Instructor Nancy Gulbranson speaks to her local students as her two long-distant classrooms also hear and participate in the classroom time. The large-screen TV in the front left side of the photo shows all the classrooms and the students.
Instructor Nancy Gulbranson speaks to her local students as her two long-distant classrooms also hear and participate in the classroom time. The large-screen TV in the front left side of the photo shows all the classrooms and the students.
Is it possible for a person to be in three places at one time? With the technology of ITV, yes, it is.

ITV is Interactive Television. It is similar to a computer video chat like Skype except that ITV is "high definition using high-speed Internet to deliver great video that can be projected on large projectors or large screen TVs, and it is also capable of sending DVD video or computer-video images including sound," explained Spring Grove Public School's technology coordinator, Jeff Thompson.

One year ago, Spring Grove Public School principal and teacher, Nancy Gulbranson, taught her first ITV class - Residential Housing and Interiors.

At that time only one school, Fillmore Central, joined Spring Grove. This year for Gulbranson's Child Development class, Fillmore Central and Caledonia have joined the distant learning.

To add this second distance school, Spring Grove had to install a multi-site adaptor. The television screen is now split into four boxes - one box shows the Spring Grove classroom, one the Caledonia classroom, one the Fillmore Central classroom, and the fourth one remains blank.

This blank space could be filled by a third distance school. As needed, Gulbranson can zoom in on different things in the classroom, filling the entire screen if so desired.

"It [ITV] is fantastic for distance learning. It is real, the teacher is real and the students are real. It is not just a pre-recorded video that the students are watching; they are a part of the class, a part of the discussion," remarked Gulbranson.

"If it wasn't for this capability, the Fillmore Central and Caledonia students would not be able to take this class, so it really is beneficial for everyone."

Challenges are manageable

There are challenges, too. Technology is not always 100 percent fail-safe, so once in a while the signal can cut in and out to the distance locations, but it is rare and if there is a problem, Gulbranson has learned to think on her feet and make sure the problem is fixed quickly.

School schedules are not all exactly the same, so it takes a little work to plan the shared classes, but in the end it is very beneficial for all the students involved.

Personal interaction included

As part of the Child Development class, the students get to be parents for a weekend as they take care of their "baby" that cries, needs feeding and diaper changes.

Spring Grove School has 10 babies that are now with their new "parents" in Caledonia. After a student has a baby, it is hooked up to a computer to see how well that student took care of the baby.

Some babies are fussier and needier than others - nearly a real-life experience! Time has been scheduled between the three schools to make sure all students have a turn with the babies.

There is also an empathy pregnancy belly that will make its way through all of the students at the three schools.

"I visit the distance locations and teach from there as well so that I also have face-to-face contact with those students and get to know them," added Gulbranson.

"I also find that it is important to bring in local speakers to all of the classrooms as well. Today, Wendy Storlie brought in her newborn son, Carston, which timed perfectly with the start of our newborn unit.

"Fillmore Central and Caledonia were able to see baby Carston, but not able to interact with him in person, but we are working on bringing in parents with babies into those two locations as well, so they'll also have an in-person experience.

"It will be great for them to have that in-person interaction and it will also benefit the class overall as we will all get to see another infant of a different age and learn more how babies grow and develop."

Pros and cons identified

At the beginning of the semester Gulbranson did talk with all the students about ITV etiquette. The microphone in the Spring Grove classroom is very sensitive, so Gulbranson has learned to be careful around it and not to make excessive noise or it gets to be distracting and too loud for the distance schools.

"I don't want to just be a talking head to the distance classrooms," Gulbranson said. "I know I need to be animated and make sure that I specifically call on students in Caledonia or Fillmore Central so that they feel just as included as my students sitting in front of me."

The students in Fillmore Central commented that they have really been enjoying the class and like it a lot. They are glad to have this option for the class because otherwise they wouldn't be able to have it at all.

Caledonia's sentiments were the same and they also enjoy it when Gulbranson is physically in their classroom teaching.

There are currently 22 students in Spring Grove, 15 in Caledonia, and three at Fillmore Central taking the Child Development class. Each school pays a proportional part of the cost of the class and teacher.