This Spring, a new style of teaching has come to Rhinelander, in the form of a “telepresence classroom” at Nicolet College.
Looking like something straight off the starship Enterprise, the technologically advanced method is designed to increase the college’s capacity to fulfill degrees.
“On many days, we’ll be offering classes eight to 12 hours a day over telepresence,” said Chuck Komp, dean of business and instructional effectiveness.
The way it works is by putting three giant monitors at the front of the classroom, which show life-size images of participants on multiple campuses.
The idea is to create the illusion that students in multiple locations are physically sitting in a single classroom together.
Right now there are three locations that can be tied together—one in Rhinelander, and smaller classrooms in Minocqua and Tomahawk. Students in Rhinelander have the teacher in the classroom with them, but the whole process is designed to give the students in Minocqua and Tomahawk the exact same experience; without driving to Rhinelander.
“The experience is amazing,” Komp said. “You actually get the illusion that they are in the room with you. It’s that realistic.
Cisco, the company that installed the product, had extremely precise specifications; from the position of the cameras, the size of the screens—even the color of the walls.
David Phillips, a business management and marketing instructor at Nicolet, said the technology was never really developed as an educational tool, but has been retrofitted by several technical colleges in Wisconsin to do just that.
Originally, it was designed for busineess, giving people the ability to work on projects remotely, communicating sometimes over continents. Nicolet will be using the tech on a slightly smaller scale, but they believe it will be just as effective in reaching their goals.
“This will definitely cut down on travel time for many students and make it much more convenient for them to earn a college education,” Komp said.
“Our district is so large, that what we do in business management and marketing is try and access as many of those students that don’t have the physical ability to come here,” Phillips said. “Telepresence, by the very nature of its name, is really meant to give the students a first-hand, face-to-face look—as if you were in a real meeting room with these individuals.”
Nicolet was able to provide this service for students thanks to a $415,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. They are now one of only four schools who offer telepresence learning, according to Phillips.
Several classes will be offered, mostly in the business area, as well as many general education required classes.
“It’s a multitude, and that will be expanded… I went into it a little bit reluctant,” Phillips said. “But now after going through it for a number of weeks, it’s just remarkable.”