KINGSPORT — Students and other users of the Kingsport Center for Higher Education will be able to take advantage of distance learning opportunities, thanks in part to a $50,000 grant from AT&T.
A new “smart classroom” funded by the grant was showcased Thursday morning during a news conference and ribbon cutting. Officials showed how four television-type monitors, a projection screen, computer and computer screen, cameras, microphones, speakers and other equipment join to form a 21st century learning experience.
Dan Burgess of Multi-Media Masters Inc. demonstrated the capabilities of the system designed to enhance learning.
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips said he first saw a smart classroom while at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville about two years ago, watching a class that originated at UT Martin.
“It’s almost like you’re there. You talk back and forth and see each other,” Phillips said.
“We’re on the beginning of a lot of new technology,” Phillips said. “Students today are driven by technology. We’re not going to get the students without the technology.”
The AT&T-funded smart classroom is one of two tiered classrooms in the center with smart room technology.
Two other regular classrooms also are dubbed smart classrooms, and most all classrooms have some aspect of advanced video and audio communications.
“This is the room I cleaned and vacuumed before the grand opening,” recalled Lana Hamilton, vice president of student affairs at Northeast State Community College. Hamilton spoke for President Janice Gilliam, who was out of state because of a family illness.
Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey said the center shows “how local government can get involved in bringing universities together in one location.”
State Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, said Kingsport’s Academic Village should be replicated.
“Partnerships are the way to go in the future,” Faulk said.
State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said the KCHE and the overall Academic Village show how government, academia, industry and people can come together.
“None of these buildings would have happened if the citizens of Kingsport didn’t want them to happen,” Phillips said of the Academic Village, which all told has about 1,700 students downtown this fall, with a goal to reach 3,000.
Phillips said many are to thank for the center, from AT&T and others who supported it, including Kingsport Times-News Publisher Keith Wilson and Northeast State President Emeritus Bill “Cooter” Locke, who retired earlier this year.
“We can, without fear, call him Cooter,” Phillips quipped of Locke’s nickname that dates back to his basketball days at Dobyns-Bennett High School. “Cooter, we sincerely appreciate everything you’ve done.”
Gregg Morton, president of AT&T Tennessee, said officials of the communications business were impressed by the plans for the KCHE 18 months ago when they offered the grant.
Kingsport built and owns the 54,000-square-foot KCHE, while Northeast State serves as the operating manager and provides the first two years of education for those on track to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Gilliam in a news release said the classroom “will help provide the flexibility necessary for both traditional and non-traditional students to obtain the course offerings they need to graduate in a timely manner.”
Alan Hill, AT&T regional director of external affairs, said investing in the smart classroom makes solid business sense for a company like AT&T, which provides wired and wireless communications and is engaged in connecting folks wherever they may be.