Combating rural school closures -- telepresence teaching?

Last week the New York Times published an article entitled "School's Closed. Forever." (NYT June 13 2018). The article chronicled the closure of the only elementary school in Arena Wisconsin, threatening the actual survival of this small town: 

"The same scene is playing out across rural America. Officials in aging communities with stretched budgets are closing small schools and busing children to larger towns. People worry about losing not just their schools but their town’s future — that the closing will prompt the remaining residents and businesses to drift away and leave the place a ghost town."

The article citied the recent similar news about Vermont school closures. And, as the administrator for the Portage WI school district added, "You can’t have four teachers for 40 kids”.  

Yet, perhaps gigabit technology can offer some response to this challenge.  

High quality, low latency connectivity can provide the sense of "telepresence" --  the ability to seamlessly engage in remote locations.  Using a particular approach called LOLA for example, teachers can co-teach classes, students can interactive, and students can even create together when making music, learning dance, or creating art.  

There are potential economic savings for school districts if they have the ability to share teaching staff, bring in teachers or resources from larger districts, or combine geographically distributed students in a common virtual setting.  

If you have practical ideas on how this might be further developed, the 2018 Reverse Pitch competition team would like to hear them.  A specific idea, that can be advanced into a proof of concept (even using off the shelf equipment), could be eligible for an idea grant ($2,000 - June 29) or final grant ($10,000 in October).   

We'd love to have your ideas on how to combat this challenge facility Vermont and similar communities!

Dennis Moynihan


Launch Event sets out great "reverse pitch" ideas for developers

We were thrilled to be joined by a good group of Vermont developers, educators, and stakeholders at our May 4th Reverse Pitch "Launch Event" (graciously hosted at the UVM Larner College of Medicine).     If you couldn't attend in person, I'd like to share just a few highlights of some of our presenters.  The full raw video of the presentations is available at  this youtube link, and the individual sessions will be posted shortly.  

In his keynote, Miki Yarkoni, Director of Cloud Partner Enablement at Microsoft, spoke of the opportunities for education provided by emerging Cloud, AI, and IoT technologies.  He also showed Microsoft's remarkable work using their HoloLens augmented reality technology to teach anatomy in a completely immersive way.  

Continuing this theme, Ann DeMarle, Director of the Emergent Media Center at Champlain College, showed how the EMC has broken new ground in augmented and virtual reality, and how these technologies can expand our experiences in countless ways. 

We were next joined by Kieran Killeen, Associate Dean for Innovation and Technology and Associate Professor for Educational Leadership and Studies at UVM.  Kieran provided a completely different perspective,  explaining that perhaps the most impactful thing we can do to help education delivery is to support our teachers.  As Kieran noted, "teachers are the most important and consequential variable that contributes to the advancement of children".   Technical solutions that can help empower, train, and support our teachers can have a dramatic impact on the quality of the education we provide.

John Downes, Director for the UVM Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, summed up the opportunity by noting that "We need apps that better serve the confluence of student engagement, project learning, self direction, and social learning".   He noted that technologies such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality have great potential, but haven't yet seen much penetration in the classroom.   

Lea Ann Smith, STEM Academy Leader at Essex High School, presented a series of practical examples of innovations the STEM students could use today.  For example, in her mobile app development class, she would welcome technology that could virtually bring expert developers into the room with the students. Such an "online learning space" would provide expert "hands on" help for students developing a range of coding skills.  Also, it would be powerful to give students the opportunity to virtually participate in projects and activities, located anywhere.  Both concepts are great examples of how gigabit digital solutions can break down geographic barriers for educators, students, and community members engaging with both. 

Our final speaker was Scott Turnbull, Technical Leader for US Ignite.  He focused on how gigabit internet technology can transform the learning experience for students and teachers.  With low latency, high security,  and powerful capacity, gigabit networks let individuals collaborate remotely as if they were in the same room.  Students can access remote learning resources (as demonstrated with the US Ignite 4k microscope initiative), or participate in real-time interactions such as individuals across the country co-creating music.  

Taken together, it's clear that high-bandwidth digital technology can transform the learning experience for students and teachers.    We're hoping developers, innovators, and educators will respond to this opportunity, working individually and in teams, to create new solutions for Vermont and beyond.   Please follow the materials on this site (, and please jump in!