Clinton High webcasting classes

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Published: December 1,2010

CLINTON — A student is home for several weeks, sidelined by a car wreck.

His classmate is at an out-of-state band competition and will miss a few school days.

At Clinton High School, they can keep up with their lessons in a more tech-savvy way than borrowing notes or asking a friend to explain.

The school has invested in a new classroom camera system in which teens can watch live streaming of the day’s lesson or view an archived copy later.

They won’t see their friends in action, though; the camera focuses only on the teacher.

“It’s an incredible tool,” said Advanced Placement calculus teacher Ann Kyzar said of the technology marketed by Jackson-based Aterium Solutions.

“I’m excited for our Attache (show choir) kids and spring sports kids who have to miss a lot. This can really make a difference.”

Clinton a few weeks ago became the state’s second school district to use the system. Carroll County was the first; cameras there began rolling in August.

Here’s how the password-protected system works:

Teachers set the cameras to automatically record at certain times, so that specific class periods can be recorded. Teachers wear a microphone.

They can record a separate segment – test prep or a quiz review, for instance. Teachers can add attachments to videos posted online so that students can access lesson plans, worksheets or class work while watching the video.

Clinton High Principal Eddie Peasant at first envisioned the cameras as a way for students at the district’s Alternative School to keep up with their teen peers.

“But as we began to look at the quality of the product, we began to brainstorm about all the ways we could use it,” he said.

So far, cameras are used by eight teacher volunteers, including JoAnne Cunningham’s English class; DeSean Dyson’s U.S. history/government class; Spanish classes of Brad Freeny and Janet Williams; chemistry classes of Richard West and Joseph Kazery; Kazery’s Biology 2 class; Jacob Kirchner’s geometry class; and calculus, advanced algebra and trig classes of Ann Kyzar.

Those classrooms alone have about 1,000 of the school’s 1,500 students.

The equipment and software at Clinton High normally costs more than $150,000, but it cost less than $50,000 as part of a pilot program with Aterium. The funds came from the district’s budget.

Freeny said students have embraced the system.

“If a student didn’t quite get the information in class that day, they can go back and access it,” he said. “You can see the light bulbs click in their heads. They see that this can benefit them.”

Some students initially thought the cameras would catch them misbehaving, Freeny said. “I’ve had students since then say they wish all the teachers in school had this.”

When he was recently out for doctor’s appointments, Freeny said, “I recorded myself teaching part of the lesson. I downloaded it and burned it to a DVD, and I had the substitute play it for my students when I was gone.

“Students were still able to feel the teacher’s presence and to continue their instruction, at least to a certain extent.”

Time will tell how effective the cameras are in 10 Carroll County middle and high school classrooms, but Superintendent Billy Joe Ferguson is encouraged.

“It gives us more opportunities to reach those who might fall through the cracks,” he said of his 925-student district. “It makes the kids have more confidence.”

His district paid for the technology with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

He’s looking at recording state testing reviews for kids to take home and has used the system to help train new teachers.

“And if a child has to go to in-school suspension, they can be on the same page as the other kids when they get back. This can help in dropout prevention,” Ferguson said.

Clinton High junior Andrew Weiss, 16, is taking West’s Advanced Placement chemistry class. He’s glad to have the option of watching the lectures online.

“Coach West’s class is so intense that if I miss anything, I need to get the lesson or I’ll be behind everyone else,” he said.

He doesn’t think it’s invasive to students or teachers.

Junior Elyssa Lambert, 17, recently missed class to attend a band competition in Indianapolis. She wishes she could have used the camera system.

“None of my teachers have it, even though I’m in AP English and AP history,” Lambert said. “I probably would only use it in AP classes.”

Accessing the video takes some getting used to, though. Junior Sam Dent, 16, tried to view some missed classes after the band trip and had problems with the system’s address and with his user name not working.

“I like the fact that I can actually see the lesson, rather than trying to figure it out from somebody’s notes,” he said.

Students can tailor the videos to their needs, Kyzar said. “If you didn’t get something, or got confused, you can fast forward to the moment that you want to see.”

Does Kyzar worry about how her hair looks on video? Her clothes? “I just try not to think about it,” she said.

As funding allows, Peasant hopes to expand to perhaps eight more classrooms.

“I’m sure there are teachers who are regretting not volunteering” to be one of the initial eight, he said.

Aterium has “been working on this for nearly two years to come up with a simple, easy, cost-effective way to stream classes live over the Internet,” said company vice president Jim Walker.

Teachers at Clinton High “are really taking this to another level,” he said.

“We don’t feel like we’ve even scratched the surface yet. We don’t know all the uses the schools have for this technology.”

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