Purpose and rationale
The main goal of the Project is to develop, prototype and field test an educationally advanced and cost-effective interactive environment for distance learning and flexible training based on available digital telecommunications. ECOLE is a 200-series (System and Technology Development) project within DELTA, and so its prime emphasis is a technical one. But in addition, the Project will also create specific collaborative learning environments within which its technical results will be field-tested and evaluated.
The rationale for collaborative learning environments is provided by the importance of social interaction within a technology-based learning process. In conventional distance learning and CBT; the learner is often isolated. Interaction between learners and remote tutors and between learners and their peers nevertheless remains as much a part of the learning process as it is in face-to-face learning environments. The Project aims to develop the tools which support such interaction over telecommunication networks.
The main results of the project are the ECOLE concept, and its design and implementation as the ECOLE Prototype. This has involved the specification of functional requirements and strategies for collaborative use within organisations, as well as the design and prototyping of an integrated user interface, and a range of tools and facilities to enhance a collaborative, interactive learning environment.
In the field of interactive learning, the project produced a range of scenarios for technology-supported collaborative learning, tutoring, course production and delivery in the context of real training settings. Current market developments have also been taken into consideration in order to make the tools and applications future oriented.
In the area of digital telecommunication services, the main contribution of the project was to develop and test new applications for the emerging European ISDN network. A pilot broadband multimedia application has been demonstrated in the context of standardisation and interpretability with other projects.
The Project is organized along three separate but closely inter-related lines:
Development of a distributed, multi-media network environment based on LANs and ISDN (both basic-rate and broad band).
Design, development and integration of the tools and applications which support collaborative learning over the network.
Design and implementation of the field trials in which the developed technologies can be evaluated.
The field trials correspond to three distinct learning scenarios:
1. Virtual teams: learners in regional training centres follow the same course, being supported by tutors based in a national training centre. The context of the course is project management training, utilizing a shared management game.
2. Distributed classroom: similar to the above but with additional access to a multi-media database of support materials.
3. Remote multimedia consultation: Learners (trainees) are linked to tutors (advisors) over the telecommunication network to solve practical problems as they arise in the field. The context is provided by the training and on-going support of maintenance technicians.
The general prototype environment underlying these field trials consists of:
individual workstations connected to LAN's or directly to the ISDN
database machines, similarly connected
file servers (within LANs)
gateways (for LAN and ISDN connectivity)
facilities for broad band communication.
The application software and tools operate with a common look-and-feel. They include:
electronic mail with multi-media attachment
multi-media file transfer
joint viewing/editing of documents with voice interaction
multi-media catalogue of learning materials
tutor support tools
a multi-media authoring environment for collaborative learning applications
learning materials produced to test the various system components and support the field trials.
The deliverables of the Project include:
prototypes of the communication network support, application and user environments
integrated prototypes for installation in the field trials
assessment and evaluation of the technical, educational and economic aspects of the field trials, leading to an evaluation of the commercial potential of the concepts, tools, application developed by the Project.
The Project also expects to make a significant contribution to the development of a Common Training Architecture (DELTA Project D2023), particularly in the area of the Open Communication Interface.
Investigations into the training needs of the organizations participating in the Project, and of others in the IT industry and the financial sector have shown a clear requirement for more effective training methods. This is particularly the case where organizations and their training activities are geographically dispersed.
The ECOLE Project will provide the distance learning and flexible training sectors with early access to medium- and high-speed public digital networks, by means of specially developed tools and applications. These will promote cost-effective remote and interactive group working and so encourage the use of methodologies which are currently too expensive or unwieldy to be a routine part of distance learning systems.