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.
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.
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.
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!”
I’m posting this on behalf of the Windom folks. They received funding from Blandin and here are some of the things they are seen and done with that funding…
Blog notes for Blandin Grant by Wayne Wormstadt, superintendent
Benefits of the grant are directly seen through the funding for the equipment to enhance our video classes at Windom.
Other benefits are the opportunities for the students with the video equipment to showcase school district and learn practical skills and influence career choices.
Helps with publicity and public access are future benefits for all involved.
The Homework helper has been a concern as the ongoing cost to support this project to connect students with teachers at home. The ongoing cost of equipment and pay for stipends makes this a very unlikely program in which to sustain after the grant is complete.
A change of course from Homework helper would be to take the funds and provide Smartboards and Webcam in our 6th grade classrooms along with the fiber connection. This would then allow our 6th graders to communicate with students in Mountain Lake and Jackson County School Districts. They currently communicate via paper and pencil through out the year and get together for projects and joint field trips. The collaboration would increase and also allow live interaction. This is important as we are part of an integration collaborative to have our students interactive with other minorities. As Mountain Lake has a significant Hmong and Hispanic population this allows our students to experience ethnic diversity. The live interaction will only increase and enhance the number of opportunities. This will be much more cost effective and sustainable beyond the grant as equipment costs will be minimized and also stipends will not be necessary within this project.
Concern on the video end is the lack of training opportunity and the time allowed to teach a complicated program. Student mastery is difficult with limited time. Resources for the school become tight with new Biennium budget projections coming out. How do we make this program more responsive to the needs of the students including mastery and maintain financial viability of the program in economic strain? An elective with 9 students using expensive equipment vs. a class of 20-25 students with little overhead costs could force us in the future to possible make this a reduction in 2-4 years depending on state funding.
Thanks to Dan Olsen, Director of Operations from Windomnet for sending us a report from the Windomnet project:
The first item to be activated is an informational channel on the local city owned cable system. Students create a power point presentation and then FTP the presentation to the server located at the cable headend. This is then displayed on a local cable channel. Open source software was used to produce the power point. In the near future this server will be moved to the high school and used as part of the overall video learning and information system.
Fiber optic splicing has begun for the the interconnect from the Windom areas high school to the City Of Windom Network Operations Center (Noc) and the headend. This will allow for Ethernet transport to the Noc, and live video streaming to the headend.
Blandin Foundation recently announced grants to four Minnesota organizations through the new LightSpeed program. The program’s purpose is to stimulate the deployment of bandwidth intensive applications that connect local institutions to area resident’s home. I will be keeping a close eye on the grantees and helping to report their progress on the Blandin blog. In addition, you will be hearing from our grantees about their efforts to better serve their communities with big bandwidth tools.
We have two education and two health care applications in the LightSpeed program and four very different applications. Today, I will give you a brief description of each project. Continue reading →
Thanks a million to Bill Coleman for answering a few questions about Blandin Foudnation’s Light Speed program for the blog.
What’s the thinking behind the creation of the LightSpeed program?
In community broadband, it is a mistake to focus only the connectivity provided by a network. Some advocates romanticize instantaneous adoption of advanced technologies throughout the community. In fact, once connectivity is in place, other deployment challenges rise to the top, like specialized equipment, software, and end-user training.
The LightSpeed program provides funding to overcome these challenges and encourages the adoption of new broadband intensive applications, especially in the education and health care areas.
A second reason for the LightSpeed Program is to provide evidence of the value of big bandwidth networks, most notably FTTP networks. Skeptics always ask, “What are you going to do with all of that bandwidth?” LightSpeed grantees will serve as demonstration projects and provide real world answers to those questions.
The Blandin Broadband Strategy Board’s Vision Statement emphasizes both the deployment and the use of ultra high-speed next generation broadband. The LightSpeed Program promotes achievement of the vision by stimulating end-user thinking about what is now possible in their own communities with the local deployment of high-speed networks, especially in partnership with their local telecommunications providers. Continue reading →