In their 1989 landmark decision, Rose vs. Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Supreme Court declared their state's public education system unconstitutional, citing gross inequities in educational access as a major reason for its ruling. The problems, which are shared by rural school districts throughout the United States, are related to three areas: a lack of adequate funding, inequitable distribution of funds, and a shortage of qualified teachers in critical subject areas. Kentucky Educational Television's (KET) Star Channels, an educational network created in 1968, was revamped and supplemented to create an innovative, interactive, real-time learning gateway that addresses these problems and in some ways improves on the traditional classroom experience.
Through the use of satellite technology, telephones, computers, specially designed keypads, and interactive software, students throughout Kentucky and 20 neighboring states receive exposure to classes and course work that would otherwise be unavailable to them. The teacher, broadcasting from a television studio, instructs an audience of more than 500 students across the region.
The teacher may quiz the "class" and receive immediate replies from the keypad technology, broken down into individual and statistically organized results. A local administrator, often a teacher too, has the power to monitor the responses for both participation and performance. This creates an atmosphere where the student can participate in the lecture and avoid the embarrassment of answering incorrectly out loud. Alternatively, if the student has a question he or she may enter it on the keypad, and the teacher can respond for the benefit of the whole class, in real time.
Another innovation in the program is the use of graduate students at the University of Kentucky to tutor the students before and after each class, providing the students with valuable one-on-one attention and exposing the tutors to more opportunities for teaching experience. Papers and assignments are submitted by fax or mail--and KET is actively attempting to acquire a fax machine for all the classrooms, showing a willingness to adapt the program to the ongoing growth of technological capability.
The program is affordable and effective. Each course hour cost an average of $3.51 per student in 1990 and the teachers involved say that their KET students are actually often more involved and ambitious than the traditional student. Many of the students from this program are now pursuing advanced degrees in the subjects they first experienced with KET.
From its creation, one of KET's goals has been transferability. All hardware involved in the program is readily available throughout the United States--the keypads are similar to those used by the private sector for interactive trivia games in bars. Some audiences that KET recognizes as potential beneficiaries of the system are: community colleges, vocational schools, libraries, penal institutions, and state parks. As an educational system that, by design, is blind to geographical, political, and economic boundaries, replication of the KET system in the future will lend equality the accessibility of quality instruction to groups and individuals across great geographic distances.