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Installation Profile: HD Distance Education

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

University of Wisconsin's Pyle Center upgrade keeps its lead in distance education.

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The University of Wisconsin classroom

The University of Wisconsin has a more-than-40-year history of providing vanguard distance education. To keep up with technology and to retain the university's solid distance-education reputation, the school had one of its Pyle Center classrooms undergo an HD makeover. This classroom will be used as a template for redesigning the center's other distance-education classrooms.

The concept of distance learning has a contemporary ring to it, but it's rooted less in the high tech of the 21st century than it is in the social revolutions of the 1960s — when higher education became an icon of cultural radicalization in the form of teach-ins, campus protests, and the occasional occupation of an administration building. In the 1960s, the University of Wisconsin (UW) was the first major university in the nation to deploy a televised distance-education program called “Telecon.” The program served its largely rural and, in the upper reaches of the state, snowbound constituency. Funded by the Carnegie Foundation from 1964 to 1968, professor Charles Wedemeyer developed and implemented the Articulated Instructional Media (AIM) program at the school's main campus in Madison. The AIM program combined a variety of communications technologies, including voice and videoconferencing, intended to provide learning to an off-campus population.

Fast-forward 40 years, and the successor to Wedemeyer's vision is still arguably the vanguard of remote education at what is now known as the University of Wisconsin-Extension (UWEX) program. This past summer, a systems installation was completed in one of 10 dedicated distance-learning (DL) classrooms at the university's Pyle Center, which has been the home to the distance-learning program since 1998. This multimedia classroom will act as the pilot test bed for the entire program's transition to high definition. This classroom had a high-definition makeover that included replacing a dual 4:3-aspect-ratio rear-projection video system with dual 16:9 rear screens, upgrading to HD and increasing the number of cameras in the room, and replacing two CRT video-confidence monitors with three LCD flatscreens that allow presenters to see their outgoing video and content streams while maintaining eye contact with their remote audience. What transpires in this upgraded classroom over the next several months will be used as a template for the systems redesign of the other nine DL classrooms, as well as 18 other classrooms that are connected to the building's master control room via portable videoconference cameras and monitors.

Jamie Diana Poindexter, technical operations manager for the Pyle Center, says the upgrade was prompted by a number of factors, not the least of which was the fact that analog broadcasting will cease next February.

“It really put the need to update the technology into context,” she says.

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