Monday, June 18, 2007

“School On the Internet (SOI)”, an online Internet Education Project in Asia
Online education is an education training delivered primarily via the Internet to students at remote locations, which encompasses any kind of learning that, can be done exclusively online. Sometimes this learning is through free, self-study websites. Often, though, students learn through virtual universities such as the WIDE University and others. Here, I am just going to focus about the school of internet project under WIDE University running since September 1997. WIDE university is an experimental University to research about the new form of higher education on the Internet infrastructure whose sole objective is to share lectures within Asian countries.

What is school of internet?
"School of Internet" is the studying environment to learn about the Internet on the Internet. It is difficult for just one educational organization to gather enough teachers that can teach about this whole new subject and also provide sufficient educational environment for people who want to learn about the Internet systematically. The establishment of "School of Internet" will be an important guideline to set up this new educational field by coordination of different universities of Asia. SOI ASIA Project utilizes satellite based Internet to provide Internet environments in a less expensive, easy to deploy, and more feasible way for the universities located in the regions where Internet environments are insufficiently developed; conducts research and development of the necessary technology for IT human resource development in Asia while using the environments; and proposes, through field experiments, a new educational methodology for universities in Japan as well as educational institutions abroad. As of April 2007, the SOI-ASIA project has 28 partner organizations in 12 Asian countries including Nepal.
Basic working principle of the project:
The Central control system of this online class is located in Shonan Fujisawa Campus, Keio University Japan. 28 universities of aisa are interconnected through satellite network and all member universities have client server control room and SOI lab to conduct virtual class using two way video conferencing. Professors from different universities from the world and experts from different companies (like Intel corporation, etc..) are requested to provide class about new technologies. Almost classes are conducted from SFC Japan but it can also be conducted from other universities also. The basic functions of SOI are:
Entrance registration
Course registration and authorization
Lecture archive and distribution
Q&A and students communication
Submitting reports
Tests and grading
Course survey
Class and conference from distance
( for details)
Tribhuvan University is one of the partner organizations of this project. Center for Information Technology (CIT), Institute of Engineering (IOE) is handling this project as a member. CIT has SOI server control room and SOI lab to conduct virtual classes. Series of lectures (eg: Advanced Internet Technology, Object Oriented Software Development, Disaster Management, Bio-energy etc…) are being conducted. (Follow to see all lectures conducted till now). Each site has more than two formal operators well trained by the project with responsibilities to handle SOI server and conduct classes. Operators announce class time and course title to students, lecturers and professors through notices. The presentation is being broadcasted live from the central (any one member university, mostly from SFC Japan) to all universities and at the end of the presentation; students can join to the question/answer section through audio and video conferencing. Students, teachers, professors from any universities, schools and campuses can join on this class.
Technical Part:
This project is supported by several ministries of Japanese government, and ran mainly by WIDE Project, AI3 (Asian Internet Interconnection Initiatives, ) Project, Keio University and Asia-SEED Institute. The official lecture providing partners include Tokyo University of Fisheries and Marine Science, Agricultural Department of Tohoku University, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Keio University and WIDE Project

In order to develop Internet infrastructure in low cost and short span in the partner sites, and develop distance education environment on the infrastructure, SOI Asia project designed
1) Lecturer site
2) Gateway site and
3) Student site
The lecturer site can be built anywhere as long as it has sufficient bandwidth to carry lecture video and audio in good quality to the gateway site.
The Gateway site is at Keio University, Shonan Fujisawa Campus so that it has 10Gbps connection to Japanese network backbone and also has AI3 project's C-band satellite antenna that can deliver Ethernet packets in 13Mbps.
Receive-only satellite antenna has been used at the student site using UDLR (UniDirectional Link Routing, RFC3077) technology. This technology enables the Ethernet packets to go through 13Mbps AI3 link and come back through existing Internet infrastructure such as telephone line or ISDN. This technology is realized by using special UDLR box and normal router based on FreeBSD. By using this environment, it is possible to deliver good quality video and audio to the student site, and get feedbacks from the student site through various applications based on their Internet infrastructure.
Mirror servers using Linux system are placed at the student site so that they can refer to their mirror servers when seeing the archived lectures, hence they don't have to connect to remote/overseas original server. Figure below shows the network configuration overview.

Application Configuration:
Three points in application design:
1) The stream can be multicast so that we can deliver lecture stream to multiple partners in Asia 2) The stream can be delivered to places without existing Internet infrastructure and
3) Interactive session based on student site's Internet connection is possible.

DVTS (Digital Video Transport System, RFC3189) or Polycom (video conferencing system) has been chosen for the connection between the lecturer site and the gateway site, and Windows Media Player or VIC (VIdeo Conference Tool) / RAT (Robust Audio Tool) for the connection between the gateway site and the student site. Various applications are being used such as VIC/RAT, Internet Relay Chat, Bulletin Board, MSN Messenger for the feedback from the student site to the lecturer site. The student site can decide which application they will use based on their Internet infrastructure.

Importance in developing countries
This is a call for a "Grand Challenge" project for achieving truly global connectivity. For over a decade, this project has hypothesized that the Internet could raise the quality of life in developing nations. Internet infrastructure is rapidly growing in Nepal. Growth in Information and Communication Technology would definitely improve the education quality. This is the age of globalization. So world’s education standards must globalize. Such projects have major contribution to globalize world’s education standards by conducting online live education which includes technologies of developed countries and share different countries education standards.
This is not to say the activity of the past decade has been a waste. The project has demonstrated the value of the Internet and raised awareness. The United Nations and the administrations of nearly all nations have acknowledged the potential of the Internet. The way has been paved, and it is time to act on what we have learned.


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