HD, Interactive Distance Education

By Phil Way, Associate VP and CIO, Northland Pioneer College

Northland Pioneer College’s TALON distance learning system is overcoming barriers of remoteness and limited resources that, until recently, prevented many high school students from taking dual enrollment college courses. Rural high schools in Northeastern Arizona struggle to attract and retain teachers qualified to teach college courses.

In 2016, Northland Pioneer College (NPC) received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to begin providing quality distance learning opportunities to students at 10 rural high schools. That number has expanded by two schools per year and will reach 16 schools in the coming year. Through Project TALON (Technology to Advance Learning Outcomes at Northland), NPC campus instructors in Winslow, Holbrook, Snowflake, Show Low and Springerville began broadcasting high-definition general education courses to dual enrollment students through technology-connected classrooms in participating high schools.

“High-resolution cameras and video monitors, along with built-in teaching tools, provide students with an enhanced learning environment”

NPC TALON instructors are teaching live mathematics, college composition, American government, advanced Spanish courses and more. Students earn dual credits applying toward their high school diploma and college degree.

High-resolution cameras and video monitors, along with built-in teaching tools, provide students with an enhanced learning environment. Voice-activated software automatically zooms in on speakers and brings the instructor’s image and visual teaching aids to the high school’s display screen.

Renell Heister, TALON project director, said, “In the first two years of the project, 88 percent of the 924 students enrolled successfully completed their NPC courses. These are the same rigorous college courses we provide on campus, requiring students to study just as hard if they are to succeed. Enrollment is growing each year, and participating high schools are requesting more classes and seats. News of the program’s success is spreading and we are now getting participation requests from other local high schools in NPC’s service area!”

Despite the absence of an on-site instructor, students describe distance learning as “a great learning environment,” and praised the “ease of interaction with accessible instructors” and the opportunity to “to experience college studies while still in high school.”

Brian Burson, chairman of the Science and Mathematics Department faculty at Northland Pioneer College, says efficient coordination and deployment of the system are crucial to NPC’s successfully delivering distance education.

“Coordinating with each high school is an essential component of this project, and deploying the proper network, topology and functional technology is key to success,” Burson says. “Our college pursued a comprehensive solution to manage and control the connectivity and security that must exist in a distance learning environment. NPC focused on creating schedules, setting up classrooms conducive to student learning, hiring personnel and faculty due to expansion, creating monitoring and support mechanisms to maintain the classrooms, conducting training sessions for faculty and staff, and exploring approaches to support the long-term sustainability of this project.”

NPC’s proactive strategies and adaptation of the latest technologies have led to the successful application of distance learning for high school students in some of Arizona’s most underserved rural areas.The project has introduced the possibility, excitement and benefits of a college education to rural high school students who may not have had that opportunity.

P.J. Way, the chief information officer at Northland Pioneer College, says, “It’s about pairing students who have the desire and drive with engaging, caring faculty who utilize the technology to personalize and enhance their students’ learning experiences and opportunities.”

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