Fiber Makes OLC Classrooms ‘SMART’
Maria Cuny lives in the middle of the Badlands in a remote area on the eastern side of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Her home sits six miles off the main road on gumbo soil.
“I live in a very rural area,” Cuny says. “If I don’t have to, I don’t drive. I don’t like to be on the road.”
Cuny is a junior at Oglala Lakota College, (OLC) majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis in accounting. Her home is 60 miles from Kyle where she takes an accounting class this semester. Thankfully for her, the class meets in a Smart Classroom.
“More often than not, I’ll have to ‘Zoom’ my class from home,” Cuny says, referring to the video conferencing software she uses. “It’s really nice that I can just ‘Zoom’ in anytime I want.”
Kyle Center Upgrades
Golden West recently upgraded the OLC Kyle center connection to fiber optics, which made the Smart Classroom possible. According to OLC Vice President of Business Julie Johnson, the new fiber connection is excellent.
“Having the fiber installed for us has really given us the backbone that we need to be able to compete,” she says. “Fiber has been a game changer for us, especially for our students.”
Strong connections are especially important as OLC strives to continually produce quality students with a decentralized campus comprised of 12 centers, Johnson says. She uses the Smart Classroom in Kyle as an adjunct accounting instructor.
“We can share more,” she says.” We have a whiteboard in the classroom that has a camera and captures everything that’s written on the whiteboard and stores it. We capture video, and I can send it to students who miss. The interaction, the sound, the clarity – it’s all really improved the learning, I think.”
That’s significant because distance education can sometimes lose students. If they can’t hear or see well, Johnson says they may not engage or ask questions.
“With that Smart Classroom, there’s no hiding spot,” she says. “It’s more like you’re all in the same classroom together. It really does enable a lot better engagement with the students.”
Golden West has also upgraded several other areas of the Pine Ridge Reservation, including Pine Ridge village where about two-thirds of Golden West subscribers now receive their telecommunication services over fiber. Fiber uses pulses of light to carry data and offers stronger, more reliable connections that can deliver Golden West’s fastest internet speeds.
FCC Commissioner Visits
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr visited the area in September. Along with Golden West General Manager and CEO Denny Law, Carr toured the Pine Ridge Hospital and the Smart Classroom in Kyle. He also visited a Golden West fiber construction site on the north end of Pine Ridge near Interior.
“Fiber opens a whole host of opportunities for tribal members, local businesses, schools and healthcare providers.” says Law. “Broadband internet, delivered by fiber optics, will help tribal areas in the years to come.”
Johnson understands the importance of the fiber connection on Pine Ridge. She alternates teaching accounting remotely between Kyle and Rapid City some 95 miles away, which doesn’t yet have the same Smart Classroom. But thanks to a technology grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, by next summer, another seven OLC centers will also have functional, fiber-served Smart Classrooms.
“Having the fiber installed for us has really given us the backbone that we need to be able to compete. Fiber has been a game changer for us, especially for our students.”
Julie Johnson, OLC VP of Business
That will make things better for students like Cuny. The internet and phone service to her rural home are also delivered over fiber. As a result, not only can she video conference remotely into her classes, others in her home can also stream video entertainment, news and weather while she participates in class. “I’m looking forward to next semester when most of my classes will be online,” Cuny says.