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Feb 24, 2009

Distance Education Task Force Takes Hard Look at Eleutian Example

A task force formed in January to review and analyze Wyoming’s distance-education and video-conferencing systems was prompted by a presentation last year by Dave Reetz of Powell and Kent Holiday, president of Eleutian Technology. Reetz and Holiday gave a presentation on distance education to the Community College Planning Task Force during a meeting in September.

Eleutian Technology, based in Ten Sleep, uses a program over the Internet that allows teachers in the Big Horn Basin to teach English to students in South Korea.  “Most agencies tend to think they need to have their own systems and protocols,” Reetz said. “What we’ve told them is that the use of the World Wide Web is a resource that should be tapped. Just take advantage of public infrastructure that is out there. It has proven effective for Eleutian. Eleutian has shown that there is a great deal of capability right there at no cost in the public sector.


“We believe Wyoming residents have the right to access their government, for their common good, particularly to have education made available to all of our residents using Internet technology. Those who are site bound can’t afford to go to a university, but they can still have access to a great education.”

Following that presentation, the task force sent a letter to Gov. Dave Freudenthal recommending further evaluation of Wyoming’s distance-education efforts and the state’s video-conferencing infrastructure.

Freudenthal acted on that recommendation last month by forming the Distance Education/Video Conferencing Task Force.


The task force consists of representatives from the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Department of Education, the Wyoming Community College Commission, the governor’s office and the state’s chief information officer.  Reetz said the presentation highlighted Eleutian’s efforts and recommended using a similar approach to distance education and other technological needs in the state.


Holiday said too much of distance-education efforts focus on developing proprietary technology and infrastructure. That consumes a large amount of resources for distance education, leaving a smaller portion available for what’s really important — educational content, he said.


He compared that to spending a lot of money to build a house, only to run short before all the cabinets, flooring and interior furnishings are put in.  Holiday said it is difficult to justify the expense of separate distance-education facilities around the state. “It needs to be centralized,” he said.  “Spend money on content, and as little as necessary on proprietary systems,” he said. “The investment needs to be put in recording studios around the state. Our teachers here need to be able to develop the content, not rely on a teacher out of New York. You have the talent in the state, and that can be used without the constraint of distance. Students in the state should be able to take any content they want.”


Reetz said, “What Eleutian has done, in an incredibly beautiful way, is provide interactions between students and teachers at a distance. Why not utilize that without having to pay all over again? Why pay eight times to develop something that isn’t even standardized?”  Instead of developing different systems at the University of Wyoming and each of the community colleges, distance-education infrastructure could be managed centrally, with recording studios around the state. Then colleges and the university could put their own courses together and use that centralized system to make them available to Wyoming residents.


Reetz said Freudenthal was receptive to the college task force’s suggestions. The governor said the state has four different communication systems, and they’re not talking to each other, Reetz said.

Robert Aylward, vice president and chief information officer for the University of Wyoming, said the Task Force on Distance Education/Video Conferencing put out two requests for proposals in late January and early February. One seeks a consultant to inventory and review the state’s video-conferencing infrastructure. The second aims at finding a firm to analyze and make recommendations for cost-effective, statewide solutions to distance-education needs in the state.


Proposals for both requests are due this week. “The task force will be looking at them during the next couple of weeks to try to make a selection for consultants,” he said.  Once selected, the consultants will interview stake holders, including those involved in distance education and video teleconferencing.

The consultants’ recommendations are expected by early June, in time for possible inclusion in the next budgetary cycle for state government, Aylward said.