Iowa's largest cable company is using on-demand digital video technology to allow students to participate in adult literacy programs from the comfort and convenience of their own homes.
Since last year, Mediacom Communications Corp., with about 500,000 customers, has been in the forefront of an innovative program in which students who are studying for their General Educational Development (GED) degree can take test-preparation courses over the cable network.
All they need to do is subscribe to Mediacom's digital tier of service, which in turn provides access to 39 hours of GED course work and material stored on Mediacom's Video-On-Demand (VOD) server system.
Before Mediacom stepped in, those who sought GED instruction had to travel to a state-funded community college. Thanks to Mediacom, the convenience of home study is a reality today throughout nearly the entire state of Iowa.
"If you have working mothers who can't get to a community college because they lack transportation or childcare, this is the perfect solution," Thomas J. Larsen, Mediacom's Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs, said.
As an incentive, Mediacom marks down the price of the digital programming tier by 20% for those preparing for their GED, which is essentially a high school equivalency test. The discount is available for up to a year or more.
Mediacom's commitment to adult education has been a measurable success in just a short amount of time. During the program's first six months, GED students placed 4,500 orders for 51,000 minutes of viewing.
"Many of the students use the program to supplement the courses where they need some extra practice," Larsen said. "We are finding that the math courses have a much higher hit rate. The most popular ones were algebra and geometry."
Mediacom took the initiative to convince Iowa Department of Education officials that VOD technology could play an important role in furthering the state's educational mission. Mediacom and state officials have forged a close alliance: Mediacom makes the space available on its VOD server for course programs, while the state covers the cost of advertising, brochures, and Web site support.
"When you enter the course, Iowa's Department of Education tells you to go buy Mediacom. To me, the state has become a powerful advocate for our service," Larsen said. "This is the perfect private-public partnership. It's a great program and one that could be easily replicated elsewhere."
Iowa First Lady Mari Culver last October praised the alliance with Mediacom as a new way of moving the state's adult education effort in a positive direction.
"As a state, we can be proud of the success rate of Iowans completing the GED exams - we have the highest pass rate in the U.S. and Canada," Culver said. "Our goal is to encourage many more native Iowans and adults who move to Iowa to prepare for and complete the GED tests. For Iowans without high school diplomas, our message is that it is never too late. GED On Demand is a new and convenient educational tool that can enhance instruction offered through the Community College Adult Literacy Programs."
It looks as if Mediacom, whose network is available to 930,000 Iowa homes in all, could take the VOD experiment to a new level.
Pleased with the results of the GED-VOD experiment so far, Iowa officials recently proposed expanding the program to include VOD content to help the unemployed find work.
Mediacom, with backing from Iowa's office of Workforce Development, has applied for $750,000 under the federal broadband stimulus program to equip 43 work training centers and three offender re-entry facilities with television sets, headphones and digital set-top boxes to provide VOD courses in job training skills, interview techniques and digital literacy.
"The state was so pleased, they came to us and asked if there was an opportunity to use federal stimulus money to provide more of these classroom-type services. If we get the federal money, we can make that happen," Larsen said.
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