A project supported by the European Space Agency has combined satellite multicasting techniques and improved content management to enhance information delivery for education.
The use of information and communications technology in schools all over Europe is on the increase. Although the various Ministries of Education have set up networks that offer recommendations on content, as well as advice and support to educators, challenges still remain in the take-up of information technology in schools.
The ESA supported project SchoolCast aims to resolve at least some of these issues by having developed a system that improves the way in which schools access information from the Internet. The key is in improving the management of content, multicasting specific multimedia rich content to groups and sub-groups of schools and then providing feedback to stakeholders about precisely how schools are using this content.
Improved content management
SchoolCast allows the agencies responsible for schools, such as school boards or similar government institutions, to select the most relevant content from the Internet, organise it to suit their own needs and ensure that legal questions on the use of the material are resolved.
The content can then be transmitted via satellite at night, when it is less expensive. Schools equipped with satellite antennas receive the content and store it for use in the classroom the following day.
Multicasting saves on satellite capacity
The SchoolCast content is multicast to schools via a satellite network. Multicasting enables more efficient delivery of data to multiple destinations on a network. Particularly with video-streaming, multicasting via satellite can translate into a significant saving of resources.
Not only does SchoolCast take advantage of a satellite network but the system architect has designed the system to 'push' the most frequently used websites out to the users, where they are cached locally. This approach also greatly reduces the amount of satellite capacity being used.
The project has been made possible through a consortium of four commercial companies and two public institutions. ATiT Ireland is the Prime Contractor of the ESA supported project; Global Communication and Services GmbH from Austria is responsible for the multicasting software; Web-Sat Ltd. from Ireland provides the two-way Internet via satellite network; Intel® IT Innovation from Ireland lend support in the non-satellite take-up of the service.
The National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) is the main stakeholder and both evaluates the service and provides content; HEAnet are a key test user of the network.
SchoolCast has been field tested and validated in educational environment. 'Speed and reliability' were the impressions of teachers taking part in the trials. Teachers can benefit from materials and sites that have been sourced by their peers with content that fits perfectly into their local teaching needs.
The service has proven itself to be both user-friendly and transparent. The service will import any content which can be packaged for multicast. The market potential for SchoolCast has been assessed and numerous opportunities exist throughout Europe.
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