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Learning On Demand - A Hybrid Synchronous/Asynchronous Approach

H. Latchman1, C. Salzmann2, D. Gillet2 and J. Kim3


Abstract - In recent years, a variety of online courses and even degree programs have begun to appear as standard offerings from a broad spectrum of educational and training institutions. Often, these courses consist purely of web-based access to traditional textual and graphical course materials, while others have tried to provide real-time audio or video access to traditional classes using modern communications technologies.This paper describes another approach – the Lectures on Demand in Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALN)

methodology - in using information technology to enhance the learning experience for conventional on-campus students, as well as for those students whose circumstances require that they be asynchronous in time or space with respect to fellow students and instructional staff. In this approach, students are able to ‘attend’ classes in real time via the Internet, as well as to access asynchronously digitally stored video material with hyperlinks to other online resources, such as mailing lists or chat sessions, at any time. In addition to the simple delivery of class materials, current and emerging internet-based communication technologies permit beneficial interaction in real-time and asynchronously among students and between students and instructor, which is a key for effective learning.The paper discusses the pedagogical and technical issues involved in this approach, and describes a variety of mechanisms to provide enhanced live and archived classes


1. Introduction

Many online courses available today feature static web pages with class material in textual or graphical form. Students are then left to complete assignments and quizzes to be turned in to the remote instructor for grading. Key missing elements from such models of online education are (i) the guidance and expository value of a dynamic instructor and (ii) interaction and collaboration with fellow students. These elements, together with class materials such as notes and handouts, are among the critical components which have contributed to the success of the traditional instructor-led, face-to-face classroom learning model.It is our view that any successful online learning program should benefit from these age-old pedagogical principles and our aim in the work described in this paper is to use modern computer and communication technologies to provide these vital facets of learning.

Our Lectures on Demand in Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALN), addresses both of the deficiencies identified above. We propose a methodology which, in its complete incarnation features a hybrid approach with live (synchronous) streaming video and audio fromtraditional instructor-led classroom sessions web-cast via the Internet, as well as online (asynchronous) access to augmented multimedia class sessions and materials. The students are also provided with a wealth of tools to facilitate online interaction with instructional staff and fellow students.

The tremendous advantage of the proposed synchronous scheme for joining a class in real-time from a remote location is that the end user does not need to have expensive equipment for participating in the classroom, as is the case when using circuit switched video conferencing. A PC with a 28.8 kbps modem dialup Internet link and a web browser brings the virtual classroom to the users at home or at work. If the student is on campus with access to a Local Area Network (LAN), it is possible to get a higher bandwidth with even better performance. In addition, the system allows many students from various locations to join the synchronous lecture at any time.

At the same time that the lecture is being transmitted digitally, the audio and video streams are archived so that students can access the material from anywhere and at any time, and essentially see the material, as it was broadcast live. In this case, live interaction is replaced by asynchronous interactions via mailing lists, bulletin boards and WWW pages. In addition, we show that the asynchronous experience can be greatly enhanced by an incremental investment of time in synchronizing the lecture notes and other materials, such as PowerPointslides, interactive Java applets or simulations. The effect of this synchronization is that the browser automatically advances to the appropriate lecture material in another display window as the instructor is discussing it.

The notion of asynchronous learning [4] has been around for some time in such embodiments as correspondence schools, videotapes, audio tapes and written material sent by postal or courier services, and more recently via multimedia WWW pages. In this mode, students can have access to instructional material at any time and from any convenient location. Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALNs) provide, in addition, a network of people learning together and who can interact with each other using electronic connectivity tools to simulate the interactivity of physical presence.

In this multimedia paper we provide links to various online course modules developed at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering [5] at the University of Florida.These asynchronous learning materials were generated starting with traditional delivery methods and by integrating leading edge technologies which combine conventional synchronous and the more recent asynchronous learning networks. A major philosophical emphasis in this approach was to allow the instructor to delivery class material in the manner he or she is most comfortable with, bearing in mind of course that some students will be taking the course asynchronously. We then use multimedia streaming technologies to provide video and audio streams of the instructor teaching via the use ofprepared materials such as slides or overhead transparency projections, orspontaneously generated subject matter written on the chalkboard or writing tablet. The aim in this process is to ensure that the audio quality was good (" telephone quality") and the video quality is adequate for written material to be legible. The video and audio streams are then broadcast via an IP network to students synchronized in time but asynchronous in space. Students can then interact with the instructor in real-time via voice-over-the-net systems or via electronic conference software, such as IRC or similar clients.

