Students this fall are part of an education revolution in South Dakota. The state’s Digital Dakota Network is fully operational, and schools will have greater opportunities than ever before for distance learning.

The DDN allows students in all 176 South Dakota school districts to use the internet. They can tap into a greater array of courses and interact electronically with teachers and students in other schools and states.

The network has the potential to change education dramatically, supporters say.

“School districts unable to attract a math teacher are now able to leverage the best math teacher in the state,” said Dan Muck, assistant director of technology for the Mitchell Technical Institute.

Launched by Gov. Bill Janklow, the network is designed to make 21st-century technology available everywhere in South Dakota.

Some districts were already using the technology. A group in Rapid City, for example, developed the Discover South Dakota course. The state history class for elementary students is an online program and includes interviews of students in various places in the state.

“That’s something a local district couldn’t do on its own,” Muck said.

In the Mitchell School District, distance learning has been offered in recent years through the Sanborn Interactive Video Network. Through it, the Mitchell School District has offered courses in Spanish to other schools.

What the Digital Dakota Network does is broaden those kinds of educational opportunities, Muck said.

Seven courses are scheduled this year over the DDN in Mitchell, said Superintendent Joe Graves. When he looks to the future, he sees only expansion.

“What’s limiting this technology right now is understanding and vision by the educational community. I’m not criticizing it. It takes a while to figure out how it works,” Graves said.

The network makes it possible for the district to provide courses that it couldn’t in the past because administrators were unable to find a teacher or too few students were interested in taking them, he said.

“The greatest thing about DDN technology is that it takes one more step in ending the disadvantages of rural education,” Graves said.