Project DIANE Brings Videoconferencing to Tennessee Schools

Article excerpt

Students in Tennessee have gone on some great field trips in recent years. High school students have gone behind-the-scenes at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to talk with "Miss Saigon" cast members and have visited actor Roger Moore while he was filming in Paris. A group of eighth-graders went to Washington, DC for a 30-minute question and answer session with US Senator Bill Frist. Fourth-level students at Saint Bernard Academy have discussed books, movies and their school days with students at an elementary school in Iceland. And none of these students left their classrooms. All the "field trips" were taken via videoconference through an innovative Tennessee Valley program called Project DIANE.

Project DIANE (Diversified Information and Assistance Network) is a technology-based consortium of educational and community service organizations from across Tennessee. Schools, libraries, community service organizations and business assistance groups are linked to one another in a virtual community setting using PictureTel (Andover, Mass.) videoconferencing equipment. With their videoconferencing systems, members of Project DIANE are able to interactively share resources and information that, because of cost or logistics, may otherwise have been unavailable.

In the six years since its inception, Project DIANE has come a long way from its roots as an economic development initiative funded by a small $150,000 start-up grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority. From eight original videoconferencing sites, membership in Project DIANE has grown to over 80 organizations with a total equipment investment of over $3 million and may grow to include over 100 sites by year's end. Programs have been expanded to include distance learning and tutoring, electronic internships, library reference and research services, workforce training, child development assistance, small business counseling and more.

"What's really special about Project DIANE is that it has grown from the bottom up in a very grassroots way," says founder and director Dr. Stephen Shao. "Schools and community service organizations that want to join the network seek us out, and funding comes from a variety of state, federal and private grants, even the occasional bake sale. Because of our community-based structure, there's no single agency mandating Project DIANE's programs and policies -- they're developed by a committee of people working in the trenches of the classroom, family service center or business assistance agency."

In developing Project DIANE, Dr. Shao knew he would need modular, customizable and upgradable equipment, which was a primary factor in his decision to use PictureTel videoconferencing systems.

As the market leader, PictureTel has helped develop videoconferencing industry standards, ensuring that all its products can work together as well as with systems from other vendors. As visual collaboration technologies have evolved over the years, Dr. Shao has upgraded his systems, but none of his original 1992 PictureTel equipment has become obsolete. …