Further education colleges and higher education institutions in Wales are being linked in an integrated national video network funded by Education and Learning Wales and the European Regional Development Fund.
The Welsh Video Network is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom to involve both sectors.
The network is being used for varied learning and management applications, including delivering fisheries tuition to the Republic of Ireland and language teaching to centres in the United States.
The network is managed by the United Kingdom Education and Research Network Association and operates within ISDN (integrated services digital network) and internet protocols. It is available in more than 80 centres, which have been equipped with similar studios and videoconferencing systems.
Users need a minimal level of technical knowledge to operate the systems, but training is being provided to ensure optimum results.
Meanwhile, in southwest England, a dedicated medical application has been set up. Time constraints on trainee surgeons in the health service have led the University of Plymouth to adopt an alternative approach to the delivery of surgical education. Through the use of a mixture of distance-learning technologies, trainees can remain in their workplace while continuing their studies.
Every Friday lunchtime, trainees at more than 30 hospital education centres in the UK and the Republic of Ireland can view live programmes that support the syllabus for membership of the Royal College of Surgeons. Broadcast via satellite from Plymouth, the programmes are structured around 10-12 minute teaching and information modules.
Feedback during programmes is provided by email and video-conferencing. Questions can be addressed during presentations and live feeds from land-based video-conferencing allow input from specialists and trainees from multiple sites. For those who miss broadcasts, transcripts are posted on a website and provision is made for dialogue about programmes on the site's chat pages.
The project, partially funded by the European Space Agency, uses exclusive access to a digital satellite uplink. As the initiative's impact is recognised more widely, project staff are preparing for inclusion of similar centres in Germany and Italy.