Three school districts share their teacher through ITV technology

These 12 Caledonia students listen to class instructor Nancy Gulbranson in Spring Grove, while Fillmore Central students located in Harmony take part in the class as well. Photo by Clay Schuldt

By Clay Schuldt
Special for the Argus

Spring Grove Principal Nancy Gulbranson is teaching a childhood development class for Caledonia, Spring Grove and Fillmore Central students all at the same time. How can Gulbranson teach a class in Spring Grove, Caledonia and Harmony, while serving as the principal in Spring Grove?  Gulbranson teaches the class via ITV technology.

ITV technology is a digital video media that allows people to communicate with each other through television screens. While Gulbranson is in a Spring Grove classroom, her students are also in Caledonia and Harmony at Fillmore Central High School.

In the Caledonia classroom the students are given instructions by Gulbranson. They also see and hear the students in the other two classrooms as well.  Over the monitor Gulbranson is able to deliver a lecture on the nature versus nurture to prepare her students in three separate classes for an upcoming test.  In the Caledonia classroom,  supervisor Barb Rollins, hands out study guides.

Gulbranson began teaching ITV classes last year. However it was not until this year that Gulbranson was able to offer an ITV class to Caledonia students.

The childhood development class is only the second ITV class ever taught in the Caledonia School District, the first being an interior design class also taught by Gulbranson.

There are 22 students in the Spring Grove classroom, 14 students in Caledonia, and three students at Fillmore Central for a grand total of 39 students. Gulbranson tries to make it to each district in person at least once a week. Her students are eager to know when she will make a face to face visit to the school.

The ITV program started a few years ago when several of the local school districts received a Rural Development grant written through South East Services with the instruction to teach ITV classes.

“People didn’t jump on it right away,” Gulbranson admitted. Part of the problem was scheduling. In order to run an ITV class all schools involved must have roughly the same daily and semester schedules. The final five minutes of the childhood development class is used for class work as all three schools have different start and ending times for a period.

The other issue with the ITV class was some teachers were reluctant to teach through the TV.  The Spring Grove District asked for volunteers and Gulbranson was brave enough to give it a try. It took a little time to get use to the different style of teaching, but Gulbranson has learned to adapt.

“It’s tough being a talking head all the time.  You need to be animated,” Gulbranson explained.

Since she is not in the room with all the students it is necessary to keep their attention. Presentation is much more vital in an ITV class. Another trick Gulbranson has learned is to try to tap into the local community by bringing in speakers from the participating communities. Also, it is important to plan for the worst. Gulbranson explained how the internet had gone down at Fillmore Central once and a phone conference had to be setup for those students to take part in the class. “You need to think on your feet.”

As for the students in the class, most see it as a novelty at first, however many are nervous about being on camera themselves.

Few of the students in the Caledonia classroom were aware it was an ITV class before signing up for the course, choosing to take the elective for the chance to learn about raising a child.  “If we didn’t’ have this technology these students would be in a different class,” said Gulbranson.

This child development class had not been offered in Caledonia for two years and Fillmore Central would likely not keep a class with only three students. It’s a financial benefit for the districts as well, because the districts do not need to hire a new teacher for the course.

While Gulbranson’s expertise is in home economics, she sees potential in different areas, such as teaching advanced courses in calculus or chemistry.

In the future students who needed a specific course to get into college would not have to worry about it not being offered in their district.  Gulbranson dreams of one day using the ITV technology to teach a Foods and Nutrition class.  “I’d be like Rachel Ray,” she joked.

Currently the Caledonia District is working to develop a class to offer to other districts. Until then Gulbranson will continue to educate online and is happy to do it, saying “I enjoy working with the Caledonia kids.”