Famous for the distinctive criss-cross pattern of tartan plaid, Scotland has recently been criss-crossed with the wires and cables vital to communication over vast expanses.
Yes, the Highlands have gone high-tech; distance learning is coming to some of Scotland's most far-flung villages. An article in the February 2, 2011 edition of the U.K.'s Guardian reports that a "new university that teaches students in some of the most remote classrooms in Britain with one of the world's largest videoconferencing networks has been formally launched in Inverness." This new university, The University of the Highlands and Islands,
has pioneered distance-learning by building one of the biggest digital networks of its kind to link 13 colleges and nearly 100 learning centres from the Outer Hebrides to coastal towns in the Highlands and on the north-east coast to Shetland."
The university offers its students the latest in distance learning technology. It boasts a "superfast broadband network over an area the size of Belgium" and "videoconference suites at 60 sites." The students are taught "through a videoconferencing network that allows lecturers to reach [them] on high-definition television screens in up to nine different sites."
The opening of The University of the Highlands and Islands represents an important development for these small villages, which have suffered significant population loss the past few years. Many younger residents leave town to pursue educations in larger cities.
Similar initiatives are taking flight in the United States, bringing distance education to such out-of-the-way places as northern New Mexico and Utah. Bignews.biz brings news that
[U.S.] Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced recently that 106 projects in 38 states and one territory have been selected to receive more than $34.7 million in grants to fund educational projects and expand access to health care services in rural areas through Rural Utilities Services' (RUS) Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program.
Distance learning is helping small rural communities hold on to their most precious assets: Young, educated people. Indeed, with such e-learning initiatives as those happening in rural Scotland and America the wider world is becoming a wired-er world.