You’re visiting the home page of an Alabama-based web site, and the drop-down menu includes links to the kinds of items you might expect from a state department of education. The links will take you to information about early childhood education, adult education, literacy, a calendar of events, and online learning resources for people of all ages.
In this case, however, the web site belongs not to the state’s education department, but to APTV–Alabama Public Television–and therein lies a story. One of many, actually.
Created decades ago, when television was much younger and the internet had yet to be born, public broadcasting entities such as APTV lately have been riding a new digital wave. In close collaboration with curriculum specialists and other officials at state education agencies, they are moving to the forefront of online learning.
Although their mission to serve the public interest has always had an educational core, the recent explosion of digital video as an instructional tool is prompting public TV networks to move increasingly onto the internet as a means of distribution, and thus heavily into the online video worlds of teachers and students. After all, the networks have the media with which to do it.
“Our business is education,” says Nancy Hill, director of educational services for Alabama Public Television. “So, given the fact that media is our vehicle for delivery, it’s a logical progression for us” to take advantage of the internet, in addition to TV broadcasts, to enrich teaching and learning in the schools.
APTV’s “big leap,” as Hill describes the change, came about four years ago, when it created a video-on-demand service for educators, parents, and others who work with children. Overnight broadcasting to the schools, so videos could be recorded and shown during school hours, has been phased out, and today 95 percent of the network’s educational resources are provided online, Hill says.
Alabama is one of eight states whose public broadcasting stations and state education agencies are participating together in e-Learning for Educators, a federally financed program that provides online professional development courses for teachers. The other states are Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
Part of the reason for APTV’s online focus, Hill notes, is that it was having a hard time tracking the use of its broadcast material and began to notice, at the same time, that teachers were turning increasingly to the internet to find new educational resources.
Now, like public TV networks in a number of other states, APTV is meeting that demand with a wide selection of high-quality digital videos on thousands of topics. The heart of its service consists of searchable streaming videos, clips, and other online material from Discovery Education (DE). Eventually, individual school districts will be able to upload content developed by their own teachers.
Hill says she especially values DE streaming because it provides “efficient, effective, and convenient” access over the internet, enabling teachers to choose from “a myriad of different types of resources–video, lesson plans, still images, text articles, quiz questions–to put together their own lessons and learning activity plans.”
Here’s some of what public TV broadcasters and state education leaders in have been doing in other states:
• Working with Arkansas’s state education department, the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) brought a national expert on school mentoring to its studios, recorded his presentation, and made it broadly available to teachers. Kathleen Stafford-Branton, AETN’s education director, says the network’s education portal offers a way to “bring equality [and] equity” to schools around the state. “We do a lot of training on how a teacher can best utilize video streaming,” she says.
• In Arizona, an organization called ASSET–the acronym stands for Arizona School Services through Educational Technology–operates as a self-supported department of Eight/KAET public television, which is located at Arizona State University. Noting that ASSET has relied heavily on DE streaming for the past several years to provide instructional tools, Debra Lorenzen, the group’s executive director, says its professional-
development content has been growing faster than its curricular materials–which, she adds, have been linked to state standards.
• Schools across Iowa can take advantage of a voluntary purchasing program that provides “volume” discounts on many products–including DE streaming and other audiovisual material, online publications, technology supplies, and a multimedia archive–through the Iowa Educators Consortium (IEC). The independent, nonprofit organization was created by the state’s Area Education Agencies. Even in the video age, says Jerry Cochrane, an IEC coordinator, non-video items continue to be popular among teachers.
• Nancy Pearson, director of educational technology at Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB), used to work on professional development activities at the state’s education department. Since transferring to MPB early last year, she’s been overseeing a “technology integration” project to help several schools meet requirements for academic progress. She credits collaboration between the two agencies for other successes, including a dramatic increase in the number of teachers enrolling in online courses.
• In central New York, the public broadcasting station WCNY tells people visiting its web site to explore EdVideo Online, its version of DE streaming and related content. Because of a partnership between public broadcasters and the state education department, the service is available free to all K-12 and adult-literacy educators and their students throughout the state. WCNY’s president, Robert Daino, who also chairs an association of all nine PBS stations in the state, says PBS stations all over the country are constantly seeking new ways to share and improve their educational offerings.
• StreamlineSC, South Carolina’s video-streaming service in education, is the result of cooperative efforts by the state’s educational television entity, known as SCETV, and the state education department. In addition to DE videos, the service includes material from SCETV productions and programs approved by the education department. All 85 school districts in the state use the service, which registered more than two million views in 2006-07. Dean Byrd, director of distance learning at SCETV, says he likes the fact that feedback from Discovery shows which programs are effective.
One of the most ambitious efforts to upgrade education through technology and related in-service education for teachers has taken place in Kentucky, where sweeping structural and curricular changes followed a 1989 State Supreme Court decision that invalidated the state’s system for financing its schools.
With a resulting new emphasis on educational equity, recalls Bill Wilson, deputy director for education and outreach at Kentucky Educational Television (KET), officials there and in the state education department needed to find effective ways to bring smaller and poorer school districts up to par. That background, Wilson says, has contributed to an environment today in which the power of instructional video plays a critical role.
At KET, Discovery Education streaming forms the backbone of what the network has dubbed EncyloMedia, which the state helps finance. Wilson says a guiding principle has been to focus on students as learners and on teachers as facilitators. “In the old days,” he explains, “we used to look at technology to help teachers teach. Today, it’s to help students learn.”
Kentucky’s approach to professional development, Wilson adds, has involved asking teachers what they need, rather than telling them. A related aspect has been to illustrate good classroom practices by making “authentic” films, not set up in advance, showing “average teachers who are out there on a day-to-day basis, trying to do the job.”
Collaborative work with teachers is important, says Kathy Quinn, herself a long-time teacher and former Kentucky education department administrator who has been KET’s education director for more than seven years. And with digital video and other new technology, today’s teachers have much easier access to resources. Quinn notes that EncycloMedia specialists help with teacher training.
Kentucky’s use of DE streaming, previously called unitedstreaming, originated in its Scott County Schools. Jeanne Biddle, the district’s technology director, works primarily on instructional issues. She says that about seven years ago, her predecessor, Leslie Flanders, was among the first to see the video service in action, and that Flanders spread the word. It caught on quickly throughout the state.
Eventually, the popularity of streaming video contributed to the state’s investment in providing higher bandwidth for schools, Biddle says. A current goal is to “push EncycloMedia into the hands of the students.”
At the state education department, David Couch, associate commissioner for educational technology, is enthusiastic about the agency’s partnership with KET. He says EncyloMedia has connected better with teachers “than most anything else I’ve seen” for daily use in the classroom.