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ECU pursues technology for distance learning

(Sept. 9, 1993)   —   Microwave links, fiber optics and satellites have produced dramatic change in the communications industry. As a result, television can show live events from anywhere in the world. Pictures and sound are vastly improved. Communication networks are flourishing. Conferences that once required long travel for participants have become teleconferences that can be attended without leaving town.
At East Carolina University, communication technology is also producing some profound changes—in health care, in the look of classrooms, and in the way professors teach.
Dr. J. Barry DuVall of the ECU School of Industry and Technology is among a rapidly growing number of college professors supporting the use of video networks to teach classes. DuVall is co-directing a joint teaching project between ECU and the School of Technology at North Carolina A&T University which will offer a shared master’s degree program in Industrial Technology at the two campuses.
The project involves the use of a private statewide communications network called “CONCERT” (Communications for North Carolina Education, Research and Technology) to deliver courses to graduate students at each university. The network links more than 13 N.C. universities and research institutions through the use of private microwave links, fiber optics and satellite technologies.
“If the tests that are underway are successful, both institutions will teach courses to students at their own universities, while simultaneously teaching students at the other location,” DuVall said.
He said the project could expand the number and types of graduate courses available to students on each campus. It could also improve the level of interaction between the schools and their faculty.
“Many other joint ventures may be possible,” he said. “This is only the beginning.”
The first class conducted jointly between the two campuses originated from Greensboro. The second class was at ECU this summer. Students participated in the classes at the originating site and at a video reception classrooms wired to microwave dishes and television monitors. Video classrooms used most frequently at ECU are in the Joyner Library and at the School of Medicine.

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Teaching a class at one site and receiving instruction at another is not new. Educational television has used the idea for years.
Universities in Oklahoma, Washington, and Colorado began using audio and visual technologies to carry their classroom presentations to distant locations more than 20 years ago. Initially, these schools relied on mailing video tapes to adult students who couldn’t attend classes on campus.
In recent years the schools have developed interactive video to carry their classes to adults living in outlying places. It is this interactive function—the capability for a teacher at one classroom site to interact with students at another site—that has brought renewed interest to video teaching.
The technologies have created a new field of study called “distance learning.” Much of the future of colleges and universities will depend on distance learning, according to DuVall.
For example, he said ECU is now exploring the possibilities of offering a master’s degree program over an interactive network at a number of manufacturing facilities operat