Tennessee Tech ensures that state's rural communities have access to the latest technology

Tennessee's rural communities don't have to be left behind while its urban areas take advantage of the latest computer and communications technology. Tennessee Technological University's Business Media Center is designed to provide regional businesses and organizations access to state-of-the-art multimedia technology so that they can learn about the technology, use it for themselves and see how it can affect their operations.

The Center will show off some of its skills during the upcoming 21st Century Rural Development Conference April 10-11 at Tennessee Tech. Several hundred business and community leaders from throughout the region are expected to attend this conference, sponsored by the university, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the USDA's Rural Development office. They'll discuss issues such as attracting industry and providing affordable housing, but the focus will be on using technology to provide the access and advantages more readily available in urban areas than rural ones.

"One of our objectives is to work with businesses and organizations that have a need to get involved in videoconferencing" says Kevin Liska, director of the Business Media Center. "We'd like to teach them how to do it, and we'd like to let them use our facilities in a training environment."

Liska says the highlight of the conference will be a demonstration of "telemedicine" April 10. ATS Telephone and Data Systems will set up videoconferencing to link hospitals with Tennessee Tech faculty at the Business Media Center.

The Center's videoconferencing room includes several cameras, monitors and microphones. The hospitals will be provided everything they need to participate on a mobile cart designed by VTEL Corporation complete with monitor, cameras and keyboard. The technology allows the hospital staff to join in discussion with the faculty. It is, by all accounts, the next best thing to being there.

The university's Office of Extended Education is planning to offer a series of telemedicine seminars with faculty members discussing current health care issues with hospitals and clinics. Liska noted that telemedicine might also be used by hospitals to exchange patient information or to enable doctors to consult about cases.

"The videoconferencing system that we have here is the latest. Because it's the latest, it's very user-friendly. And because it's really user-friendly, it takes very little preparation time to use, and it's a powerful tool," says Liska.

The concept is not entirely new -- it's the same as that of distance learning. Using the same videoconferencing technology, Tennessee Tech has already established a distance learning classroom with Austin Peay University. Two Tennessee Tech business professors teach live classes to students of both schools simultaneously.

The Business Media Center also produces CD-ROMs, compact discs that can be viewed on a computer and that can contain photos, video and sound -- a sort of movie you can watch at home, but interactive, meaning you can decide what parts you want to see.

Businesses pay to use the Center, making it financially self-supporting. Besides being a valuable resource for regional businesses, the Center offers a number of advantages to the university and its students. Tennessee Tech students do nearly all the hands-on work. They use their own understanding of computers, CD-ROMs, and video and audio production to help clients learn and use these technologies. The students earn valuable experience working side-by-side with professionals in various fields.

Zane Foraker, an MBA student, cites a recent project as an example of how much he gains from working at the Center. Foraker spent 10 days training four staff members from the Tennessee Economic and Community Development Office on how to produce a CD-ROM.

"I think that by working with people in government positions, we make a lot of contacts that we'll be able to use when we graduate," says Foraker. "And what we do in here is really on the cutting edge of technology."

Foraker is also helping Jim Andrews of Rotary International produce a CD-ROM and video about the group's International Travel and Hosting Fellowship. The project falls into the category of "strategic demonstration," according to Liska - the Rotary gets a professional quality interactive CD-ROM and video to promote their program worldwide, while Tennessee Tech gets international exposure for it's up-to-date facilities and highly skilled students. The experience has impressed Andrews.

"The capabilities in this Media Center are extraordinary," says Andrews. "I think it's on the cutting edge of what business and industry and every other professional field is working in as far as developing programs, presentations and media."

For more information about the Rural Development Conference April 10-11, call 615/372-6231. To learn more about the Business Media Center, call 615/372-6383.