The Northern Wisconsin Educational Communications System (NWECS) consortium is proud to announce its 30th year of providing courses, innovative technology, and support services to distance education students statewide. NWECS collaborates directly with school district administrators, counselors, teachers, and technology specialists to provide students with educational opportunities outside of their school districts via interactive videoconferencing. High school teachers share their courses with students outside of their district who may not have access to courses they need. Wisconsin technical and University of Wisconsin colleges give high school students head starts on their college careers through dual credit courses. Support, training, and technical assistance is available for teachers and course facilitators. NWECS also assists in providing enrichment opportunities like virtual field trips, guest speakers, career experts, Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 12 High Quiz Bowl, and ACT prep classes, which can reach throughout the world. In the 2021-22 school year, 1,449 Wisconsin students participated in distance education courses or enrichment through NWECS. In total, 9,930 Wisconsin students were involved in distance education through all distance education networks statewide.
Referring to the 30 years of the NWECS distance learning educational experiences provided to residents and school districts in Wisconsin, Northwood Tech President Dr. John Will stated, “For three decades the NWECS partnership has supported educational access through ever-evolving distance learning strategies, which is a testament to the collaborative efforts of all of the NWECS partners.”
It was in October 1992, when NWECS went live serving Ashland, Washburn, and Bayfield School Districts, CESA 12, and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (now Northwood Technical College) in an innovative and exciting endeavor called interactive television. New fiber optic technology from Wisconsin Bell (later becoming AT&T) had made it possible to offer classes with live, interactive video and audio from locations across the state. NWECS was the second distance education network in Wisconsin, with the first starting only one year before. This was the beginning of distance education and video communication using fiber optics as we know it.
Many technological changes have occurred over the years. The equipment for one, as expected. Also, what started out as a closed-loop system – only available between network members – went to bridging between networks to share courses and content, and eventually became an open system using the Internet to access content from around the world.
One thing has stayed the same, however. The same fiber optic cable infrastructure installed in the early 1990s is still relevant, viable, and being used today. The state’s commitment to invest in that technology showed great foresight. Most recently, in March 2020, when all public schools in Wisconsin were shut down with little notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school districts and colleges belonging to NWECS and other distance education networks across the state were poised to continue teaching students through the quarantine months with the technology they already had in place for distance education.
Today there are 25 NWECS consortium members: School Districts of Bayfield, Butternut, Dodgeland, Drummond, Florence, Goodman-Armstrong Creek, Hayward, Hurley, Laona, Mauston, Medford, Mellen, Necedah, Northland Pines, Pittsville, Prentice, Royall, Solon Springs, South Shore, Wabeno, Washburn, and Winter; Northwood Technical College (also the NWECS fiscal agent); Northcentral Technical College; and CESA 12. NWECS also partners with Nicolet Area Technical College, Northeastern WI Technical College, UW-Superior, and UW-Eau Claire – Barron County to offer additional dual credit college courses.
Since its inception, distance education has been providing rural Wisconsin K-12 students with equitable access to courses and educational programming. Many school districts have seen distance education as supplemental for higher level students and as an answer to a district teacher shortage. If you would like to learn how your student or school district can take advantage of NWECS distance education courses, please contact email@example.com. For more information about NWECS and the courses offered, go to their website www.nwecs.net.
[Photo: On December 15, 1992, during the opening celebration for the NWECS network, Washburn High School connected with Governor Tommy Thompson at the State Capital Building through ITV. It was a historic event as it was the first interactive video and audio connection between the capital and Northern Wisconsin. Much planning and cable installation occurred in the years leading up in order to make this happen. Seated next to Governor Thompson is Senator Bob Jauch. Both were proponents of installing fiber optic cable in Wisconsin.]