Some worried, some not as end of Vermont Interactive Technologies nears

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Vermont Interactive Technologies, the backbone of the state's distance-learning efforts, is set to close in December in a budget-cutting move, but the head of its largest user said Monday he's confident new technology will fill the void. Others remain doubtful.

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Lawmakers and the Shumlin administration earlier this year decided to cut funding for Vermont Interactive Technologies, which is expected to save the state more than $800,000 a year.

Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding was administration secretary — a key player in writing the budget Gov. Peter Shumlin submitted in January to lawmakers. It called for cutting the VIT program.

Spaulding moved from that job in January to become chancellor of the State Colleges, the largest user of VIT's services, which allow students in special studios around the state to tune into a class with the instructor in a remote location. The system has enabled the same nursing classes to be offered, for example, at the Vermont Technical College campus in a Randolph Center and a satellite campus in Williston.

As part of the budget process, "We were recognizing that Vermonters had been asking for us to take a close look at things we had done in the past that were nice to do but were not critical or might have outlived their usefulness," Spaulding recalled.

VIT was cutting-edge technology when it was launched in 1988 as Vermont Interactive Television and expanded its offerings over the years, but since then, other online video services such as GoToMeeting and Adobe Connect have come into existence. Spaulding said they offer similar services at far lower cost.

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But the change is drawing fire from Brad Talbot of the Vermont Licensed Plumbers' Association and Jan Sensenich, Chapter 13 trustee with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Vermont.

Talbot's association offers classes plumbers must take to keep their licenses current. He said VIT had been an invaluable tool allowing plumbers around the state to go to their local VIT studio and participate in classes being taught from Randolph Center.

"It offered the convenience of not having the guys drive, especially in the winter time," Talbot said. He said he sees potential problems with the web-based video tools, among them that many plumbers, especially those in their 50s and 60s, are not very computer-savvy.

Talbot said he expected the quality of the classroom experience would suffer. "There's no technology like Vermont Interactive Television technology," he said. He said the solution, at least for the short term, will be live classes scheduled during warmer months to avoid the need for winter travel.

Live court hearings, which people in bankruptcy traveling to Burlington or Rutland, also will be the new norm in the Vermont bankruptcy court, Sensenich said. The VIT studios offered a formality suitable for court hearings, while that would not be the case when people go online from home.

Sensenich wrote to Shumlin in March, calling the VIT cut "a tragic act of short-sightedness." He said Monday that his view had not changed since then.

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This story has been corrected to show that the name of the program has been changed over the years from Vermont Interactive Television to Vermont Interactive Technologies.