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Building and Using Telepresence Classrooms

Over the past four years a consortium of European Universities, working within the EU-sponsored project "Blueprint for Interactive Classrooms" (BIC), has been developing prototypes and resource materials for people interested in setting up and using interactive Telepresence te...
Over the past four years a consortium of European Universities, working within the EU-sponsored project "Blueprint for Interactive Classrooms" (BIC), has been developing prototypes and resource materials for people interested in setting up and using interactive Telepresence teaching facilities over ISDN and satellite networks. While many educational and training organisations are turning to videoconferencing and other two-way interactive systems for various teaching purposes, the members of this consortium found that there was a lack of freely available practical resources for others interested in setting up their own facilities.

This network of Universities which includes leading higher level institutions in Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland and Italy are experienced users of Telepresence facilities for their own organizations and with the support of European Commission funding under the Telematics Applications Programme (Education & Training) they built five fully functioning Telepresence teaching sites. By comparing and contrasting the different characteristics of each teaching situation, the BIC researchers collected data on teaching styles, learning environments and the effects of budget.

The end result is the BIC handbook recently published entitled "Classrooms for Distance Teaching & Learning: A Blueprint" which provides practical information and advice for other institutions interested in setting up and using such classrooms. Packed with ideas on everything from furniture placement to technical guidelines, the handbook is indispensable for teachers and administrators planning to implement a telematic component to learning. Complex it is, but this advice is well within reach of educators and authorities. Most of the equipment is available off-the-shelf, easy to work with and highly inter-operable. The goal for project implementers was simple: distance learners deserve greater access to more effective courses at low delivery costs.

The approach taken by the consortium is that interactive teleteaching, using for example ISDN based videoconferencing, is only one option in a media mix which will probably include a wide variety of technologies and scenarios, but it is one option that can provide a very useful and effective resource for the institution embarking upon distance teaching. It can be used to reach remote learners in another campus or study centre, it can be used to bring in outside or remote expertise and it can be used for group and collaborative work. Advice is given about general media mix, on matching your technological approach with your pedagogical objectives and on designing your facilities in the most cost-effective and pedagogically-sensitive way.

The range of functional demonstration teaching facilities built by each of the participating universities provide a working laboratory environment for testing and evaluating various technologies and support systems for teaching at a distance. These include the interactive teleteaching classrooms, studio and mobile facilities located at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven) in Belgium, the Telepresence classrooms and other facilities at the Audio Visual Centre in University College Dublin, the interactive classroom located at the Universite de Nancy II in France, the facilities for teaching at a distance in the Politechnico di Milano in Italy and the range of facilities managed by Helsinki University of Technology (Dipoli) in Finland. All these facilities can be visited by appointment and staff and users of the systems regularly run 'Open Days' and offer their experience to others who are interested.

The handbook, published by Leuven University Press, gathers much of their experience and provides guidelines and advice to both designers and users of such systems. Laid out in a practical manual style, the handbook provides information on all aspects of designing, building, using and testing such facilities from choosing equipment to guidelines for teachers. With plenty of pictures, check-lists, glossaries and diagrams, it can be used by technicians and managers alike and includes interesting case studies of the Universities involved showing exactly how they set up their own facilities.

Source: BIC universities consortium

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