Online Journal of Space Communication

The Role of Satellites in Distance Education (Spring 2007)

From the Editor

For this special issue on the role satellites play in education, satellite providers and their clients have been asked to describe what they have been doing in education and training sectors that make effective use of satellites, and why.

It is not surprising that the response to our call for contributions came in from almost all regions of the world. In this issue, readers will find reports and commentary from some of the world's largest players in these fields, such as India and China, and from the smaller and more focused operations as in Mexico, Kyrgyzstan and Greece. The Journal has also received permission to draw on the experience of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) and the thoughtful research of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) in the United Kingdom.

For those who haven't been paying attention, the capabilities of satellites to deliver educational services has moved by quantum leaps. What one will notice first is that the same devolution that occurred in computers and wireless communication has occurred in satellites and satellite communication.

Just as computers went through a steady downsizing from standalone mainframes to laptops and embedded devices that can be activated indoors and out, and as the terminals of wireless networks have evolved from the clumsiness of car phones to handhelds in pockets and purses, satellite devices are doing the same thing. Satellite communication has evolved to a stage where user access is no longer limited to those who can afford giant earth stations, expensive production studios and control rooms.

Satellites now operate more like commodity services with individual customers communicating directly via space platforms, when and wherever the need arises. Earth terminals are smaller and less expensive, yet more robust and easier to use. Like terrestrial networks, greater intelligence lies within the earth to space networks and the spacecraft come with digital processing capabilities, spot beams for targeting customers, offering a host of scalable, on-demand services.

Distance education and training was an early satellite application. The reason is that space-based platforms are a logical way to bring access to users where telecommunication infrastructures are not yet in place, not just for the disenfranchised among developing nations but for the underserved who reside and work within homes, schools and businesses in the most advanced countries of the world. As with the rapid evolution of wireless and computing services, the public will be increasingly surprised and delighted that satellite technologies can be applied to the types of communications they need on a daily basis, and that the service costs are comparable to those of terrestrial providers.

Satellite communications today is no longer a niche service, nor is it just a backup service used only when other services are down and there's nothing else available. Satellite networks are integrated into the basic infrastructure of modern communication, and as such have become indispensable for the conduct of commerce, for the delivery of education, information and entertainment, and for anything else that is conveyed via narrowband or broadband networks.

The Journal is itself an illustration of the power and effectiveness of distance education. Appreciation must be given to my able assistants Jose Lainez and Ruhi Khan who worked so conscientiously to bring this content online for all to read and to learn from.


Don M. Flournoy, Professor of Telecommunications
General Editor, Online Journal of Space Communication
School of Media Arts and Studies
Scripps College of Communication
Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 45701
Tel: +1 740 593 4866
Fax: +1 740 593 9184
Email: don.flournoy@ohio.edu



Satellite-based Distance Education in India
Sanjay Jasola and Ramesh Sharma