Dr. Tim Lawrence, director of Washington State University’s Island County Extension in Coupeville, explains how a conference room will be used for WSU classes using video-conferencing equipment. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Wazzu on Whidbey thanks to technology

Tim Lawrence admits to having a lot of ideas buzzing around in his head.

One of them calls for a glass beehive in the lobby of Washington State University’s Island County Extension — complete with an entry point in the wall to allow honey bees to come and go.

That idea is more long range in nature. An immediate goal of his has come to fruition.

WSU’s Island County Extension in Coupeville is now able to offer students enrolled at WSU’s Everett campus the ability to take certain classes without leaving Whidbey Island.

It is being made possible through a Polycom video-conferencing system that allows students in Coupeville to view a lecture and also interact with the instructor and classmates through a 65-inch screen.

Voice activation even allows a camera to zoom in on the student on Whidbey so the instructor can see the student ask a question.

“It’s a pretty sophisticated system,” said Lawrence, Island County Extension director.

“It’s a big deal in terms of the type of service we’re able to provide for residents here and a higher education opportunity.”

The program is in its infancy in Coupeville, given the green light by WSU North Puget Sound chancellor Paul Pitre.

It came about after an islander enrolled at WSU’s campus in Everett expressed to Lawrence about how she had to wake up at 3:30 a.m. in order to make an 8:30 a.m. class after using the bus and ferry systems.

He discussed the issue with Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.

“It’s great having a WSU campus so close to Island County but it’s logistically trying to get there, especially if it’s dependent on public transportation,” he said. “It makes it much more difficult.”

Students who want to use the system in the conference room in Coupeville must be enrolled at WSU’s Everett campus in a class that uses the system and make the arrangements.

Those interested in seeing the unit may do so by attending an open house at the Extension office in Coupeville from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23.

Lawrence said he plans for the system to run much more smoothly in the fall. He also sees an opportunity for nursing students to continue their education.

He said Coupeville’s location won’t be able to offer everything but will provide new higher education opportunities. It will include summer courses.

“The Everett campus is new as well,” he said. “They’re in the process of installing Polycom units. If there’s currently a class where a Polycom unit is able to stream it out, we’re able to stream it in.”

nWSU’s Island County Extension is located at 406 N. Main St. in Coupeville. For more information, call WSU’s Island County Extension at 360-240-5558.

(This story was originally published March 21, 2017)