Technology boosts class offerings at Anoka-Hennepin high schools

7:54 AM, Nov 16, 2012   |    comments
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CHAMPLIN, Minn. - Kevin Moorhead fires up the computer for his honors investing class at Champlin Park High School.

He has a powerpoint ready to go as students filter in and grab their laptops. 

Eleven miles to the north, students at Andover are settling in for the same class.  With the same teacher. 

Moorhead will teach both groups of students through a video conferencing system from Cisco.  It's called TelePresence.

"The system is really distance learning kind of on steroids," said Tom Skoglund, Instructional Technology Facilitator for Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Anoka-Hennepin invested $1.35 million into the system, supplemented by a $350,000 grant from Cicso.  It features crystal clear video feeds to and from each of the district's five high schools.  Teachers can mirror their computers to all of the schools, and in what is the most striking element, all of the students are sitting in virtually identical rooms, no matter what high school they are in.

"The furniture matches, the countertops, the paint on the walls, the lighting on the walls.  Everything is meant to give you that feeling that you're in the remote location," said Skoglund.

The effect is stunning.  The students at Andover appear to be sitting right in front of the students at Champlin Park.  Even in person, a cursory glance might trick the eye into "seeing" all of the students in one room.

"So if you sit in here for awhile, and you sit at the table and participate, you quickly lose the feeling that anyone is miles away," Skoglund said.

"They engage back and forth," said Moorhead of his students, "it's just the difference is you're looking at a screen on both sides."

This level of technology helps solve an age-old problem.  Before a school can offer an advanced course, or a highly specialized class, the school must first have enough students in the class to justify paying for a teacher for the class.

"By pooling students across the high schools, we're able to provide those classes that otherwise the students wouldn't have," explained Skoglund.

A consortium of schools in Itasca County also has a TelePresence system, which means Anoka-Hennepin could share resources with that district.

"They offer a class in Ojibway," Skoglund said.  "We would love to be able to make a trade."

Moorhead sees other applications for his "Building Wealth" class.  "I could, in the future, dial into the Federal Reserve in Chicago," he said.

Moorhead keeps tabs on his students and their parents through his website, email, and telephone.  He will arrange in-person conferences if necessary.

And if you think students who aren't actually in the room with Moorhead can slack off a bit without their teacher next to them, think again.  "Every now and then I might have to say something, but we're pretty good," laughed Moorhead.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved.)

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