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Technologies Available For Use In Distance Learning? 131

Posted by Cliff
from the what's-there-to-work-with dept.
DaScope asks: "I have been assigned a new project: setting up a distance learning facility where the teacher can simultaneously teach to different people across the country. Audio/video streaming, interactive whiteboards, photo albums and discussion boards are different options available to us. What other technologies are available for distance learning use? What are the cons/pros of the different technologies available, and are they available for Linux?"
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Technologies Available For Use In Distance Learning?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    One thing that you can try is a MOO which is an open source virtual text environment. Look at http://www.gnacademy.org:7000 [gnacademy.org] which is running on a Linux box. It's running LinguaMOO whose main site is http://lingua.utexas.edu [utdallas.edu]

    Also make sure that you remember to list your courses in the open content distance learning database at Globewide Network Academy (http://www.gnacademy.org [gnacademy.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Our school uses Horizon Live http://www.horizonlive.com/ Although I don't do any of the administration I am part of the tech support team for our school. Over all I would rate it as a fair system. It just uses a web browser and has an embeded real player portion for audio and video. There are a LOT of bugs in the system though, we basically have to specify an exact version of Netscape they can use. Anything else and all kinds of weird things happen to the system. Last semester the system was fairly new so we were expecting bugs, but it's been 6 months now and it's almost gotten worse and not better. Overall I am a tech support guy so I see all the bad and none of the good. If you have the student using all the versions of Netscape and Real Player we recommend it works well.
  • I have been taking a crap load of classes (about 20) online over the past 2 years through the SUNY school network for a computer science degree. The facility they use is Lotus Domino from which they deliver message type forums over the web. My experience with it as an end user has been great; their main servers in Albany get hit pretty hard on the weekends. In the event one goes down they have failover servers at various suny schools scattered across NYS which data is replicated and synched I believe every hour. Not sure what the OS they are running it on but Lotus is known for its scalability and cross platform capabilities. With something like online classes where the potential for growth can be so huge, you dont want to screw around with some unscalable or underdesigned solution. I would definately learn from SUNY's example- They are pumping out hundreds of courses (maybe over a thousand now?!) and really get hit hard. Also this is new york, its a whole other country- shit is done here with no patience and much more aggression. Can you imagine how many times students have tried to take these boxes down as an excuse to 'hand in' a paper late?!? :) I tried myself a few times when a new exploit is released on bugtraq! Good luck! check out http://sln.suny.edu - geno^
  • The write it then erase it thing IS a pain in the arse. But it's the same in a live class ... only you can interrupt at that point. Some of the best distance classes I have been in have distributed all of the course notes in powerpoint. You can then print the notes ahead of the actual lecture and scribble right on then as the prof is talking. Works great.

  • I've worked a a couple schools and colleges and have run into this question before.

    In one college we started running WebCT (www.webct.com [webct.com])for 100 distance education classes. This was developed by a college in Canada, and it worked pretty well for what we needed, and was somewhat setup for multimedia. The server ran on Linux/BSD/Unix (NT support was coming) as Perl and C scripts, and the group at WebCT said had pretty good support, not that we had many problems. There was even talk of a DEC Alpha port. WebCT has most of what you are looking for, you would just need a streaming media server. There are yearly fees for WebCT, but they are not that bad.

    Another bigger college I worked at went with FirstClass for oncampus classes, and a few departments started using WebCT for Distance Ed classes. FirstClass is expensive!

    The K-12 Public school district I now work for is currently using AUC ( http://auc.sourceforge.net [sourceforge.net] ) to support students learning. This is an open sourced free solution that has decent mailinglist support. The OpenSource part is nice for making minor modifications. Also 50% of the suggestions end up in the next release.

  • that looks almost like a One-Time-Password =)
  • I've done a little in this area. Here's some suggestions:

    * Resist the urge to stream _everything_. Sometimes it's just better to put the next lesson into a .zip file and mail it to them the day before. You don't want lessons being disrupted because someone's modem drops or the webserver crashes or it's just a slow net day. It also leaves bandwidth for the important stuff.

    * Videoconferencing isn't as useful as it sounds. Apart from the bandwidth requirements, you're lucky if what you want to look at is framed properly without multiple cameras. Everyone will want it, however (It's one of those buzzwords, you see) so say it's planned for 'phase 2'.

    * Audioconferencing, however, can be extremely useful. If you're going to do it, never forget the possibilities inherent in the humble telephone. Especially as a backup when the modem explodes.

    * Work hard on making the audioconferencing work well. Ideally, you want a 'party line' situation, where students can hear the teacher, and can also talk to other students and hear the questions they ask. Also, pay attention to the hardware, which is usually the weak link. Get headsets with little boom mikes and software which 'normalizes' the volume.

    * If computers are a central part of the lesson, investigate remote-screen viewing software like VNC. It lets you see that students are coping, help them out when they get stuck, and the knowlede that the teacher is also looking over their shoulder tends to keep students focussed. It doesn't use a lot of bandwidth, either.

    Just my $0.02

  • Take a look at groove at http://www.groove.net/
    The raw pper to peer features of Groove might be sweet for classroom application. And it supports security and control that you'd need. Customizing it to suit specific classroom requirements sounds like a good challenge.
  • If you're trying to do plain course delivery, WebMentor [avilar.com] is a useful (if not very elegant) solution. If you have the resources and clients with bandwidth, take a look at BlackBoard [blackboard.com], which is more robust than WM.
  • You might want to check out South Dakota's distance learning network. They have wired all their K-12 Schools into a state-wide network providing e-mail, web and dns services for each school along with video conferencing, interactive whiteboards, etc. Check out the Connecting the Schools [state.sd.us] page for more info and contacts.
  • I'm currently taking three courses from UMUC's Asian division. So far, this is the only DE system I've used, but personally I don't much care for the layout of WebTycho.
  • I attend Guilford [guilford.edu] college in Greensboro, NC and after a few discussions with my macroeconomics professor, I started thinking about using a "smart" whiteboard to show developments which are drawn on the board to be played back later from a computer. After looking into many different options, most of which were $2-3k and up, and consisted of small boards which were pressure sensitive, I stumbled across something which left them all behind. The Mimio [mimio.com] board.

    The mimio board is a capture device that sticks onto (or can be mounted on) the upper left hand corner of any existing whiteboard. By inserting stantard markers in the jackets which go along with the capture board, the software captures every stroke along the way, step-by-step. This alone was something that few of the devices which I had investigated could do, but there is more. They also have a plugin available for it that allows you to record audio as well and create a realplayer simultaneous stream (smil file). The entire presentation can be played back by any machine with realplayer (when you play the file it downloads a plugin. I have tried it on windows and macintosh, I have no idea whether it works with any other platform, but I would assume not.) The file size created is very reasonable (example: selectble audio bitrate + 157Kbytes for a 1hr board intensive lecture). We have begun using it so that students may re-experience a class which they have missed or need work with. I am by no means a representive for mimio, there product just worked really well for us.

    Total Cost: $775 + Shipping
    $499---->Capture Device, 4 Marker Sleeves, Eraser and software
    $249---->BoardCast Producer Plugin (So we could create the real streams with synced audio/board)
    $25----->25ft Serial cable (So we could have the computer half way across the room)

    Hope you enjoy it, if you end up buying one, or have any questions, I'd be interested to hear from you, feel free to email me at AptrippA@AguilfordA.edu [mailto] (Remove the A's) -Peter Tripp
  • I'm the lead programmer for a project at the Univ. of Missouri called Shadow netWorkspace. While it is mostly an asyncronous system, it does provide a java-based chat system for syncronous communication. However the real beauty of the project lies in the fact that it's a networked OS, it comes with an API set that can be used to easily build additional programs (in perl) that can be installed onto the OS; so if you find it's missing a feature you really need you can add it yourself.

    http://sns.internetschools.org [internetschools.org]

  • Just though i'd add a little more info for those who are curious.

    Shadow netWorkspace is perl and java applications running on a perl API set using mysql for db and apache/mod_fastcgi for the server.
    It is also 100% GPL'd code.
  • To me, if you already have a teacher who is actually going to be "teaching" the students (i.e. the curriculum is not entirely web based and created by a committee), then your best bet is a pure "videoconferencing" system over dedicated fiber w/ a bunch of televisions, several cameras, and of course a fax machine.

