|Journal of Instructional Science and Technology
Editors-in-Chief: Olugbemiro JEGEDE (email@example.com) and Som NAIDU (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Volume 1 No 1, October 1995
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Ray Winders - Telematics Coordinator
University of Plymouth
[ Abstract | European Initiatives | Services | Recent Developments | Summary of Advantages | Conclusion ]
This paper provides a very brief review of contemporary development in the use of satellite transmission for education and training. It traces the launch of the European Space Agency of the Olympus satellite in 1984 which enabled point to multipoint educational transmissions through current efforts being channelled into the Telematics applications. The paper recommends that the new European Commission Fourth framework funding should address the building of self-financing networks of users with a combination of technologies.
The launch by the European Space Agency of the satellite Olympus in 1984 gave a great impetus to the development of services for Education and Training. The Space Agency provided free satellite capacity and loaned transmission equipment including two large earth stations in the UK one linked to London University Livenet and the second at the University of Plymouth. Olympus provided several beams including a pan-European beam for distribution over Europe and steerable spot beams which reached Canada, Africa and as far East as Ukraine. Most activities were in distribution of programmes and data 'point to multipoint' but there were also developments using smaller uplinks (v.Sat's) for videoconferencing and data conferencing. When Olympus came to the end of its life in 1993 the Space Agency rented a tranponder on a commercial Eutelsat satellite so that broadcasts could continue. The Space Agency is now working closely with the European commission to ensure that the valuable experience gained over the past five years is channelled into the Telematics applications programme which is about to begin.
The most significant development for Education and Training is the use of satellites for point to multipoint distribution of live programmes. Many of these have been live presentations with feedback from viewers by telephone, electronic mail and more recently by ISDN videoconference.
Some activities are already commercially viable. Eurotransmed, a service for medical specialists and doctors throughout Europe now has a regular series of programmes paid for by the viewers. Eurostep, a consortium of European Universities, Colleges and schools transmitted six hours a day of programmes first on Olympus and then on Eutelsat. Europace (now Europace 2000) and the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities are now developing new services for European Universities with a network of regional study centres.
The University of Plymouth has supported several projects. STARNET funded by the Department of Employment from 1990-92 explored and developed techniques of interactive transmissions. Three principle markets were targeted.
Small business - very interactive using viewers experience stimulated by experts and small business traders from studio.
Advanced Manufacturing Technology - exploiting the up to the minute advantage of live television in a rapidly changing field.
Special programmes to reach rural areas e.g. telecottages, green consumerism, and a very dispersed group - 'Safety for Divers'.
The British Library SOLSTICE project used live television together with on-screen database examples to train professional librarians in the use of BLAISELINE an on-line system. The technique of transmitting screens of information direct from the computer drive has been very successfully developed in the University of Plymouth's own series in Information Technology and Multimedia.
Though a key feature of satellite transmission is its immediacy a series of tapes specially prepared from current news items by Oxford University for teachers in Eastern Europe was extremely successful. Postal communications are so difficult that transmission of tapes by satellite proved cheaper and very much quicker. As costs of satellite transponder time decrease particularly with compression it becomes increasingly economic to distribute tapes by satellite even in Western Europe. These can then be used for discussion using electronic mail or videoconferencing.
The University of Plymouth has developed a PC datacard which is linked to the data output of the satellite receiver. Using this, data and diagrams including full colour frame-grab pictures can be transmitted using one of the spare audio channels of the videotransmission. Each PC card has a unique 'PIN' number so that information can be restricted to any group of customers. The system can be used to transmit study notes to accompany training programmes.
A total of over 800 live programmes has been transmitted from Plymouth alone for a variety of users. All have been at a full bandwidth using a 30 MHz satellite transponder. The University has recently completed a study for the European Space Agency using video-compression which has proved that a bit rate as low as 2 Mbits/sec is suitable for education and training. This will reduce transponder cost to about £3 per minute for full video with sound and data. It is expected that domestic decoders to receive the compressed signal will be available in the UK at about £150.
1. Point to Multipoint
No cable infrastructure is required. Reception equipment at about £200 allows multiple users to participate. There is no extra transmission cost for extra sites. A recent series on Food Hygiene including a test and certificate was distributed from Plymouth at £10 per trainee. This certificate is an immediate requirement for thousands in the European Food Industry.
2. Specialist Information
The latest information and techniques including location video can be transmitted. Eurotransmed has proved the viability of the transmission of specialist information to a limited but scattered audience.
3. Up to the Minute
Preparation of videotape and multimedia programmes takes time. In a rapidly developing industry the training materials may be outdated before they are finally issued. Live transmission can bring immediate update.
4. Convergence of Technologies
Since the transmission is normally from a television studio, presenters, video inserts, electronic graphics, computer screen presentations can be included. Recently ISDN videoconferencing has been used to link experts from a distance to studio in vision for re-transmission. The same technique is being developed by the EADTU for questions from Eurostudy centres.
5. Low Cost
Live programmes are cheap since there is no post production. Videocompression reduces transponder cost dramatically. Costs of £500 to £1000 per hour for a live transmitted programme are expects.
Satellite transmission and terrestrial systems are not in competition. Videoconferencing using ISDN has particular value for discussion and exchange. Asynchronous Email is ideal for building up a discussion on a given topic. When any of these systems including the telephone are part of a live transmission a new synergy develops.
Techniques for successful live interactive satellite programmes are well proven and evaluated. The development of compression and links to terrestrial conferencing provide new opportunities. The new European Commission Fourth Framework funding must be used to build lasting self-financing networks of users with a combination of technologies.