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The Holler spans the globe: digital platform based in Appalachian Kentucky

March 08, 2016 12:00 AM
Pikeville, Ky.
Is it possible for a major K-12 conference to be held in Eastern Kentucky in which thousands of people from around the nation and world can participate?

Is it possible for there to be 10 simultaneous live streams of mountain teachers showcasing innovative practices in their Next Generation classrooms?

And, is it possible to have a digital platform in which thousands of Eastern Kentuckians hold discussions and post documents related to the topics and problem solving?

It is possible, and, in fact, it is already happening. The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) has partnered with the University of Pikeville to grow the exciting digital platform of founder Bruce Parsons, The Holler, to accomplish this ambitious means of communication. It is open for business at

Launched in July 2014, The Holler has had more than 40,000 visitors over the past year. There are 3,200 registered users comprised primarily of educators and students from Eastern Kentucky. There has been more than 1,000 hours of original video content created and uploaded on the site in the past year.

Parsons and the KVEC team have begun adding the community and economic development components building on the successes of the K-12 elements.

The United States’ first on-line learning portal of its kind has three distinct elements: the social network; self-paced, regional online courses, including digital storytelling, web design, application and video game design; and, a comprehensive library for data and information collected throughout the region. It will also feature courses from regional K-12 institutions that want to flip their classroom or provide advanced digital initiatives to their students. The learning management system is open and free, allowing any user to apply as an instructor, and once approved, they can create any course that may be helpful for the region.

Building on the culture of the region, Parsons says “this online community has hollers, instead of user groups. Hollers might consist of documentary production, graphic design, and photography or maybe a holler focused on school-produced news programs. We want to ease the path from idea conception with an accessible and open platform where all of our members are seen as developers,” states Parsons. “With everyone sharing their creative processes you’ll have numerous hollers with tech tips and new ideas. Together, we will establish one big learning collective.”

KVEC Executive Director Jeff Hawkins said The Holler is a unique solution designed to build upon the region’s strengths and address the needs and challenges that exist.

“The Holler’s design and implementation plan operates from a theory of abundance rather than scarcity. In enables everyone with an interest in education and community improvement to serve as a developer of the site to ensure that it provides the greatest opportunities for our region to excel in our efforts to be ‘future ready,’” said Hawkins. “The Holler is transforming the way our region learns, earns and communicates. It is the social learning network for Central Appalachia and is fast becoming a model for other rural regions of the country.”

The Holler studio located on the UPIKE campus allows for high quality production of video programs and podcasts, as well as multimedia centered on instructional design and education. “The KVEC Race to the Top “Appalachian Renaissance Initiative” program has provided us with all of the equipment and support needed to create any type of media or gaming experience we can imagine,” said Parsons. “If we want the young people of Eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia to create media like it is second nature, we have to lead by example. We are writing code, building apps, teaching calculus and streaming video games through We’re not choosing one thing; we’re working to expose the region to all the avenues technology has to offer. By doing this, we’ll help move the region from consumers of tech, to a user base that sees technology as a tool for creation.”

Holler “discussion groups” have been begun in community, economic and workforce development.

The Holler’s next big event is the live streaming of the Action Research Summit on April 27 in Pikeville, Kentucky in which 125 plus presentation on bold innovations in learning will be featured. Over 2,000 individuals throughout the world are expected to participate.

By Ron Daley, strategic partner lead, KVEC and Director of External Educational Programs at Hazard CTC

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