Affordable Access to High-Quality Electronically Mediated Instruction
Hudson Valley CommunityCollege opened the doors of the $15 million Joseph J. BulmerTelecommunications and Computations Center (BTC) on October 13, 1995.The building, designed by the architectural firm of Einhorn, Yaffee,Prescott, P.C. of Albany and White Plains, N.Y., and Washington D.C.,was the winner of the Business Week / Architectural Record 1997 Awardfor its functional design and effective business plan. The buildinghouses 24 electronic classrooms, two fully equipped interactivedistance learning rooms, two television studios, photographyfacilities, a conference center, graphics department and the Centerfor Effective Teaching. A description and pictorial review of thefacility are available on the Web.
The building is as much aleading edge technology laboratory as it is a fully functional hightechnology facility. The Center is billed as "a Community Resourcefor the 21st Century," since the technology is not only integratedacross the curriculum, but is also available to businesses,government agencies, and community groups for modest "user fees." Anyrevenue generated assists the college in meeting the operating costsof the facility and upgrading equipment so that its "state of theart" status can be maintained.
When completed in 1995,the Bulmer Telecommunications Center shared a very limiting 56Kleased line with the rest of the 10,000-student campus. This line notonly provided telephone service, but was also the primary connectionto the Internet. It was strongly recommended at that time that morebandwidth be obtained. In 1996 a T1 connection to the Internet andISDN service was secured.
The Center for EffectiveTeaching (CET) was charged with developing, and is currentlyimplementing, a plan for coordinating distance learning. The firstobjective of the plan is to increase connectivity for delivery ofelectronically mediated instruction. The second objective is to trainfaculty and develop courseware in line with emerging instructionaltechnologies. The CET has three important considerations in planningfor the development of the various alternative deliverysystems.
First, it is pedagogicallyimportant in computer mediated instruction to have effectiveeducational programming that can take advantage of the newtechnologies. Second, the evolution of advanced telecommunicationscan lead to increased opportunities for access to education; however,the cost of broad bandwidth connectivity, which is required for fulluse of the medium, can be prohibitive. The third consideration stemsfrom a lesson learned in early implementation of distance education.Simply stated, when instruction is electronically mediated, thetechnology at the "originating site" must be compatible withequipment at any "remote site." New industry standards are beginningto reduce the risk larger institutions and businesses take inselecting compatible equipment, but in many instances the home userstill faces dilemmas when trying to acquire affordable and adequateelectronic access to instruction.
In October 1995, the CETbegan using a simple concept for selecting distance learningequipment and software. The "ACE concept," as it is called, stressedthe following starting criteria for equipment acquisition:
Access - equipmentmust be easily accessed by users;
Convenience -equipment must be convenient to use with a shallow learning curve;and
Effectiveness -equipment must provide for effective instruction.
All three criteria areused concurrently in the evaluation process. Cost and multiple usesof equipment are considered as a component of access. It is evidentthat if all three criteria are going to be met, the use of integratedtechnologies for distance learning is a much better choice thanrelying on one technology alone. The integrated use of severaltechnologies allows for both synchronous and asynchronous instructionin the most academically sound and cost effective combination for aparticular course or program.
Several simultaneousevents have enabled the college to rapidly expand its distancelearning and teleconferencing capabilities. Jeffrey King, Presidentof the Albany Division of Time Warner Cable, the area's predominantcable operation, is an active proponent of bringing advancedtechnology to area school systems. Dr. Emmett Prosser, Superintendentof Stillwater Central Schools, a strong advocate of technology forincreasing the effectiveness of instruction, was interested inestablishing a connection to Hudson Valley Community College, adistance of approximately 30 miles. Time Warner Cable agreed to putin designated fiber, for experimental purposes, connecting the twoinstitutions.
The college then requestedthat a drop be made to Troy High School, which was located along thefiber route. Time Warner agreed to connect all three institutions ina full duplex, voice/video/data network at no cost, so that effectivemethods of instruction and academic programs could be developed. TheTime Warner fiber optic connection has enabled the college to connectto the headend of the system with the capacity to deliver programmingto the entire community. As part of its long-standing "Cable in theClassroom" program, the company also connected every school system inits service area to the general cable network, again at nocost.
