More higher education students will be taking classes on TV as the result of a resolution adopted by the Utah Board of Regents calling for increased use of the state's telecommunications network by Utah's colleges and universities.
Utah is pioneering a statewide telecommunications system linking students throughout the state with professors in institutions of higher learning and the move to use TV even more should help improve accessibility to education, ease crowding in burgeoning campus classrooms, and cut costs as well.Using Ed Net, a microwave broadcasting system that allows instructors and students to see and talk to one another, students in Richfield or Vernal can see and talk to professors in Salt Lake City or Cedar City. St. George is the last area in the state to link up with Ed Net, and the St. George connection to the system will be made next year.
During a meeting Friday in St. George, Fred Esplin, associate director of the Statewide Educational Telecommunications Operations Center, told the regents interactive television allows more students to enroll in college courses, thereby easing some of the pressure on campuses and providing rural students with greater access to undergraduate and graduate classes.
The microwave interactive television courses can also be broadcast over regular television frequencies on KUED, Channel 7, the University of Utah's public television station that can be received throughout the state, and KULC Channel 9, a station licensed to the Board of Regents that covers the Wasatch Front.
In addition to Ed Net and the two regular TV channels, state educators have access to another system called Instructional Television Fixed Service, which is being used as a special training network, linking the U. Health Science Center to other hospitals along the Wasatch Front.
"These systems all operate now," said Steve
Hess, the operations center's director. "They place Utah on the cutting edge of utilizing technology for education. Other states look to us as a model as they prepare their education-delivery services."
Hess said there are three reasons for the statewide telecommunications TV system.
"The first is access," he said. "There are certain people in the state who, because of geographical locations or their economic situation, just do not have access to higher education."
A second reason for the system is cost. "It costs less to move information than it does to move people to facilities where they can get that information."
The third reason, Hess said, is greater quality. "You can get the best teachers to teach these courses, select the best producers and the best film clips to produce a quality course."
While the regents recognized the advantages of the telecommunications system, they expressed concern about duplication and competition among colleges to get their programs on the air.
U. President Chase Peterson urged the regents to think about which courses need to be presented on the educational networks and which do not.
"In the rural areas of southeastern Utah, virtually anyone in San Juan, Grand, Carbon and Emery counties has access to lower-division courses," he said. "It's my concern that they don't have access to upper division classes. This resolution really provides no direction in the approach."
Peterson said if the TV system is badly utilized, the state's continuing-education program could be jeopardized.
"I'm concerned that all of us will be in the game of trying to get English 101 on the system," he said. "That's where the battle will be, and we'll end up reducing the strength of our continuing-education courses and our campus courses, and thereby increase the costs of those in-class courses."