CLARA CITY -- A small high school like MACCRAY could never afford to send its advanced biology class on a field trip to a teaching hospital to learn about surgeries and autopsies.
But recently, the class only had to go to the school library to participate in a live videoconference that included video of an autopsy. The week before, they had watched a knee replacement surgery.
The students shifted in their seats once in a while, and they averted their eyes at times during the autopsy. No one left or slid under the table during the videoconference facilitated by the Little Crow Telemedia Network.
The students followed along as Dr. Patrick Fardal, a professor of pathology at The Ohio State University, explained what they were seeing and answered questions.
The MACCRAY students joined students at high schools in Nebraska, Texas and Ohio in watching the autopsy. The schools took turns asking questions of Fardal.
As they watched the autopsy on a gray-haired man, the students watched the organs removed. Most of them were normal weight and color. Some were not normal -- an enlarged heart from inadequately treated high blood pressure; dark-colored lungs from smoking.
When the brain was removed from the skull, some students groaned, but they watched carefully as the doctor sliced the brain and laid it out for comparison. Fardal called the technique "bread-loafing."
The two halves of the brain should be mirror images, Fardal said, but it was clear that they weren't the same in this patient's case. He had had a stroke, too.
It would be up to the students who watched the program to try to determine the cause of death, with the help of teaching materials provided by the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio. COSI offers a number of educational programs, both through field trips to its location and through its videoconferencing service.
Teacher Erica Davis said anatomy study wasn't usually part of her class's curriculum. However, she added the autopsy program because she thought it would be a good opportunity for them.
Fardal answered questions about the autopsy, his training and other issues. He talked about the difficulty of doing autopsies on children who had been murdered and on friends and acquaintances. One of the rewards of the job is knowing his work might help free an innocent person from police custody, he said.
The video also included clips from people in other fields who assist in autopsies or analyze tissue and fluids.
Videoconference opportunities are becoming popular in area school districts served by the Little Crow network, based in Hutchinson. Students in several other schools have learned about stem cells and seen surgeries and autopsies.
"It lets kids that are here have access to those things," said Chris Wiebe, technology coordinator at MACCRAY. "It's a great opportunity for kids without having a huge cost to it." Wiebe estimated the cost for the autopsy program was about $200, including teaching materials.
With tight budgets in schools, a field trip to a university medical center that provided a similar program would be out of reach, he said.
Little Crow director Pete Royer said Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City was the first school to do a "video field trip" a year ago. ACGC students have done stem cell and autopsy programs this school year.
Royer said surveys indicate that interest in medical professions increases after students participate in one of the programs.
COSI is one of several large organizations that provide the videoconferencing via codec, which stands for "coding and decoding." An audio/visual signal is coded into a data stream at one site, streamed over the Internet and then decoded at the receiving site, he said. The signal is streamed over Internet2, which provides higher speeds and more reliable service.
Codec can be used to connect schools to work together on other projects and to connect students from different parts of the world, Royer said.
Little Crow also provides video services, either with codec or interactive television, to connect schools to a number of high school and college-level classes. A number of schools provide foreign language classes through Little Crow in Spanish, German, Chinese, French and Dakota. Most of the schools could not afford to offer the language classes on site, he said. Some college classes are available in evenings.
Schools in the Little Crow network have been sharing classes for at least 20 years through ITV, Royer said. Little Crow's cooperative service can provide high-speed Internet to schools at about a tenth the cost they would pay individually, he said.
"It allows them to keep their curriculum going," Royer said. Access to such programs helps small school districts stay competitive with their neighbors, too, he said.
More information about the Little Crow Telemedia Network is available at www.lctn.org
More information about the Center of Science and Industry is available at www.cosi.org