Stockton site of cutting edge education program

The Absecon Galloway Current Newspaper, January 9, 2003

ETTC leads educators and their students into the future

By BARRY BERNSTEIN
Staff Writer

POMONA - It has desks, seats, and sometimes even some students; it seems to be your typical classroom. Labeled the Southern Regional Educational Technology Training Center, this futuristic classroom is not so ordinary. In fact, it is at the cutting edge of technology - a classroom at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey that is used by more than 66,300 students and 5,000 teachers in grades K-12 in Atlantic City, Cape May, Cumberland, Monmouth and Ocean counties.

Dina Abbamondi, ETTC assistant director, says the program gives students and their teachers the ability to learn new concepts that may be unavailable to them unless they travel somewhere outside the confines of their school. For example, if a teacher wants his or her students to learn a special concept in math, learn more about finding a college after high school or hear from someone with experience in the local casino industry, they can access an ETTC workshop for help.

The workshops typically include a multimedia presentation, a brief lecture/discussion, a question and answer period and a follow-up interactive quiz while at the same time following the New Jersey Core Curriculum Standards.

"The goal is to offer enrichment activities for grades K-12 and allow them access to faculty members from different fields," Abbamondi said. "We are trying to expose students to different subject areas."

The workshops themselves are 45 minutes long and are scheduled to match general school periods. The cost of each session is $100 and schools must be equipped with the necessary technology such as cameras and video monitors.

Stockton's center gives the impression of an ultramodern classroom. It features two cameras for live taping of the facilitator of a particular class and any students who may be participating at the center, along with five televisions, and an array of videoconferencing technology that allows students to interact from virtually anywhere.

According to Abbamondi, the ETTC center at Stockton is more elaborate than many schools in the area really need in order to have access to the program, mentioning that for $400 and a sufficient Internet connection, a school can have adequate technology.

Abbamondi said there are many schools in the area that currently have access to the technology, noting that the demand gets stronger each year.
Plus, videoconferencing is becoming more and more useful in the servicing of homebound students, teachers, meetings, and creating new relationships with schools around the world, according to Abbamondi.

Still, with all the hype about this relatively new way of learning, Abbamondi said there are educators who are still skeptical about its practicality in the classroom.

"Many might believe it may be impersonal," she noted, adding that in order to make a workshop a success, the teacher must not lecture, but rather engage the students in active participation.
"This is not meant to be a full-fledged class. This is a virtual trip that a class can make. The instructor should still be at the other end acting as a facilitator."

Furthermore, she mentioned the importance of having regular-sized classes, saying that too large a class can lead to less interaction for some students.

A majority of the time when students are exposed to the technology, Abbamondi said they become very excited and engaged in the process. It is her hope that more and more faculty members, like those at Stockton, will use the technology to convey their scholarly aptitude to students elsewhere.
"My goal is to continue evolving it to new faculty. I want this to be a model for other organizations where we can offer quality training without leaving our site."

Anu Vendatham, ETTC director, believes the program is already doing such, allowing Stockton faculty members to reach out to younger students.

"What I love about this is that there are a lot of Stockton faculty that get to connect directly with children," Vendatham said. "A lot of faculty are teaching and getting to know the schools. (They are teaching) things that schools can't necessarily teach on their own."

It would appear that the ETTC is a steadily progressing service, gaining in popularity among educators statewide. Since its inception roughly five years ago, it has been awarded several grants including those from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New Jersey State Systemic Initiative and the New Jersey Department of Education. Just this past year, the ETTC received a $50,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation to provide virtual visits to schools throughout New Jersey. For more information on the ETTC, visit their website at www.ettc.net.