Half of the 48 school districts in Wyoming have fewer than 300 students. But they’re linked together, thanks to the state’s investment in a video and high-speed Internet connection that ties schools to the state university and community colleges, where students have access to classes that might not be available in their rural areas.
The Wyoming Equality Network, or WEN, the statewide high-speed videoconferencing and data system and the state’s signature program in educational technology, has much to offer students, says Jim McBride, the distance education administrator for the Wyoming Department of Education.
State funding for the project for the 2004-06 biennium is $13.9 million, about $500,000 more than in the previous two-year period. The money primarily pays for maintenance of the network.
The state is challenged, though, with persuading schools to take full advantage of the available technology, McBride says. For instance, during the 2003-04 school year, two online Advanced Placement courses had no students enrolled. About 3,500 hours of instruction are provided monthly through WEN, but there’s capacity for much more, McBride says.
He says the education department plans to survey districts to find out what would make them more likely to use the offerings.
The department is also continuing to promote and expand the Wyoming Education Gateway, a Web-based service that provides online lesson plans and other educational resources for students, teachers, and parents.
In addition, during the 2005-06 school year, local schools will have the choice of administering state assessments by computer or by the traditional pencil-and-paper approach.
McBride says the state is moving toward computer-based assessments for ease of data collection and analysis.