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The IBM Interactive Satellite Education Network

Cheng Poh Toh, Systems Engineer
IBM Australia Limited

Introduction to ISEN

IBM has introduced an Interactive Satellite Education Network (ISEN), to Australia, making it the third country world wide to install such a system. The United States was first and Japan second.

ISEN is an education delivery system using a dedicated television network (Figure 1). An instructor teaches from a studio equipped with television cameras and microphones. Two full colour video pictures and the instructor's voice are transmitted from the studio in North Sydney to the classrooms around Australia. A video encoding system at the studio site digitises, compresses and encrypts the signals before transmitting them by two megabits per second satellite links to the receiving 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 electronic 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 identity of the student directing a question to the instructor.

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 coloured graphics, video tape, IBM PS/2 displays, slides, photos and 16 mm movies. 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 from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm will run in Adelaide from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm. The greatest difference in times will be between Sydney and Perth, where Perth classes would run from 7.00 am to 2.00 pm, during summer daylight saving.

Figure 1
Figure 1: ISEN components

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 is not an extension of the US ISEN. It is an Australian network, with all courses being broadcast from Sydney using local instructors or visiting specialists.

The ISEN system is unique in that is is completely instructor driven. The studios have been designed for ease of operation and control. All of our instructors are trained in television presentation and studio techniques prior to appearing on the network. They also have access to a computer generated graphics laboratory for quality course support material. The ISEN approach marries the latest television technology to the education delivery process, resulting in the most effective and interesting courses possible.

ISEN use

ISEN is used for classroom courses which are required in all locations, such as Indeed any class that does not require hands on laboratory work may be delivered by ISEN. The areas covered are IBM internal education, dealer training and customer education. Some classes are still delivered in the traditional way, but over 50% of current classroom courses are ideally suited to ISEN and benefit from this type of delivery. ISEN is also available for our customers to use for their own requirements.

Course availability is an immediate and obvious benefit. Whenever a class runs on ISEN, it is available in all locations, whether they have a full classroom or just one student requiring those skills. ISEN is not used only for formal education classes. New opportunities exist now for events that were not possible before, for example

The benefits

The ISEN delivery method has many advantages over conventional approaches. By using the satellite and modern communication techniques, IBM is 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 benefit because the escalating cost of air fares, accommodation and meal expenses will no longer account for a large slice of their education budget. With ISEN, the majority of students are able to travel to the classroom from home each day. This also means that students spend less time away from their normal work locations. Another advantage of education delivered via ISEN is the increase in instructor productivity. 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 teach on the ISEN facility.

Figure 2

Figure 2: ISEN Stage 1: 6 receive sites, 11 classrooms,132 student capacity, 24 hour access

Stages of growth

Stage 1 of the ISEN network has been constructed and became operational in September 1989. This comprises This gives the network a capacity of 132 students. Capacity can be extended, if required, by increasing the number of classrooms, or adding more receive sites. The network can be duplicated in future stages which will enable two or three courses to be taught simultaneously. It is envisaged that stage 2 and stage 3 will be implemented at two 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.


Johnson, Paul (1988). Introduction to the IBM Interactive Satellite Education Network. In James Steele & John Hedberg (Eds.), EdTech'88: Designing for learning in industry and education, 6-8. Canberra: ASET.

Johnson, Paul (1989). The IBM case: ISEN (Interactive Satellite Education Network. In Roy Lundin (Ed.), Australian teleconferencing directory 1989. Kelvin Grove, Qld: Communication and Information Technology Group, Brisbane CAE.

Author: Mr Cheng is a systems engineer with IBM Australia's Perth office. His paper is drawn from a number of IBM documents on ISEN. He has assisted the WA Chapter of ASET with demonstrations and facilities on several occasions.

Please cite as: Cheng P. T. (1990). The IBM Interactive Satellite Education Network. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 76-80. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

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