    My mother teaches several rural Nebraska schools using a system such as this and even a newbie like her understands "face to face" instruction requires no special skills on the part of the students or the teacher (well, to a point).

    This type of system is OS agnostic, but also rather expensive. For smaller class sizes with a dedicated teacher though, I don't think it can be beat.

    Good luck!
  • Disclaimer: I am the head techie at HorizonLive

    There have been several posts about HorizonLive so far in this thread, and I'd just like to say a few things about Distance Learning and HorizonLive.

    First of all, the subject of one of these posts, "distance learning is hard", is a good start for a discussion. There are so many different ways to accomplish "distance learning", and these all vary in difficulty.

    There are several ways that people look at this topic in a narrow way. Some people expect to replace all other means of learning with internet-based distance learning. That's just unreasonable. For certain applications, I don't think there's any combination of technology that's going to be able to compete with a good old fashioned classroom. For others, there are easier ways to distribute knowledge, like books or other asynchronous means of communication.

    That said, when you decide that what you want to do is enable people in diverse locations to be able to share a live, interactive learning experience, you have a lot of compromises to make. Most of these comprimises rest upon the requirements you put on the class participants. If you require them all to have un-firewalled internet access, at very high speeds, with only a particular type of computing platform and peripherals, you can build a nice, gee-whiz learning environment. However, the barrier for students to use the software will be very high, and that limits the utility of the software.

    I think that HorizonLive has made choices which a lot of slashdotters will find they may have made themselves. Here's why:

    • We're people like you: We advocate open-source software, and open systems. While the HorizonLive product itself is not (currently) open source, we use open-source software to build and run it, and we try to contribute back to the community.
    • We try to support as many platforms as possible. I think that everyone here who develops web applications (or even web sites) knows how hard it is to deal with all the different (buggy) browsers out there, we do our best to work with any browser that supports Java and Javascript (i.e. either 3.0+ browser -- and we're working out the kinks with Mozilla also).
    • We made the decision early on to use Real for our media delivery, because they were the best compromise possible. If you look at a previous article from a few days ago, you'll see the situation hasn't gotten much better recently. However, we have alternative media plans coming soon.

    In short, we try to make a compelling learning environment accessable to as many people as possible, with the lease amout of fuss possible. The goals are somewhat contradictory, and elusive, but we get closer all the time.

    We certainly are not the right solution for everything. Any package that tried to be that would certainly be doomed to failure. However, I think we are a great choice for many applications.

    If you're looking for a distance learning solution, I'd say that you ought to take a few minutes and check out our website [horizonlive.com], where you can find additional information about us. You can even participate in a live demo session, or view archives of actual HorizonLive classes.

    -SteveK
    (linux user since 0.99.12k).

  • I don't know if the server side runs on Linux, but there is no Linux client for it. But then again, right now, there is no Linux client for any Lotus app.
    Other than that, Sametime is a very nice app. Got to play around with it a bit a few weeks ago with our Notes dev guys.

  • About a two years ago my local LUG (Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts) had a speaker from Emory University to talk about his distance learning/collaborative-computing system call (strangly enough) the Collaborative Computing Framework. It is based on open standards (of course) and at the time clear-board, white-board, and audio were working well across a T1 size pipe. They were working on video, so I assume it is now working as well. It is cross platform (most Unises, linux). It can be found at http://ccf.mathcs.emory.edu/ccf/
    .
  • If you are teaching from a university of some size, you will likely have the internet2 advanced research network, Abilene (http://www.ucaid.edu/abilene/) connecting you to all the other universites that happen to be members (there is a list). This provides you with a reliable data path for real time audio and video, via H.323 (an ITU standard) or non-standards based approches (not recommended) and soon via SIP (an IETF standard, less ghastly than H.323 by most accounts), once some SIP video clients are availible as most focus has been on VoIP to date. If you wish to conference with off campus sites, as most people do, you can conference with I2 schools, which will work pretty much every time, you can *attempt* it over the commodity internet, or you can use an H.323 to H.320 gateway (RadVision makes a nice one) that will allow you to communicate to sites that have ISDN connectivity for only money. There is a currently existing mesh of H.323 zones in existance across Internet 1 and 2, and advanced research networks globally (10-155 in europe, apan in asia, Ca*net in canada, they mostly all peer together) called ViDeNet, of which more info can be found at http://www.cavner.org/videnet/ .

    So don't listen to the vendors who poo-poo realtime voice and video over IP networks, it can work just not usually over the commodity internet. Abilene and other advanced research networks change the whole equation for those with access to them.
  • LEarningspace IS a good option. However Lotus has once again changed some of the underlying technology - moving from an NSF based version to one that's HTML based. It's STILL a giant PITA to customize the underlying code and Lotus says it's not going to get better until at least the next version. In some of the seminars in Orlando a couple of weeks ago it was apparent that the feature sets in the HTML and NSF based versions aren't even the same and that you'd need pieces of both in some situations - ick!

    Their strategy is coming together but it's far from perfect I'm afraid. It IS a pretty neat solution when it's putted together but it can be painful getting used to how it works - especially if you're not Notes experienced.

    I'd certainly suggest looking into this product though. It uses browser applets for the students so there shouldn't be a load on each workstation. Unfortunatly I think their silly licensing model is per seat - what a joke! Supposedly this will be changing I was told - we'll see.

    At least the backend code can be run on Linux but you'll have to do any NSF development on the WIN32 platform. The Linux backend Domino server can't handle as many concurrent users as the WIN32 code can either. I'm also not sure that the SameTime stuff from Databeam can be hosted on Linux so I'd check into that. It's also a pricey package wen all of it is added up (sigh).
  • Blackboard is the platform in which we as a College use to coordinate many of our courses. We are currently running Courseinfo 4.1x (the product directly leading to BB5). Now there are many nice things about BlackBoard... They use many...many different technologies all rolled up into a nice little ball.

    They have a "Tutuornet" and Virtual Chat room all written in JAVA, Level1 Blackboard still uses MySQL, the run on APACHE, they use PERL, CGI, works on LINUX, SOLARIS, (ick)NT(retch), W2K(p-tuey). I have gotten it to run on FreeBSD and NetBSD, though not officially supported.

    Another good thing is, BlackBoard has teamed up with TextBook Publisher and other Publisher to come up with "plug-in" modules for Teachers to use as a "template" for thier course. I think they have somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 - 600 pre-made modules, ready for customization.

    Some of the things Blackboard does have now, is a "student portal" or a "MY-Blackboard" setup. Makes it easy to help the student know what they need to know as far as schedules, what your grades are for what class, you next counselor meeting or when OPen registration startes for the next term. Blackboard is used by more than 3000 Learning institutions, there has gotta be a reason for that. It works..well.

    Something else... I only maintain the "system", the instructors/professors/faculty maintain the rest.... SO it has GOT to be easy to use else they couldna do it very easily. No I am not talking about the CS Profs here, I am talking about the Business School Old Farts that teach Typing and dictation.... and HATE these darn computers thingies.

    I guess what it comes down to, is that you either take a look at it or you don't. Believe me, I was amazed when I actually was told to install it. I had very little work to do then, as I still have very little to do now. The upgrades are fast and easy, I have test Migration to the new ersion several times, but the teacher don't wanna "have more to do" cause BB5 really makes a jump in functionality.

    BTW, they are at:

    www.blackboard.com
  • my mom's friend's school in colorado uses software called Blackboard. I believe it lets students read assignments and such online. http://online.ccsd.k12.co.us
    My old comp-sci teacher also has a site where his students can read notes and print out worksheets: http://askwood.com

  • I think that a real danger is the development of proprietary course management systems (WebCT, BlackBoard) that greatly restrict the kind of teaching that instructors can do. A project worth supporting is LearnLoop [learnloop.org].

    I might also, humbly, suggest that people look at Duck [umass.edu] and, in particular read why I wrote it [umass.edu].

  • LearningSpace [lotus.com] is an add-on to Domino specifically designed for distance learning. You can use the teacher/student model as well as the self-pace model (and the hybrids in between).

