Looking to take the use of video in the classroom and the community at large to new heights, a group of forward-thinking educators in Missouri is preparing to launch a new internet-based television network–one that might very well transform how education and training is delivered in schools throughout the state, and beyond.

Imagine being a high school football coach and having the capacity to screen the last 10 years of game films simply by logging on to the internet; or a rural high school student who, thanks to a unique television program, now can enroll in classes previously unavailable at his or her school. How about a teacher looking for instructional videos to supplement a difficult biology or history lesson, or a school administrator attempting to wedge important continuing-ed courses into an already bloated schedule.

These are just some of the benefits educators at the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) say will be possible through their latest foray into the evolving world of online video instruction, or Internet Protocol Television (IPTV).

The ambitious project, scheduled to kick off March 3 with a live broadcast from the Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Zooquarium in Springfield, Mo., aims to marry all of the benefits of streaming video with the ubiquity of the internet, providing a completely interactive learning experience, the likes of which few schools have ever seen before from a nonprofit education organization.

“When we integrate video material into core lessons … learning takes on a new dimension,” said Carter Ward, MSBA’s executive director.

Dubbed the “Education Solutions Global Network,” or ESGN, the network–available online at www.esgn.tv–supports the delivery of a broad spectrum of original and rebroadcast video content–from live coverage of educational events and conferences, to playbacks of classic high school sporting events and video-conferencing, to virtual learning programs for teachers and students.

Unlike other subscription-based video on-demand services available to schools these days, MSBA says its program, which functions on the internet, is more versatile, providing an interactive venue for teachers and students to become active participants in the learning process.

“We’re not just interested in video streaming solutions,” explained Joel Denney, MSBA’s associate executive director, in an interview with eSchool News. “Because this solution is IP-based it gives us the opportunity to augment all of the opportunities of the internet with video.”

Apart from simply downloading a video and broadcasting it, Denney said, the ESGN portal provides the capability to perform instant text messaging; conduct live polling; offer anytime, anywhere access to content; and broadcast both live and pre-recorded events with the same professional-grade method of delivery.

MSBA plans to use its video network to broadcast everything from online field trips and live broadcasts to virtual courses, extended teacher training and professional development sessions, and high school sporting events, officials said.

Given the technical acumen of most modern-day students, Ward said, the content available through ESGN will represent “a very strong alternative” for technology-literate learners to receive “educational material and entertainment” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What’s more, he said, the project could result in a substantial cost-savings for schools. By connecting students and teachers with video virtually via the internet, MSBA says schools can save themselves the time and expense associated with organizing unnecessary face-to-face meetings.

Plus, he said, the technology is affordable. Because the majority of production and infrastructure costs required to power the network are covered by MSBA, he said, the only significant investment required of schools is the purchase of an internet-connected computer.

“Most classrooms today are equipped with the technology necessary to take advantage of the network,” explained Ward.

Depending on what infrastructure is in place at the school level, Denney added, users can choose to view the video on separate desktops, or to simply pull the content down from the internet to be used in whole-class demonstrations via a digital projector or interactive whiteboard. He said the backend system, developed in conjunction with Texas-based Continental Vista Broadcast Group Inc., is compatible with a variety of internet connections, from traditional dial-up modems, to broadband access, and high-speed T-1 lines.

Still don’t have access to the internet? Don’t worry, said Denney. MSBA also is capable of using small dish satellite technology to broadcast directly to individual school buildings.

While finding the technology required to access the network won’t be a challenge for most schools, determining whether to download the content might be.

Currently, MSBA says it is experimenting with a variety of pay and for-free delivery mechanisms–each of which will depend on the type of content schools want to access.

Though some instructional videos might be made available free to schools, Denney said, other programs, including access to on-demand high school sports archives, for instance, will be available under a pay-per-view or subscription-based model. But, he said, those decisions will be “demand-driven.”

Though the March 3 launch, entitled “Extremeophiles: Living in Extremes,” will be available on an invitation-only basis, MSBA says it eventually plans to extend the benefits of its programming to schools throughout the state and, in some cases, throughout the country.

“We anticipate that there will be a wide variety of programs out there,” said Denney. The goal is to provide a solution that meets the needs of students and teachers, enabling them to access the content from home or work, as they see fit.

The use of video and technology in the classroom is nothing new for educators in Missouri, especially those working with MSBA, which has a reputation for using video to enhance instruction.

“This is something we’ve sort of grown into,” explained Ward.

The association’s interest in video-based instruction began in the mid-1980s with a large dish satellite program that delivered one-way instructional videos to schools. That program eventually gave way to the production of instructional video tapes and DVDs and then, finally, to two-way video-conferencing for teachers.

But when compared with IPTV, Ward said, schools haven’t seen anything yet.

Dr. Linda Ross-Happy, a former Missouri educator and retired director of the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, says MSBA’s IPTV project harbors serious potential, especially when it comes to reaching poor and disadvantaged students.

After meeting Ward and other educators from her state at an awards ceremony in California, Ross-Happy says she was instantly drawn to the idea of video as an instructional equalizer.

“It just hit me–technology was going to be the way to get music to inner-city kids,” she said. “This is the answer. With incredible technology, they can broadcast over the internet to schools.”

And it couldn’t have come at a better time, she says.

Thanks to sweeping education changes brought on by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and a new national emphasis on technical disciplines, Ross-Happy says many schools have been forced to cut, or eliminate, arts and music programs.

“With the push for standards, the first programs to go often are arts and music,” she said. Committed to the need for better music instruction in the nation’s classrooms, Ross-Happy says she plans to work with MSBA to develop a series of online music education courses to be broadcast over the ESGN portal. Potential topics include everything from basic musical keyboarding to music theory and history.

Though video programs such as the ones being offered in Missouri won’t eliminate the need for classroom teachers, she said, the technology offers a viable alternative for students who otherwise would not have access to a fully diversified curriculum.

“This isn’t necessarily intended to replace the teachers,” Ross-Happy explained. But in schools that don’t have the resources, “it could help out.” With the integration of the internet and ESGN, she added, “education can be so much more interactive. It no longer has to be just a flat screen up there [on the wall]. The possibilities are endless.”

Links:

Education Solutions Global Network
http://www.esgn.tv

Missouri School Boards Association
http://www.msbanet.org/

Wonders of Wildlife Museum
http://www.wondersofwildlife.org/

Continental Vista Broadcasting Group Inc.
http://www.msbn.tv/cvbg/index.aspx