Utah State University is offering a class this fall that students in Utah, Washington, Pennsylvania and dozens of other states can take for credit all at the same time.
A newly installed 12.5-foot wide satellite dish at USU gives new meaning to the term "distance education." The world may be getting smaller, but USU is getting larger, thanks to an agriculture satellite network linking the university with at least 33 other land grant universities and their agricultural programs across the country.USU is one of six institutions that received this uplink capability as part of a matching grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Public Telecommunications Facilities Program.
"This will have a significant impact for the university and the state of Utah," said Doyle Matthews, dean of USU's College of Agriculture.
The cooperative learning system falls under the umbrella of the Agricultural Satellite Corp. (AGSAT), organized to develop an extensive national satellite network that will allow for the sharing of credit courses among agricultural colleges, research and the development and allocation of Cooperative Extension programs, said Roger McEvoy, USU Extension communication specialist.
He said the new communication system will be available to all Utah residents and will provide classes and information programs ranging from houseplant care to heart disease prevention. They will be taught by experts from around the country.
The quarter-million-dollar rotating dish gives USU the first educational non-commercial uplink ability in the state. It means students in learning centers around the state and nation can take credit courses without having to leave their communities.
Six counties in Utah will be equipped with special satellite downlinking dishes to allow them, beginning this fall, to receive the USU transmissions. They include Washington, Sanpete, San Juan, Sevier, Millard and Utah counties.
These counties will be able to tap in on two AGSAT classes originating from USU beginning this autumn. The fall quarter class focuses on animal science. During winter quarter, USU will offer a class on irrigation engineering.
McEvoy said he expects at least 200 students from across the United States to enroll in the USU satellite course. Because the course will have full audio hookup, students taking the course in Pennsylvania, and in Richfield, Utah, will be able to communicate directly with the USU instructor anytime during the broadcast lecture as in a normal classroom setting.
This satellite network is significant, according to McEvoy, because it will allow students and teachers at the university to not only transmit, but tap in on a extensive reservoir of resources from top universities around the country. This wellspring of information will be made available to residents throughout the state.
"To the student, particularly those interested in agriculture, the width and breadth of their learning is no longer limited to the 43 professors at the college of agriculture here," he said. "But now they have exposure to any and all of the best professors around."
McEvoy said the satellite system will allow the university to concentrate more on its own strengths, instead of "trying to be everything to all."