Large School District's Two-Way Instructional Network Expands Opportunities

Kent Intermediate School District (ISD), a countywide educational services center providing support to 20 independent school districts and over 100,000 students, faced a curriculum problem. Some schools could not offer certain specialized classes, in foreign languages for example, due to low enrollment. The solution, however, not only provided the extra curriculum opportunities desired for students but also provided an infrastructure that served administrative and teachers' needs as well. Just Like Being There A distance learning network aptly named KIDS, for Kent Instructional Delivery Systems, was the answer to the ISD's problem. Implemented by Ameritech, of Chicago, Ill., this two-way, interactive network lets schools in the ISD share teaching resources, putting advanced and specialized courses into schools that could otherwise not afford to conduct them. KIDS brings teachers and students together in specially equipped interactive video classrooms. Via Ameritech's fiber-optic backbone, full-motion video and audio signals are transmitted with broadcast-quality clarity in both directions. Interaction between students and teachers is just as if they were all in the same physical room. Brought online for instruction in the fall of 1993, KIDS is very successful, according to Mary Adrion, currently assistant principal at Granville High School. "The kids really enjoy it," she notes, and "the teachers have risen to the challenge." Inservice and other training for teachers was conducted prior to the system's use in instruction. More Classes, More Support "[KIDS'] primary purpose," says Adrion, "is to provide expanded curriculum opportunities." Current offerings over KIDS are a calculus-based AP physics class, AP chemistry, two entry-level French classes, an advanced math class called FST (functions, statistics and trigonometry) and a debate class. The latter is especially innovative; "students held practice debates right over the network," Adrion comments. One school even has an exchange teacher from Japan who is teaching a class on its language and culture. The network is also used for training and staff development plus administrative meetings. Teachers from different schools are coming together via KIDS to collaborate and share ideas. And the district also plans to have its schools' crisis teams meet this way. Physical Layout Kent is a large county that encompasses the metropolitan area of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Currently seven high schools are linked to the KIDS network, as well as the main district office and the Kent Career/Technical Center. This results in a total of nine sites equipped with specialized video classrooms in which students, teachers and district staff may meet and interact "face-to-face." The Technical Center, which serves the entire county, offers job training for regular-ed, special-ed students and adults. As such, its KIDS' classroom serves to benefit a broad section of the community. One new idea for using the network is to have special-ed students who enter the Kent Transition Program, held at the Technical Center, initially meet their new instructors via a video introduction. It is hoped that this will make them more comfortable in their new classes. A Fiber-to-Satellite Future Greater visions lie ahead. Grand Rapids Community College, for example, is slated to offer college-credit courses for high school students via the network. And on the drawing board for next year, Grand Valley State University plans to provide graduate-level classes for teachers who must meet new state mandates. The university d'esn't have an interactive classroom on campus, so they'll use a high school site. The university d'es, however, have a satellite uplink and this figures greatly into future ideas. "We want to connect the network to the uplink and then teach classes," explains Adrion. While interaction would be only one-way video with two-way audio via phone, the curricula and collaborative opportunities provided would be enormous. "Some schools have satellite dishes and some don't," she elaborates. "Those that don't can still receive the satellite feed as it's 'fibered' out over the network." Adult education, industry training and community-oriented programs are other suitable uses. Mary Adrion is deservedly excited about KIDS. As the former director of Kent's Regional Educational Media Center, she led the campaign that secured initial funding of $250,000 for the network, which was enough to equip seven sites as well as lease the fiber-optic lines for one year and provide training for teachers. Now at the high school, she is seeing the results on a very personal level -- enhanced learning opportunities for staff and students, peer support among instructors, better administrative operations and benefits for all of the region's educational institutions.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.