In Section 2, we present a view of what a typical student experiences when he/she elects to participate in a lecture via internet streaming. This is followed in Section 3 by a presentation of the student experience when taking an online module using the Lectures on Demand in ALN method. In this section, we highlight the added benefits of being able to synchronize class material with the streaming video and audio, as well as the online mechanisms for student-student and student-instructor interactions. Section 4 describes some of the technical issues involved in delivering the online classes using the hybrid synchronous asynchronous approach and includes several online examples. The paper concludes in Section 5 with some comments on future directions.


2. Live Audio And Video Streaming Via The Internet

The advent of broadcast television and two-way video communications heralded a potential era for effective distance education in which video and audio of the instructor in a traditional class could be delivered via live one-way or two-way video links to students at remote locations. Unfortunately, this expected revolution has not materialized, partly due to the great deal of expense involved in delivering television signals over large distances. While there have been some successful deployment of microwave-TV systems (such as the Standford Instructional TV Network (SITN))[17], and even more recent digital satellite TV delivery systems (as used be the National Technological University (NTU))[18], the use of live broadcast quality video in education has not been very successful. A somewhat more successful approach is the use of video taped class materials in which lectures are recorded and then sent via courier to off-campus students together with hardcopies of any class materials provided to on-campus students.Typically, the Instructor would use a traditional textbook for the class and the students would cover various sections of the text, with homework assignments based on this material at regular intervals.There would often be a one-way delay of two days (or more) in getting materials to and from the off campus students – very little interactivity – but the system somehow worked and learners at different places and at different times were able to benefit from the traditional on-campus lecture in this way, thus facilitating asynchronous learning.

The new and emerging computer and communication technologies now allow us to dispense with having to transmit physical media, such as paper, audiotapes or videotapes – after all, it is the information on these media that needs to be transmitted effectively to the students. The World Wide Web now constitutes a unified delivery mechanism for multimedia information content – a revolution not dissimilar to the invention of the Gutenberg printing press 500 years ago. Video and audio can be digitized and compressed for online delivery and textual and graphical material can also be converted into digital formats appropriate for WWW delivery. What we have now is the affordability of access to live video and audio content, as well as the convenience of being able to access this material from anywhere on the Internet – although we may have to sacrifice some quality in doing this.

 

Fig.1 : Online Lecture – as seen in real-time by remote students

(Click on the image above for onlinedemonstration)

At the University of Florida, we used the videotape-based Florida Engineering Education Delivery System (FEEDS) infrastructure as a starting point to generate online multimedia class materials.

Instructors in graduate and undergraduate classes teach classes using traditional face-to-face methods and the lectures are recorded in one of the FEEDS TV studios. The studios are equipped to create videotapes of each lecture, as well as to digitize the audio and video signals in almost real-time and broadcast the lecture live (in reality, there is an initial buffering and processing delay of about 10 seconds), via the Internet using streaming technologies. In this way, students at a distance can join the on-campus classes from any convenient location via a standard dial-up Internet connection. The lecture material is also stored online, so that students (both on-campus and off-campus), who could not attend the class in real-time, can benefit from the lecture at a later time.The archived digital video/audio may be generated in real-time, as the material is being webcast live, although for optimal quality, the process is more often done off-line using VHS videotapes.

Figure 1 shows a typical streaming video window as seen by a student joining a live class online or accessing simply the archived streaming video. This video window is, of course, accompanied by audio synchronized with the video frames. Thus, when using only the basic lecture on demand, the student receives essentially a digital video and audio stream via the underlying network.But the student can now access this classroom lecture from any place and any time with no need to wait several days for courier delivery of video tapes.

Live streaming video and audio can be generated using commercial products such as RealNetworks, Windows Streaming Media or QuickTime Streaming. We have mainly used RealNetworks since a rich set of tools were initially available to develop very effective synchronized streaming presentations, although the other products have also recently begun to offer competitive products. For example, the Microsoft Streaming Server is now packaged with Windows 2000 Servers so that an unlimited number of simultaneous streams can be supported without additional per stream costs.

