St. Bernard's grows through video - Catholic Courier

St. Bernard’s grows through video

PITTSFORD — Here’s an equation that works for Sister Judith Kapp, a mathematics teacher: Cut your driving distance by two-thirds, get twice as much accomplished.

Sister Kapp, an Albany Sister of Mercy who teaches at Elmira Notre Dame High School, is studying for her certification in pastoral ministry through St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. Last school year, thanks to the advent of teleconferencing, Sister Kapp took five of her 10 courses at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen.

St. Bernard’s began offering teleconference courses at St. Mary of the Lake in June 2004, and a second remote site was added in January 2005 at St. Alphonsus Church in Auburn. Classes take place at those churches at the same times professors conduct them at the St. Bernard’s campus in Pittsford, a suburb of Rochester.

“The difference is, I can drive 40 minutes one way to Watkins Glen or two hours one way to Rochester,” Sister Kapp said, noting that St. Bernard’s courses often take place in the evening, so the shorter drive saves her an overnight stay in Rochester. This, in turn, has allowed her to increase her course load.

“Last fall I was able to take three courses, two in Watkins Glen,” she said. “I could never have been taking three courses in one week without Watkins.”

The technology enables St. Bernard’s to notably swell its class sizes, with capabilities of up to 50 people at the Pittsford campus and up to 30 each at St. Mary of the Lake and St. Alphonsus. Sister Patricia A. Schoelles, SSJ, president of St. Bernard’s, and Thomas McDade-Clay, director of admissions and recruitment, said they’ve seen a rise in attendance over the past year thanks to promotional efforts in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions.

McDade-Clay said teleconferencing has proven beneficial for a variety of St. Bernard’s students — men in deacon formation, graduate students, people seeking certification and those “even just taking a course or two,” he said. Students in teleconferenced classes can cut down not only on travel time, but also fuel costs.

The system operates by two-way audio and video linked by high-speed cable connections, high-definition televisions and remote cameras with wide-angle capabilities. This technology allows an instructor to address a live classroom of students, while also seeing and interacting with people in Watkins Glen and/or Auburn. In addition, people at each site can view the other two sites via split screens on their monitors.

Sister Kapp said that addressing the cameras “requires a little bit of a shift by the instructor (but) every professor I’ve had makes the effort to include us … I can ask a question of a professor and the professor can ask one of me; I can see them and they can see me.”

Sister Schoelles noted that the school employs state-of-the-art equipment, allowing this initiative to proceed with minimal glitches. The system is maintained by the diocesan Office of Information Technology.

“This has been a very easy technology to work with,” McDade-Clay said.

Funding from St. Mary of the Lake and St. Alphonsus parishes covered expenses for video equipment. Sister Schoelles said other parishes have also inquired about teleconferencing and that St. Bernard’s hopes to add at least one more site. But due to the nature of the connection “we can only broadcast to three places simultaneously.”

In addition to course offerings, St. Bernard’s — a beneficiary of the annual Diocesan Ministries Appeal that began its 2005-06 campaign last month — plans to teleconference such events as lectures by guest speakers and interviews with students.

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