    As it runs on Domino, you can have either browser based clients or use the Notes clients. Domino is available for Linux and there are still persistant rumors of a Linux Notes client.
    --
  • There is nothing "illegitimate" about spreading any memes you wish by internet. Censorship memes will not be tolerated.
  • I worked on this thing http://www.gdc.com/products/mac500/ and i know it is being used a lot in distance learning setups.

    It pumps out real-time mpeg2 video & audio over high-speed network links.

    The reason i mention it here is because i'm quite proud if the box. Really. We put our enthusiasm in it when it was designed, and it shows.

  • For most of my time using the internet, I have been searching for Distance Learning tools. I have found and tested a few, and all fail the tests, except for a few:
    IRC; gives on the spot text and a bit of voice if one prepares it early (dcc file transfer)and it is in .wav or MP3 format.
    ICQ, AOL, and MSN messenger service; much like IRC.
    HTML; "canned" or prerecorded lessons.
    There are a number applications which have the whiteboard, and streaming sound, text, and colagerative file sharing, but each targets the commercial use and is cost prohibative to the casual user, either student or teacher. Also, these are too difficult for the casual user to learn.
    The test requires that the tool(s) must be intuitive, do what it is supposed to do without a great deal of training or computer knowledge. (this may require some good wizards and deamons).
    Video is not needed at all, it does nothing to improve the learning experience, and requires far too much bandwidth (lowest common denominator being 486/66 with win95 and a 28.8 modem). Who wants to watch a professor give a lecture anyway. The whiteboard is a must, as is sound, text, and especially hands on file colaberation. All these tools MUST be able to run on ANY platform, thus, be 100% independant of the operating system. Perhaps the best language would be JAVA, PERL, or even HTML. What ever it is, must be very easy for both the teacher and student to use, at most, with a one time very low cost, no cost being best. It must be very intuitive or it will not find the instructors nor the students, each being easily frustrated and unwilling to go forward.
  • I have toured both AT&T and MCI locally.
    At AT&T they use a system with a monitor and camera, and each person has a device on the table. They swipe their employee ID card (also for access to the building and time "cards"). They answer questions from the instructor and request assistance (where they can ask a question and everyone can hear them), through the device, which has a microphone and keypad. When they complete and pass the class, their employee records are automatically updated to reflect that. Now, from what I understood, it used an OC3 of bandwidth (155Mbps), but since it was on the same floor as their switch (and I mean *THE* switch, nearly the entire floor), it was nothing.
    MCI used almost the same setup, but I was told it was mostly for corporate broadcasts, such as the merger with Worldcom a couple of years ago.
    I wrote down the brands/models of the systems, but unfortunately I cannot seem to find it anywhere (that's what I get for using trees!). My suggestion is to call them (usually a salesrep) and arrange a tour. Maybe you can get a gander at the system, just to see what features they have and all that. I had very good experiences touring both places, we ended up getting the tour from the head technician in both cases. They were spouting off lingo, giving us stats on the hardware, etc, confusing the hell out of the salesrep. Some damn fine systems they have! The way that I got the tours was that we were shopping around for our service, and they both wanted our $30K/month contract. I'm not sure if they give a tour to just anyone, but perhaps you could arrange it for a Cub/Boy Scout troup or something similar. I took my son's Cub Scout Den on a tour of the local phone company's main building (Cincinnati Bell) and they went home impressed as hell, though not as much as the adults who came along :).
  • here's the website: http://www.cen.uiuc.edu/Mallard/ you can read up on it there. My introductory circuits class is using it, it seems to work pretty well for that. It not exactly what you're looking for in terms of giving lectures, but it seems to me that you've got to measure progress somehow.
  • NETBias [netbias.net] makes a synch/asynch distance learning tool. Includes whiteboard, multi-point audio. Server runs on Linux, no client plugins (audio is a java applet).
  • At IUPUI we have several methods of distance learning at our disposal. But honestly I believe the tools are not utilized by academic staff appropriatly. For example IUPUI has an application called "Oncourse" that they use in a lot of classes to exchange email and schedules for lectures and exams as well as posting assignments and weather information. It also has the ability to administer examinations. But the shortfall of it is it is only used in conjunction with traditional classroom teaching. It's really just used as teacher aid. You can check into Oncourse at http://oncourse.iupui.edu/

    I took a History class that the Professor elected to have the university staff (audio) record his lectures. I later discovered they are using a RealPlayer server to offer the lectures to enrolled students. It is available at http://www.imds.iupui.edu/lecture/ but it doesn't offer much information until you logon.

    It does the audio lectures via a RealPlayer stream to the student wherever he/she is. BUT, I am unaware of any classes using it for "Distance Education". It is primarily used to supplement the traditional "class attending" student who may have missed a lecture or wishes to review the lecture from home or a campus computer.

    I see a real possibility of using an "Oncourse" type application combined with audio/video streaming as a distance education solution. But IMHO real distance education cannot replace attending a classroom until "interactive realtime" communication is possible with the instructor and the student. Take a look at the distance programs out there now. From what I have seen so far it is all reading done at your pace with excercises to email in to the instructor when completed. This would be fine and dandy if learning were so simple. But what if you have a question? Then it is phone calls (consider time zones or professor schedules), emails (consider when it gets read and when an answer is forthcoming), etc,etc.

    I dont want to belabor the point but I see this as one of the major problems with distance education. Another problem is a matter of quality in the education you recieve. I wouldn't want my Dentist to get his education over the internet or from snail mail reading assignments. I wouldn't want my speech classes done strictly in front of a video camera...public speaking is more than a good video production.

    Until two way realtime communication is more practical and affordable and until academia accepts the non-traditional method of learning, distance education with the technology we have now will only fill a niche in higher education.
  • Being the often-lazy student I am, I miss a lot of lectures (even though it's just 5 minutes by foot for me to get to my lectures...). But as long as lecture notes, excercises and solutions are provided via the net (usually as PDF or PS), and I can use the discussion group on our college's nntp server, I feel perfectly fine... quite often when I actually do visit the lectures it seems like a waste of time to me since most professors fail to explain their stuff well enough, and it thus doesn't give me any extra information I couldn't have obtained from the notes, and I end up learning from the notes anyway... so yes, I could practically be a thousand miles away, as long as I'm equipped with a net connection I can study alright...
  • Any technology can be used for good and evil purposes. Does that mean we don't develop it so that no one "bad" can use it? No. It means we develop it and hope that no one uses it for bad.

    I can stab you to death with a pencil. Uh oh. We better stop making pencils because someone bad can use them to do bad things. They can write notes about hate and distribute them to people.

    License clause.... my ass. We must keep the children safe. troll.

    Andrew
  • Open standards anyone? The Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is available at http://www.adlnet.org. Imagine, designing content to be reusable.
  • At one point a few months back, I had a 1+ hour commute each way where I wasn't driving... I would have loved to have had study materials that I could use offline on my Laptop or Palm Pilot, but all of the training materials my company provided were web-based. I never used any of them.
  • I'm replying because I wanted to agree and amplify your other point: we have to actively raise our children, and make sure that they have a set of beliefs which they understand well enough that the beliefs can't be overturned by the first fast-talking con man the kids meet. We must also make sure that those beliefs leave no room for self rightousness and hatred.


    I'm from a good deal further West (and North) than Montana. Fortunately, Alaska has a reputation for cold that keeps some of the nuts out, but we have some of both sorts up there too... obnoxious crazies from back east looking for a place to fester, and quiet folk who are left alone because they never trouble others. Not many plain folk up there, but there is a colony of old believers down on the Kenai, as I recall.

  • I agree that there are unresolved ethical questions about distance learning. But I don't think you pointed any of them out. What you suggest is simply censorship, pure and simple. Of course we should keep these hate groups out of our schools, but we can't keep them from offering "educational materials" to the general public, because to do so would violate the first amendment.

    The ethical questions I would point out are of the effectiveness of distance learning. What you are doing is taking the presence of the teacher away from some of the students. I believe it would be very difficult to teach in such a situation. Having a message board to post questions to is very different from being able to raise your hand and ask a question. Even with cameras and two way streaming video, this is no substitute for actualy teacher presence, imo.

