Digital Compression Primed to Fuel an Explosion in Distance Education
Using microwaves, optic fibers and telephone lines to distribute educational programs is nothing new. Today's students can get college degrees, take continuing education classes for career advancement, or select high school specialty classes not offered locally--all without setting foot in a traditional classroom.
Until now, however, the high cost of delivering such on-the-spot education has hampered growth. No more. New technology is proving it can slash the cost of distance learning--by up to 85%.
While higher-power, Ku-band communications satellites are providing the medium for change, it is digital compression technology that is sparking the revolution in satellite-delivered education.
In the past, entire satellite transponders relayed broadcast-quality analog video signals. Compression, however, digitizes the signals and electronically simplifies their content. Thus, eight or even more channels can be squeezed through a single transponder. Once the signals return to Earth, they are electronically expanded again. The result: a huge jump in available capacity and a sharp drop in perprogram costs.
* NTU Gets More for Less
In the spring of 1992, National Technological University (NTU) became one of the first distance learning providers to cash in on the new compression technology. NTU had been spending $2 million a year to lease two satellite transponders, which delivered four channels of analog programming to 420 receiving sites. In 1991, NTU served more than 100,000 students with 800 programs provided by 130 corporate sponsors.
Now NTU's consortium of 45 universities provides 12 channels of digital programming on just one transponder. Net savings: $1 million per year. That's 300% more programs at 50% of the cost.
Tripling capacity couldn't have come at a better time for NTU. Many of its offerings are non-credit short courses in advanced science and engineering, aimed at practicing technicians, scientists and engineers. "To keep growing," says Doug Yaeger, vice president of marketing for NTU, "we needed additional channels."
The digital format also provides a host of new services that attract even more students: the ability to send faxes, turn video recorders on and off remotely to automatically tape programs, and deliver advanced programming directly to a student's on-the-job workstation--all via satellite.
* Small Users Benefit
Although many distance learning providers operate on a far smaller scale than NTU, the economics of digital compression make it just as compelling for them.
John Gwynn, director of Galaxy Satellite Services at Hughes …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Digital Compression Primed to Fuel an Explosion in Distance Education. Contributors: Not available. Journal title: T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education). Volume: 20. Issue: 8 Publication date: March 1993. Page number: 57+. © 2009 1105 Media, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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