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Experimental Teaching Brings Technology Expertise
to Native Americans

Date: April 24, 2002
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photo By: Colleen Kelley
Archive: Campus News

Each Tuesday and Thursday, no matter where he is, Richard Beck teaches classes in remote sensing and satellite imagery to Native Americans attending a community college in Leech Lake, Minn. Sometimes he's in his office at UC's Braunstein Hall when he teaches it, sometimes he's not.

Richard Beck

A high-end web-camera and an Internet connection bring him and his students together for their 90-minute classes and 90-minute labs. NASA funding makes the course possible.

"This is bleeding-edge technology," says Beck, adjunct assistant professor of geography in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. He adds that his distance education class would never have been possible without hard work from Tom Ridgway in UCit and Teresa Scott, Dave Pleva and Mike Baldizzi at the NASA Glenn Center in Cleveland. The technology allows Beck to observe and communicate with the class on one computer monitor, while displaying the software he is teaching on another. Despite the hundreds of miles separating him from the students, he can control the remote classroom's computers and move the cursor on a student's monitor, if needed.

He stresses that the effort is "still research." That means the bugs are still being worked out.

"We still use a phone when the network connection is congested. There are often technical problems, in part due to the Network Address Translation (NAT) technique used by some institutions - including UC - to protect intranets."

"Having said all of that, the two-way Internet over satellite technology is amazing in that it works at all. We are working with NASA and the manufacturers to work out these problems," he said.

Beck's course is filling a gap for tribes who are becoming increasingly savvy in the use of technology for managing crops and other natural resources. In fall 2001, he taught six students in a classroom at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College in Wisconsin using similar distance learning technology. Students received a certificate of completion from NASA. During winter and spring 2002, he has been teaching a class of eight students at Leech Lake Tribal College in Minnesota. Beginning in fall 2002, with the assistance of a $90,000 NASA grant, he will teach remote sensing to students at Barrow High School, the largest Eskimo (Inuit) high school in Alaska.

After all he has learned from Beck's course, Craig A. Campbell Jr., professor of math and science at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College (LCOOCC), says he will eventually teach remote sensing courses himself at LCOOCC. But that's a goal that remains one or two years out.

"It's been a blessing to have Richard in there because I'm learning a lot along the way. It would've taken me a while to be able to incorporate this into a course of my own," he said.

Tribal use of technology varies from reservation to reservation, said Campbell. At LCOOCC there are on-site courses in aerial photography, a computerized multi-layering mapping technology called geographical information systems (GIS) and global positioning. The remote sensing course fills in a gap that will expand the abilities to use technology to manage resources and agriculture.

Related Story: Technology Expert Teams with Native Americans

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