    But then, ianae (i am not an educator)
  • As a follow up to this, I'd like to say that IMO it isn't what technology you use (but do keep it simple)...it's the people you hire to run the show. I work as a coordinator for a distance ed program at the UofIllinois (Library and Info Science program called LEEP [uiuc.edu]). We're pretty durn successful, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that us two fulltime staff members have backgrounds in psychology and education. We really get to know our users and we both have experience in working with learners in stressful situations.

    We've been able to take people with no computer experience and get them online and earning their master's. It takes a lot of time and patience, so be prepared if you're students need to ramp up.

    Even if you are teaching a bunch of Slashdot types, I still maintain that investing in staff for support is crucial to success. No one wants to work with indifferent or mean people, and that goes double for students who are footing the bill.

    That all being said, we also go for low bandwidth (since we are a global program and many of our students have older machines and slower dialups). IRC-based chat rooms, nntp-based bulletin board system. We also stream Real Audio (at 6.5 kbps...sounds grrreat!). We find that having synchronous class times as well as asynchronous work really helps students feel like they're part of the ol' learning environment. We also tend to emphasize some oncampus time (two weeks in the beginning of the program to get to know us and their classmates, then a day per class enrolled in during the semester).

  • You don't say why your school wants to do distance learning. Without knowing what they hope to accomplish, it's hard to say what technology would be appropriate.

    Indeed a good question to ask before purchasing anything...

    And remember that not all learners are /. readers...or are yours? And will all of them be? I say this because someone suggested IRC for example. I wouldn't want to use IRC for an average distance learner...and think of the requirements you just layed on.

    Distance learning has usually been a failure, and probably will be until technology changes drastically (like really fast broadband access in all the students' homes).

    There's some truth to this, but it's also a bad generalization. All teaching/learning involves an instructor, resources (texts etc.), tools for delivery (your voice, a microphone, the web etc.), and an objective. I have had correspondence courses that I deemed useless. My 1,000 student section of history 202 was pitiful while I learned a great deal out of the independent study 201 course where I read at my own pace and did everything correspondence. Teaching and learning is about leveraging the tools and resources to meet your objectives. In some cases, clear objectives lack...and no matter what tools you use, you're screwed! Oh...and then there's learner motivation...which can be killed by too-hard-to-use technology/delivery systems, boring professors, dull material, immaturity etc. Hence the reason technology alone or 'distance learning' alone shouldn't be blamed. Check this [teleeducation.nb.ca] out.

    Anyway...technologies...especially for Linux?

    • WebCT [webct.com] - A course development, delivery and management server. Linux version available
    • Sorenson [s-vision.com] - Desktop video conferencing...Sorry, No Linx though.
    • Mimio [mimio.com] - Whiteboards etc. Linux...Dunno
    • W3C [w3c.org] - They do web stuff
    And I'll stop there...but you get the point hopefully...

    Galego

  • teamwave [teamwave.com] -- developed by Mark Roseman et al.; it spun out of U of Calgary.

    knowledge forum [motion.com] -- developed at OISE/UT. i was there once upon a time. :)

    Paul

  • Another blatant plug: distanceed.com [distanceed.com]. Not a very commercial plug, since the company isn't doing so well, but I think the product is worthwhile.

    The part I designed is the mathematical formula renderer, which can also be found at the Aftermath Café [qued.com] integrated into a BBS for students to exchange ideas/answers, and so on. (there is some other random stuff on this page too). All the math teachers I've talked to think the formula renderer is cool, but it hasn't been marketed effectively so the company is going under. Sad for me, since 3 years of work is essentially being lost as a result, and I think it could really help people.

    Hey -- I'm a programmer, not a salesman!

    If you're running the right browser, the applet version is coolest, but the servlet will run in any browser.


    check out my mp3 page [mp3.com]

  • It might be an idea to visit ArsDigita.com [arsdigita.com] and OpenACS.org [openacs.org].
    ArsDigita have a system based on Oracle and AOLserver that forms the ArsDigita Community System (ACS). There is also a fully GPL'd version based on PostGreSQL and AOLserver know as OpenACS.

    To quote from OpenACS.org:
    OpenACS (Open ArsDigita Community System) is an advanced toolkit for building scalable, community-oriented web applications.
    ArsDigita host a number of Q&A forums on web/db issues, Oracle administration and a host of other subjects - including their own training material.
    The main thing about the ACS is collaboration. And BTW, it is already being used as part of courses at MIT...
  • SUNY Learning Network is not a very good example at all. I took a course on it last semester and was not impressed at all. Unfortunately I am stuck taking another one this semester. Anyway, SUNY Learning Network is basically just a discussion board controlled by the teacher of the course. This guy wants live streaming audio/video. I just wouldn't recommend this as a solution for a distance learning class at all. BTW, the OS they use is NT 4. We have one of the backup servers on campus here.
  • NAT certainly complicates the use of this protocol, but then which is more evil: H.323 for putting addresses inside the protocol or NAT devices, which break the end-to-end philosophy of the Internet?

    There are many protocols on the Internet that put addresses inside the protocol. Essentially and protocol that requires more than one connection will do it.

    As for dynamic UDP ports-- that's the way RTP/RTCP works. Streaming media on the Internet is done via UDP-- you can't fault H.323 for that.

    Security? I admit that many don't implement it, but H.235 has been around for several years. H.235v2 was just recently approved: perhaps you should look at that document.

  • > I'm about to receive a MS from NTU.

    i want to receive my multibillion company too!
  • Don't purchase anything that runs on Cold Fusion. CF is _extremely_ slow and unreliable... PLUS its EXPENSIVE. If you really want a good web-based application, program it in PHP or perl. (or buy it)
  • I have taken three courses using distance learning technology through an organization called the Babbage Net School (www.babbagenetschool.com). They use a program called LearnLinc, which provides audio conferencing, whiteboard facilities, a synchronized web browser, and a few other neat features. I took AP Spanish, AP Biology, and Latin I. If you believe that results speak for themselves, I scored a 3 on the Spanish exam, a 5 on the Bio, and had a 100 average for the year in Latin. Generally, I had extremely small class sizes (1-2) and could work closely with the teacher. The whiteboard was invaluable in biology for diagrams. Distance learning is a viable technology, but it requires substantial hardware and bandwidth on each end to be really effective. On my old 26400 link, speech could become very choppy, but was bearable. I had a lot of fun doing it and would recommend it to anyone who is self-motivated. This is important because there isn't anyone looking over your shoulder and reminding you of homework, tests, or reading assignments. Well, take this for what it's worth.
  • Well, I think that the internet is already being used for those purposes. You can't stop such things by passing laws, but by educating people so they don't want to join those groups in the first place. Anyway, I think you miss the real problem behind distance learning.

    IMHO, the real problem is the ability to cheat. With no one there to watch you, it would be a simple thing. I know that many people, given the opportunity, would take advantage of it. This could potentially have more of an impact on society in general than hate groups by turning out "educated" people that have less grasp of their supposed learning.

  • I work for the School of Information Studies at UW Milwaukee, and part of my job is to keep up the web pages for distance ed.
    Currently, our system works like this:
    All distance ed. classes have a homepage on our WebCT server. (Dual PIII Xeon, NT 4 - I think there's a *nix version of WebCT, but I'm not in charge of the server) Course web pages are maintained by student employees for professors who aren't that computer literate. The page gets the syllabus, list of projects, an assignment drop box, and a few discussion boards. Professors lecture to a digital camera about once a week. Those tapes are converted to .rm with RealProducer Plus(I have no idea if there's a *nix version) and uploaded to the course page. Every other week or so, each class holds a chat with live video streaming from the professors office (again RealProducer for video, WebCT chat client in Java). WebCT also has a whiteboard feature that can be used with the live chat, but no one has used it yet in my department. Assignments can be completed by either writing in a text box(like writing a /. comment) or uploading a file to the course drop box. Tests/quizzes are available in WebCT, and can have multiple choice, essay, or short answer questions. Professors can provide answers and have the tests/quizzes graded automatically(except for essays) or look at the answers and grade it themselves. Tests can be made available at any time, for as short a time period as an hour, to unlimited amount of time.

    So far, this is the best system I've seen for distance ed. I've also worked on a system called Blackboard, which doesn't have as many features, but is slightly more userfriendly for designers (this system also ran on NT, not sure about hardware). I've also used, but never worked on, a system called Web Course in a Box (WCB). That system was older, uglier and most of the campus has stopped using it.