The objectives of thevarious projects are focused on bringing high level educationalprograms into the schools. This initiative on the part of Time WarnerCable has coincided with the college's interests in developingmultimedia instructional materials and connecting with academicinstitutions and the community in general.
Time Warner deployed itshigh-speed online service, Road Runner, in New York's Capital Regionin the summer of 1997. This was only the fifth location in the nationto receive this revolutionary technology. Hudson Valley CommunityCollege's Telecommunications Center was the site of the public RoadRunner premiere and the college also became the site for thecompany's initial personnel training on the service.
Road Runner serviceprovides cable modems and high capacity access to the Internet usingthe cable feed. This high-speed connection eliminates dial-up waittime, costs much less, and operates up to 100 times faster than phonelines, thus saving valuable time for actual instruction. Mostimportantly, Road Runner is also available and practical for the homeor business user, enabling the college to produce "high end"multimedia distance learning instructional materials for deliveryinto those "remote sites."
Time Warner has committedto provide a free cable modem and free access to the Internet forevery K-12 public or private school district in its service area. Theintroduction of Road Runner gave the community broad bandwidthconnectivity that met all three of the college's ACE criteria fordistance learning. Equipment requirements at remote sites are readilyaccessible and convenient, since they are simply a television set anda computer. Time Warner provides all of the network connections andmaintenance.
The fact that the collegecan offer credit bearing and non-credit business training programsinto the home or office, using both cable TV and the Internet, is adirect result of this academic/corporate partnership, which servesthe community while meeting mutually beneficial objectives. Thecollaboration between Hudson Valley Community College and AsymetrixCorporation also carries benefits, as the multimedia capabilities ofTool Book software can be implemented for instruction and training onthe Web.
Hudson Valley CommunityCollege is part of the State University of New York (SUNY), whichmaintains New York Network and SUNYsat, a satellite uplink service.Part of the connection to the Time Warner headend is a direct fiberoptic connection to NY Network, and thus a direct "clean feed"satellite uplink capacity for the college's new center. The cablefeed also provides access to many state agency offices and this,coupled with Internet access, provides a conduit for onlineinstruction.
The advanced networkingcapacity allows for full development and delivery of the highlyinteractive multimedia that is required for the most effectivedistance learning programs. The college currently offers four typesof distance learning modalities:
1. Synchronous interactivetelevision over a designated fiber network;
2. Teleweb courses usingvideo from various sources such as WMHQ (PBS station) and Time WarnerCable, along with integrated Internet pages for additional learningmaterials and communication;
3. Totally Web-basedcourses using college servers; and
4. Web-based coursesthrough the SUNY Learning Network, a network of SUNY collegesoffering asynchronous online programs.
Hudson Valley CommunityCollege serves as an "educational hub," which has allowed theimplementation of new projects that are focused on expanded economicdevelopment, teacher training, and work force training programswithin the region. Planned expansion of fiber optic connectionsthroughout the region will greatly extend the capabilities of theBulmer Telecommunications Center. Communications between communitycolleges and universities are also currently beingexpanded.
The collaboration withTime Warner Cable allows Hudson Valley Community College tosuccessfully experiment with integrated technology. Cable televisionis used for full-motion instruction, and the Internet provides anavenue from the remote site for compressed video and applicationssharing. Experiments have been done using a Gateway 2000 DestinationDigital Media Computer, which has the capability of running cable TVand cable modem input-output simultaneously. The unit is extremelyeconomical and, through the Time Warner connection, provides remotesites with very inexpensive duplex communication for synchronousinstruction. The Destination system can also be used as a stand-alonecomputer and/or television set when not being used for two-waysynchronous classes.
The interconnectivity,possible through the Time Warner/Hudson Valley Community Collegecollaborative, and the innovative uses of multimedia are paving theway towards providing affordable access to high quality, synchronousand on-demand instruction in homes and businesses throughout theCapital Region of New York and beyond.
Ronald Payson is Director of the Center for Effective Teaching atHudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. He has both classroomand administrative experience spanning over 25 years in highereducation. Currently his responsibilities include facultydevelopment, directing the implementation of distance learning, andcoordination of corporate partnerships to enhance the use ofinstructional technologies. His interests are in integrating variouspartnerships to fully use available resources for multiple ongoingprojects.
Hudson Valley CommunityCollege Distance Learning
Cable in theClassroom
Gateway 2000Destination Series
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.