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Minnesota school district uses telepresence to offer low-demand subjects

August 31, 2012 | David S. Maldow, Esq.

[Image: Anoka-Hennepin school district technical support staffers interact from Andover High School with teachers at Blaine High School on the large wall monitors in a telepresence technology presentation Aug. 23, 2012. (Pioneer Press: John Doman)]

Anoka-Hennepin 'telepresence' allows low-demand subjects to be offered

By Sarah Horner
[email protected]

A handful of classrooms in Anoka-Hennepin high schools might appear equipped for surveillance rather than teaching to students returning from summer vacation next week.

Six giant flat-screens span the space where a podium might otherwise be, and long, semi-circular tables outfitted with built-in microphones stand in place of traditional desks. The rest of the space is empty, devoid of even a single poster on the walls.

They are Anoka-Hennepin's new "telepresence" classrooms, spaces designed to overcome the limits posed by location and resources within districts.

"It's exciting," said Jeff McGonigal, the associate superintendent of high schools. "This gives us all kinds of new opportunities in education."

The district's $1 million investment -- $350,000 was also paid by software developer and manufacturer Cisco Systems Inc. -- allows teachers and students inside a telepresence room to connect simultaneously with those in any or all of the other four now stationed at each of the district's high schools.

The connectivity is allowing the district to offer low-enrollment classes it may have been forced to cut in the past, such as advanced German and French classes.

"Oftentimes you have four students at one school sign up for a class and maybe eight at another and seven at another. ... None of those numbers are enough to justify a section on their own but brought together in a tele-presence room we're able to offer it," McGonigal said.

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