    For some examples of distance ed classes:
    WebCT: http://www.sois.uwm.edu:8900 [uwm.edu]
    Blackboard: http://blackboard.imt.uwm.edu [uwm.edu]
    WCB: http://www.uwm.edu/wcb.uwm [uwm.edu]

    Mike Karasch
    School of Information Studies [uwm.edu]

  • I'm an undergraduate developer at the University of Washington for a program that we call Catalyst [washington.edu] and we develop tools that do all sorts of interesting things for distance learning. We have a remotely postable, editable tool called Peer Review for example that allows students and teachers to read and use eachothers work in a live and active environment. They can (for instance) put a comment on a word or paragraph that can then be viewed by other students and teachers and can be commented on further.

    We are also developing tools that will hopefully integrate dynamic HTML and simple updates so that teachers who are away from the campus and their home computers can make updates to their websites and can administrate a course webpage easily and effectively. We also have another tool, EPost that allows teachers to use discussion boards in their course websites.

    The addition of these tools allows teachers to make their classes more intersting and also will hopefully lead to courses that are educational and run from a remote location...
  • Interesting Point.
    Unfortunately, you are correct.

    It is this cost that is preventing it's widespread use. Add to this the fact that Colleges make a very large portion of their profits from Their Dormatories and Cafeteria meal plans. What's the incentive for a large school to develop these classes? Bloated systems often mean keeping jobs. No More Dorms? Guess we won't need a maintainance man. No more Cafeteria? Guess we won't be needing more cooks. You get the idea. Nobody wants to lose their job even if it means having a better system. Just look at the Government.

    As much as I'd love to see this stuff more available, Unfortunately, I'm pesimistic about it happening anytime soon.
  • One thing that you may like to put some thought into is whether you want the class to be open (anyone can join) or closed (only by invite) and how you are going to enforce the closedness... IMHO, I think open is better, but you may like to make the non-fee paying people spectators only... ie let people who pay fees contribute to discussions and ask questions etc, but let "freeloaders" listen in only...

    rr

  • I just had the thought that things like IRC could be useful for the Classroom Of The Future(tm), as they could help people get over their fear of putting their hand up in a crowded classroom...

    rr

  • Electronic Simon

  • There are a couple of things you need to consider before you start your project. Who are the end-users? Are they computer literate? You need to have the teachers/professors with you right from the start, if the teachers/professors are experienced computer users they are most likely easier to convince to use new tools. If you have a mix of unexperienced/experienced teachers/professors you must consider the interface. It is absolutely vital that the tools have an intuitive interface and that the teachers can administer the courses themselves without hassle.
    It is of course equally important that the students can use the tools. If you, for example, decide to use an online discussion forum, make sure that the students actually understand how to use it and it should preferably be running in a browser (no installation).
    When I checked different tools I made sure that they worked on Netscape in linux, if it works there it works everywhere.
    If you have a lot of students, make sure that there is an easy process to recover lost passwords, students tend to forget their passwords all the time and they should be able to mail it to themselves (instead of bothering a sysadm or a teacher).

    Identification is always important and depending on the type of education; online tests, students sending in papers, etc, you should at some point consider the legal aspects of your system (i.e what happens if a student claims to have failed because Internet Explorer crashed his test, etc).

    I have used a couple of online-forums, and my favourites are

    http://www.learnloop.org
    http://www.discusware.com/discus

    just my 0.19202 Swedish Krona
  • I don't agree with the original poster, but I do think there is a difference between a Troll and an attempt to begin a meaningful dialog about how a specific technology should be used.

    The original post borders on trollness due to the strong anit-censorship sentiments on /. and the fact that this thread seems to border on OT based on the original question, but requesting that the original post be moded out of existance is hardly any better.

  • Hey there,
    I recently completed a grant funded distance learning pilot program at my university. We chose the Polycom ViewStation. It's an integrated videoconferencing device capable of connecting over both Ethernet and ISDN. It's got lots of other cool features like support for uploading powerpoint presentations, and an auto pan/tilt camera that will track you as you speak and walk around the room.
    We used the Polycom along with our existing video delivery network, to provide 2-way face-to-face audio & video in real time. The instructor for our course also incorporated a web-based component using WebCT. WebCT incorporates regular web pages as well as chat rooms, testing, and other materials created by the instructor through the web interface. Anyhow.. that's the quick and dirty.. hope it helps. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I just finished a Master where several of the courses were taught via distance learning. I also work with a group where the focus is development of web-based educational content. My particular interest is in determining what it takes to add streaming video (synchronous and asynchronous) to on-line teaching.

    Bandwidth - Modem: If the clients are on the end of a modem, then Real Audio and text chat, along with a web-board type threaded discussions is about the best you can get. Students can submit via e-mail or via a website (either a site under your control or each student on their own). An integrated package like O'Reilly's webboard can make synchronous sessions more interactive as the instructor can post urls, syllabus pages, and extra information, while the students can chat amongst themselves during class.

    Bandwidth - DSL/Ethernet: Streaming lectures, both synchronous and asynchronous, become accessible when bandwidth climbs. Allowing students to have web-cams (Classpoint) can mean greater interactivity, but the result is somewhat problematic because of the 20 second delay for streaming (do not underestimate this problem). If you control both ends of the wire (i.e. satellite Corporate sites), then doing web or video-conferencing can work well. It's still a good idea to have text chat as a component as both an emergency channel and for student whispering during class (and whispering is important for building group cohesiveness).

    Money: Takes a fair amount of money up-front, to get several people and sufficient equipment in place. Almost all distance learning requires significant lead times (semester or more) for technicians to ready equipment, work out procedures, and work with instructors to create content. For example, the instructor needs a full syllabus and all of the materials they intend to present in electronic forms at the start of teaching (this can be significant impediment -- don't underestimate this problem).

    People: Takes people, both technicians to run the equipment, trouble-shoot problems for users, work with the instructors, and ensure the content is available for the students. It also takes people during each session (which can be a real problem sometimes).

    Gotchas: People forget, then realize belatedly, that all of the administrative work they used to do in person or via mail, needs to be converted to an electronic format. This can mean setting up a secure site with .pdfs of what needs to be read, mechanisms to register and deregister people, sometimes handling money, getting certificates (or whatever) back to the student, advising (etc. -- a lot depends on the type of teaching).

    Comment 1: It can be useful to have at least one "physical presence session" where everyone gets together in one room (if it's a full-semester course). A surprisingly large number of problems and gotchas can be solved by this session. This may not be feasible for many situations, but for our Masters program, it is one of the key reasons why the program works so well. Students who attend the session meet their peers, see the instructors, and "bond" with the school during these "once a semester" sessions.

    Comment 2: One of the easiest way to gauge what you'll need is to try and find a distance program that does pretty much what you think you'll need. Most distance education programs are still novel enough that reports get written with ancillary web-sites that extoll the wonder and usefullness of their particular program. I've also found most developers involved with distance learning to be responsive to serious inquires about specifics (usually with too much information :-). I would spend a good two weeks to two months (or more -- depends on the scale) searching to find as many distance education sites as possible and to get a feel for what folks are using. Work through the sites, make sone tentative choices, then try to contact the principals directly for comments. Any serious use of distance education is going to cost money, often lots of money. The amount of money your group will spend on having you visit a few sites to actually see how it's done is going to be cheap compared to making even one mistake in choosing, buying, and implementing a technology plan that will likely be with you for years.

    Comment 3: Good luck -- you need it. The right people and the right technology choices can mean the difference between "wasting" hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of time Vs. getting something up that works. The risks of failure are real as "you" are becoming a integral part of the teaching and learning that will go on. Most likely you're not an educator, thus not able to fully comprehend what will happen as learning gets funneled through whatever technology choices you make. The rewards won't be very great because most don't realize just how transformative your technology choices will be on the process. Your sponsors "expect" success and learning and probably don't understand how big of a duty they've pushed on to you.

