AIKEN - Educators expect classrooms of the 21st century to be like global villages that are linked by technology to other schools and institutions around the world.
Classrooms in Aiken County schools will see some of that happen before then.
Through a legislative grant that promises $700,000 over the next three years, students at the county's seven high schools will soon be able to interact with instructors at Aiken Technical College via two-way, interactive audio/visual link-ups.
Schools statewide will eventually be linked to such networks once the $20 million in technology funds approved this year by the Legislature makes its way to all districts.
"A teacher at Aiken Tech or anywhere else can teach anywhere in Aiken or in the state," said state Rep. Roland Smith of Aiken, a member of the K-12 subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. "It's some marvelous technology ... We're on the cutting edge."
Mr. Smith said the technology would allow students in a class in Aiken to attend a lecture and interact with an instructor at Aiken Tech directly over a television monitor. Students could also present and discuss projects with students at other schools in the same way.
The first portion of Aiken County's funding - $241,275 - will link North Augusta and Silver Bluff high schools with Aiken Tech. The equipment will be installed immediately.
Over the next two years, the remainder of the $700,000 would allow all seven of the district's high schools and the University of South Carolina-Aiken to be connected to the network.
The district received $285,000 in legislative technology funds earlier this year to set up a 32-channel satellite tape-and-delay system. The system would be a mini-studio housed at school district offices on Edgefield Avenue where programs from the state's Educational Television network could be received and broadcast to area schools.
ETV programs could also be taped and stored for re-broadcast later at more convenient times. The studio should be operational by August 1997, school officials said.
Aiken County schools superintendent Linda Eldridge said she and Aiken Tech President Kathleen Noble worked for several months on the grant proposal for the two-way video network.
"We worked on it for some time and it's just a real thrill to have (funding) come down," Dr. Eldridge said. "It has an enormous potential for improving technology in the schools."