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High-definition distance education system

Our high-definition distance education system began operation from April 2010.This system renewed the previous system built in 2004 that had been used for 6 years. The new system features the use of high-definition image transmission equipment by means of two high-definition cameras and two high-resolution projectors. The high-definition cameras capture images of the blackboard and teacher at 1280 x 960-pixel resolution and can transmit images of a blackboard and images from a personal computer screen, so that it is possible to provide in the distance education classroom a clear image of the mathematical formulae characteristic of scientific and technological studies. Besides these uses, this camera can be used by itself to transmit normal images, so that someone monitoring the class can see how the students in the distance education classroom are studying and can use the camera as a back up in case a technical glitch occurs in the transmission.


Yoshida Campus distance education classroom Katsura Campus distance education classroom

Contents transmitted and the network

In the lecture room, we have been transmitting videos consists of high- definition images (1280 x 720-pixels) and sound. Our video-conferencing facilities support H.323 protocol, the international standard regulating the transmission format of images and sound. Besides the blackboard images, we have been using a camera to show the content of handouts. In the basic setup, we use two cameras, one on the left and one on the right of the blackboard. In a remote classroom, two screens show the images from the two cameras.

Since this image resolution is 1280 x 720 pixels, students in remote locations can easily read what is written on the blackboard and the teacher can conduct his lecture in the same way as he or she usually does We use another image transmitting so that the teacher can see how the students in the remote classroom are listening and watching his lecture. We set up a screen in the back of the lecture room that shows the image. So the teacher can seamlessly grasp both what is going on in his classroom and what is going on in the distance education classroom.


High-definition image of the blackboard Distance education classroom shown on the rear screen

Multipoint connections

With this system, all codecs (high-definition images and conventional ones) are compatible with multi-point connection. However, the number of connections is limited by the performance of devices.

System of operation

In the 2004 academic year, we used this high-definition distance education system to carry out lectures from the Electrical and Electronic Department of the Graduate School of Engineering and the Undergraduate School of Industrial Chemistry in the Faculty of Engineering. To make clear the condition and responsibility of these lectures, agreements were obtained between the Media Center and each undergraduate and graduate department involved. The following items were agreed to.

  • Format of the lectures
  • Assignment of responsibility for operation
    • Explanations on using the system to teachers giving lectures with it
    • Training and selection of TAs, payment of their expenses, and administration of their work
    • Classroom management
  • Support in case of trouble
    • Handling of lectures in technical difficulties
    • Emergency contacts
    • Contact to the teacher/ Contact from the teacher
    • Handling of lecture in long-term technical difficulties
  • User manual

The followings are the major technical supports.

Preparation of a user manual

For either group of the teachers who give the lectures and the TAs who operate the devices, we prepared a manual --a manual for teachers and an operation manual. The manual for teachers uses photos and diagrams to give an outline of the system. Thus, it can be used as a material for introducing this system. These manuals can be downloaded from the web.

Holding of a workshop for users

Based on the above manuals, a workshop for teachers and TAs on how to use this system is held before the beginning of the first and second semesters. The workshop is held on the three Kyoto University campuses simultaneously using the distance education system.

Support in case of trouble

As described in the following section, the system is equipped dual video-communication devices with back-up capabilities in case trouble occurs. However, all kinds of trouble are possible, from simple human error in setting up the system to serious technical breakdowns in devices. We have set up a response operation by Media Center staff to take action as soon as possible after receiving any reports from a TA of a problem that he or she cannot handle alone.

From 2006, we have set up a network camera in each classroom and have been focusing on creating a system by which we can grasp on-site conditions not only from information over the phone or by Internet chat, but by visually being able to see what is happening. In addition, from the 2007 academic year, we have moved forward with a program for monitoring from the staff room.

Preparation for the outbreak of trouble

Since providing classes to students is the most important mission of a university, every class in distance education must be conducted without interruptions. However, no matter how much we prepare for operating a distance education system, we cannot avoid device breakdowns. Thus, , we make it a rule to bring in back up equipment to transmit both sound and images. See below for more details.

This system has redundancy by two HD video-conference devices, which can work independently of the other. Thus we conduct a distance course with at least sound, one blackboard image, and PC screen, avoiding complete disabling of the class.

Future prospects

High-definition distance education system enabled a teacher to use a blackboard just as if they were in the same classroom. The results of introducing this system have been quite significant, as attested by the increase in chances for students to receive lectures that have been physically impossible for them to attend so far and by the decrease in time, and effort needed to prepare materials for distance education. We plan to continue making improvements to the system in light of suggestions made by users.

 

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