It should also be mentioned that while we agree that the information content in a talking head video is minimal, and that in these cases a voice-only presentation would often be adequate, we maintain that the effective use of dynamic communication modes in effective teaching styles result in much value from a video rather than an audio-only stream. For example, an instructor may point with his fingers to a particular aspect of a drawing or may deliberately and slowly develop a sequence of equations on the chalk board. These elements, we believe, are best brought to the remote student in video form and will facilitate effective learning.

As desirable as it is to transmit and receive streaming video and audio from traditional classes, it is clear, based on our earlier discussions that, apart from the convenience in access from any place and any time, streaming video and audio as presented above fail to provide some of the key features of an effective learning environment.In the next section, we discuss how these issues may be addressed and present some first steps in integrating class materials into a synchronized streaming media presentation for online classes.


3. Lectures on Demand - Synchronized Streaming Media

Our experience with the video quality associated with practical streaming multimedia content, suggested that it would be helpful to include high quality images of the material dynamically generated in class on chalk or white boards by the instructor. Figure 2 shows the incorporation of PowerPoint slides generated after the class by student assistants and verified by the Instructor, or directly provided by the instructor.

By post-processing the digitized video stream to insert time synchronized WWW pages with the relevant class materials, the Lectures on Demand method provides an enhanced service to both online and on-campus students. As illustrated in Figure 2, as the lecture is being played in the video window, the appropriate lecture notes appear in another widow and these notes are advanced automatically as the lecture progresses

Fig.2 :  Streaming Video Synchronized Power Point Slides

(click on the image above for onlinedemonstration)

It should be noted that the student still has control over which slides are displayed by using the forward and reverse control buttons, but that the streaming media will override these controls at the instants of transition as commanded by the inserted time switches.

As a further step in generating an effective online learning strategy, the synchronized streaming media presentations can also be incorporated into an ALN environment to enhance learning.

Fig.3: Synchronized Streaming Media with Frames

(click on the image above for onlinedemonstration

Since ALNs essentially consist of spatially and temporarily separated groups of collaborating learners, in addition to enabling access to online learning materials (such as the online lecture), we must also provide students the ability to collaborate and interact with each other,as a key ingredient in the learning process. Figure 3 illustrates how this is achieved in the Lectures on Demand in ALN system. Using the WebCT course management engine with some customization, we have provided the students access to a mailing list, which includes all students in the class (on campus and off-campus), as well as the Instructor and the teaching assistants. Thus, as a lecture is being followed or an exercise is being completed, online students can immediately send a question to the group – with answers coming back immediately, if someone online at that time is available or more commonly, some time later.There are also provisions for synchronous chat sessions during which the Instructor or TA’s can moderate online question and answer sessions or groups of students can discuss projects or details of the material being considered in the class. WebCT also allows all students to create their own home page with a textual introduction with images or even video and audio so that the students, instructors and TA’s can get to know each other better to facilitate online interactions.

In Figure 3, the Lectures on Demand in ALN class is presented using a ‘framed’ presentation in which the class components are constrained in predefined sub-frames. Another interesting feature shown in Figure 3 is a modular table of contents for each lecture so that the student does not need to follow the entire lecture but may select a particular topic of interest.


4. Technical Functionality

A number of issues are involved in the transition from synchronous to asynchronous and hybrid learning networks. The fundamental idea behind the efforts at the University of Florida is to allow the enrolled student to reap the benefits of on-line courses that combine the best aspects of Internet services, multimedia and effective teaching. In order to realize these objectives, the system being developed should be capable of providing a low-cost, content-rich resource, which encourages the students to explore new avenues of learning. Figure 3 showsthe various objects used to convey information and facilitate interaction among the students and with the instructor. The system is designed for use in real-time lectures as well as for asynchronous delivery. The key components are an audio-video window, textual/graphic windows and links to chat rooms and mailing lists. In Figure 3, the PowerPoint lecture notes are synchronized in time with the activities in the video window so that the slides change automatically as the lecture progresses. The student maintains control of the lecture and can fast forward or reverse the video stream as well as scan the PowerPoint slides backwards and forwards at will. In addition, the lecture is also classified into major topical areas (as shown in the MENU window in Figure 3) so that the student can go to a specific topic of interest.

A basic requirement is to generate a low latency, low bit rate, live video and audio stream of the instructor lecturing in the classroom. The audio quality should be at least "toll" quality and the video quality should be good enough for the written material on the board or the slides from overhead projector to be easily read by remote students.

