New era in pictures

December 10, 1999

BERLIN. An American university claims its method of combining video with audio and text on the internet is a revolutionary delivery trend for education.

Andy DiPaolo, executive director of the Stanford Centre for Professional Development, told last month's Online Educa conference in Berlin that Stanford Online had found a solution to the need for high bandwidth for video.

Stanford, which has 6,000 students in one of the largest distance education programmes, is using video compression to deliver both live and on-demand distance learning via the internet. He said Stanford Online courses incorporated video, audio, text and graphics into one package that students could access with their computers wherever they wanted to study.

About one-third of the SCPD's 250 courses, which are aimed at working engineers, scientists and managers, are available online, but by next year all will be.

Although the centre's activities are focused on distance students, he said on-campus students were also accessing the materials. As well as being very useful for non-native English-speaking students, some are using the facility to take two classes that are scheduled at the same time or gain an edge by previewing future lectures.

"It also gives the on-campus student the opportunity to choose from not 15 classes in residence for a master's degree but 300, so they can pick and choose and browse and it broadens the educational experience as a result," Dr DiPaolo said.

Steve Wheeler, senior lecturer in educational telematics at Plymouth University, demonstrated video streaming and webcasting technology developed in conjunction with PictureTel Corporation that can make a live presentation available to thousands of users on an IP network with just one signal. Material can also be accessed on demand after the event.

The system allows distance students to participate in a lecture by typing questions, which can be answered by a moderator or passed on to the speaker.

Wheeler said it appealed to all cognitive learning styles and believed the anonymity made it easier for students to ask questions.

In another conference session, Paul Bacsich from Sheffield Hallam University's Virtual Campus Programme outlined some of the difficulties facing British higher education institutions wanting to offer more online courses.

He said that educators had to take into account the overall costs of teaching and learning - both networked and "traditional" - in a framework that covered the total costs of all stakeholders. This included not just the universities, but also the costs that fell on other stakeholders, primarily staff and students. Hidden costs on staff included using their own computers and telephone lines for internet research and unpaid overtime for course development.

Controversially, Professor Bacsich suggested that conventional teaching needed to be costed in the same way so that comparisons of costs and benefits could be made. However, he added that there were many organisational barriers to such accurate costing, including academic and management reluctance to "consider any form of time sheet" and managers' refusal to accept that staff work "overtime".

Details at: DiPaolo: http://stanford-online.stanford.edu; Wheeler: www.fae.plymouth.ac.uk/tele/tele.html; Bacsich: www.shu.ac.uk/virtual_campus/cnl/

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