HAYS, KS -- Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, and Kirk Johnson, district director for U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-First, visited the campuses of five community colleges today to announce partnerships that will greatly improve access to education for the citizens of western Kansas.
In news conferences on each of the community college campuses in Great Bend, Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal and Colby, Hammond and Johnson joined with the respective community college presidents to announce the creation of a new interactive television (ITV) network that will greatly improve the quality and the availability of distance education.
A stop at Pratt was cancelled because of weather.
Hammond said few if any other colleges or universities have such a network.
Thanks in large measure to the efforts of Congressman Moran, Fort Hays State received almost $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education through an appropriations bill that was signed into law Dec. 21, 2000, by President Bill Clinton. Moran had intended to join Hammond for today's swing across western Kansas, but world events have kept Congress in session.
"I appreciate Dr. Hammond's leadership in utilizing this federal investment to give students in western Kansas better access to new technology and to give them the opportunity to have a better education. The development of this program is another example of how rural areas can benefit from new technology," Moran said.
The money from the U.S. Department of Education has been put to good use.
Hammond said FHSU spent about $280,000 of the $921,000 federal grant to purchase equipment and enter a three-year service contract for the new ITV network. The university had been using high school ITV networks to deliver classes at night, but the new network belongs to the university and will allow an expanded schedule of classes.
"We have signed agreements with each of the community colleges that allow us to deliver classes on their campuses with the new ITV network," President Hammond said. "In return, the community colleges will be able to offer classes to each other's students and will gain connectivity with FHSU and with each other that will provide additional benefits."
Hammond said each agreement was a classic example of a "win-win" partnership. "This really is a state-of-the-art ITV network," he said, "and we still don't know how we and the community colleges may decide to use all the capabilities that it offers."
"The real winners, though, are the people of western Kansas," Hammond said. "Students who live in or near the community college towns will now have much expanded access to higher education because they will be able to take classes not only from their hometown school but from Fort Hays State and the other community colleges."
The network is nearing completion and will carry classes in the spring 2002 semester. The times that classes may be available will also expand on the new network. It is operational 24 hours a day and classes can be offered whenever the ITV classrooms are available at Fort Hays State and at the community colleges.
President Hammond said he greatly appreciated the cooperation of each of the community colleges in helping to make the new ITV network possible.
The network has cameras and microphones at the location of the instructor and in the distant classroom. The instructor and the students can see and talk to each other. From his or her remote location, the instructor can operate the camera in the classroom to scan toward students and zoom in for a closer view.
"When we started reviewing this 18 months ago, video wasn't available in this delivery mode," Dennis King, director of FHSU's Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Technology, explained during today's news conferences. "This is much improved quality for the bandwidth we have available."
"We're taking a campus computer network and running video over it," King said. "We aren't the only ones, but as President Hammond said, we definitely are one of the first. I haven't heard of any other educational systems that have this. This is cutting-edge videoconferencing."
Of the remaining $641,000 from the federal grant, about $300,000 was used to purchase video and audio production equipment that enhances FHSU's ability to produce video tapes, DVD, streaming video and CDs -- both for instructional purposes and also for some production work for the university. The balance of the federal grant was used to upgrade campus connections to the Internet and to enhance the campus network.