The target data rate for audio and video is about 20 kbps. This is a stringent requirement considering the fact that this bandwidth will support useful audio and video signals. However, the target of 20 kbps on a typical 28.8-33.6 kbps link will leave the student with enough bandwidth for other communications (such as lecture notes, WWW pages and feedback) in addition to the audio/video streams. Of the two streams, the audio will have to be at least 8 kbps for the required level of quality with conventional codecs and thus the video occupies only about 12 kbps. Since the audio and video streams are independently generated, there should be a tight level of synchronization between the two. If the latency (at source while compressing) is different for the two streams, the audio and video will eventually fall out of sync during the course of a lecture. As mentioned earlier, while the information content of a talking head is minimal, the fact that spontaneously written material is also transmitted in the video window justifies the inclusion of the video facility. An alternative for asynchronous consumption is to provide a choice of combined audio/video streams at various rates as well as an audio only source so that the user can select the stream most appropriate for his network connection. More recent streaming media servers also provide an adaptation feature in which the best data rate for a given connection is automatically selected depending on the conditions of the link.

For real-time lectures, the generated audio and video streams from the classroom are to be broadcast over the Internet to students synchronous in time but asynchronous in space. Since the IP network is the delivery medium, the content delivered suffers from the inherent disadvantages of the network, namely, variable and unpredictable end to end latencies and the lack of any guaranteed quality of service. To overcome this inadequacy, some mechanism to maintain the live or real-time quality of the streams at all times should be employed. A primary objective of the audio/video stream is to provide the lecturer with some degree of spontaneity in lecturing style via a high quality audio and a reasonable quality video usable by the remote student. To compensate for the very small video image of the materials written in real-time on the board or on overheads, an auxiliary web camera or electronic whiteboard may also be used to periodically capture the written materials as a www image and transmit this information to the first data window. In archived lectures, one data window can be used to display individual high-quality slides synchronized with the video window. Another data window may also be provided to allow flexibility in displaying other relevant materials, such as interactive simulations. An online WWW-based chat window is also included. This facility allows students at remote locations to interact with the professor during live classes, for example by submitting questions or images or even audio/video clips which can then be displayed or played to the class and an appropriate response given. Moreover, when a student is using the asynchronous mode of access, the chat facility or mailing list link can be used to submit questions or comments to the entire class. The contributions are archived so that the thread of the discussion can be followed at a later time.

4.1 System architecture and requirements

As discussed earlier, the most important aspect of the virtual classroom is the effective delivery of audio and video content from the classroom. For this purpose, the Real Audio and RealVideo system from RealNetworks [6] is used. The live delivery of audio and video using the RealNetworks tools roughly follows standard client server architecture. A schematic diagram of the system deployed at the University of Florida is depicted in Figure 4. The digitizing of video and audio is done in the classroom. The existing audiovisual equipment at the Florida Engineering Education Delivery System (FEEDS) studio provides audio and video signals for an existing in-class TV network and records the lecture on conventional VCRs. For real-time Internet delivery, a video digitizer card and a sound card are installed on a 200MHz-pentium-machine running Windows 95. The digitizer is capable of real-time digitization at up to 30 video frames per second. The sound card is an industry standard16 bit card and the PC hosting the RealNetworks encoding software and video digitizer is connected to a 100 BaseT LAN. At the beginning of each class, the RealEncoder is used to make a connection to the RealServer located in another floor of the same building through the LAN. The audio and video is digitized and streamed in real-time at the selected data rate to the server over the LAN. The frame rate of the video, audio bandwidth and the total bandwidth is selected in such a way as to maintain a high level of synchronization between the streams and low overall latency. Bandwidth and latency considerations are described in later sections. At the server, these streams are delivered upon request from web browsers, with the current installation supporting up to 60 simultaneous streams. The sequence of events after the live stream reaches the Real Server is as follows: The web browser points to a page with a link to the real audio meta file [7]. The user clicks on the meta file link and the web server sets the MIME type to audio/x-pn-realaudio. The web browser looks at the MIME type and starts the RealPlayer as a helper application. The RealPlayer reads the URL from the metafile and requests the real media file from the RealServer. The real audio server begins streaming the requested audio/video files to the Real Player using the UDP streaming protocol. The live lecture stream is also simultaneously archived in the server so that the students can access the lectures asynchronously at a later time. For the archived lectures, the abundance of other class material also adds considerable value to the instructional content, which can selectively be displayed in conjunction with the audio and video streams. The archived lectures are time tagged with the course notes so that while watching the lectures asynchronously, a synchronized multimedia presentation is possible. As the archived lecture proceeds, the web browser at the remote location automatically brings up the relevant course materials and slides in different frames.

