WOU explores use of Internet radio to reach out to students

About 25 WOU staff attended a talk and demonstration on Internet radio at the main campus. They got a glimpse of how this media approach can be used to reach out to students outside the campus or even the general public.

WOU staff listen to the briefing.

WOU staff listen to the briefing.

In her presentation on ‘Internet Radio – Beyond Geographical Boundaries’, Dr Pema Eden Samdup, Programme Officer of the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) based in New Delhi, said that Internet or web radio operates basically in the form of audio signals which are streamed over the internet, unlike the traditional radio which depends on the power of the station’s transmitter as well as availability of specifically set broadcasting wave frequency.

She said radio broadcasts via the Internet reaches out to a wider audience and transcends geographical boundaries, adding that the “cost of getting on the air” is less”.

Among the benefits of Internet radio include unlimited number of stations and live streams; live and on demand audio programmes easily made available; listeners (learners) can access the streams he/she had missed; interactive add-on features like call-ins, text message, email, or chat; and students are also able to customise what programmes they want to listen to. 

Dr Pema explains the basics of web radio.

Dr Pema explains the basics of web radio.

During the demonstration, listeners at the regional offices were able to access the live audio and video feed of her presentation at http://iradio.wou.edu.my. Dr. Pema suggested that WOU devises a schedule to slot in selected programmes at different times to cater to the educational needs of the learners and administrative needs of the university, with listeners able to log in and ask questions. She said “the clarity of the signal is better than that from conventional radio and you can measure the audience and create a profile on the type of listeners you have”.

Dr Pema shared that there are two ways for delivering audio over the Internet to listeners. One is to create and upload MP3 audio files to the computer server for use on demand. The other is through streaming media where the audio (and video) files stream from the Internet directly to the user’s PC sound card. The streaming server makes continuous broadcast over the Internet possible. “With advanced wireless technology, Internet radio service can be made accessible on the mobile phone too,” she added.

In the same demo session, network engineer Kalinga Athulathmudali from Sri Lanka showed how to set up the Internet radio system in WOU, using a basic webcam, 300 Kbits bandwidth, and a free streaming media server in the US.

Kalinga demonstrates how to set up Internet radio at WOU.

Kalinga demonstrates how to set up Internet radio at WOU.

He said that open-source software such as Winamp, Shoutcast and Audacity can be used, with the personal computer acting as the mixer. A streaming server is needed for live broadcasting, while a narrow bandwidth will suffice for web radio alone. “At first, students may not be interested, but once they see how it works, they’d become interested. They can even listen to live or recorded lectures from home,” he quipped.

In reply to a question, Kalinga said the advantage of Internet radio over video-conferencing is that students can log on from home instead of gathering at the regional offices. “If you just do audio or show presentation slides, you do not need much bandwidth. But you would require more bandwidth when showing videos. For this reason, never keep the streaming media server within the university itself. Look for an external provider,” he advised.

Dr Pema and Kalinga were participants of the CEMCA ‘Advanced EasyNow’ training workshop hosted by WOU from June 21 – 25. Among those who attended the talk and demonstration were Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Wong Tat Meng and Assistant Vice (Academic Support) Prof Dato’ Dr Ho Sinn Chye