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 September 2007, this project has 27 universities and research institutes partners in 14 countries in Asia (Table1), and has deployed receive-only satellite earth stations at each partner site to share the distribution of live lectures from Japan as well as archived lectures.
Table1. Partner Organizations
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 Marine Science and Technology,Tohoku University, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Keio University and WIDE Project.
- Figure 1. Partners in Asia
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. We put the gateway site at Keio University, Shonan Fujisawa Campus so that is has 10Gbps connection to Japanese network backbone and also has AI3 project's C-band satellite antenna that can deliver Ethernet packets in 13Mbps.
We used receive-only satellite antenna 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 realised by using special UDLR box and normal router based on FreeBSD. By using this environment, we are able 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.
We also placed mirror servers using Linux system at the student site so that they can refer to their mirror servers when seeing the archived lectures, so that they don't have to connect to remote/overseas original server. Figure 2 shows the network configuration overview.
Figure 2. Network Configuration Overview
We considered 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. We chose DVTS (Digital Video Transport System, RFC3189) or Polycom (video conferencing system) for the connection between the lecturer site and the gateway site, and Windows Media Player or VIC (VIdeo Conference Too) / RAT (Robust Audio Tool) for the connection between the gateway site and the student site. We are using various applications 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.
Human Resource Development Programs
We believe stable environment management by each local staff with sufficient understanding of the network/distance learning environment configuration and knowledge for network management is indispensable for our project's future development and smooth lecture delivering. To meet this, we are conducting SOI Asia operator's workshop once a year from 2002. We are inviting about 30 staff to each workshop, and teach the basic and advanced information to opearte the SOI Asia environment.
Partnership with Universities and Curriculum Development
We manage our project through steering committee, which consists of each partner's representative, academic committee and operator committee. In the academic committee, we gather each university's course wish list, and decide the curriculum. In the year 2005, we conducted marine science, bio technology, information technology course, which gathered most wishes from the partner universities. We are also trying to construct a system for grade exchange and review the way of faculty communication and grading for the students. In the steering committee, we establish organized partnerships by discussing various processes such as new site approval process.
Through our project, we already established Internet infrastructure in 22 partners in 12 countries in low cost and short span. Especially in Union of Myanmar, none of the universities have Internet infrastructure in October 2001, when our project started, and Internet was not managed commercially. However, in those times, we installed Internet connection in University of Computer Science, Yangon, and got special permit from the government to use the Internet connection freely for educational purpose, and established student site environment. We think this is a breakthrough. Through our distance learning environment, we have delivered 150 lectures and 16 courses until October 2006. In these lecture series, there were not only Internet technology related lectures, but also marine science lectures by Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, and bio lectures by Tohoku University. We confirmed our accumulation of distance learning experience in Internet related lecture can be applied to other courses. We also confirmed the communication system of student and lecturer through our distance-learning environment; students attend the lecture, students submit the assignments, and lecturer review the assignment, can work well to the universities, which have matching interest. Students can specify the lecturer of their interest, and the lecturer could review the abilities of the students. We found our distance learning procedure could be applied to the selection of Co-Advisor, educational programs such as lectures from joint research partners.
We will conduct several lecture series with inter-university grade exchanges and verify if our environment is suitable for real university level lecture infrastructure. We will also apply our environment to exchange student programs and twining programs to propose more efficient educational programs.