Fig.4: Audio and Video delivery.

       The content delivery from the server to an end user client is as shown in figure 5.


 
 

Fig. 5 : Web Server and Streaming Server Interaction

Real-time interaction or feedback from the remote students is achieved via electronic conferencing software, such as Web based Bulletin Board System (BBS) software. In this testbed, the instructor, as well as the students, log on to the same chat room. A provision to list all participants in the chat session is also desirable to mimic the "virtual presence" in the chat room. In the case of archived lectures, the BBS interaction is complimented by asynchronous interaction via mailing lists and WWW pages. All these resources are accessible by a web browser from the main course page. Feedback received indicates that the asynchronous experience is greatly enhanced by synchronizing the lecture notes - PowerPoint slides, scanned hand written instructor's notes or notes taken by a student during the class - to the video.

4.2 Bandwidth and Compression schemes

Most of the remote students have a network connection from an ISP provider with a 28.8 kbps dialup link, although dial-up connections at 33.6 - 50 kbps are now becoming quite common. In the testbed, a bandwidth of 8 kbps is used for voice and thus the ceiling of 20 kbps limits the video bandwidth to 12 kbps. Various compression techniques were tested to find the best tradeoff between bandwidth and quality of the video. Fractal compression is found to be very impressive above 56 kbps and higher. However, for live applications, fractal compression caused unacceptably high latency. An optimal frame rate scheme is presently being used for live lectures. In this scheme, during a very active session characterized by fast moving images, the frame rate increases and then decreases again during relatively inactive periods. This method provides the best quality video in the very limited bandwidth scenario. Initially, a frame size of 240 X 180 was used and then changed to 160 X 120 because the former frame size produced a higher latency on a 28.8 kbps link. The effect was not noticeable over 10/100Mbps LANs. The color format used was originally RGB24, but this was changed to YUV9 because of the encoding delay and greater end-to-end latency. Over a 28.8kbps dialup link there was no noticeable packet drops. The maximum latency observed over a dialup link was less than 10 seconds. When observed from a LAN, the latency was of the order of a couple of seconds. The actual frame rate over a LAN varied from 1 to 5 frames per second (fps) and over a dialup link the average frame rate is about ˝ - 4 fps.

4.3 Some Examples - Using Different Encoding Bitrates

In this section, we present examples of several lectures using encoding rates ranging from 28.8 kbps to ISDN rates of 128 kbps. In general, it is observed that the audio quality is uniformly good for all data rates, but the video quality improves somewhat at the higher data rates. Figure 6, 7,and 8 represent hyperlinked snapshots at 28.8kbps, 56 kbps and 128 kbps using the G2 encoder. The G2 format includes a new technology called SureStream which allows adaptation of the data stream to the available bandwidth.In all cases, clicking the images below will provide a link to the RealServer at the given rate. Note : You will need to have the RealNetworks G2 Player to view any of the example clips in this paper.

4.3.1 28.8kbps streaming video

Fig. 6: 28.8kbps Encoding : Slow statistic here
(click on the image above for onlinedemonstration)

4.3.2 56.6kbps Encoding

Fig. 7: 56.6kbps Encoding
(click on the image above for onlinedemonstration)

4.3.3 Dual ISDN 128 kbps Encoding


Fig. 8: Dual ISDN Encoding
(click on the image above for onlinedemonstration)

4.4. Demonstrations of different Encoding

Figure 8 above presents several clips encoded at various speeds from two courses at the University of Florida - Computer Communications (EEL 5718) and Data Communications and Queueing Theory (EEL6507). The final example included is based on an interactive class taught from Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahasse to a group of 50 students in a multimedia classroom at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. This latter example illustrates the capabilities of not just learning at anytime and anyplace, but also teaching from any place as instructors also become mobile! The connection between Tallahasse and Gainesville was via a standard Internet connection using low cost H.323 compliant video codecs operating at 576 kbps. The recording was done at the University of Florida and then encoded with RealNetworks format. The Powerpoint slides were transmitted from Tallahasse to Gainesville using Microsoft's Netmeeting.
  

