fiber that comes out of I-70 and is owned by CDOT," said Floyd Beard, executive director of the East Central Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The East Central BOCES is the collaborative effort of school districts in the area to share resources. Beard says the deal fostered by CSU with the Colorado Department of Education is changing things dramatically in rural school districts like Arriba-Flagler.

"So, you have to have the connection, and then you have to have the curriculum and things that run over that connection," said Beard.

CSU has helped develop a high-definition video conferencing system to allow students to take classes with teachers miles and miles away.

"Our kids have the access to take really any class they want," said Arensdorf.

Jacob Archer is one of those kids. He is a junior taking a college-level psychology class. His teacher is about 20 miles away. Other members of his class, he can see through an HD-video screen. Some are as far as 100 miles away. Yet, they can communicate with each other as if they are in the same room.

"It's pretty interactive actually," said Archer. "It's a lot easier because I can actually take the classes from where I am. I don't have to go drive to somewhere."

Arensdorf says it's helping him run the district after years and years of budget reductions.

"At this point, we've cut back so much, we're only offering core classes to our kids now," said Arensdorf. "So, [distance learning] opens the door for some of those higher-level kids to take some more challenging offerings."

He says most students take college-level courses to get ahead. But, there is one deal he has with kids. If they receive a "D" or an "F," the students have to pay back the district for the cost of the course - usually a few hundred dollars.

"It's pretty expensive," said Archer. "Yeah, it's pretty good incentive."

The trick is getting more rural schools connected with more bandwidth. Without it, the programs that are in place in Flagler would not be feasible.

"Colorado got a $100-million grant to increase connectivity to rural Colorado," said Burns.

A new effort called the Colorado Eagle-Net Project is underway to increase fiber-optic connections to more places around Colorado. On Monday, the group is set to make another major announcement about continued plans to build more lines.

Burns this is a solution that CSU will continue to support.

"We think it's the right thing to do," said Burns.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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