Students at five Nebraska school districts recently became the first to experience a live learning event on eSchool Online, ACTV Inc.’s educational application of its unique HyperTV technology.

The technology–which brings together video, sound, web content, and chat capabilities on a single web browser screen–has been around for a few years, but ACTV said the Nebraska event marked the first time the application had been used to facilitate a live event.

The eSchool Online network software–which is not affiliated with eSchool News–creates a virtual learning environment that seamlessly integrates and synchronizes video-based programming with web content and chat functionality for a “vastly improved interactive TV-internet experience,” the company said.

In Nebraska, eSchool Online is being integrated into the art education curriculums of several districts. During a live April event called ConferNet ’99, the application was used to synchronize live video, streamed audio, and web images from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art in Washington.

Students posted their own art projects and participated in live interactive chat discussions with other students, teachers, and experts at the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb.; the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Lincoln, Neb.; and the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney.

“This event is a demonstration of how HyperTV can create new communities that bridge traditional boundaries in pursuit of a positive goal,” said William C. Samuels, ACTV chairman and chief executive officer. “HyperTV offers a powerful, patented environment for marrying internet content and traditional video programming in a way that has real benefits for programmers and end-users alike.”

ConferNet ’99 was sponsored by ACTV, Apple Computer Inc., Cox Communications, and the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The event is part of a long-term project called the Community Discovered, which was initiated by Westside Community Schools in Omaha along with a consortium of seven other districts, several museums, the Getty Education Institute for the Arts, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The project, a five-year initiative that aims to link technology and the arts with other subjects in grades K-12, is funded through a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant from ED.

“The attention span in the classroom (during ConferNet) was unbelievable,” said Ronald Abdouch, director of Community Discovered. “The students were really excited to share information with people outside their classroom.”

Beyond the live internet conference, Community Discovered is using eSchool Online to develop curriculum units for art education courses.

HyperTV

The patented Java-based proprietary software suite running the eSchool Online application offers a distributed, network-based model that can be customized, updated, and linked to local, state, and national curriculum standards.

HyperTV can run in a Windows-based or Macintosh environment and supports live or recorded video from analog and digital sources. Video can be brought in from a variety of sources, including TV tuner card, web stream, videoconferencing plug-in, satellite delivery to a local area network, video stored on a hard drive, and video accessed from a CD-ROM or television.

ACTV works with school instructors and district curriculum specialists to produce the online content. Educators can have as much or as little input into the process as they’d like. For one curriculum unit in Nebraska, for example, teachers selected a video, then let ACTV curriculum experts find appropriate web pages and perform the technical task of integrating the two media.

However, all these steps could be completed by the instructor with little or no formal training. ACTV provides content creation software that even the hardly tech-savvy Abdouch said is as easy to follow as the company claims it to be.

Once video programming and corresponding web pages have been integrated, students are ready to log onto eSchool Online.

The video stream appears in a frame at the top left of the screen, while web pages simultaneously appear in a separate frame along the bottom half of the screen.

During a recorded program, a chat frame at the top right of the browser allows teachers to program questions, instructions, or assignments. The instructor can assign specific times that web sites and questions would appear during the video presentation. The web sites and questions are sent automatically to the desktop of each student at the appropriate time.

For a live event, the chat frame can be used to conduct interactive discussions among students, teachers, and others who are online.

Pricing for eSchool Online is hard to peg, because costs are largely dependent on the size and scope of the application. Variables can include the number of schools and students involved and the number of curriculum units desired.

In addition to the Nebraska project, schools in Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia are using eSchool Online to integrate web content with educational video programming.

In Massachusetts, for example, the product is being used to deliver reading, writing, and professional development programming to students, parents, and teachers in underprivileged areas.

ACTV

http://www.actv.com

Community Discovered Project

http://communitydisc.wst.esu3.k12.ne.us/html

Westside Community Schools

http://www.wst.esu3.k12.ne.us