Cable Center Tests Distance Learning


In what may be a sign of things to come, a class of 27 University of Denver students this past semester was able to interact with a professor 1,700 miles away — in C-SPAN's Washington studios.

Professor John Splaine used C-SPAN archival footage to facilitate discussions in the course "How Television Affects the Presidency."

The college students were the first participants in The Cable Center's distance-learning program, which aims to test how readily students can adapt to new technologies in the classroom.

"It took a class or two to get used to," Denver senior Michael Marsiglia said of the distance-learning aspects of the course. But after a while, it became second nature to talk to the professor through the television, added the finance major, who plans to go law school.

"We're in the very early phase of this," said C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb. "We're experimenting. We don't have any idea in the long run what will happen."

Some electronic learning doesn't work well because of the jerkiness of some Internet connections, Lamb said. But the Cable Center's broadband technology is largely seamless to students.

"We're learning that students like it better than we thought they would," Lamb said. "There's been almost perfect attendance."

The Cable Center wants to use the cable industry's broadband technology to affect critical thinking, president and CEO Jim O'Brien said. For example, students are asked to consider how different TV camera shots can influence the outcome of a presidential election.

"I want the students to have an experience at their age that I didn't have, to open up the world of television and politics as it really is," Lamb said.

In addition to the C-SPAN archives, the students were treated to guest appearances — either in-person in Denver, or via broadband from Washington — from such personalities as Lamb, former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry and ABC News correspondent Ann Compton.

Political-science major Martha Dibella said Splaine was so charismatic that even though he was 1,700 miles away, he had better rapport with his students than most professors who sit in the same classroom.

"It's a great program," said Dibella of The Cable Center's distance-learning initiative. "I hope other schools implement this."

The Cable Center might expand the project beyond the university level, O'Brien said. It's also considering collaborations with other programmers, such as The History Channel and Discovery Channel, he said.

The distance-learning technology has already proven useful outside the classroom setting. Last Thursday, Dibella was set to interview for a production job with executives at C-SPAN's Washington Journal
— from Denver, behind the cameras at the Cable Center.

"This certainly came about because of the class," Dibella said.