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Video conferencing more attractive in tough economic times

By Karina Donica, The Town Talk

2/11/09

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While the slumping economy continues to threaten education budgets, video conferencing is gaining new ground as a tool to save time and money.

Local colleges are increasingly leaning on video conferencing and other technology-based options that are changing the face of education.

"It's just a way for us to get information to students where budgets cuts have made it necessary for them (schools) to cut back on adjuncts, or cut back on full-time instructors, or what have you," said Kathleen Gay, long distance learning coordinator at Bossier Parish Community College.

Gay, who helped launch the first video conferencing course at her college about 13 years ago, said while the use of video conferencing courses did slow with the advent of online programs, it is experiencing a resurgence.

"What we are seeing now is a marriage between video conferencing and online," Gay said.

Although no statistics at the national level exist on video conferencing in higher education, Leigh Flynn with the Learning Center for Rapides Parish said an increasing number of schools with satellite campuses at the center are offering video conferencing.

One of those schools is BPCC, where student demand for "e-learning" options has surpassed expectations, Gay said. E-learning includes digital-based teaching tools, such as online programs, blackboard and video conferencing.

With the shape of the economy and prospect of a continuing recession, e-learning options likely will grow, Gay said.

"If a campus didn't have access to a foreign language instructor," schools are coming together to supply that instructor and deliver it via digital technology, Gay said.

The option saves institutions the cost of having to hire a new instructor and it is also cost beneficial to the student.

It saves students commuting time and expenses.

Four respiratory therapy students at the Learning Center for Rapides Parish are taking a video conference class on critical care. Misty Hayes and Samatha Dyer of Pineville, along with Natchitoches students Sandy Edwards and Paula Llorance travel to England Airpark each week instead of Bossier City.

"It takes us about 40 minutes to get here, and if we were going to Bossier City it would take us an hour and 10 minutes," Edwards said.

The class is beamed from a Bossier City classroom with about 18 students and also links a small group of students sitting in a Monroe classroom.

All together, the virtual classroom gathers 27 students from classrooms in three different cities.

"Basically, it's like sitting in your living room watching TV," Sandy Gilbert, a student at Bossier City, said through a microphone while his face was projected on a 52-inch plasma screen.

"I think it's great because without something like this we wouldn't have this type of program here in Central Louisiana, and I think it definitely helps the hospitals in this area," said Jason Bordelon, instructor of cardiopulmonary science at Louisiana State University and the BPCC respiratory therapy program.

The class is part of the respiratory therapy program that was established in Alexandria when local hospitals approached the college about a shortage of respiratory therapists and the lack of such educational programs locally, said Ashley F. Dulle, respiratory therapy program director at BPCC.

While new technology tends to give the impression that education may be reducing some of its personalized attention, that has not been the case with video conferencing, students and instructors said.

"We interact with them. They are our classmates, they are just not here," Llorance said.

In fact, it has opened lines of communication in more ways than one through the use of e-mail, text messaging, cell phones and other resources, Dulle said.

"Our students call us till 9 o'clock at night and e-mail all the time, so we're a very close knit bunch," she said. End of article.

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