Site matches distance-learning options

While distance-learning courses become more accepted and available, finding out where they're being offered can pose a headache.

Pennsylvania's education department has launched a free Web-based service as a clearinghouse of distance-learning courses being offered across the state and nation.

"If you need a phone number, you go to a phone book; if you need a Internet listing, you go to Yahoo. But there's no equivalent if you need a distance-learning course," said John Bailey, the department's technology director. "We're providing a matchmaking or directory service for that."

The state launched the Web site, called the Distance Learning Exchange in part to promote what Pennsylvania's schools, colleges, universities, agencies and vendors were offering, Bailey said. A recent study found that school districts were videoconferencing with other districts within a 30-mile radius, but he said the government thought schools could be reaching out even farther.

Pennsylvania's site, he said, lists 230 courses or "activities" — anything from museums giving virtual tours to accredited college courses.

The site lists the activity's cost, contact information, dates offered, technology used, and location if applicable. People can search the site by a particular activity, subject, provider, grade level or technology type. Activities are listed for a range of ages and can take any form of distance-learning technology — videoconferencing, Internet, CD-ROM, satellite or videotape.

More than 50 providers are listed on the site. Most are from Pennsylvania, but several are based in California, Nebraska, South Carolina and Indiana.

Bailey said the state picked up the $50,000 to $60,000 tab to develop the site.

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