    The "modem" on-line courses I took were from: http://alexia.lis.uiuc.edu/gslis/degrees/leep.html

    elarson@roadkill.net

  • Please, support anything else, but do NOT support that bastardized "standard"! "Security" wasn't even on anyone's mind when they drew up those specs! It uses random TCP AND UDP ports established from both directions and encodes the IP address of the client into the packets making NAT'ing it a bitch. This has got to be one of the worst protocols ever devised and I want to urge everyone to avoid it so that it goes away. If you have a firewall or even a nat'ing gateway you are quite literally fucked if you need to support this.
  • We also use this. However, our people decided to run this on NT/Win2k. While Win2k has not been a problem itself, the WebCT product does not run too well on Win2k.

    It is mainly a bunch of perl scripts and the apache server. However it seems their chat script is buggy as can be, and that most fixes involve a reboot. Their tech support isn't that great either - many times, even though they say they support NT/2k, they claim a problem is caused by us running it on there.

    However, in their defense, our faculty love it and I think the students like it as well.
  • by Sabalon (1684)
    I remember back in around 1992, some guy from IBM demoing some program he wrote that uses a laserdisc for chemistry.

    The idea was that you could select what you wanted to react (magnessium strip and fire) and it would play a pre-recorded scene of the result.

    Pretty cold and inpersonal, however that may help with the "hands-on" experiments.

    Personally, I like sitting in a class with a faculty member to learn, but I'm getting old.
  • The solution is clear: those who are writing distance-learning software should incorporate a clause into their liscenses which would forbid the use of the software for illegitimate "educational" purposes.

    How can you define illegitimate education?

    There are accreditation boards already in place for conventional educational facilities which would be ideal for judging the new online ones.

    And if a company wanted to use it for training people around the world??? I don't think they'd be certified by any of the regional/national certification boards - so I guess that's illegit education?

    Only then can we be sure that our children will be safe from the hate that looms on the horizon of the new millennium.

    I believe that you'll find more hate looming in your home town with prejudice and racisim and general stupidity then you'll find in online courses.
  • ... is here [ucl.ac.uk]

    Moderators: Tiny posting, but exactly what he wants.

  • Cal State Chico uses Horizon Live and it supports IE5+. I have to say that the video is crap but the overall system is pretty good. They use it in conjunction with WebCT. You can find out more about it at online.csuchico.edu [csuchico.edu]

    --- This is my sig. There are many like it, but this one is mine. ---

  • by rw2 (17419)
    VRVS [caltech.edu]?

    The VRVS system achieves bi-directional communication among participants who enter the same Virtual Room. This communication media can be audio, video, and whiteboard, depending on what media each participant selects.

    An audio stream consumes between 9Kbit/s and 78 Kbit/s depending on the audio format that is selected in the control panel of the audio application (PCM: 78Kbit/s, DVI: 46Kbit/s, GSM; 17Kbit/s, LPC4: 9Kb/s).

    A video stream can put a much higher load on the network: from 10 Kbit/s up to several Mbit/s. The maximum data rate value is defined for each source by a bandwidth limit slider in the control panel of the video application. For a video stream over the Internet the advised data rate is typically from 15 to 128 Kbit/s.

    The VRVS system aims at controlling the maximum bandwidth used by videoconferences taking place in the virtual rooms.

    --

  • The University of Maryland's distance education school (UMUC) utilized Lotus Domino to build some terrific distance learning scenarios. It is really slick. I would highly recommend checking out their web site (http://www.umuc.edu).


    ---
    Ryan Wilhelm
  • There are far more militias and gun-nuts "out east", in any state (take your pick) than there are in Montana. Most of the ones that have made the news all started out in the militias in other states (like Michigan), then moved out west in search of some intangbile personal liberties -- and fewer minorities. The miltia folk then claim to that all they wish is to be left alone, but then engage in exactly the sort of activity that begs for government intervention. The Hutterites and the Amish want to be left alone, and they are.

    As for the seeds of hate, they are most frequently passed from parent to child. If we want to control racism, we must control, or hold accountable, parents.

    As for opposing a technology because it can be used for an illegitimate purpose: anything can be used for an illegitimate purpose. You can not name one thing invented for the purpose of good that has not been, or can not be, subverted for evil purposes.
  • by q[alex] (32151)
    Check out the UWired project at the University of Washington... we did some really interesting things with educational technology there, including some distance learning stuff. I left school two years ago, and as a student employee had to leave my job there at the same time, and haven't followed the program too closely, but at the time it was one of the premier educational technology programs in the country. The web site is UWired [washington.edu].
  • by tbo (35008)
    WebCT was started by my Operating Systems prof, Murray Goldberg. He's a pretty cool guy, although he has to travel a lot to run the company.

    As for WebCT itself, it's pretty good, but the discussion boards aren't well-suited for extremely active discussion (when it gets over 500 messages, it becomes hard to find things).

    Live video is probably unnecessary. It's a rare teacher who can accomplish more though a video connection than could be done through well-designed online notes.
  • There are many tools out there for doing DL. Ive had experince with them from a developer end, oppesed to the student end. Heres a few that I am familair with:

    Blackboard: Its basicly $20k+ of perl scripts that are constantly broken and cant do what you want. DONT USE IT!

    FirstClass: A very nice email/conference system. It has Mac and Windows clients and a Web Client( Which does not have all features). This is a very nice product that provides many features ( ie drop boxes, chat, email ... ).

    LearnSys (?) Something like that ... used net meeting as a basis for a whiteboard (obvisouly very platform specific) ... but you could do polling and give voice to a person at a time ... It seemed ok ... only did evaluate it.

    Prometheius - A cold fusion appilcation ... not familar with it ... just know it exists and i belive its supposed to be could. Hey, you can get the source ;)

    Other technologies ive used in conjunction with DL are RealVideo, IRC, Video Tapes ( Taped lectures sent to the students), CDs with content (much like the Video Tapes).

    On the cheap end of things (as all of these listed here cost $$ )... i dont know of much.

    Video streaming wise ive had many experinces (Real, Quicktime, Windows Media ). Basicly Real has the most support, but is VERY expensive. Quicktime a bit cheaper (get server softwear for free!). Still need the encoder, but u can mahe multirate streams like you can with Real and Windows Media. Window Media is the cheapest ...the server comes with Win2kServer ( u can dl it for NT) and the encoder is free. It also has the best quality I have seen for streaming media.

    Those are what i can recall right now ... Of course you could always implement your own web-based system, but that carries a lot of issues...

    Dave
  • Flynn's article suggests that educational technology ought to provide censorship over content because, gasp!, Bad People From Montana might also use them to teach politically incorrect materials. Some of those marginalized groups are certainly better than what passes for education these days, with the schools teaching kids that the War On Drugs is good, and the Wars On Commies were in America's National Interest [there can be only one!], just like the support for military dictators around the world is good. We certainly need to have central control of Our Nation's Thought Patterns, to prevent Un-American Activities, just like we need to stop those Commie Plots against our Precious Bodily Fluids, such as the movements to fluoridate water, decaffienate coffee and make non-smokable hemp. And we definitely need technology to stamp out sex on the internet (except when it involves President Clinton, who's one of those Evil Democrats.)


    I'm not a moderator this week, but it'd be nice if somebody moderates Flynn's article appropriately.

  • One program is speakfreely. I believe the website is on freshmeat. It sends voice messages compressed over any net connection (not quite like a phone convo, more like IM). Works nicely on my 56k, if you have a little T line than it would be great.
  • by Huh? (105485)
    My biggest problem with distance education is my lack of motivation/attention. Maybe we could make some sort of Nun emulator (E-Nun). I can see the possibilities now. "E-Nun has detected that you are not progressing with your course work." "E-Nun would like to inform the student that pr0n may lead to blindness, and will surely lead to the burning pits of hell." "E-Nun advises the student to refrain from using the internet for devils work, and continue with the course work." If E-Nun detects this sort of behavior again, E-Nun will contact the students mother." kill -9 e-nun2k
  • You should of course put whatever license you like upon your efforts. I would like to point out that to someone somewhere, your suggestion will smack of the sort of twisted hatred that should be banned from the earth. My point is that such a license would boil down to "... you can only use this for stuff (author's name here) approves of...", which is not likely to attract any significant use.

    I would certainly not trust any accreditation boards; they are as susceptible to political correctness as any other group, and thus teaching Shakespear might wind up verboten, and teaching that ALL consentual sex is rape might not. One of those should seem innocous, and the other should not, to pretty much everyone.

