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High-tech learning extends to 13 rural schools

LAWTON, Okla._A high-tech way to get an education is being extended to students at 13 rural schools in Comanche, Caddo, Cotton, Kiowa and Tillman counties.

Great Plains Technology Center in Lawton demonstrated their new distance learning project Wednesday. Thanks to a network of cameras, monitors and microphones, a student in Snyder can take a class at Great Plains Technology Center without leaving his seat. The schools were able to get this equipment thanks to a $495,000 federal Rural Utilities Services grant, which was awarded December 2014.

Right now, the schools have a 55-inch monitor they can receive classroom instruction on, but they will soon be able to see them on smart phones, tablets and computers. It's an improvement that is all about making sure rural students aren't at a learning disadvantage while helping those high schools build their curriculum and help out their neighbors.

Sometimes schools in rural communities struggle to find teachers for certain subjects; the new distance learning project will try to change that. Four rooms at the tech center already have the equipment installed, and the schools should be ready to go in the coming weeks. The IT director at Great Plains Technology Center, Kevin Chambers, says he is ready to have everything up and running.

"I'm pretty excited. We're looking forward to getting it put in. It allowed us to set up this room and a few more on campus, so we can do video conferences like this," Chambers explained.

In Wednesday's conferences, GPTC connected with Cameron University, Elgin and the GPTC Frederick campus. Even Representative Tom Cole stopped by the demonstration and applauded how it will help schools share resources.

"Having this kind of capability to bring into classrooms is a skill we don't have enough of," Cole said.

He was given the opportunity to speak with the schools in the video conferences and ask for their opinion and how they would use it.

With technology, a big concern is what happens when it breaks? Chambers says he will be ready if it does, and a few of the biggest conflicts have already been solved.

"There is always bumps with technology, but we're not expecting a lot. Internet bandwidth was a big issue at remote sites, but I think we got a lot of those handled by making sure they had enough bandwidth to hold a video conference," Chambers said.

As of now, they are licensed to have five schools included in each video call. Another feature in development is the ability for teachers to archive their videos and put the education in the hands of the students whenever they need it.

The 13 new schools participating in the project are: Boone-Apache, Big Pasture, Cache, Chattanooga, Davidson, Fletcher, Frederick, Geronimo, Grandfield, Indiahoma, Snyder, Sterling and Tipton. They join the Lawton and Frederick GPTC campuses and Elgin.

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