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Collaboration between WHYY and region's Workforce Investment Boards puts people on track for work success

It will soon be easier for entry level workers to gain the job skills they need, thanks to a groundbreaking use of digital television technology. WHYY, in cooperation with the Workforce Investment Boards in Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, is installing computers with built-in digital tuners at 20 locations in the region. WHYY will broadcast on its digital TV channel adult basic education material for students who need to complete high school equivalency courses and polish their workforce skills.

This datacasting system - thought of as a "PC with rabbit ears" - allows large amounts of curriculum information, documents, video and audio clips to be captured from the television signal and stored in each computer in a fraction of the time it would take to send the information through the Internet. The content WHYY will broadcast to partner sites can be received and updated in minutes compared to hours using a typical home Internet connection.

"This new system makes it possible to provide training where it is needed, when it is needed and to those who need it most," said WHYY President and CEO William J. Marrazzo. "This is one more example of how WHYY is using technology to provide lifelong learning to residents of this region."

"We are excited to be partnering with WHYY to apply emerging digital technology to the delivery of education and literacy services across our region," said Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board Executive Director Sallie A. Glickman. "We anticipate the success of this pilot and look forward to the day in the near future when we can cost-effectively deliver training services to all workers and potential workers anytime and anywhere to meet the needs of employers in the Greater Philadelphia Region."

The content for this prototype system utilizes existing "Workplace Essential Skills" and "GED Connection" video courses developed by PBS Literacy Link. With the new system, some 58 half-hour video segments and more than 700 pages of text are quickly received and stored on the computers for later use.

Computers that provide access to the program are being installed at five locations in each county at no cost to those participating agencies. A $188,000 grant from Pennsylvania Public Television Network (PPTN) supports the project in this region. In Philadelphia, the first county to launch the project, the computers are in place at Aspira, 4322 North 5th Street; Germantown Settlement House, Wayne & Chelten Avenues; People's Emergency Center, 3939 Warren Street; and Southwest Community Services, 65th Street & Woodland Avenue. Additional systems are being installed at community centers, colleges and libraries in the other participating counties.

Susan Knoble, WHYY Executive Director of Adult Learning, points out that datacasting allows material to be updated at any time, and offers an easy-to-use interface for the student with high-quality video and online workbooks. Students can complete the courses at their own pace, while instructors can track the progress of all the participants. "The goals are to prepare entry- level workers for the workplace, and to increase the number of Pennsylvania residents completing their education," said Knoble.

WHYY is pioneering the use of digital datacasting in this region. In a test project in 2001, WHYY placed computers at five child care centers in Delaware and at the Haddington Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia to deliver staff training and curriculum material for child-care providers. Information gained from these pilot projects will help WHYY develop long-term plans to provide lifelong learning opportunities through the use of digital television. For example, datacasting will make it possible to deliver business workshops directly to computer desktops, replacing expensive satellite videoconferences and slow Internet links.

Datacasting uses only a small portion of the digital television bandwith. A high definition television program or several standard definition televison programs can be transmitted at the same time without interference.


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