    This problem has been around for as long as there has been communication: someone might lead someone else astray. It's old enough that the ancient Greeks had a word for it: someone who led a lot of folks astray was a demagog.

  • The University of Phoenix online is an accredited degree program including masters degrees. They have more online students than many large universities (>10,000). You might find it interesting that they use means for running their classes: Internet Explorer and a web equivalent interface. Since in fact, they use newsgroups and email along with electronic books, there is nothing that isn't available for the open source users. Note, that this is run of the few IPOs of the last quarter, and it has gone up (2.5 x!), so they must be doing someing right! They specifically arrange their classes so that students and teachers do not have to be online at the same time. A friend's experience has been quite good, individual attention to assistments and problems from the teachers, several give out their home phone numbers if you get really stuck. I can't see that watching a video is better than optimizing for asynchronous conversations and getting professors that are willing to talk to students, not at the lecture, but when the help is needed. This does not seem to be a technlogy issue, but having an administration that expects responsiveness from teachers. Asynchonous availablity is really important for distant learning, otherwise you have a scheduling nightmare depending on the time zone you happen to be in -- unless you are a full-time student.
  • by lordpez (126699)
    Here at Marietta College [marietta.edu] we use WebCT for our "course management system." It doesn't do the live video, but it does do online lessons, chats, quizzes, and grades. If you need to, you can replace their apache with your own custom compile so you can add php, ssl, or what not. Perhaps live video support can be added this way? However, a simple link on the course page to a realvideo server might be simpler.

    It can run on Linux, and people connect to it with a normal web browser.

    The downside is that it is commercial, but usually the institution wants something commercial anyway. Check it out at http://www.webct.com [webct.com].
  • We are currently using a mixture of two systems. One is Blackboard [blackboard.com] which we use as the main gateway for all our distance learning courses and the backbone of the courses reside there.

    To suplement those courses we are also using a system by Tegrity [tegrity.com] which allows you to stream live audio and video over the Internet. It works together with powerpoint and it supports a whiteboard for the teacher.

    You can also use the interactive whiteboard in blackboard together with tegrity if students don't mind having both windows open.

    You may also want to look into Rotor [rotor.net] which is a very nice system that is used for anything from distance learning to presentations for/by the entertainment industry.

  • I've had a good experience with this technology. I had an economics professor at MSU who held regular office hours via AOL messenger and Yahoo! messenger. It was very helpful not having to walk across campus to ask a quick question. Surprisingly, the pure text notation was not too clumsy for meaningful conversation.
  • IRC is not bandwidth efficient...it just doesn't use much bandwidth.

  • Take a look at the Authenticated User Community [sourceforge.net] (AUC) package. It is a GPLed intranet system for providing online classrooms. While it will not handle the streaming audio/video parts of your problem, it is a nice tool for coordinating the class. There is a live demo at the web site where you can discover the following features and more:
    • Interactive Classrooms with facilities for announcements, assignments, class calendar, and forums.
    • Fully functional web-based email client
    • Web based file manager
    • School Newspaper engine
    • Web-based maintenence tools for teachers, online aides and the sysop
  • Available at real.com. If you have a V4Lin compatible device, the encoder can do live on-the-fly encoding for delivery to the free realserver. The free server can only stream to 25 clients simultaniously, however. You must pay for more clients.

    Alternatively, you could just use the realencoder to save to a file, and as many people as you want could download that via plain old http.



    ---
  • I used to work on a project called Remote TA. The project is run by Professor Walters [mailto] of the UC Davis Computer Science Department [slashdot.org]. It includes all of the features that you are looking for. Drop Dr. Walters a line and let him know that you are interested.
  • Avid Technology has been putting together an application called ePublisher. The intent of the program is to allow someone who knows almost nothing about either video or html to create a self-contained web page with streaming video synchronized to html events. A completed project looks somewhat like a powerpoint presentation with video.

    The relevance is that you can film a class lecture with whatever equipment you have, import the video into the ePublisher program, import all the class handout materials or slides into the program, create a table of contents that allows a user to jump around to different stages of the lecture, and upload it to a server so that anyone can visit the URL and see the entire lecture.

    Although it may sound like it, this isn't a plug for the company or even the program. My university was asked to beta-test the program, and I've since become way too familiar with all the dirty little details. It's in release 1.0 and so has its share of problems and bugs, but definitely has potential for distance learning.

    Pros: you can record a lecture/presentation with all the original materials (slides, etc). Anyone in the world who can visit the webpage can view the entire lecture. A user can jump around in the lecture's timeline non-linearly. If something went by too quickly in the lecture, a user can jump back to that section/chapter. If the lecture goes too slow, a user can jump ahead to important sections. Also, Avid provides a USB video capture device with the product, so all you need to import video is svideo-out or composite-out.

    Cons: It takes time to complete a project in this way. You need to have some kind of recording equipment to capture the video (although you can also make an audio-only project), and the process of synchronizing events (slides, handouts, etc) to the audio or video within the application is time-consuming. Also, I am fairly sure that there is no Linux version - the release is for 98 right now (In fact, I think they're still working on NT/2000). And on top of all that, the current release is still 1.0. I think that speaks for itself.
  • The article asks about asychronous techologies, which are pretty widely available and you'll have alot of choice with both 'free' and commerical solutions. Problems will arise when you want to move to synchronous technologies. I'm involved in delivering this kind of material (albiet in an enforced windows environment), and the largest problem for synchronous learning technologies is the bandwidth not anything else. There are packages out their that allow multi-point audio and video crossplatform. eg Collaborative Virtual Workspace - http://cvw.sourceforge.net/ (but there are others) Unfortunately, this requires your students all to have access to a pretty speedy connection for it to work. Also when you get into the sharing of applications with 2+ people to work on (in terms of assignments) the networking just can't handle it. Hope is at hand, if you are part of the academic world then the Internet 2 project is being build precisely to facilitate this kind of DL.
  • The web based discussion forum can be done with a news-server (e.g., inn). I set up different private news-groups in the past (for discussions while doing group-homeworks and group-projects). I made very good experience with it and my class-mates liked it.
  • The url is www.speakfreely.org [speakfreely.org], but the server seems to be down right now.
    I haven't used it for conferencing with more than one person, but I can agree that I like it in its simplicity :-) One nice thing is that it features various encryption standards (including PGP, using your already existing keys), and you can turn on more than one encryption type at once.
  • I teach a few courses over WebCT, and I have found several difficulties - if my courses have a low enrollment, I am not paid enough to justify upgrading the course, but it needs to be done anyway.

    If the students have a low bandwidth connection, the connections to some of the associated course files do not work well.

    Finally, the course ID setup works well for students who take multiple courses, but the learning curve for WebCT itself is very high for students taking their first course.

    Courses which were correspondence courses still have about the same drop out rate as WebCT courses - it all depends on student maturity and motivation.

  • One resource that educators have is Syllabus [syllabus.com], a magazine supported by software and hardware providers of classroom technology solutions. Much of it is targeted to distance learning.

    Caveat lector; It is a commercial publication.

  • by Bwah (3970) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {rbmNmdnR}> on Sunday January 28, 2001 @02:20PM (#474617)
    I'm about to receive a MS from NTU [ntu.edu]. The entire degree program at NTU is distance learning. (Mainly MPEG sat-tv,but moving into web streaming as well.) I have never met one of my profs face-to-face.

    Based on my experience, I would say one of the most important things you could setup would be a web based discussion forum. The need to easily interact with the rest of the class during non-class hours is something I have really missed. An important thing to allow (I think) would be anonymous posting. Since the distance students are kind of "disconnected" from the rest of the class (if there is a live class at all) it can be hard to get a feel as to where the rest of the class is at in comprehending the material. It would be good to allow people to post questions without their names on them to avoid looking like a complete dumbass. This may sound stupid, but its a lot more common than you may think.

    The next most important thing I would say you should think about is applicable to live classes only. (A lot of NTU feeds are on taped delay.) This would be some way for the distance learning people to interrupt the teacher in real-time. There have been several times when I would have really liked to have been able to ask a question. I would say it would be OK not to have a AV feed from the student back to the teacher (Umm, can you say OVERKILL!), but SOMETHING (like ICQ maybe) is needed to allow the distance people to break in.

