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Southeast Community College: Building the Video Campus, One Brick at a Time

In southeast Kentucky, a small community college is on the forefront of a movement to make video recording, production and distribution a simple and practical option in the educator's toolkit. Southeast Community College, one of five campuses in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, is using a new video multicasting technology that allows it to convert classrooms into video-production facilities capable of producing and pumping video throughout the entire college system.

Southeast CC, which offers classes in broadcasting and telecommunications, has a new full-blown television studio. The faculty there is now using "video appliances" from VBrick Systems to distribute video signals from the television studio into campus classrooms, to send conventional television and cable throughout the campus LAN, and to turn any classroom into its own television studio.

"We already had videoconferencing technology," said Charlie Simpson, Southeast Community College director of technology. "What we lacked was the ability to stream video from our television studio to our [interactive TV] network. Now … we can plug in a camera and microphone system and create a television studio in any of our classrooms, theatres or laboratories. We take the information, pump it across the network into the studio and then decide how we want to distribute it, whether it's across the IP network or across the Web."

Each of the five campuses has a LAN. On the main campus at Southeast, material is distributed throughout the LAN from the television studio. Because the other campuses don't have a television studio to distribute the signal, the video is routed on the existing interactive TV backbone, a T1 line. Once the material is received at the other campuses, it is distributed to the desktop via that campus's LAN. "VBrick allows us to bring a signal from the TV studio to the classrooms on the other campuses and also allows us to distribute television and cable," says Simpson. "We're transmitting out of the classrooms as if they were TV studios."

VBricks are a family of network appliances or "video bricks," video-on-demand systems, and related components for one-way or two-way television over IP, ATM, and T1/E1 networks. The technology supports IP multicast for transmitting and receiving MPEG audio/video.

In multicast networking, a computer d'es not send its traffic to another computer. Rather, it sends it to a special address whose physical location is inside a router or switch. A multicast client can then inform the router that it wants to receive a multicast stream. When informed, the router replicates the traffic to that client and to all other clients wanting to join the session.

"What we've been able to do with the VBrick is to create a closed-circuit television network in our interactive classrooms," he continues. "Now we can stream video and audio across the network and provide connectivity to classrooms that didn't exist before."

That's been a benefit to Southeast CC's nursing program. Using the video appliance, the program is able to show hands-on demonstrations directly from the lab-classrooms. "We couldn't roll a bed into a television studio," explains Simpson. "It wasn't practical." Now, Simpson delivers a VBrick appliance to whatever classroom or lab is giving the demo, plugs it into the LAN, and sends the signal back to the studio, where it's then distributed across the closed-circuit TV network. In this way, nursing students on different campuses can receive the benefits of the training demonstration. "If it weren't for the VBrick set-up, we never would have attempted this integrated nursing program across the five campuses," he notes.

In the future, says Simpson, the college wants to use the technology to create both synchronous and asynchronous training materials by recording a class, "live-casting" or synchronously distributing it through the network, and simultaneously recording and archiving it. Students can watch the class either on the campus intranet or on closed-circuit TV.

In fact, content can be redistributed any time in a variety of ways. "We've almost eliminated the cost of producing content, and it's available in [a] live synchronous version and [an] asynchronous version for later use," says Simpson. "It also becomes a very valuable aid for the instructor who can use it for a lecture. It may not be the whole class, but it becomes a critical component to enhance that class."

One of the strengths of the system is that it is easy to implement and maintain. In the past, creating a closed-circuit TV system or re-purposing classroom content would have required expensive and complex technology that would have been out of reach for smaller colleges.

Other uses of the technology is to support security and surveillance cameras, as well as revenue-generating services such as delivering conventional cable TV to college dorms.

"Each VBrick device has a useful life of its own, but when you stitch them together, you get a complete, multi-purpose, end-to-end system," explains Rich Mavrogeanes, a VBrick vice president. "Instead of relying on different, often incompatible, technologies for streaming video on the Web, videoconferencing, authoring content, security, and monitoring—with VBrick, it's one technology that forms a system and d'es all of it, lowering complexity and cost."

For more information, contact Charlie Simpson, Southeast Community College director of technology at (606) 589-2145.

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