Technology Is On Target for Alaskan School District

Life in Barrow, Alaska isn't easy. There are no roads within 100 miles of the city and the only way to get there is by airplane &emdash; weather permitting. Located at the state's northernmost tip, Barrow is the center of the United States' largest school district in size, the North Slope School District. North Slope serves more than 2,000 students scattered throughout 10 buildings and 88,000 sq. miles of ice and snow. That's a single school district the size of Minnesota. Although the district has been able to reap the benefits of the area's thriving oil industry, everyday issues still seem to present the greatest challenges &emdash; particularly for educators. Imagine having to hop on a plane in order to meet with fellow instructors. With air travel the only way in and out of the district's eight small villages, providing a medium for regular communication between teachers and administrators required commitment and a little innovation from the technology and information department. Although they already had a newsletter and e-mail system, videoconferencing and an in-house television studio for distance learning, North Slope still lacked the ability to transfer important information to every teacher and administrator in a way that would initiate interest, provide needed flexibility, and be easy to use and understand. Introducing Target Vision At a trade show in Arizona, North Slope Director of Information and Technology Martin Cary saw a new multimedia technology package from Target Vision, Inc. that organizations like Chrysler, Ford, Duracell, Sony and the University of Texas-Health & Science Center were using to improve the effectiveness of their employee communications programs. Headquartered in Rochester, N.Y., Target Vision offered its multimedia network as a possible solution to the communications obstacles at North Slope. Technically, Target Vision is the system of hardware and software that enables text and graphics to be combined into a video "slide show" format that can be viewed on a television monitor or at a desktop PC. In addition to providing the basic system, the firm offers a full range of communications capabilities including analyzing client needs, network design, systems integration, subscription services, and on-site training. "Target Vision is the only one I've ever found of its kind, especially in the Windows environment," says Cary. "With the distances we're dealing with, our communication infrastructure is pretty important." With help from a Target Vision consultant, it was determined that the best way to reach all the teachers and administrators was through North Slope's existing wide area networks of 650 IBM-compatible PCs. Target Vision would be available on-demand as a program option (TVI DeskTop 3.0 is able to run Target Vision as a screen saver). "TVI DeskTop allowed us to take advantage of our existing computer network, which was already in all of our classrooms and at our administrators' desks in every building," Cary notes. Bringing the Network Online North Slope brought the Target Vision network online a year ago, purchasing a TVI Edit System, a TVI ComServer and TVI DeskTop 2.0 software. The TVI Edit System includes a VCR, PC, scanner, and camera to capture and digitize still photo images. This is where slides are actually created and modified and the show is organized and programmed. Additional VCRs can be added for more complex shows. Other components are the ComServer, a PC with multiple modems designed to expedite data communications sent from the TVI Edit System, and the TVI DeskTop software, which converts the messages from video display to PC display. Running the Show It only takes one person at North Slope to handle the daily responsibility of creating the site-specific slides and organizing the show for output. More than 100 slides go into each Target Vision show. Those not created onsite come directly from TVI's Subscription Services like TVI NewsBreak (national and international news), TVI Life and Wellness, stock quotes, weather reports, sports scores and more. Updates automatically come to the system several times a day from Target Vision. With newspapers not available in Barrow until around noon, Target Vision often provides the district with its first glimpse of national and international news events. "The feeds we get from Target Vision's news department are really good to have," Cary says. "It's nice that someone else d'es that for us." Cary adds that the response to the network has been positive. With the combination of Target Vision's consulting support, numerous software options and specialized hardware, the North Slope district has been able to address specific communications issues related to its remote location and large size. "Just to have the ability to distribute information on a regular basis in a graphic format ... that's a big advantage for us," Cary concludes.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.