    My final advice would be to train the hell out of the camera operators. It is ANNOYING to have some schmuck on the camera that thinks panning and zooming around all of the time is cool. Just leave the thing in one spot for crying out loud! Make sure the instructors are up to speed on the equipment as well. It can be annoying to watch them spend 5 minutes trying to figure out how to get their PC screen to go out on the feed.

    Just my 2 cents. dv

  • by scotpurl (28825) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @02:23PM (#474618)
    SameTime 2.0 from Lotus. http://www.lotus.com/sametime. Java video and audio conferencing, NNTP-style discussions, authentication, restrictions (on who can do what), h.323 compatibility, etc. etc. Also includes encrypted instant messaging, online awareness, and a heckuva lot more functionality than I feel like typing in. Also scales well for really big implimentations.
  • by Skwirl (34391) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @02:23PM (#474619) Homepage
    A couple semesters ago, I co-authored a journalism project about distance learning that can be found here [indiana.edu]. The most important thing that I learned from my sources is that teaching classes online requires two learning curves: one for the subject matter and one for the technology. It's all good if you're teaching a class to Slashdot readers, but elsewhere, you'll find lots of people will be confounded by simple computerized tasks. To steal a famous quote, "The medium is the message."
  • Don't focus too much on live video and audio at first. What you need is a good discussion forum that not only keeps messages from the current class but from past classes as well, it is really helpfull to read past disscussions especially when doing a difficult assignment.

    Have a section where people can (optionally) post thier email addresses ICQ, AIM etc. If you go the IRC/chat room route make sure you publish the logs (see above) and make them searchable.

    Ineractive quizzes. Just do some cgi/php/whatever scripting to randomly select questions and mark them right or wrong when the form is submitted. This allows students to know if they are understanding the curriculum and I can't emphasise enough how important that is. Your students don't have any face time to see if they understand things, quizzes give those who understand it the confidence to move on and tells those that are struggling where to put in extra work. I can't emphasis enough how important that is, after disccussion boards it should be your next priority (ie. before shiny video streams).

    As far as video/audio does go I'd put up some mp3's of lectures, nothing fancy just pure audio that will allow people to record them to cassette and listen to them on the way to work etc. I'd do some kind of flash presentation before going the video route, ask yourself what a video feed will get you that a slide show and audio won't, remember that many of your students will be on 56k or less.

    Notes to the curriculum designers;
    - Optional material. In my experience you will have some distance students who have large ammounts of prior knowledge, optional material will allow you to challenge these students without placing extra pressure on those that are struggling.
    - Be very prompt when answering student questions. Solo study is very isolating and having to wait more than one working day for a response just unacceptable.
    - Allocate enough tutors (see above). Make sure assesment marks are back promptly. (This is where my course falls down.) It is exceedingly frustrating to not have your first assignment back when your doing your third or fourth.

    Best of luck

  • by Digitalia (127982) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @02:17PM (#474621) Homepage
    I recently participated in a Latin I course over a video distance learning setup. The teacher was located in a town about 15 miles away, but could have just as easily been 1500 miles away, and taught very effectively.

    Each classroom on the system was setup with a camera for the instructor and a camera for the students, microphones for everyone desk in the room, a chalkboard which was situated so that it could be seen on the instructor camera, and a small setup that served as an overhead projector. The teachers most often use this for notes and such as it is more convenient than traditional chalkboard use.

    We also had a full audio-visual setup so that the teacher could play video onto the system for all participant to see, or so students could record class periods for viewing. The entire setup was controlled by a fairly simple piece of software on a touch-screen interfaced PC. No one had trouble using the system.

    We only had two incidents where we lost connection with the host and these were either intentional, or quickly remedied. It was no different than a teacher calling in sick.

    I would suggest you do something similar, if you really want distance-learning. It is very effective.
  • by CarrotLord (161788) <don@richarde.gmail@com> on Sunday January 28, 2001 @02:06PM (#474622) Journal
    I can suggest from experience that IRC and Instant Messaging are great tools for group discussion... I would suggest talk, but it's a bit clumsy... Most of the IRC style tools give you logs of your discussions and so on. They tend to be pretty bandwidth-efficient, and allow people to have separate chatrooms for whatever purpose... I don't know if there would be opportunity to supervise these other chatrooms, and I don't know if it would be needed...

    HTH

    rr

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @03:02PM (#474623) Homepage
    You don't say why your school wants to do distance learning. Without knowing what they hope to accomplish, it's hard to say what technology would be appropriate.

    Usually administrators see distance learning as a way of making money. They get the same tuition or fees, but don't have to pay for heating a classroom, janitors, etc. What they don't realize is that doing distance learning right is very expensive, not least because it's a huge amount of work for the instructor to set up the first time, and they can't do it without release time.

    There are also some real problems associated with distance learning. Students don't form the same kind of social bonds they normally would. In the science classes I teach, I like to have the students do little hands-on experiments, which they wouldn't be able to do at home. And of course, how do you teach labs? There's also the issue of students pulling scams, like getting help on exams. (At my school, we recently had a person take an entire course for someone else.) Students in these courses also tend to lack the necessary commitment. Of course, all these problems were problems back when distance learning meant TV telecourses. Distance learning has usually been a failure, and probably will be until technology changes drastically (like really fast broadband access in all the students' homes).


    The Assayer [theassayer.org] - free-information book reviews

  • by dpaton.net (199423) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @02:07PM (#474624) Homepage Journal
    IMHO, the best compromise solution is audio streaming (teacher -> student) with a discussion board/photo album. The way it works is that the teacher lectures along to the photo album. The discussion baord is used for the studnets to post questions and offer solutions to examples.

    The only drawback is that the use of a discussion board requires students with a bit of restraint and sometimes that's more of an issue that people think (even with adults).

    My $0.02, having done just what I described

    -dave
  • by wmoyes (215662) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @02:57PM (#474625)
    I was in a class where they were broadcasting the lecture to Hawaii over the Internet. Although it sounds like a snappy new application for the Internet, their efforts were misdirected.

    Frequently there were equipment problems, network problems, and the latency was ridiculous. The lag and audio quality was so bad the students in Hawaii hardly ever asked questions. How would you like to come to class to see a message written on the board by the TA saying "Sorry, we can't get NetMeeting working today."

    A better approach would be to send the audio portion using POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). If you figure how much each student pays in tuition and divide it by the number of lectures he or she attends, the price of the phone call is nothing. Even if you were paying a dollar a minute you still come out a head, keep in mind 30 or so students were attending remotely. One lecture missed due to technical issues means hundreds of dollars in wasted tuition.

  • by nickd (58841) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @10:03PM (#474626)
    Its a case of using the right tools for the right job.
    Groove - excellent collaboration tool for students to work together and for workshops (but still in beta) http://www.groove.net

    Rotor - interactive video streaming, good for quizzes, questionairres and presenting. The next version will support flash media as the presentation material (instead of jpegs)http://www.realnet.net.au

    Oracle iLearning - course administration replacement - it allows the students to select which courses they take and at what pace, while still enforcing requisites etc. http://ilearning.oracle.com/

    All of these technologies (and others) have their place in online learning. Quite frankly, the places that JUST video tape a lecturer talking and then stream it to the web have got it completely wrong. It really doesnt add much to the learning experience and still has problems of people understanding the lecturer (either due to quality of audio/video, or of language barriers, or hearing impairments.) Lecturers should be there for guiding students in the right direction and perhaps fielding questions and making clarifications.

    my 2 cents
  • by AugstWest (79042) on Sunday January 28, 2001 @02:29PM (#474627)
    I work for an elearning software company, and I can say from experience that if your distance learning initiatives are dependent on video/audio feeds, you're most likely going to run into problems.

    One of the main problems is end-user bandwidth. We have a completely web-based elearning product that requires nothing beyond a 4.0 browser and a 28.8 connection, and still end users run into problems...

    For elearning today, you're best off using something with forums, threaded messaage boards and text chat. This makes it easier for the teacher to control the situation, and easier for the students to ask questions without completely interrupting. These methods actually fit the model better, and you don't have to worry about as many issues with getting the information out to the student.

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