BY CRAIG GILBERT
The largest distance education network in Canada, Contact North, got a boost from the provincial government Monday.
Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Anne Chambers joined Sudbury MPP and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick
Bartolucci and a room full of Sudbury dignitaries in launching the revamped, Centra 7-based network.
The event was connected via videoconference to Sault Ste. Marie and Contact North?s other regional centre in Thunder Bay.
The funding for the $4.1-million upgrade was announced about 18 months ago by the Progressive Conservative government.
The Centra 7 Internet technology basically allows more people using the 100 tele- or audio-conference sites to interact quicker than they could with the
old technology, much of which was DOS-based.
Some users could only transmit and receive basic text.
The new interface is accessible through a standard Internet browser and combines voice, data, graphics, sound and video in real time.
Centra technology is used by more than 1,300 organizations.
According to a Centra official, the network works best with a high-speed Internet connection, but is also reliable through a slower dial-up modem.
That?s important, he said, because 85 per cent of the students who register with Contact North are outside the province?s five major cities.
?The only important thing about technology is the benefit it brings to people,? said Chambers, who worked as a systems analyst for 26 years before entering public life. ?Education must be made available everywhere - everywhere - in this province.?
The network provides an affordable way for those in distant communities, such as Atawapiskat, to pursue their education while continuing to make a contribution to their home town, she said.
?This is another tool to reach the goals we all have collectively as northerners,? said Bartolucci.
During the 2002-03 academic year, Contact North experienced more than 14,000 registrations in 735 courses offered online.
Contact North is a non-profit distance education and training network founded and funded by Queen?s Park.
Created in 1986, the network now includes 145 distance education and training access sites across Ontario.