 
28.8kbps
56.6kbps
Dual ISDN
EEL5718(Spring 99)
EEL6507(Fall 98)
Real Time Lecture
Fig. 9: Demonstration from several lectures
(click on the image above for onlinedemonstration)

4.5. Language Negotiation & Closed-Caption

A very useful feature in the Real Networks product is the provision for closed caption with language negotiation capability. Using this feature, the text of the material being discussed (or appropriate explanations there of) scrolls at the bottom of the screen.

Language negotiation is based on the language preference set through RealPlayer options menu and the language code defined in the SMIL file. RealPlayer chooses a specific clip to play. This facility enables hearing impaired or foreign users to access the online lectures. Our purpose in this regard is the ultimate globalization of our educational offering.


Fig. 10: Closed-Caption
(click on the image above for onlinedemonstration)

4.6. Monitoring the Utilization of the G2 Server

A very useful feature of the G2 server is that it provides a web-based facility for monitoring the status of the G2 server. Figure 10 shows the G2 Java Monitor. The system administrator can control and monitor the G2 server with this interface. The information provided includes CPU usage, memory usage, the number of players connected and which files are being viewed. Clearly, the monitor provides very useful information and can be used to identify demand profiles and busy intervals.


Fig. 11: Monitoring the Utilization of the G2 Server
   (Laboratory for Information Systems and Telecommunications)

4.6. Further Online Demonstrations

The examples below are included to give a flavor for how different instructional content appears to the student at the remote site using the Lectures on Demand approach. The courses are an undergraduate course in Linear Controls (EEL 4657) and graduate courses in Computer Communication (EEL 5718) and Queueing Theory (EEL 6507). The last example in the table illustrates the use the SMIL protocol (Synchronized Multimedia Integrated Language) for providing synchronized streaming media in an integrated fashion using only the RealPlayer.
  

Courses
Descriptions
Video
EEL4657(Spring98) 
System Classification
Transfer Function
Closed loop design
EEL5718(Summer 98)
Synchronous Vs Asynchronous Communication
RS232
X25
Packet Vs Circuit Switching
ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network)
EEL5718(Spring 99)
Advantage of Digital Communication 
Evolution of different types of Networks
Classification of Internet Applications
Interconnection of computers using a Hub
Functions of a network layer
Limitations of the communication system
EEL6507(Fall 98)
Queueing with vacations
MGF of the Poisson Distribution
Markov Chain
The M/M/1 Queue
Synchronous Lecture using SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integrated Language)
Fig. 12: Demonstration courses at University of Florida
(click on the RealPlayer image to the rightfor onlinedemonstration)


5. Conclusions - A Philosophical Perspective

The prototype system for the hybrid synchronous and asynchronous learning environment described in this paper is still in the process of development and refinement as we gain more experience and assess our preliminary effort in terms of teaching and learning effectiveness.

From a cognitive point of view, the most important challenge is to bring together the educational content that students can access in both synchronous and asynchronous modes and to unify their respective pedagogical approaches. This merger is possible if an integrated educational approach is taken. In such an approach, the expositive teaching and active learning activities should be combined and balanced according to their respective pedagogical objectives, their didactic efficiencies, and technical constraints [11].

Seven different activities can be distinguished in that perspective. First of all, there is the lecture which is a phenomenological approach convenient to bring a synthetic view of the field and to underline important topics. Then, there are demonstrations which serve as examples for motivation purposes. In addition, individual readings provide access and deepen knowledge in a specific area. Written exercises are necessary for mastering related mathematical tools while virtual experimentation done by simulation serves to reinforce the understanding of the subject matter in a versatile manner. Real experimentation is indispensable (especially in certain branches of science and engineering) for developing professional intuition and skills to deal with physical processes and instrumentation. Last, but by no means least, practical projects provide the framework for the acquisition of the right methodology to cope with real-world problems. These activities and their peculiarities are described in Figure 8, which suggests that they should reduce the instructor's direct involvement to let students act as much as possible.


