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Telecommunications at the Education Center

The new high definition video teleconferencing center located in the Archuleta County Education Center provides public access to the most advanced HD video teleconferencing technology available in Southwest Colorado. Funding to establish this facility has been provided by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), the primary point of contact between local communities and Colorado state government.

DOLA Executive Director Susan Kirkpatrick visited Pagosa Springs recently to check on their investment in our community. When asked why DOLA chose to fund a teleconferencing center over any of its many other activities, Kirkpatrick said, “Telecommunications infrastructure?creates access to information and people worldwide.”

For Pagosa Springs, this means a big step forward in distance education, intergovernmental communications and enterprise development. Brad Cochennet, CEO of Pagosa Mountain Hospital, said “I would like to use video teleconferencing to reduce travel required for ongoing staff training.”

Kirkpatrick, with several county and town officials, gathered at the Ed Center recently for a little road test of the new HD video teleconferencing equipment. The goal was to demonstrate how students sitting in an Ed Center’s teleconferencing classroom could participate in College of Eastern Utah Class FAML 1500, “Human Development across the Lifespan.”

Here’s the scene: Brian Weber, a teleconferencing engineer from Cortez, got the bits, bytes, access numbers, passwords, etc. set for the occasion. Ten minutes before the class was to begin, five other teleconferencing centers joined to verify their connections. The professor and about 15 students were in a specially equipped teleconferencing room in Blanding Utah, the San Juan Campus of the College of Eastern Utah. Students sitting in teleconferencing centers in Monument Valley, Monticello, Emory High School, Green River High School, and Montezuma Creek were also “in the class.” The ability to reach beyond the walls of a single classroom is but one of the magic features of HD video teleconferencing. At some sites, there were only one or two students, but they also had the experience of being in a class of 20-30 students.

The very high speed Internet connection provided by Skywerx (10 Mbps up and down) and the HD teleconferencing equipment provided by DOLA enable major advances in distance education. Video cameras controlled by the professor could be directed to his PowerPoint presentation, to a white board, to himself, to the students in his classroom, and to students in any of the teleconferencing centers. Monitors at off-campus sites often had several windows open at the same time showing different views of the real classroom. When a student in Montezuma Creek asked a question, the professor, as well as students at all sites, could see the student in Montezuma Creek. The professor could help students working at a white board very much as though they were physically in the same classroom. Starting in January, the new teleconferencing equipment at the Ed Center will enable Pagosans to enroll in any of hundreds of courses offered by the Utah Education Network (UEN), and they will pay only Utah in-state tuition.

The only similar teleconferencing facility in southwest Colorado is at the Unlimited Learning Center in Cortez. Their experience demonstrates the economy of video teleconferencing in providing a wide range of classes to a small number of students. They currently have 46 students enrolled in 36 different classes. Residents of the Cortez area have shown great interest in nursing programs starting with Certified Nursing Assistant and continuing through Medical Assistant and Licensed Practical Nurse to Registered Nurse. These students complete all course work through video teleconferencing with the College of Eastern Utah and all practical training in Cortez. According to Ann Miller, executive director of the Unlimited Learning Center, video teleconferencing is often used by students who are unsure about college and want to try a few classes before borrowing money to physically attend a college campus. Upper level classes available through the Utah Education Network are of interest to adults who need only a few credits to finish a degree, but cannot leave their homes, jobs and families to return to a college campus. With the new HD video teleconferencing facility at the Ed Center, similar opportunities will be available to Pagosans.

A public demonstration of the Ed Center’s HD video teleconferencing facility is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Oct. 22 and 23. The Archuleta County Education Center is the blue building at 4th and Lewis streets.