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Programmers shape the future of distance learning.

Live, satellite-delivered programming for grades K-12 is a burgeoning market.

In the early 1980s, video-based educational programming for the public schools was primarily pre-produced, enrichment in nature, and terrestrially delivered. In the mid-'80s, that began to change.

In 1984, the Arts and Sciences Teleconferencing Service out of Oklahoma State University began live telecasts to 10 rural schools in panhandle Oklahoma. The following year, TI-IN, a San Antonio based private firm, also entered the market. During the academic year 1990-91, these two providers alone served nearly 2000 schools and 100,000 students with some form of live enrichment or credit-bearing coursework.

Nor were these the only vendors of programming. A 1990 report, issued by the Kentucky State's Educational Television group, identified four other groups providing 100 or more hours of live, interactive programming to public schools.

Much of the recent rapid growth in the K-12 distance learning market can be ascribed to federal Star Schools legislation. The $40 million which has thus far been appropriated has fueled equipment purchases and program development across the United States. This has permitted a rapid expansion of the transmission and reception infrastructure and the telecasting of a rich array of courses for both students and teachers.

Need for coherence

At present, the major program vendors are disperes on a number of different satellites and are using both Ku and C-Band transmission. Such an arrangement diminishes the ease with which any particular receive site can access the available programming. This creates vendor-specific networks and unnecessary duplication of programming.

In an effort to bring some coherence to the K-12 distance learning market, a consortium of program providers formed a DLSC (Distance Learning Steering Committee).

DLSC participants include ASTS, Telecommunications Education for Advances in Mathematics and Science, TI-IN Network, Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications, Satellite Educational Resources Consortium, Inc., SCOLA, Missouri School Boards Association, Nebrska Educational Telecommunications, Arkansas Educational Television Network, Oregon EdNet, Black College Satellite Network, and Northwest Educational Telecommunications.

A broad range of issues currently is being addressed by DLSC. Among the most critical are resource sharing and nonduplication of programming.

The size of the market for any given course offering varies greatly. For example, the demand for Spanish language instruction is sufficiently large that it can support the offerings of several providers.

Conversely, demand for Chinese or Japanese is limited. The infusion of federal money which supports program development ensures there is no initial penalty to vendors who wish to create a Chinese or Japanese course; yet, when free market forces take over, the supply may well exceed demand, assuring the demise of all such courses.

Transponder availability

A second critical issue is transponder availability and program aggregation.

Based on data in the 1990 KET report mentioned above, the Edsat Institute estimates programming of 20 of the largest educational providers alone between September 1990 and September 1991 could utilize 73% of the capacity of two satellites during the prime 12-hour, 5-day, 36-week broadcast period.

If aggregation can be achieved, such demad raises the issue of availability of capacity, particularly as the demand is expected to increase rapidly for the foreseeable future.
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Title Annotation:Education
Author:Holt, Smith
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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