 

Fig. 13:  Pedagogical Activities in Integrated Education

In a hybrid synchronous and asynchronous learning framework, the lecture can be taken live or later by playing the archived audio/video stream. In either case, with much of the traditional class material already on-line, lecture segments could now be reduced to the more desirable length of about 15 minutes, which is consistent with the defined pedagogical objectives. The extra time can then be used for the other active learning modes, such as interaction and collaboration, which are often neglected in traditional education. To enhance and to support additional personal readings, printed documents or textbooks can be converted to an electronic form. Documents in PDF or HTML formats can nowadays be produced easily with commercial software or converters (LaTeX to HTML, for example) and new standards, such as MathML, for describing mathematical expressions in WWW pages are already beginning to emerge [12]. Electronic documents offer the advantage that while keeping the sequential structure of printed documents, dynamic links and search capabilities can enrich them. However, recent research shows that a better pedagogical efficiency can be obtained if a new structure for the internal relations inherent in the subject matter is chosen for the electronic version [13]. Remote manipulation of training resources is another paradigm which can be developed in the proposed hybrid learning framework. For example, synchronous demonstrations on remote facilities can be performed by the teacher and watched by students. Asynchronous real or virtual experimentation can be conducted using physical hardware at a remote location [1] or interactive simulators.

From a technical point of view, it is anticipated that several new or refined features will be added to the system in the near future. These include a more effective (and possibly voice-based) system for live feedback from remote students. Another feature, which requires some more work is a "web-cam", or electronic white board based system for sending at regular intervals high quality images of handwritten documents to remote students via a specific URL. Finally, we hope to investigate the use of a speech-to-text system for converting the lecture's speech to a text stream for real-time scrolling and archiving to a text file and/or WWW page.

An eventuality which is looming on the horizon as a result of the new ‘cyberage' models of education delivery discussed in this paper is the spectre of having entire courses or even degree programs offered online from various competing institutions. Indeed, one can envision organizations such as software firms who are not conventional providers of educational content, getting into this new business, as educational delivery becomes an attractive and lucrative business proposition. The issue of choosing an educational provider would then become similar to choosing a provider for other online services. Clearly, the quality of the program as measured by some recognized standards of accreditation and the reputation of the institution, as well as overall costs, will be important considerations. Only time will tell how these developments will fare when compared with more traditional forms of education. It is our view that the two modes of educational delivery will serve complementary purposes, with the traditional student/instructor model being preferred if at all possible, while the asynchronous mode will provide access to students whose circumstances would rule out the preferred mode of learning. Of course, the use of asynchronous online tools, such as electronic conferencing (mailing lists, etc.), will continue to grow as a complement to the traditional modes of learning.


Acknowledgements

The work described in this paper was supported by a grant from the Alfred Sloan Foundation, as well as the Southeastern University and College Coalition for Engineering Education (SUCCEED), funded by the National Science Foundation. Preliminary versions of this material were presented in the International Conference on Engineering Education (ICEE) in Brazil [14][15] as well as in [16].


References

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[2] Web-Based Education experiences R.J.Vetter, C. Severance, Computer, November 1997

[3] SUCCEED program web page http://www.succeed.vt.edu

[4] Teaching at a Distance with the Merging Technologies, Th. E. Cyrs, Mexico State University, 1997

[5] University of Florida ECE online http://csc3.list.ufl.edu:8900

[6] Progressive Network http://www.real.com

[7] RealServer 5.0 Administration and Content Creation Guide http://service.real.com/help/library/guides/doc/7live.htm

[8] Stanford University http://stanford-online.stanford.edu/demo/index.html

[9] Purdue University http://ECE.www.ecn.purdue.edu/ECE/

[10] University of Illinois UC http://www.online.uillinois.edu/oakley/presentations/CIEC_Links.html

[11] D. Gillet, G. F. Franklin, R. Longchamp, and D. Bonvin, "Introduction to Automatic Control via an Integrated Instruction Approach", The 3rd IFAC Symposium on Advances in Control Education, Tokyo, Japan, August 1994..

[12] http://www.wolfram.com/news/mathml/

[13] F. Michau and D. Munteanu, "Web Server of Pedagogical Documents in Control Engineering", 7th Annual Conference of the European Association for Education in Electrical and Information Engineering (EAEEIE) on Telematics for Future Education and Training, Oulu, Finland, 1996.

