Hackathon in Willmar September 18-20

I love the idea of Hacks in rural areas. With Blandin’s support, there’s a hack coming to Willmar in September…

Hackathon Comes to Willmar this Fall!

September 18-20th Kandiyohi Economic Development Commission, Ridgewater College, RITA, Work Up!, and the Blandin Foundation are putting on a Hackathon/fest in Willmar at the Work Up! Location on the MinnWest Technology Campus.  What is a Hackathon/fest?  Glad you asked.  It is an opportunity for people to get together and collaboratively develop applications for computers of all sizes from your phone to your desktop.

The Hack will be a great chance for the community to get together and develop community apps or a great start up idea.  We will be seeking ideas for apps throughout the summer and early fall as well as welcome ideas brought to the Hack.  There is no need to be a programmer as teams will be looking for people with experience in many different areas including design, service delivery, and community development as well as programming.  Mark the date and join us.  Sign up should be live any day follow the RITA Consortium on Facebook for details.

Might be the perfect getaway for folks from the Cities. Might be a perfect sneak peek for community leaders in other communities.

Minnesota Schools Create Positive Outcomes from Technology

Sometimes at the Blandin Foundation we feel like gardeners. We sow seeds, we nourish projects and we wait to see what grows. It’s been fun to watch the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) flourish especially as they receive attention (Minnesota Public Radio and Cisco website) for their success.

As Cisco reports…

Dr Michael Johnson believes that one should “never waste a good crisis.” In recent years the provost of Itasca Community College (ICC) has faced more than his share: beginning in 2005, declining enrolments in northeastern Minnesota dealt a serious blow to institutions of higher learning, as well as local elementary and secondary schools. As a result, colleges and schools funded by the state based on student population found their budgets stretched beyond the breaking point.

But Johnson and his colleagues in administration have turned obstacles into triumph: as part of the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC), the college now works in close partnership with a consortium of seven rural Minnesota K-12 school districts to share resources and provide the highest quality education possible for their students. Supported by a robust networking infrastructure, standardized systems and innovative technology tools, IASC members are ensuring that geography and distance no longer limit academic opportunity.

Blandin is pleased to have played a supporting role in the transformation. We invested $50,000 in MIRC funds through the Lightspeed grant program and $750,000 in regular grant funding to build two “immersive telepresence classrooms” in the IASC districts and related training.  (Subsequent funding includes $1.76 million in federal dollars, $1.76 investment from vendor partners and district investments of approximately $1.5 million.)

While Cisco gets into some of the details of how it happened, Minnesota Public Radio details the fruits of IASC’s labor…

Teachers are using telepresence classrooms for Spanish and Ojibwe, but next year, the district will offer 17 courses in them, ranging from literature and writing, to business, mass marketing and calculus.

School officials say the uses go beyond academic courses. The technology also will allow students to talk to people anywhere in the world, and take virtual field trips to places like NASA and the Smithsonian Museums.

[School Superintendent Matt] Grose said modern distance learning technology levels the playing field for school districts that are remote and sparsely populated. It allows them to hire specialized teachers and share the costs.

“Our kids in Deer River are going to have opportunities to take higher level courses that we can’t offer here, or at least that we don’t have the enrollment to justify a teacher for,” he said. “All of the sudden you can justify running that course and you have kids that are getting access to things that are rigorous and relevant. And we think that’s important.”

It appears that only a very small handful of K-12 schools and college campuses in Minnesota are using the newest generation of interactive technology.

We are pleased to see hard work and investment reap such benefits. We wanted to share an added perspective from IASC Technology Services Director Lora Mathison…

“This golden thread of connectivity allows classroom students to take trigonometry, dislocated workers to be retooled, agencies to offer state-of-the-art trainings for staff and business meetings to be scheduled without drive time.  The expansion to the community is only in infant stages… the expanded opportunities  for students, families, staff, community, businesses, medical institutions, non-profits and others will only be limited by creativity.  The future promises to bring new ways to utilize the telepresence classrooms that have not even been thought of yet.”

“As exciting and successful as this project has been for IASC and the region, it is just a glimpse of what may follow.  Fundamental changes in public education are on the horizon and innovative technology solutions such as telepresence will be able to offer transitional support.”

