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Florida State University's Instructional Television Network

 Florida State University's Instructional Television Network

John C. Bradley

EME 6507


Florida State University's Interactive Television Network links the main campus in Tallahassee with a branch campus in Panama City, Florida. Each campus has a studio/classroom equipped with video cameras, monitors, and microphones. Using compressed video technology and a dedicated fiber optic telephone line, visual and audio information are transmitted between classrooms simultaneously--resulting in a live, extended classroom. Student and instructor responses to this technology are discussed, as are implications for instructional design and delivery.

Problem/Need Addressed by Project

The Panama City Campus (PCC) of Florida State University (FSU) has been offering courses to the residents of Bay County since 1982. Currently there are almost 1000 students. Although it is desirable to offer a wide variety of courses at the branch campus, but it is economically unfeasible to maintain full-time faculty in all academic areas at PCC. The only solution, until recently, has been to import instructors from the main campus in Tallahassee. Each week, about 50 instructors make a four-hour bus trip to and from PCC to teach approximately 80 classes. The growth projected during the next decade will make it increasingly difficult to satisfy the branch's instructional demands using the current shuttle system. Also, many instructors refuse to teach at the branch campus because of the long transit time (FSU, Note 1).

Project Goals/Description

After a thorough study was completed, it was decided that compressed interactive video was the most effective alternative to the current system (ibid.). Funded out of FSU's general budget, the Instructional Television Network started full operation during the fall semester of 1991 (Kennedy, Note 2). The main campus in Tallahassee and the branch campus in Panama City are each equipped with a complete studio classroom. Each studio is staffed by a full-time video director/studio supervisor (FSU, Note 1). Approximately three classes per week are currently being offered by this medium, but the system has the capability of handling 25-30 classes per week (Bolduc, Note 3).

Since the Department of Instructional Television is not under any college or school within the university, all faculty have equal access to this resource. In addition to being used for instructional purposes, this facility can be used for student advising, dissertation defenses, and departmental meetings (Kennedy, Note 2).

Media/Technology Employed

Each classroom has at least two floor cameras. These cameras are remotely controlled by the studio supervisor at each location. The cameras, which are mounted on movable pedestals, may be focused on the instructor, the students in the class, or a white board at the front of the class.

In addition to the floor cameras, each site is equipped with one overhead camera that is permanently located in the ceiling and pointed downward toward the top of the instructor's desk. This camera is also remotely controlled. If an instructor normally lectures using an overhead projector, the overhead camera can be used as a substitute. The overhead camera captures whatever is written or placed in front of it. The image is transmitted to the television monitors in each classroom so that the students can see the material (FSU, Note 1).

Each classroom is also equipped with several large-screen monitors. These monitors are positioned so that each student has an adequate view (Kennedy, Note 2).

Each classroom is equipped with a wireless instructor lavalliere microphone and several desk-mounted student microphones. The student microphones are voice-activated to prevent more than one student from speaking at a time. The studio director also has control over the volume of each microphone (ibid.).

During the class, the video director chooses the best camera angle and transmits it to the other classroom. Similarly, the video director at the other campus chooses the best angle in the in the other classroom. When a student in the distant classroom has a question, the camera zooms on that student so that the instructor can see the student (FSU, Note 1).

Both video and audio images are transmitted via a dedicated optical fiber line. Using a device called a "codec," the visual and audio images from each classroom can be sent to the other classroom simultaneously. This means that the instructor can hear and see the students in the distant classroom, and the students can hear and see the instructor at the same time. The net effect is a virtually "live" extended classroom (ibid.).


Since this system has only been operational since August 1991, little evaluation data has been collected.  A survey of student attitudes was recently conducted but has not yet been tabulated. However, the researcher's impression is that, in general, students are positive about the system. Some students complain about the monitors being too small and audio level being too low (Bolduc, Note 3).

A survey of instructors is planned for the near future. Anecdotally, some instructors are positive about this system because they perceive opportunities for publishing papers regarding the medium. Other instructors are negative about the system. This is largely a result of faculty's historic resistance to new instructional technology. In addition, some faculty are concerned that videotaped lectures might be used to evaluate their performance as an instructor (ibid.).

A review of the literature indicates that there is no significant difference in student performance with this medium when compared with traditional lectures, as long as the course is well designed and students have an opportunity to interact with the instructor (ibid.).

Cost-effectiveness of the system has not yet been evaluated. At present, the system is probably not cost-effective because it is not being used to full capacity. It may take several years for the system to reach full utilization and pay for itself (ibid.).

Implications for Design

Compressed video can easily accommodate the traditional lecture format. However, there are characteristics of this medium that designers and instructors should keep in mind.

While compressed video offers the advantage of instantaneous visual and auditory interaction between distant locations, the visual image appears to "smear" slightly with any fast or broad movements. The faster or broader a movement, the more the picture will blur. This is because current technology is limited in the amount of visual information that can be sent over a telephone line. The result is a television picture that is very clear with graphics, still pictures, or pictures with little movement. While the slight smearing is noticeable, students quickly become accustomed to it. However, courses which require a great deal of movement (e.g., aerobic dance) would be inappropriate for this medium (FSU, Note 1).

The instructor should periodically look at the camera and ask questions of the students at both sites. This will let the students at the distant site know that they have not been forgotten and help ensure that all students are actively involved. The instructor should repeat students' questions or comments in either classroom because the students in one classroom or the other may not have heard the question or comment (ibid.).

If writing on the white board, the instructor should not stand between the camera and the writing. The instructor should use large print and short line lengths. If long line lengths are used, the camera will have to zoom out and the writing may be too small for students at the distant site to see (ibid.).

When using the overheard camera, the instructor should write large enough for the camera to pick up the print. A dark felt-tip pen is recommended when writing on "overheads". Since the overhead camera has a ratio of 3 high by 4 wide, "overheads" should be in landscape orientation whenever possible. The instructor should avoid referring to an item or notes that are not in the camera's field of view (ibid.).

Any handouts, tests, or other documents should be developed and duplicated far enough in advance that they can be delivered to the distant site before class (ibid.).

A proctor should be arranged for administering tests at the distant site. In some cases, the video director may be recruited to serve as the proctor (Kennedy, Note 2).

Reference Notes

  1. Florida state university instructional television network--itn instructor's handbook. Internal document, Florida State University.
  2. Kennedy, R. Personal communication, October 28, 1991.
  3. Bolduc, W. Personal communication, November 5, 1991.