The overall objective of this project is the development of a low cost distance learning system giving to the users the opportunity to use various pedagogical situations during the same courses.
The tools resulting from this project should create the necessary conditions for a high quality communication between distant learners and teachers, or between the learners themselves, using sound, images and text in a multimedia environment.
CO-LEARN developed a working system that is due to be moved to the commercial market. This consists of the following components: a multipoint audio graphics conference system, called 'Real-Time Teleteaching' for communication in small groups; a tele-assistance facility that enabled a tutor to monitor learner's workstations; a real-time teleconferencing system; a shared screen application to facilitate communication among tutors and learners; an asynchronous computer mediated conference system for structured communications in larger groups; and a courseware library with hypermedia editing facilities.
The project demonstrated and documented the complexities of managing, designing and installing a complex learning system in multiple technical, software, pedagogical and national environments.
The project focuses on communication between participants and the technologies used will make communication as easy, intuitive and natural as possible and fit in optimally with pedagogical needs.
The pedagogical situations available on each terminal will be of 4 types:
REAL-TIME MULTIMEDIA CONFERENCES for a small group of participants working on the same subject with private and public domains in a multiwindowing environment.
ASYNCHRONOUS CONFERENCES for participants who are not able to work at the same time, supported by a messages system.
REAL-TIME MULTIPOINT TELE TEACHING where a teacher has the opportunity to give a lecture simultaneously to several groups of learners, in several remote classrooms.
REAL-TIME TELE ASSISTANCE where a tutor from a central terminal can assist a maximum of 4 learners on remote terminals.
All along the project, particular attention is paid to ergonomics and as an example of the natural and intuitive way of use necessary for users' acceptance, the entry process is implemented with metaphors such as the vision of a training center with several zones.
As in a classical school, a common zone will contain all the course-wares in a library and the tools like an editor and a browser to create, modify or retrieve multimedia objects on the shelves.
The overall architecture of the CO-LEARN system will include terminals based on PC, a central server and multipoint control units (audio bridge, IP router), all these pieces communicating through ISDN where possible.
A typical CO-LEARN terminal will be done of a PC including an ISDN basic access board (2B + D channels) plus an audio board able to transmit 7 KHZ sound plus data on ISDN.
There will be an audio input and on audio output on the terminal.
A modular approach allows the users to connect different types of peripherals to their terminals in order to create, to reproduce or display multimedia objects.
The exchanges of these objects take place in real-time or in batch mode by using preferably well established protocols and networks such as TCP/IP; and ISDN.
Key points of the system are the multimedia object oriented database and the multipoint control units.
The Database will be able to store and present not only complex multimedia documents but also the messages of asynchronous tele-conferences.
The multipoint control units will allow at first the transmission of real time data and audio then if necessary live video.
The global learning system developed during the project will be tried and tested in many widely varying situations with about 10 sponsoring partners.
An important evaluation work will be based on these trials, both at technical and organizational acceptability level and at educational added value level.
The software tools running on low cost stations resulting from this project should then be ready to implement cooperative teaching which concerns large training institutions as well as open universities, large corporations, smaller companies, resource centers and even Individuals at home.
This type of implementation will also be linked to the establishment of services related to the multimedia object oriented databases and the multipoint control units.