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Pete Roythorne gets to grips with streaming media

One of the main problems accessing video clips or large audio files on the internet can be the time it takes for things to download to your computer. This is where streaming comes in. As the name suggests, the data is sent to you in a stream, and you don't need to wait for the whole file to arrive before you start to viewlisten to it. This means you can access very large files - TV programmes or radio broadcasts, for example - instantly. And, if you've got an up-to-date computer, you already have the ability to access streaming media -Windows Media Player, RealPlayer and Apple's Quicktime all accept streaming.

To cover the likelihood of connections slowing down or being interrupted, streaming uses a buffering system, whereby a few seconds of the media is temporarily stored on your computer so that the data stream is always fractionally ahead of what is being played.

Furthermore, the information is gone from your computer once the file has finished playing. This is a major factor in reducing problems with copyright, as the file is never fully stored on any machine other than the streaming host (the computer sending the file).

However, it's not just accessing files over the internet where schools can get the benefit of streaming. With digital video cameras, webcams, VCRs and DVD-players now proliferating, many schools have libraries containing hundreds of items of video and audio curriculum materials. By turning these into streaming media, schools are able not only to share the resources, but also to create a valuable and accessible educational archive.

The software to do this is readily available: many schools can run Microsoft's Media Server at no extra charge; Apple offers a free streaming media solution called Darwin Streaming Server; and RealNetworks has a special package for schools using its streaming media software.

Once on a streaming server, this archive of resources can be made readily available through the school network, or for home study and to other schools via the internet. For those excluded from education for any reason this is a potential goldmine.

It doesn't stop there. In the near future it will be possible to stream audio and video to a mobile phone. Although, at the moment, the cost of the technology is prohibitive, the idea of being able to deliver educational content direct to pupils' mobile phones is getting some more forward-thinking educationists a little hot under the collar.

* Apple Darwin Streaming

Microsoft Media Server windowsmedia9seriesserver.aspx

RealNetworks e-Learning Click and Go Video

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