Iowa Lakes Community College's multi-campus video conferencing system has been in place and providing expanded educational coverage to students at five campuses since school returned in the fall.
Wednesday, ILCC administration, trustees, community dignitaries and students gathered in the conference rooms at the various campus facilities, as well as Graettinger-Terril High School, to participate in a ribbon cutting celebration Wednesday morning.
(Photos by Randy M. Cauthron)
In the early 1980s, Iowa Lakes launched a television learning system where the classroom image was transmitted via microwave radio technology. The TV video was only one directional, but students could talk with professors using tabletop "push-to-talk" microphones. At the time, Iowa Lakes was a pioneer in the industry.
Then, at the turn of the century, the college upgraded to two-way TV images - and two-way audio - in its classrooms.
Now, the more than $1.3 million investment allows the college to split the channels at the college and offer a wider variety of classes for those wishing to pursue their education, whether they are in local high schools partnering with the college to offer college credit programs, attending the traditional college system, or taking evening classes.
"Having a TV system at Iowa Lakes isn't new," Iowa Lakes College President Val Newhouse said. "It's been around a very long time. But this provides a very realistic experience for those taking a class from a teacher at a remote location."
She continued, "You're just part of the whole group. Faculty can see all of the students in front of them and are more easily able to encourage dialogue."
The new classrooms offer much larger high definition screens and two-way communication systems in the ceiling that don't require students to press buttons at their various locations in order to ask questions or respond to teacher instruction.
Jan Lund, president of the Iowa Lakes Board of Trustees, claimed the system "helps fulfill the college's mission statement."
The next step is making the video courses available to the college's nine high school partners.
"For the high school partners, this is coming full circle," Newhouse said. "There was the microwave connection in 80s. Then they didn't have access. Now they will again."
The partner high schools include Algona High School, Armstrong-Ringsted High School, Clay Central-Everly High School, Emmetsburg High School, Harris-Lake Park High School, North Sentral Kossuth High School, Ruthven-Ayrshire High School, West Bend-Mallard High School and Graettinger-Terril.
The system is expected to be in place for the high school students to use in time for spring semester classes.
Some of the targeted courses for the high school students include Intermediate Spanish, Human Anatomy and Physiology, Introduction to Sustainable Energy and College Physics.
"The biggest problem has been working around schedules. This will eliminate some of those issues," Newhouse noted, suggesting a student can just remain at their school, needing reduced travel time. "I also feel it's safer. You know what our winters can be like. It's just safer"
To date, Newhouse said the courses being broadcast have been popular.
"Our system is busy from 8 a.m. in the morning until 4 p.m. in the afternoon. I can't really tell you how many classes we've had. System is maxed out during those class times. There are several evening classes as well," Newhouse said.
Iowa Lakes can essentially offer 10 total classes at the combined campus setting.
Bill Menner, USDA Rural Development state director in Iowa, joined the group in Estherville at the event. The USDA Rural Development in Iowa is assisting the project by providing a $498,695 grant through its Distance Learning and Telemedicine program.
Menner suggested ILCC's commitment to education "bodes well for the future of rural communities."
"Without great community college districts like Iowa Lakes, rural communities would suffer greatly," Menner said.
Menner signed a proclamation, presenting it to Newhouse, recognizing the college for its innovation.
"The potential for future expansion is limitless," Newhouse said. "... Not only from classroom to classroom, but to reach out to people at their desks, in their car or in classrooms around the world."