ASET logo
[ EdTech'88 Contents ] [ EdTech Confs ]

Introduction to the IBM Interactive Satellite Education Network

Paul Johnson
Manager, Education Delivery Systems
IBM Education

In the third quarter of 1989, IBM Australia will introduce a multi-million-dollar training system to internal employees and customers throughout Australia. This system takes advantage of the latest satellite technology.

The Interactive Satellite Education Network (ISEN) will enable IBM to transmit courses by satellite from its studio in North Sydney to ISEN classrooms around Australia.

ISEN is a communications delivery system analogous to a television network. An instructor teaches from a studio equipped with television cameras and a microphone. Two full colour video pictures and the instructors voice are transmitted from the studio to the classrooms. The studio also contains a wide range of technical equipment to assist the instructor with the delivery of interesting high quality education.

The network is controlled by a complex computer system that manages all interaction between instructor and students. It also provides valuable feedback to the instructor via a touch sensitive display screen. This feedback includes the results of multiple choice questions asked by the instructor, and the exact location and number of student questions.

A video encoding system at the studio site digitises, compresses and encrypts the signals before transmitting them by 2 Megabits/second satellite links to the receiving classrooms. Classrooms in the same location as the studio are wired direct to the studio.

Each classroom (which can accommodate up to 12 students) is equipped with a sound system and two television monitors. One monitor shows the instructor's face, and the other shows the course graphic material. This can be overhead projector transparencies, video tape, IBM PC graphics, etc.

Each desk is equipped with a Student Response unit (SRU), which contains a microphone and keypad. When students wish to talk to the instructor or ask a question they press a button on the SRU. The microphone carries the dialogue to both the instructor and to other classrooms in the network. Additional buttons on the SRU allow students to answer multiple choice questions set by the instructor. This is an effective way for the instructor to check if students are comprehending the course material.

The existence of multiple time zones across Australia means that classes will run at different local times in different cities. For example, a day course that is broadcast from Sydney 10.00am to 5.00pm, will run in Adelaide from 9.30am to 4.30pm. The greatest difference in times will be between Sydney and Perth, where Perth classes would run from 7.00am to 2.00pm, during summer daylight saving.

ISEN was first installed five years ago by IBM in the United States, where close to 100 classrooms and four studio transmit locations are operating. IBM Australia will be the third IBM company in the world to use the new system, IBM Japan having recently introduced its own ISEN facility in October 1987.

Research carried out in the United States has shown that students rate ISEN very highly. They enjoy the interactive nature of the presentation and the convenience of taking courses in their own cities. It has also allowed students to benefit from more training because education budgets are employed more effectively and not wasted on high travel and accommodation costs.

The Australian ISEN facility will not be an extension of the US ISEN facility. It is an Australian network with all courses being broadcast from Sydney using local instructors or visiting specialists. To make sure presenters' performances are completely professional, instructors using the ISEN network will be formally trained in television presentation skills and techniques. This education will be ongoing to cater for new presenters to the network.

Planned use

The curriculum for courses run on ISEN will be primarily non-lab technical education. Initially the education will be delivered to IBM customers, IBM's own staff, IBM Marketing Contractors and Dealers.

Apart from maintenance days and public holidays, the ISEN facility will be fully utilised. It is planned to run a full day course during business hours and a half day course of a different subject in the evenings. The evening classes would suit people who cannot leave their offices during business hours.

ISEN will not replace all conventional "stand-up" classes. It is an alternate education delivery option for those courses that particularly suit the medium.

During the first full year of operation ISEN is expected to carry approximately 10,000 student-days of education. This represents around 8 percent of total education delivered by IBM.

Stages of growth

Stage 1 of the ISEN network should be operational 3rd quarter 1989. The initial network comprises: This will give the network a capacity of 120 students. Capacity could be extended, if required, by increasing the number of classrooms.

Stage 1: Australian ISEN diagram

Stage 1: Australian Interactive Satellite Education Network

The network can also be duplicated to provide a second or third stage so that two or three courses can be taught simultaneously. It is envisaged that Stage 2 and Stage 3 would be implemented at 2 year intervals.

Another possibility for expanding the network is to connect the ISEN facility to other countries in our region, such as New Zealand and those within South East Asia.

Stage 1 - Australian Interactive Satellite Education Network

The benefits

The ISEN delivery method has many advantages over conventional approaches.

By using the satellite and modern communication techniques, IBM will be able to offer courses to more students in more locations. For example, students in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and Adelaide will be able to attend a course simultaneously. IBM benefits from this by being able to meet the increasing demand for education. The students benefit by having more courses available to them at their own location.

IBM customers will save money because the escalating cost of airfares, accommodation and meal expenses will no longer account for a large slice of most customers' education budgets. With ISEN, the majority of students will be able to travel to the classroom from home each day. This also means that students will spend less time away from their normal work locations.

Another advantage of education delivery via ISEN is that the productivity of instructors is increased. An instructor no longer has to travel to all major cities to deliver the same course. The time an instructor traditionally spent travelling and instructing can now be used to develop and prepare more effective courses. Also by increasing instructor productivity we can ensure that the best instructor for a particular discipline can be used to teach it on the ISEN facility.

ISEN technical overview diagram

ISEN technical overview

Author: Paul Johnson
Manager, Education Delivery Systems
IBM Education

Please cite as: Johnson, P. (1988). Introduction to the IBM Interactive Satellite Education Network. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (Eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 6-8. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications.

[ EdTech'88 contents ] [ EdTech Confs ] [ ASET home ]
This URL:
© 1988 The authors and ASET. Last revised 9 May 2003. HTML editor: Roger Atkinson
Previous URL 31 Mar 1998 to 30 Sep 2002: