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Saturday February 13th, 2016 2:28PM

USDA grant helps UNG build a virtual 'bridge' to Blue Ridge

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BLUE RIDGE - Through a federal grant, the University of North Georgia (UNG) will "Bridge the Gap" to provide college courses to high school students in Fannin County and surrounding communities through a high-speed, cloud-based educational exchange that connects schools in rural communities with the university.<br /> <br /> UNG President Bonita Jacobs recenlty announced the project at Fannin County High School in Blue Ridge.<br /> <br /> The $27,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be used to purchase an RMX 2000 video-conferencing bridge to link UNG and rural Appalachian schools that are part of the North Georgia Network's new 10-gigabyte educational exchange. This will facilitate UNG's ability to provide remote access to college courses and dual enrollment opportunities through the state's Accel program, which covers tuition for qualified students.<br /> <br /> "This technology and the K-12 educational exchange makes it possible for us to deliver courses remotely to high school students, shortening the time it takes to complete their degree," Jacobs said. "Students in communities in close proximity to university campuses have been able to do this for years. Our ability to deliver these same courses online removes geographical barriers and provides that same opportunity for students here and in surrounding communities."<br /> <br /> The video conference bridge will initially allow up to 10 schools to simultaneously connect with instructor-led courses from UNG's Dahlonega Campus. <br /> <br /> Fannin County Schools are part of the new Education Exchange and will be among the first to benefit from the connection. UNG will be working with school systems throughout the region to provide courses, particularly those supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Potential upgrades to the equipment would allow connections for 60 sites. The Education Exchange eventually could provide education opportunities for 27 counties and more than 250,000 students.<br /> <br /> UNG's investment will be $31,500 for the balance of the equipment cost, installation and maintenance; the equipment will be housed on UNG's Dahlonega Campus, in close proximity to the North Georgia Network's (NGN) POP broadband access point for maximum speed and capacity. While NGN provides fiber-optic connectivity to eight rural northeast Georgia counties at a speed of about one gigabit per second
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