[14] C. Salzmann, H.A. Latchman, D. Gillet and O. Crisalle, "Requirements for Real-time Experimentation Over the Internet", Proceedings of the 1998 International Conference on Engineering Education, Rio de Janiero, August, 1998.

[15] H. Latchman, Sanjeev Tothapilly, C. Salzmann and D. Gillet, "Hybrid Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning Networks in Distance and Local Education", Proceedings of the 1998 International Conference on Engineering Education, Rio de Janiero, August, 1998.

[16] Latchman, H., C. Salzman, D. Gillet and H. Bouzekri, “Information Technology Enhanced Learning Networks for Distance and Local Education”, IEEE Transaction on Education,Vol. 42, pp.247-254,November 1999.

[17] Stanford University, http://scpd.stanford.edu/

[18] National Technological University, http://www.ntu.edu/


Author Contact Information

1Electrical and Computer Engineering Department 
University of Florida 
Gainesville, Florida 32611-6005 USA 
H.Latchman : latchman@list.ufl.edu 
Tel. (352) 392.49.50 
Fax. (352) 392.00.44 

2Institut d'Automatique 
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology 
CH-1015 Lausanne Switzerland 
C.Salzmann : csalzman@cise.ufl.edu
D. Gillet : Denis.gillet@epfl.ch
Tel. (+41) (021) 693.51.68 
Fax. (+41) (021) 693.25.74 

3Electrical and Computer Engineering Department 
Georgia Institute of Technology 
Atlanta, Georgia 30318, USA
Jongmyon Kim : jmkim@ece.gatech.edu 
Tel. (404) 894.68.79 


Author Biographies

H. Latchman

Dr. Latchman, who was the 1983 Jamaica Rhodes Scholar and has been a Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Florida for the past 12 years, has more than 17 years experience in all aspects of communication, control and information systems.

He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses, directs an active research program and is a consultant in Control Systems, Communications and Computer Networks. Dr. Latchman has received numerous teaching and research awards, including the University of Florida Teacher of the Year Award - the highest teaching honor offered by the University.

He is Director of the Laboratory for Information Systems and Telecommunications and co-Director of the Research Laboratory for Control System and Avionics. He is also a Director and Co-founder of Jamaica Online Information Systems Ltd., and has consulted and lectured on Internet and related matters in Europe, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Christophe Salzmann

Christophe Salzmann was born in Nyon, Switzerland, in 1965. He received his Engineer ETS Diploma in Electrical Engineering from the Ecoled'Ingnieurs d'Yverdon in 1988. In 1988, he joined BSI Engineering in Lausanne as a consulting engineer. In 1991, he joined the Institut dautomatique at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL) where he is currently responsible for real-time hardware and software developments on the Macintosh platforms. During 1995, he was an invited scientist at National Instruments, Austin, TX, where he worked on LabVIEW.

In 1997, he entered the graduate program in computer science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville. His research interests included networking, control and distance learning. He conducted his masters thesis research jointly with the LIST laboratory at UF and the Institut dautomatique at EPFL. His main research task was the analysis, the design and the implementation of remote experimentation for laboratory setups.

Denis Gillet

Denis Gillet was born in Geneva in 1961. He received his Engineer ETS Diploma in Electrical Engineering in 1980 from the Ecole d'Ingnieurs de Genve, the Diploma in Electrical Engineering from the EPFL in 1988 and the Ph.D. degree in Control Systems from the EPFL in 1995. In 1981, he joined the power-electronics division of Asea Brown Boveri in Geneva, a position he held for three years. During 92/93, he worked as a research fellow at the Information Systems Laboratory, Stanford University. In 1996, he was for three months an invited instructor at the Institute National Polytechnique de Grenoble. Currently, he is a Matred'Enseignement et deRecherche (MER) at the Institutd'Automatique. His research interests include failure detection, optimization, computer-aided Instruction, telepresence and real-time implementation.

Jongmyon Kim

Jongmyon Kim is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. He received the degree of B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Myong-Ji University, Korea in 1995. From January 1995 to November 1995, he worked for Dae-Woo cooperation as a system engineer in Seoul, Korea. His duties included setting up and measuring electrical systems. He received his M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Florida, in Gainesville, Florida. in the Fall of 2000. He then came to Georgia Tech and began pursuing the degree of Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research interests include high performance computer architectures, color image processing on SIMPil, parallel processing, and interconnection networks


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