Distance Learning in Rural Settings

The term “distance learning” describes the process of connecting learners to remote educational resources. Distance learning uses such communication technologies as teleconferencing, videoconferencing, satellite broadcast, and computer-based training (including DVDs and the Internet) to enhance an organization’s instructional strategies and to allow the strategies to reach a broader audience with more flexibility.

From Why Rural Matters comes the following policy recommendation:

Distance learning is one strategy that has proven to be effective in ensuring that schools and districts are able to provide rich curricula without restructuring and uprooting students and communities. If rural schools and communities are to take advantage of the benefits offered by technology, they must have financial and policy assistance in developing and maintaining the kind of technology infrastructure, interlocal cooperation, and program coordination that will support the use of distance learning among clusters of rural schools.”

Other nuggets can be found therein on what needs to happen to ensure that rural communities are able to take the best advantage of online learning opportunities. Worth a gander for those interested in the intersection of rural education and technology.

Distance learning in rural Alabama

Another case of distance learning taking the edge of the digital divide – two rural high schools in one county in Alabama will soon have access to many of the resources at the larger urban school.

“We will be able to offer high school courses such as our advance (sic) placement classes that might not be offered at our smaller schools,” he said. “We plan to broadcast our AP calculus, biology and chemistry classes, among others.”

Matthew Shell, the system’s technology coordinator, said each school or auxiliary property will have a receiver up to 140 feet in height. The schools will have classrooms wired with technology that allows a teacher in Greenville High School to see and hear students in Georgiana and McKenzie.

This comes about due to new technology to be installed at the system’s school properties and auxiliary buildings. Through this program, learning for Butler County’s students will defy time and space. Students in the county’s two southern high schools will have the same benefit of the wide range of classes that Greenville High School now has.

Using Technology to Keep Kids in School

All over the country, individual teachers and teams of researchers are finding that technology can help keep students in school, even those who seem least likely to succeed. For example, a seven-year longitudinal study by the CUNY Graduate School in New York followed a group of low-performing fifth-graders through their school careers—students who were reading at 25–50 percent of grade level at the outset. Given computers with telecommunication connections at home and at school, these students achieved a higher high-school graduation rate than the rest of the students in the district.

An article in today’s NY Times online does a good job of presenting both sides of the story of a small rural school district that expanded through online learning. In Branson, Colorado, 65 students are physically present in the school building, but another 1000+ join in classes online. The online school began as a way to offer computerized courses to students (such as Calculus) for which the district did not have enough qualified teachers. Within four years, attendance grew from 25 students to over 1000.

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