Media Distribution System Helps Rural Schools Share Resources

Money d'esn't flow easily in Loogootee, but determination d'es &emdash; and that has made all the difference. Set amid the hills, rivers and woods of southwestern Indiana's Martin County, this town is home to 3,077 people.

Their heritage is rooted in agriculture and in the mining of coal and gypsum. Back in 1940, the U.S. Congress decided to produce ammunition in Martin County. Today, the Crane Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center is the county's largest employer.

Despite the region's rich heritage, half of the households in Loogootee earn less than $25,000 annually. Yet, the community has assembled an array of technology for its schoolchildren that places them in the elite of education in Indiana and beyond.

Guessing What Owls Eat

Fourth-grade teacher Ritchie Luker sits in a chair as a photograph of a great-horned owl appears on the television screen. He pushes some buttons on the remote control and the word "carnivore" pops up beneath the owl's picture.

Students try to guess what an owl eats, listing mice and rabbits. When no one can determine the meaning of "carnivore," however, Luker again presses the remote, which brings the definition onscreen.

The class then briefly discusses predators and omnivores before viewing a videotape about African wildlife. Luker, who's been teaching at East Elementary School since 1991, quickly accesses such resources with the help of a media distribution system.

"I love it," he says. "It encourages the students so they participate more in the discussion."

Besides science, Luker uses the technology to teach the histories of Indiana, the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. He usually combines videotape with video-disc and an encyclopedia on CD-i.

"Some kids will never get the information they need just by reading a book," he notes. "Using the video system gives more kids a chance to shine."

The videos especially benefit members of a rural town such as Loogootee, where the closest zoos or museums are many miles away.

In 1993, a local high school principal talked about upgrading that school's outdated personal computers. His notion soon expanded into a vision for a system of media management, computer and telephone technologies joining the district's two elementary schools and one junior/senior high school.

Making a 180-Degree Turn

"We made a 180-degree turn in less than two years," says John Strader, principal of Loogootee High School. Strader visited other schools and Indiana University in Bloomington to investigate their technology infrastructures.

Parents and teachers became involved in a committee, which ultimately acquired the SmartSystem from Dukane, based in St. Charles, Ill.

Because all three of the district's school buildings are located next to each other, consultants decided to corral media devices such as VCRs and CD-i players at the high school. That way, all teachers and students could be served with fewer devices and educational materials.

The system was installed by Electrical Systems Co. of Indianapolis, a Dukane distributor, and was in place for the 1994-95 school year.

Today, each classroom in the East and West Elementary Schools has one telephone, five computers and one 27" television. Each TV is linked to the high school's Technology Center, which houses the network server, telephone switch and 43 media devices.

SmartSystem integrates CD-i, CD-ROM, videotape, videodisc and still video floppy discs as well as satellite, cable and conventional signal transmissions, making them available for distribution to each of the district's 69 classrooms and four libraries.

The push of a button on a handheld remote allows teachers to start, stop and pause videotapes, CD-i software and other sources. "Now we have technology at our fingertips," says Strader.

Saves Time & Trouble

Before installing the media distribution system, the principal recalls, the district's 77 teachers competed to reserve four TV sets for their classrooms. SmartSystem saves times and eliminates the struggle caused by moving equipment from room to room.

But Strader emphasizes that students are also key beneficiaries of the technology. He cites the example of demonstrating a chemical explosion by showing it on TV.

School officials say they selected Dukane's SmartSystem because it allows teachers to schedule more than one video source into each classroom. Carolyn Johnson, the district's technology coordinator, enters the daily media schedule in the central computer.

"I can usually schedule everybody's requests for material in about 30 minutes," Johnson notes.

As she worked with the scheduling software, Johnson came up with ideas she thought would help the system perform even better. In fact, her suggestions and those of other customers were incorporated by Dukane into the software delivered for the 1995-96 school year.

Investment Pays Off

Although the media distribution system has been in place only since late 1994, superintendent Bob Green says teachers and students already have become more technologically astute.

"Our graduates have told us that they're more advanced in many ways than their peers in trade schools and colleges," Green says. "The people in this district put a premium on education and they're seeing good results."

The district paid for its technological improvements with savings garnered from local real estate taxes as well as money from two lenders. "We feel good about the investment," Green says. "It's given us advanced ways to teach and communicate."

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.