NYIT Culinary Arts Center Brings Distance Learning to the Classroom Kitchen

August 22, 2002

(New York)–Distance learning initiatives at NYIT have moved the teaching of culinary arts education from the classroom kitchen to the video monitor. Now students can benefit from instruction and direct participation no matter where they’re located or where the content provider is situated. This program once again puts NYIT on the cutting edge of new and developing educational technologies. Dr. Edward Guiliano, President and CEO of NYIT, agrees with this assessment. “Distance learning is an innovative way to educate, communicate and establish relationships as an institution offering the latest technology resources for NYIT’s culinary arts students.”

In the spring of 1998, Susan Sykes Hendee, the department chair for NYIT’s Culinary Arts Center (CAC), was planning an event called Millennium Cuisine for the purpose of highlighting cutting-edge food service and dining room techniques. She approached Prof. Stan Silverman, who heads NYIT’s distance learning program. As he often did for other departments in the NYIT community, Silverman introduced the CAC to various instructional technologies being explored at his Bell Atlantic Research Lab.

“With the help of Prof. Silverman and his staff together with our co-host Whitson’s, a local food service company, we utilized videoconferencing to take our dining room participants on a live tour of the astronaut’s food lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston,” said Hendee.

“Then later in 1998,” she continued, “we introduced this technology to one of our board members, a Long Island-based food distributor who had been reading about live, interactive, two-way conferencing.”

The board member, John King, was very interested in the potential of this technology in the food service industry. So together with Silverman’s help Hendee presented a program from the CAC to the Wyndham Wind Watch (Marriot) Hotel. The goal of that event was to raise funds to develop an edible flower and herb garden on the site of CAC’s formal dining room at the NYIT’s Central Islip Campus.

During the immensely successful program, one of NYIT’s chef-instructors demonstrated to hotel participants aspects of a low-quality strawberry, and in a far more dynamic mode than static slides, because the videoconferencing technology enabled discussion between the chef and the participants to occur in real time.

These two pilot events convinced Chef Hendee that videoconferencing provided new opportunities to reach out to K-12 educational and culinary programs locally, regionally, and internationally. It’s an excellent way to familiarize them with CAC’s culinary arts program and expertise, and it also distinguishes CAC from other culinary educational institutions as a facility with cutting-edge technology, making it possible to host and sponsor a visiting chef’s program with outside chefs, nationally and internationally, and all for the educational enhancement of CAC students.

After these initial experiences with videoconferencing, CAC solicited and received a grant from the Tim Ryan Memorial Scholarship Fund. The grant of $39,000 enabled them to return the borrowed hardware and purchase their own. Funds were received in spring of 1999 for equipment and ISDN lines were installed in CAC’s dining room as well as in one of the food prep labs.

Having attended a formal meeting and having officially joined the Educational Enterprise Zone (EEZ) in the spring of 2000, Hendee began soliciting collaborators for piloting several educational programs for outside audiences. Hendee posted messages on the Pacific Bell Videoconferencing for Learning directory; networked with interested members of the EEZ; and coordinated efforts with distance learning specialists at various school districts.

Interested parties included sites in New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, California, Long Island BOCES, and Genesee (NY) BOCES, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Oklahoma. “We began with three lesson plans which we had drafted ourselves,” said Hendee. The audiences included teachers interested in the technology, junior and senior high school students, an Associate of Occupational Studies culinary degree program, and adults who work in food production at a Texas high school.

“After field testing our lessons with about 10 such sites, and incorporating feedback from Prof. Silverman, we revised the programs and began delivering them again,” said Hendee. “Approximately 20 additional sites connected with us in the fall of 2000. By the spring of 2001, we had received bookings for twice that many programs.”

Although not directly involved in CAC’s lesson planning, the EEZ loaned them equipment for piloting, and the expertise of its staff were invaluable. As a community of like-minded agencies, the EEZ was also instrumental in getting providers and receivers together. Much of what they learned came by observing the other content providers and using them as models in whose footsteps they followed.

“Recently, we have experienced even more interest by members who want our content, particularly BOCES in New York State,” noted Hendee. She has also had preliminary discussions with the Peace Corps about helping PC volunteers find more nutritious uses for indigenous ingredients. Museums have also expressed an interest in developing programs around the history of food in relation to culture. The Pacific Bell videoconferencing site was also particularly helpful in the beginning.

“Presently we are working with the existing staff, all of whom have other day-to-day responsibilities in the culinary arts program,” said Hendee. “We have three primary instructors and three others in training, but none can devote full-time to distance learning. In the coming year we would like to add to the size of our lab, the distance learning instructional staff, our peripheral equipment, and the curriculum offerings we deliver to distant sites.

“In terms of programming, we envision conducting workshops and symposia by distance with faculties at other culinary institutions–making ‘kitchen-to-kitchen’ connections, so to speak. Additional support personnel and funding will be required, of course, but our ultimate dream is to be able to reach an international market of both chefs and culinary students,” concluded Hendee.