University Obtains More Enrollment and Revenue Using Interactive Video Services

Like the business world, today's institutions of higher learning have entered an era where an ongoing struggle to expand services while controlling costs is the rule, rather than the exception. Computer and communications technologies offer economical solutions that facilitate resource sharing, which drives down costs. The University of Minnesota uses these technologies to increase both enrollment and revenue. "We have five out-of-state campuses utilizing our video application that provides classroom instruction for people in rural areas," says Gary Sullivan, senior telecommunication engineer for the University of Minnesota. "We also use interactive video for medical consultation in our teaching hospital," he says. To provide the smooth, accurate transmission these mixed digital communications require, the University uses Astrocom's (Minneapolis, MN) CSU/DSUs (channel service units/digital service units). They're also using Astrocom's CSU/DSU units for interactive video to deliver remote classes. "We've been using Astrocom products for the last six years and have continued to add applications as technology makes them available to us." One application was designed for Minnesota-certified teachers who live in remote areas. "Traditionally," he said, "when teachers had to pick up a few credits to have credentials re-certified, they might have to drive 300 to 400 miles to a campus that offered the classes they needed. Now, they can go to their local college or university and take video-delivered classes -- and it's all interactive," Sullivan notes. This application is also starting to be used in the extension offices for intra-state conferences and meetings between deans and other education or healthcare officials. Reach Out, Rake In University officials feel that education is like anything else: the more you reach out, the more people you get into the classroom and the more self-supporting they become. These people can, in turn, help others. Sullivan and university officials feel that there are two advantages to this philosophy. First, it brings the educational- cost-per-credit down. Second, universities can provide required, but low enrollment, classes to out-of-state people and generate greater revenue. "An on-campus graduate nursing class might have five to seven people," he says, "but by also making it available at out-of-state campuses, the university can provide multi-point conferences. In other words, two or three other colleges can offer the same class." New Experiences Interactive video education literally extends the classroom, providing enhanced, cooperative learning experiences for everyone involved, anywhere in the world. Sullivan chose Astrocom's NX1/DSX to connect their classroom to the Hawaiian Islands for the Jason Project earlier this year. "We couldn't risk having any reliability or configuration problems," says Sullivan. "We went with products that we knew would work. We also knew from previous experience that Astrocom's technical support group is outstanding," he says. "Any time we have technical questions or configuration problems, they're always right there to help us." The Jason Project linked approximately 800 students using a live satellite connection of voice, video and data. It allowed students to watch and actively participate in the submarine launch of a "land rover" into an underwater volcanic cavern. "That was the first time a real-time, interactive educational project had ever been done here," Sullivan recalls. "The entire communications process was flawless." More recent interactive applications may not be as impressive, but they are expanding the U of M's capabilities of becoming a major remote education provider. "For a long time, we had only one narrow bandwidth link to each of our campuses," Sullivan explains, "so we could only support one class at a time. Now, we're doubling the connections, which will enable us to conduct two classes at the same time to our connected campuses. The expanded service and class schedule will be available for the Fall session," he notes. Remote Configuration If Sullivan has a problem with a remote campus not being able to configure the application at their end, he can perform all the hardware configuration right at his desk. "I can make the changes here and ship the configuration instructions down the pipe so it automatically configures Astrocom's CSU/DSU unit at the far end," Sullivan says. "That's a real plus -- especially in the middle of the night when you have someone at the far end that just d'esn't know anything about the box."

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.