Expanding Distance Learning Program Using Innovative Video System

Cedar Valley College has been successfully using video as a tool for distance learning for several years, using closed-circuit television to send live video of classes to local high schools. The program was so successful that we wanted to extend the use of video to higher education students of all ages and in all locations—including those enrolled around the world in our growing distance learning program.

To do this, we knew we needed to take advantage of the latest that video technology had to offer. Closed-circuit TV limited our broadcasts to a few specific users, and did not allow us to reach the full spectrum of higher education students interested in our courses.

Industry First
At the beginning of July 2003, Cedar Valley College deployed a first-of-its-kind video system paving the way for Cedar Valley College to obtain rich media on-demand, enhancing the higher-learning experience, and increasing the program enrollment, in addition to breaking new ground for colleges of a similar size.

This new system was designed with and installed by VideoCall from Austin, Texas, a video network integrator that uses MPEG-4 technology from VBrick Systems—a provider of networked video appliances and other digital video systems. This new system includes significant selections, such as offering the ability to simultaneously stream and record lectures, and provides multiple channels from the classroom to the viewer.

These unique capabilities allow professors to offer a course live or on their students’ time schedule as well as allow students to see and hear the instructor, watch a lab experiment, and view the instructors PC screen, all over the Internet, no matter what bandwidth they are connecting at.

Network Video Appliances
Portable video appliances from VBrick Systems are mounted on a cart along with a camera. The system design by VideoCall allows for the “video cart” to be wheeled from classroom to classroom or to auditoriums around Cedar Valley’s campus. By simply plugging the video appliance into any port on the college’s existing data network, professors can broadcast or record class sessions and demonstrations.

Students can access these videos anytime simply by clicking on designated links on Cedar Valley’s virtual student bulletin board. Because the video appliances compress video and audio into the MPEG-4 format, students can access the video on any PC that is connected to the Internet, no matter what speed connection they have. MPEG-4 video compression with the VBrick VBXcast uses bandwidth more effectively, allowing it to extend the reach of visual communication to everyone with Internet access from dial-up to broadband. Because it is a network appliance dedicated to streaming, VBrick’s VBXcast is reliable and easy to set up and use—a big plus for teachers and instructors who may not be comfortable using such advanced technology.

Virtual Classrooms
While Cedar Valley’s video system will be used for distance learning classes in all majors, it will be particularly beneficial for the college’s veterinary technology program, which is primarily made up of virtual classes attended by students who live all over the world. Now, instead of relying on PowerPoint slides for learning material, students can watch live or pre-recorded class sessions and demonstrations taught by professors. Because the quality and fidelity of video transmissions is so high, remote-learning students can pick up nuances and subtleties of a lecture or lab
demonstration that would otherwise be missing from a set of slides or an audio recording.

With the ability to offer up live and on-demand classes simultaneously at any location, Cedar Valley is paving the way for distance learning on a broad scope ahead of the pace of education, but with the cutting edge of technology and education. This collaboration is breaking the geographic boundaries that limit traditional education and eliminating distance from learning.

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