Making the Grade: Gwinnett’s cable TV system enhances distance learning

Information about Broadcast and Distance Learning in Gwinnett:

One of the ways technology has reshaped learning for the better is by connecting students and teachers in a way that wasn’t possible in the days before the internet. Students in the Gwinnett system tap into that connection in a myriad of ways. The Broadcast and Distance Learning team, a group whose responsibilities run the gamut from making sure audio-visual equipment works to getting shows on the district’s cable channel, GCPS-TV, helps orchestrate those ways.

They’re also the group that makes distance learning a reality. Students in a Gwinnett classroom can take a calculus class from the Georgia Tech professor standing in Midtown Atlanta or youngsters in Lilburn can interact with students their own age in Scotland. Distance learning also encompasses educational cable programs that draw adults and children alike who want to learn English or find out about great books to read.

Though they may work behind the scenes, their efforts don’t go unnoticed. In the last year, the team won three Emmys for shows created about teachers and students in the district.

“The awards were for good news stories we produced about ourselves,” said Greg LaHatte, Gwinnett’s director of broadcast and distance learning. “We also have videos specific to the district’s needs, and we oversee video conferencing and distance learning.”

Currently, 12 high schools have students taking that remote calculus class with a Georgia Tech professor. “It’s a robust set up that also allows schools to do back-and-forth live conferencing among themselves, as well as out in the world,” said LaHatte. “It’s a two-way feed, so for students in the Tech class, it’s the modern day version of dual enrollment.”

Distance learning also happens within the district when a student requests a course that isn’t offered at the home school.

“When we have students who want a class we don’t offer, or if we don’t have the talent within the school to adequately teach that subject, we turn to distance learning,” said Jonathan Patterson, the associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional support. “It’s so important to have those options available. You don’t want to tell a student, ‘No, you can’t take that class.’ This is a means to offering it.”

Math courses utilize distance learning that most use, said Patterson. “We don’t have the Calculus II teachers we need, and the number of students wouldn’t warrant us having a teacher who just teaches that course. Distance learning creates a system where we’re able to have that for our students.”

On the cable channel, LaHatte said one the most popular programs is “English: Yes I can!” The three-part series of videos takes ESL learners through the basics and repeats cyclically, so viewers can watch repeatedly. “Love That Book,” hosted by local storyteller Carmen Deedy, has won four Emmys for its engaging introduction to the world of reading.

“Other school districts can have cable access channels, but we’re probably more robust than most,” said LaHatte. “Since we went on the air in 2001, we’ve really grown our capabilities.”