There is a gag in the 1985 movie, "Real Genius," starring Val Kilmer, in which a class of students use tape recorders to record a university lecturer rather than attend class. Eventually, the professor, too, opts to vacate the empty classroom, leaving just a tape recording of his lecture to play to the rows of cassette recorders.
Now students of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., will be able to stay inside their dorms and watch lectures - or just record them, if they wish. The university is installing a digital video network to all of its dorms at a cost of $2 million.
The key to the success of digital video is the advent of Internet2, an experimental computer network with speeds up to 45,000 times faster than the best telephone modems used to surf the Web. At present the network is limited to the academic world.
Northwestern's Internet2 capabilities will allow their digital video network to convey crisp images into a computer through extremely high-speed connections, thus eliminating jumpy images and long download times associated with typical Internet video.
"What the Internet did with its present capability, it made it possible for anyone to become a publisher," says Mort Rahimi, Northwestern's vice president of information technology. "The environment we are creating at Northwestern is going to allow each one of our students and our faculty members ... to become producers."
The university already has developed instructional videos in Spanish, French, and German and has hooked up a new lecture hall with digital capabilities. Students will be able to watch lectures in real time or hook up to the video later.
Schools participating in the Internet2 project include the University of Pennsylvania, which expects to have its dorms wired and ready by 2002. Others will watch, perhaps pondering the obstacle of reaching the student population that isn't living in dormitories.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society