Lecturers will be able to use innovative television science programmes as part of a pilot web project among four universities to see whether broadband video is a useful teaching and learning aid, writes Pat Leon.
The Lifesign project, run jointly by the universities of Portsmouth, Glamorgan, Southampton and Wales Institute, Cardiff, has struck a three-year deal with BBC Worldwide Learning to license life-science programmes such as The Private Life Of Plants and The Human Body .
Lecturers will be able to dip into the programmes in a few weeks to select segments. They can support this with text, images, animation and other online learning tools.
William Garrison, producer at the Learning Development Centre, University of Portsmouth, which is delivering the content, said that the link was especially exciting because the BBC had some spectacular science footage.
"No one wants to wade through 14 hours of television to get that exact moment captured on camera, but using streaming media, a lecturer can direct students to particular clips in the video," he said.
Jonathan Drake, head of lifelong learning at BBC Worldwide, said he hoped that life-science material would be the first of many online courses to offer BBC material as part of degree courses.
The BBC Lifesign project has been building a collection of 70 hours of life-science broadband video since October 2000 by negotiating rights with sources such as Shotlist, from the Educational Broadcast Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Library and commercial distributor Viewtech.
The Lifesign website is free to all students in UK further and higher education. Servers hosted at Portsmouth will allow 1,000 people to view simultaneously.
Lifesign will work closely with the British University Film and Video Council and the Managing Agent and Advisory Service for Moving Pictures and Sound. It is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee, which, with Ukerna, will eventually host the videostream.