Four times a week, from 1960 to 1968, a plane marked with the insignia of the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI) took off from the Purdue University Airport in West Lafayette, Indiana and flew a figure-eight pattern above Montpelier. At an altitude of 23,000 feet, the DC-6AB aircraft used onboard Stratovision to broadcast pre-recorded courses to schools in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. The 200-mile radius of the broadcast was estimated to cover 5 million students in 13,000 schools, though only about 1,800 schools became paying members.
With seed money from the Ford Foundation, it sparked hope that the MPATI program, which predated widespread cable or satellite TV, would serve as a model for how educators could use the cutting-edge technology of the day to make top-flight education more accessible to students in rural America. The experiment lasted for eight years until the two-plane fleet was permanently grounded due to financial difficulties and, ironically, a National Association of Educational Broadcasters study that argued MPATI used too much of the UHF television spectrum.
Today, the Purdue Research Foundation's Innovation Partners Institute (IPI) has resurrected the spirit that gave wings to MPATI in an effort to reach students in the Kankakee Valley School Corporation with a pilot program of a different sort. Instead of using Stratovision and airplanes, IPI has partnered with Wabash College, SBA Communications, Watch Communications, and the State of Indiana to connect 500 households to a wireless broadband network in support of remote learning.
“I was tasked with leading the ‘Safe Campus’ initiative at Purdue (University) when Covid hit, which accelerated the potential of adapting new technology. What we realized is that when it comes to learning, especially in rural areas of Indiana, one in four students don’t have connectivity,” said David Broecker, Chief Innovation and Collaboration Officer at the Purdue Research Foundation, which manages Purdue’s Discovery Park District.... Read more