Long-Distance Learning

C-SPAN, University of Denver Class Join Forces

Posted February 26, 2003 at 1:43pm

Every week, Steve Scully teaches 25 students about Washington politics. Guests in his lectures include well-known figures like retired Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

The catch: Scully and the students are 1,500 miles apart from each other.

The class is taught live, via a two-way video link from C-SPAN studios, where students watch Scully, the station’s longtime political editor, on a television monitor at the University of Denver. While the students are looking out the window at the Rocky Mountains, Scully has a front-row seat next to the Capitol.

“This is the future of education,” said Scully, who also hosts C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” “If we think outside the box, we can do more and more.”

Scully is able to use his connections in the media world to enhance his class, “Television and the Modern Presidency.” The class focuses on theories and philosophies about the use of television in political campaigns and the presidency.

Earlier this month, students were able to talk with Jim Angle, senior White House correspondent for Fox News, live from the White House briefing room. At the end of their discussion focusing on 24-hour news television, off-the-record reporting and other political insides, the cameras panned the entire room, giving students the real — and not so glamourous — view of the press room.

But the 25 students from Denver are getting more than just insider information, they are getting real people with real jobs, dropping real nuggets of advice. From Angle’s “You cannot cover the White House by just talking to people in the White House” to Scully saying “life is about your reputation,” it’s clear to see this is not your normal political science class.

Just because the students aren’t sitting in a lecture hall doesn’t mean Scully is free from the reality of being a true college professor. He said students have not shown up for class because they were out too late or suffering through a boyfriend breakup.

The class is made possible through a five-year grant from cable pioneer Amos Hostetter. The Cable Center, which formed a partnership between C-SPAN and the University of Denver, opened its permanent Denver home to the public in 2002. C-SPAN is a public service funded through the cable industry.

“Students have access to people there that they’d never have access to in Denver,” said Lisa Parrish, spokeswoman for the University of Denver. “The quality is just amazing.”

And the students say they love the excitement of knowing so much about what is happening in Washington now, especially with the possibility of an upcoming war with Iraq. When interviewed via satellite, some even said they felt smarter now and could hold more adult conversations with “older people” because they understand political issues.

“It’s better than sitting and listening to a lecture,” said Morgon Devor, a junior at the university. “In other classes you are just checking your watch all the time.”

This class is an example of what The Cable Center hopes to pursue in the future, said its president and CEO, Jim O’Brien.

“It’s a vision of what we hope to do as a whole,” O’Brien said, adding that several other communities are now interested in this type of educational tool. “We use content to educate students. Because of technology, we know we can link other locations.”

Classes such as this can have a tremendous impact on many people in the United States, and even beyond the classroom environment, O’Brien said.

Just the fact that the Denver students talked with Fleischer live from the West Wing goes to show how technology is imperative for this kind of learning environment. Scully also uses video clips and the Internet as learning tools for his classes.

“It’s a way we can try and take students to Washington who can’t come,” Scully said. “[The class] goes behind the circus and finds out how Washington works.”

Scully, who taught at Nazareth and St. John Fisher colleges in Rochester, N.Y., said teaching this type of course has been a personal thrill for him.

“I try to approach this as a normal class,” he said, adding that if he were in college now, it would be “a kick” to take the same class.