Journal of Instructional Science and Technology
ISSN: 1324-0781

Editors-in-Chief: Olugbemiro JEGEDE (jegede@ouhk.edu.hk) and Som NAIDU(s.naidu@meu.unimelb.edu.au)

Volume 1 No 1, October 1995
- - - Article 2 - - -

Satellite Transmission for Education and Training

by

Ray Winders - Telematics Coordinator

University of Plymouth

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[ Abstract | European Initiatives | Services| Recent Developments | Summary of Advantages | Conclusion]


Abstract

This paper provides a very brief review of contemporary development in the use ofsatellite transmission for education and training. It traces the launch of the EuropeanSpace Agency of the Olympus satellite in 1984 which enabled point to multipointeducational transmissions through current efforts being channelled into the Telematicsapplications. The paper recommends that the new European Commission Fourth frameworkfunding should address the building of self-financing networks of users with a combinationof technologies.


European Initiatives

The launch by the European Space Agency of the satellite Olympus in 1984 gave a greatimpetus to the development of services for Education and Training. The Space Agencyprovided free satellite capacity and loaned transmission equipment including two largeearth stations in the UK one linked to London University Livenet and the second at theUniversity of Plymouth. Olympus provided several beams including a pan-European beam fordistribution over Europe and steerable spot beams which reached Canada, Africa and as farEast as Ukraine. Most activities were in distribution of programmes and data 'point tomultipoint' but there were also developments using smaller uplinks (v.Sat's) forvideoconferencing and data conferencing. When Olympus came to the end of its life in 1993the Space Agency rented a tranponder on a commercial Eutelsat satellite so that broadcastscould continue. The Space Agency is now working closely with the European commission toensure that the valuable experience gained over the past five years is channelled into theTelematics applications programme which is about to begin.


Services

Live Programmes

The most significant development for Education and Training is the use of satellitesfor point to multipoint distribution of live programmes. Many of these have been livepresentations with feedback from viewers by telephone, electronic mail and more recentlyby ISDN videoconference.

Some activities are already commercially viable. Eurotransmed, a service for medicalspecialists and doctors throughout Europe now has a regular series of programmes paid forby the viewers. Eurostep, a consortium of European Universities, Colleges and schoolstransmitted 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 nowdeveloping new services for European Universities with a network of regional studycentres.

The University of Plymouth has supported several projects. STARNET funded by theDepartment of Employment from 1990-92 explored and developed techniques of interactivetransmissions. Three principle markets were targeted.

Small business - very interactive using viewers experience stimulated by experts andsmall business traders from studio.

Advanced Manufacturing Technology - exploiting the up to the minute advantage of livetelevision in a rapidly changing field.

Special programmes to reach rural areas e.g. telecottages, green consumerism, and avery dispersed group - 'Safety for Divers'.

The British Library SOLSTICE project used live television together with on-screendatabase examples to train professional librarians in the use of BLAISELINE an on-linesystem. The technique of transmitting screens of information direct from the computerdrive has been very successfully developed in the University of Plymouth's own series inInformation Technology and Multimedia.

Tapes and Data

Though a key feature of satellite transmission is its immediacy a series of tapesspecially prepared from current news items by Oxford University for teachers in EasternEurope was extremely successful. Postal communications are so difficult that transmissionof tapes by satellite proved cheaper and very much quicker. As costs of satellitetransponder time decrease particularly with compression it becomes increasingly economicto distribute tapes by satellite even in Western Europe. These can then be used fordiscussion using electronic mail or videoconferencing.

The University of Plymouth has developed a PC datacard which is linked to the dataoutput of the satellite receiver. Using this, data and diagrams including full colourframe-grab pictures can be transmitted using one of the spare audio channels of thevideotransmission. Each PC card has a unique 'PIN' number so that information can berestricted to any group of customers. The system can be used to transmit study notes toaccompany training programmes.


Recent Developments

A total of over 800 live programmes has been transmitted from Plymouth alone for avariety 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 usingvideo-compression which has proved that a bit rate as low as 2 Mbits/sec is suitable foreducation and training. This will reduce transponder cost to about 3 per minute for fullvideo with sound and data. It is expected that domestic decoders to receive the compressedsignal will be available in the UK at about 150.


Summary of Advantages

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.

6. Interactivity

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.


Conclusion

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.


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