And while we’re celebrating Grand Rapids Area’s efforts around education, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune on the Strive Partnership…

Known as the Strive Partnership, the program follows this strategy: Identify specific goals, come up with a common way to measure those goals, and do so by using a rigorous set of data that can be shared with everyone. Each community sets its own priorities for improving education for students “from cradle to career.”

The Deer River School District is using the approach for an effort called Itasca Area Student Success Initiative.

Broadband applications in Windom Schools

On our tour of MIRC projects, we visited the BARC (Business Arts & Recreation Center) in Windom, Minnesota. The Center is an old school that has been renovated and super wired for multiple purposes. I’ve written before about their remote interpreter training classes. Last week we learned about more uses in the K12 environment. Teachers are using videoconferencing to attend professional development courses without travel. They are also able to access files remotely. The school is hoping to create an environment where each student has an iPad – part of that transition is helping teacher and parents get experience using the tools.

The technology is also available for lifelong learners. We learned about seniors are using videoconferencing and Skype to keep in touch with friends and family.

Emergency Vehicles get Laptops in Windom

Thanks to John Shepard for sending me an article from the Cottonwood County Citizen on one of Windom’s MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) projects. Windom has used part of their funding to put laptops in 13 vehicles used by police, fire and EMTs and a two-year wireless Internet subscription.

The entire project budget was $54,400. MIRC funding covered half of the cost. The balance came from the City and County – either in cash or in kind.

They know the computers will be used to download Google maps of a location before responding, they will be able to get more info on topics such as hazardous materials when necessary and they’ll be able to do paperwork on the scene rather than taking time later to fill out reports. They expect that more uses will emerge as they start using the laptops.

New Economy education in Windom

Just yesterday I was bemoaning Minnesota’s lackluster results on the ITIF New Economy ranking. (We came in 13th.) Today I’m feeling better about our prospects after reading about a fun class at Windom High School. For class, the kids broadcast school sporting activities. The Daily Globe describes the class…

At the beginning of the year, Kray taught students how to use the camera and sound equipment — setting it up, troubleshooting it and taking it down again afterward. Then students got hands-on training by actually producing finished live broadcasts on television.

The academic component of the class includes writing a journal, learning about advertising techniques and picking out different styles in media. They learn camera technique — wide angles, close-ups, extreme close-ups and tight-angle shots.

Not directly related to broadband – except that they will be broadcasting live from their web site soon – but directly related to bolstering skills that make better broadband users. And a reminder that tomorrow’s generation is going to be even less happy with asymmetrical connectivity. We want to be producers of information – not just consumers.

Broadband means diverse job prospects in Windom

Thanks to Ann Higgins for the heads up on Rural Not Just for Farmers! – the article, not the concept. Actually it’s a blog post that’s featured on Minnesota 2020.

It’s a great first person account of life in Windom – but not on a farm – and the advantages that broadband brings to the area…

Our young people can work for any company in the world right here at home via telecommuting. We get the economic advantage from their good salaries without more pollution and congestion.

Our rural areas are a wonderful place to live, work and play; it is a relaxed pace of life, surrounded by peaceful wildlife, neighbors, family, friends, and plain good living. I believe a lot of people are seeking just those things in a place to call home or to visit, so here is our chance to find and tell them “we have a place for you!”

Sibley County looks into FTTH

Thanks to Chris Mitchell’s report on Sibley County’s plan for a feasibility study for keeping me in the know. According to the Gaylord Hub

Sibley County Commissioners approved, on Tuesday, paying up to $40,000 to help fund a feasibility study for Fiber to the Home (FTTH) project. The funds come from TIF reimbursement from the City of Gaylord.

Up to $40,000 matching grant money will be provided by the Blandin Foundation. The feasibility study is expected to cost $60,000.

Bernadine Joselyn at the Blandin Foudnation spoke to me about the reasons that Blandin is supporting Sibley’s efforts…

This project is a great example of the importance of local leadership in making good things happen in community. People are any community’s most important asset. Blandin Foundation is privileged to be able to help support the forward-leaning thinking and planning in Sibley County. Money follows vision.

Again according to the Gaylord Hub, Sibley County plans to have a consultant in place to perform the feasibility study by mid-July and will have the study completed by October or November.