South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow has announced the second phase of a multimillion-dollar partnership with U.S. West that will link South Dakota students and teachers through a new statewide intranet.

U.S. West plans to install videoconferencing and data transfer technology over the next several months that will be available to all of the state’s school districts at a sharp discount, Janklow said.

He said the company would offer South Dakota schools access to more than $17 million worth of data networking and video equipment. Among others, Gateway, VTEL, Cisco, and 3Com reportedly are providing the deeply discounted equipment for the project.

The project eventually will connect all K-12 public schools as part of a statewide data and video intranet to be called the Digital Dakota Network. Through it, schools can share classes with each other or connect to other resources across the nation or the world.

Districts choosing to participate can get high-speed T1 connections to the internet and real-time, broadcast-quality video, he said.

The installation of videoconferencing technology represents the next phase of Janklow’s project to wire all state schools for technology. When complete, the network will give students in small, rural school districts the same opportunities as those attending bigger schools, the governor said.

“An interesting component [to the project] is the initial wiring of the schools,” explained Bob Mercer, Gov. Janklow’s press secretary. “South Dakota used crews of low-security prison inmates to wire the schools” and upgrade all electrical circuits. With free labor, public schools have had virtually no expenses throughout the implementation of this program, Mercer said.

“It’s putting [technology] to use with human beings that’s going to make a difference for the future,” Janklow said. “Every student, no matter where they are in South Dakota, will have access to the best learning opportunities in the world right in their own schools.”

The technology is easy for teachers to use, said Brian Tagney, area director for VTEL Corp., a manufacturer of videoconferencing systems. Teachers can write on a “whiteboard” with a marker, and the image is transmitted on a screen that students in classrooms across the state can see almost instantly.

Documents and other information in a teacher’s notes can be transferred as well, he said.

Setting up the intranet will be a combined effort between the State Bureau of Information and Telecommunications and the Department of Education and Cultural Affairs. The Digital Dakota Network will use asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) switching centers in telecommunications centers throughout the state to transport voice, video, and data at about 275 times the speed of the fastest dial-up modem, Janklow said.

The network also will make it easier for schools to share specialty classes, such as foreign languages, or let a teacher leading a class in American Indian history tap into resources from one of the state’s Indian reservations, he added.

The goal is to have the data-networking infrastructure in place by the end of February and the videoconferencing component done by next fall.

Larry Toll, a U.S. West vice president, said the contribution was part of the company’s commitment to its customers.

“This is the kind of technology that will make South Dakota one community, educationally,” he said.

The state also plans to expand its training program for teachers to help them learn ways to make the new technology work in a classroom setting, Janklow said. The courses will be offered at three new sites this summer—Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and Rapid City—so more teachers can participate.

Teacher training is one of Janklow’s top priorities, according to press secretary Bob Mercer: “The governor’s Technology for Teaching and Learning Academy has already trained about 20 percent of South Dakota’s teachers during the four-week summer sessions, and that number is expanding to 30 percent this summer.”

Every South Dakota teacher attending the summer institute receives a stipend of $1,000 to be used toward technology in his or her classroom. Last year, network administrators who attended received brand-new network servers for their schools, Mercer said.

The payoff for the program, according to Mercer: Through networked schools, South Dakota students can have access to any information in the world and go anywhere in the world to work, despite their remote locale.

“Location is not an issue when traveling at the speed of light,” he said.

South Dakota web site

Gov. Janklow’s web site