Distance learning beamed to homes

June 22, 2001

The home satellite dishes that deliver films and football to British front rooms are now enabling students to take an MBA.

Swiss firm the Fantastic Corporation has developed a system that allows universities and colleges to deliver multimedia learning materials to students by satellite in a cost-effective way.

Sheffield Hallam University is the first UKuniversity to sign up and is using the system for a distance MBA.

The attraction of this development for learning is that it allows the same amount of material contained on a CD-Rom - enough for about one seminar - to be delivered to students' computers in about 20 minutes.

To download the data - which include video, audio, graphics and animation - over the internet using a telephone line and modem would take at least 12 hours.

Sheffield Hallam is developing a virtual campus with interactive online learning materials for both internal and external students. Ken Mills, virtual campus manager, said the technology would allow the university to increase the number of students it supports and make the learning system more relevant and accessible.

Sheffield Hallam is also participating in Genesis, a European-funded project testing the satellite delivery and tutorial support of several distance-learning courses, and is adapting a number of existing courses including an MSc in networked information engineering, which has 150 students across the United Kingdom.

Sunderland University is also working with the Fantastic Corporation to further distance learning. The university sends materials via an ISDN line to the company in London, where they are uplinked to the satellite by British Telecom, which is a joint partner in the company's UK operation.

The Girne American University, based in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, is using the system to distribute distance-learning courses across Turkey.

The university is part of the American Educational Consortium, which aims to sign up 5,000 students to its distance BBA. Many of its students are in countries, such as the former USSR republics, that have limited access to such courses.

Mahmut Pirhan, the consortium's coordinator, said: "Satellite multicasting will enable us to reach rural and remote areas where often a satellite dish and TV are the only reliable contact with the outside world."

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