TV Bridges for London Colleges

ELECTRONIC CLASSROOMS

A CLASS of language students at a school in the French city of Nice is now getting their English lessons delivered live on TV screens via satellite by lecturers at Kings College in the heart of London. The experiment, which is expected to lead to similar hookups between London and other European cities, is the latest adaptation of LIVE-NET, an electronic classroom facility that has been operating at the University of London for two years.

Richard Beckwith, director of the facility, has plans to use a similar technique to bounce seminars and lectures between London and colleges in the United States eventually.

According to Mr. Beckwith, the University of London is an excellent testing ground for exploring the potential of linked electronic classrooms. It consists of 14 colleges that are scattered around the sprawling British capital. Electronic learning enables students to ``drop in'' on lectures being delivered as far as 20 miles away.

Because the LIVE-NET system can be used as a conference facility, it is possible for students to quiz a professor on the other side of London about aspects of a lecture or seminar.

LIVE-NET uses fiber optic cables to transmit pictures and sound, and reception quality is excellent. Beckwith says: ``By pressing a button, a lecturer can bring a camera down for a full color close-up of a rock, a drawing, or a page from a book.

``Everyone on the network can see and hear, and there can be discussion on points of detail. In many ways it is better than being in an old-fashioned lecture room.''

The only limitation, Beckwith says, is that lecturers must stay in one place as they teach, because there are no camera crews to follow them around.

``Professors who are used to wandering about as they speak have to learn to stay still,'' he says.

LIVE-NET technology is relatively inexpensive. The University of London system costs $1.6 million to install. Annual operating costs are $100,000. Using camera crews would make operating the system much more expensive.

One of the boldest LIVE-NET ventures so far is a history course in which 60 lecturers have taken part. They delivered their lectures from their respective colleges, and students tuned into the course from theirs.

The University of London has two kinds of facilities. Wholly dedicated electronic ``switch on and go'' classrooms can be used for linkups with hardly any preparation. These are ideal for seminars in which students and teachers in two or more colleges are able to participate.

``Shared'' classrooms are equipped with cameras and video projectors but must be reserved before they are used for LIVE-NET transmissions. These are suitable for large-scale lectures linking up several colleges.

Beckwith says most professors and lecturers have learned to use LIVE-NET after only a few minutes of familiarization. Students are enthusiastic, largely because they no longer have to crisscross London to attend lectures at different colleges.

Beyond a certain range, fiber- optic technology becomes very expensive, so LIVE-NET is best suited to use in metropolitan areas. For longer distances, however, digital-data transmission works quite well.

An experiment at the University of Wales, which is spread out among various colleges, uses digital transmission.

If two universities or schools in different cities each had a fiber-optic network, they could establish contact via satellite.

The experimental language linkup between London and Nice uses the ``footprint'' of the Olympus telecommunications satellite, which is parked above Europe.

The lectures are beamed up from London to Olympus and beamed down to a ``grand ecole'' in the heart of the French Riviera.

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