What do Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton, Bob Dole and Jack Valenti have in common? Ideologically, you wouldn’t call them political bedfellows, but each has been a lively participant in a unique college-level education project created through a collaboration of The Cable Center, C-SPAN, the University of Denver (DU) and cable pioneer Amos Hostetter. DU undergraduates are studying first-hand the American political process, its participants and modern media’s influence through this groundbreaking series of classes. C-SPAN provides access to its programming archives, rich with materials about the political process. C-SPAN also allows me, the network’s political editor, to teach the course and open my Rolodex of the capital’s movers and shakers to secure guests. DU provides the academic administration and students for these long-distance courses in political communications. The Cable Center, on DU’s campus, houses the Robert L. Johnson Distance Learning Center, where cable technology allows the students to interact in real-time with guest lecturers in Washington. Cable pioneer Hostetter has provided the funding for this five-year pilot project designed to push the academic and technical boundaries of distance learning. The syllabus for the semester is posted on the Internet, along with material for the twice-weekly classes. Between classes, I communicate with students via email. Many students who want to meet more formally stay after class and meet with me via the broadband connection. During these first years, the partners have been focusing on getting the details right and making sure the technology truly added to the students’ learning. Enhancements were made, and now students enjoy voice-activated microphones, robotic cameras, studio-quality lighting and other production elements. The second stage of the project took the DU- based course to additional universities. Now, students at New York’s Pace University and George Mason University in Fairfax Country, Va., are full-time participants in the courses. Additionally, students at Purdue University, Northwestern, American University and George Washington University are occasional guests in the courses, and students from the U.S. Naval Academy and Franklin Pierce College in Manchester, N.H., are expected this fall. The geographic mix introduces new levels of discussion to the lectures, which enhances the learning process. Soon, we plan to explore the "after life" of these lectures. That is, with broadband delivery, can a library of guest speakers and curriculum from the course be offered to university-level classes nationally? Are there adult learning opportunities for these classes via the Internet? And, should some sessions be carried on C-SPAN? We are excited about these potential opportunities. Already, highlights of classes are posted and can be viewed at: http://www.cablecenter.org/education/cspan/spring2005.cfm Every quarter, DU students evaluate each course and teacher in an unsigned review form. Reviewing a recent course, student Jeffrey LeFrancois said a class with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was "quite possibly the greatest day ever, because I felt I was actually playing HARDBALL." Students are encouraged to repeat courses since each slate of guests, clips and current events ensures no two courses are ever the same. The large number of returning students demonstrates the power and possibilities of the course. The C-SPAN program is using cable technology and programming to enhance the academic experience. The program also allows the cable industry to demonstrate its commitment to education to the nation’s leading politicians and journalists. The Cable Center has been the catalyst for this unique experiment in distance learning, cementing its role as an incubator of ideas for our collective broadband future. Steve Scully is senior exec producer at C-SPAN and Hostetter Chair at The Cable Center

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