COOPERATIVE LEARNING

September 25, 2002 12:00 am
IMBLER-NORTH POWDER CONNECTION: Imbler High School Spanish I students can talk to their classmates at Powder Valley High School via an interactive television system. The Powder Valley High School students in the Spanish I class are shown on the television screen.  The Imbler High School students shown are, from left, Holli Sturtevant, Ross Kemp, Jason Beck and Alan O'Donald. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
IMBLER-NORTH POWDER CONNECTION: Imbler High School Spanish I students can talk to their classmates at Powder Valley High School via an interactive television system. The Powder Valley High School students in the Spanish I class are shown on the television screen. The Imbler High School students shown are, from left, Holli Sturtevant, Ross Kemp, Jason Beck and Alan O'Donald. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

IMBLER — Imbler High School sophomore Alan O'Donald has 21 new classmates he will never pass in the hallway or see in the cafeteria.

They are students in his Spanish I class. The class at Imbler High is filled not with phantoms but pupils from Powder Valley High. They are taking the class via the V-TEL interactive digital video communication system, which uses Internet communication lines. Through it Imbler Spanish teacher Barbara Montfort instructs students in the two communities simultaneously.

Students see and talk to each other via the interactive television system. However, most have never met each other.

O'Donald enjoys the presence of the new Powder Valley students.

"I like going to school with different kids and new faces,'' he said.

Students occasionally see their own images on a television screen during class.

"It is pretty cool; it is not everyday that you get to see yourself on TV,'' O'Donald said.

A Spanish I and a Spanish II class are taught in Imbler four days a week via the system. Eight Powder Valley students take the Spanish II class. Twenty Imbler students are in Montfort's Spanish I and II interactive television classes.

The V-TEL system is one that many schools in Oregon are connected with but few in this region use. Without the system it is possible that PVHS students would not study Spanish this fall. Their program was in jeopardy after their Spanish teacher resigned this summer.

Budget problems would have made it difficult for the North Powder School District to hire a new Spanish teacher, said Viki Turner.

Turner and Sandy Colton, a seventh-grade teacher, are facilitators for the Spanish classes.

The system is running much more smoothly than it did at the start of school, when there were several technical glitches.

"It was a little rocky at first,'' Turner said. "It has improved significantly.''

She noted that the video images are now much sharper than they were earlier.

Turner said that while not perfect, the system is much better than a satellite system the school district had earlier. In that system the students had to use a telephone to ask questions of their teacher.

The V-TEL system allows teachers and students to communicate almost instantly.

Turner credits Montfort with doing a good job of making the classes work.

"The kids like her. She will go the extra mile to help,'' Turner said.

Montfort said that the Powder Valley students face challenges they would not encounter in a regular classroom but are doing exceptionally well.

"Sometimes they become frustrated but I am pleased with how the North Powder students are doing. They are keeping up with the tests and assignments,'' Montfort said.

She credits much of the students' success to the help they are receiving from their facilitators.

Powder Valley students appreciate the opportunity that the system gives them to learn Spanish but several say they would prefer a regular classroom setting.

"I like one-on-one instruction better,'' said Deven Thompson, a PVHS junior

O'Donald, the IHS sophomore, said instruction moves more slowly than in a regular class but noted that this has an upside.

"Because things are slower, it is easier to remember what you learned,'' O'Donald said.

Imbler School Superinten-dent Larry Glaze said that getting the system perfected now will make it easier for Imbler and Powder Valley high schools to trade other classes in the future.

Glaze said down the line Imbler may have a need that the North Powder School District could fill by sharing a class with it through V-TEL.

"This is definitely an opportunity to share resources,'' Glaze said.

Montfort met with the Powder Valley students in her classes in person earlier. She said that this has made it easier for her to communicate with them via interactive television.

Although most of the Imbler and North Powder students have never met, they might later on, reinforcing a connection first made via cyberspace.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they became friends,'' Turner said.