Seattle Community Colleges: A Digital Television Channel

Seattle Community Colleges (SCC) form the second largest institution of higher education in Washington state with more than 52,000 students attending classes each year at its four main campuses.

Historically an early adopter of new technologies, SCC was the first community college whose television station was digitally broadcast full-time on the Internet. Seattle Community Colleges Television, more commonly known as SCCtv, is an educational and community television service that broadcasts academic and vocational telecourses and teleweb classes 24 hours a day. Other featured programs include locally produced, community-focused features and student-produced, student-oriented programs. SCCtv also offers distance learning classes to those who cannot come to one of its campuses or learning centers, offering students a fully accredited Associate of Arts degree through distance learning SCCtv curriculum.

An Innovation for Television Broadcasting
Because of SCC's pioneering spirit in technology, David Moody, Chief IT Engineer, had no reservations adopting the new Microsoft Windows Media 9, part of Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition package. With this software, SCC has been able to exponentially expand the quality of its streaming video, eliminate buffering, and enable more manageable bandwidth and to-the-second transitions.

In addition, SCC used high-performance hardware solutions from Dell for the school's innovative broadcast project, including Dimension 8200 series desktops, PowerConnect 5224 switches, and PowerEdge 2600 servers in support of the new initiatives. This highly reliable infrastructure, coupled with Microsoft's new multimedia software, has facilitated a massive shift away from traditional broadcasting methods and enabled new distance learning perspectives.

By uniting powerful hardware and cutting-edge multimedia software solutions, SCC has taken its IP streaming video technology to the next level and is now broadcasting completely digitally. SCCtv airs on consumer television via standard cable with a 1.4MB stream, a remarkable decrease from the previous 30MB bandwidth glut. Prior to this, streaming video on television was possible but highly impractical due to high cost and bandwidth barriers. Now, over 350,000 Seattle residents receive SCCtv on their local cable channel. And according to Ross Davis, general manager for the digital TV project, the transition was so seamless that "nobody could tell the difference."

Implications for Distance Education
The implications are enormous for both programmers working behind the scenes and student viewers alike. Employing video-on-demand through traditional television sets means viewers can effectively use their TV as a computer monitor, making education more convenient and accessible than ever.

Since all SCCtv content is digital and broadcast from DVDs, physical storage is simplified as well. All the program files fit on a reasonably sized hard drive, and the need for beta and digital backup tapes is eliminated. Additionally, streamlining the broadcast process with "drag-and-drop" programming can save universities thousands of dollars. Davis estimates that this new method of broadcasting could cut costs by 50 to 65 percent.

Having engineered an innovative system for inexpensively running a television station, SCC is a thought leader in sharing streaming video content with distance learning students. By following their example, other colleges and universities around the country will be able to deliver this new breed of commercial-quality broadcasts and improve distance education at significantly lower costs.

For more information, contact Ross Davis (rdavis@sccd.ctc.edu), general manager of the SCCtv Digital TV Project, or access SCCtv's streaming video worldwide at www.scctv.net.

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