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DEvelopment of a new DImension in European Computer-Aided Teaching and EDucation

Objective

Purpose

The overall goal of DEDICATED is to develop, establish and evaluate Local Training Centers (LTCs); as centers of local teaching expertise and connect them to form a Europe-wide network to support Computer Based Training (CBT).

An LTC will give support to different user groups: the course ware designers and developers, which produce the learning material; the teachers and learners, which deliver the courses and use the material; and the administrators and managers, which run and control the LTCs. To support these different and heterogeneous user groups, a carefully designed architecture with well defined interfaces is necessary. In DEDICATED, a hierarchy consisting of a generic learning server, dedicated learning tools and modular course elements is proposed.

Based on the general concept of an LTC, DEDICATED aims at the following objectives:

development of a Modular Training System
installation of a European LTC infrastructure
prototyping and testing of courses.

To make courses more effectively and to reach synergy between the different persons acting in the world of Computer Based Training, the connection between different LTCs is a substantial goal of DEDICATED. This connection allows exchange of information of all the different user groups. The interoperability between heterogeneous LTC platforms, the portability of tools, course elements and whole courses, and the exchange of experiences in administration and management of LTCs are therefore other goals.
Local Training Centres were established in Portugal, France, Germany and Greece in order to test the philosophy and implement the DEDICATED Modular Training System with its extensive multimedia capabilities as a way to improve the education and training results. It was possible to demonstrate the feasibility of the system to operate across a local area network on both MS-DOS and UNIX platforms as well as using TCP/IP to connect to a wide area network so that wherever course files were located, a learner can locally play any multimedia sequence.

The Modular Training System consists of a number of different layers including a Generic Learning Support Layer which provided the generic interface to a local Training Centre. A device-independent Learning Material Layer provided facilities for course development and a technology-independent Course Material Layer supported course provision depending upon learning goals.
Approach

Resulting from experience with currently available technology, existing shortcomings will be identified and addressed in the R & D part of DEDICATED. By maintaining a constant requirement input and experience report to the R&D group, a system meeting the users needs shall result. This environment provides optimal synergy and, hereby, the mutual influence that is necessary to develop a long term strategy for Europe-wide computer-based training.

The Modular Training System

The aim of the Modular Training System (MTS) is to develop a modular environment to support course design and delivery. Here we distinguished between the aspect of interoperability on the platform level, exchangeability on the level of learning and course material, and support on the level of learning strategy. An important initial goal is the development of a modular training architecture, supporting learners through remote access techniques.

DEDICATED's architecture of the Modular Training System has a three layer structure:

Generic Learning Support Layer (GLSL), providing an interface to the generic platform of an LTC
Learning Material Layer (LML), that is device-independent but technology-dependent, being the basis of course realization
Course Layer (CL), that is technology-independent but learning-goal-dependent.

We believe, that the strict separation between these layers is the key to next-generation course ware systems. On the Course Material Layer, it allows to design courses based on virtual components and methods. On the Learning Material Layer, this virtual material is mapped onto libraries of real learning material. Finally, on the Generic Learning Support Layer, real learning material is mapped onto the physical platform available at the LTC. Interfaces to standard tools for data access, transfer, presentation and interaction will be supported. This layer provides for inter-operability between the different LTCs. This allows to do all higher level development and education jointly, leading to portable learning tools, modules and courses.

DEDICATED Electronic Classroom

The electronic classroom is one of the main features of the LTCs. In these classrooms, the courses developed locally and remotely in the other LTCs are delivered. To allow for the exchange of courses among the LTCs, certain minimal requirements for the equipment were defined. These minimal requirements must also be sufficient to run the Modular Training System. The MTS will be introduced in the LTCs in the second half of 1993, and will be a basis for future course development. Additional requirements will apply, if the equipment is to be used in stand-alone environments, e.g. in the home or in small training installations without the full LTC equipment. In these cases, the services provided for by servers, e.g. file server and communication server, are not implemented with dedicated machines, but must also be provided by the stand-alone computer.

A study of the hardware platforms available and in use for training applications has been done earlier in the project. The result was, that (especially in the graphics and CAD/CAM; market) training environments should be based on both PCs and UNIX workstations. These two platforms are the predominant computing platforms used in the production environments, and therefore should be used for training also.

Regarding the networking, two levels have to be distinguished: networking within the LTC, and networking between the LTCs. Within the LTCs, local area networking is used for data access, data exchange, and cooperative computing. High bandwidth is available and can be implemented within very reasonable cost. The wide area networking between the LTCs is used primarily for course material exchange and communication between the LTC operators. Because of today's technological restrictions, the course material may be communicated off-line; high band-width lines for real-time access to multi-media information over a course duration of several days cannot be maintained today across all European countries. This may however become possible at the end of this decade.

To provide services to the individual PCs/workstations, special servers are used in the LTCs. These servers are UNIX-based workstations and fulfill two main purposes: file serving and communication serving. To accommodate the large volume resulting from multi-media material, fast high capacity disk drives are needed. Additional material may be stored on CD-ROMs, but is copied to disk during usage for faster access. For transferring the material between the LTCs, communication servers with WAN access are used. They provide file transfer, electronic mail, and interactive working access. By isolating these services in special servers, the security necessary in some environments can be preserved more easily.

One of the innovative aspects of DEDICATED is to go beyond conventional computer based training by using the multi-media capabilities of today's equipment. Multi-media includes the usage of sound and animation, but also features like live video in windows for communication and digital film clips to improve presentation material. With this technology, new requirements in storage capabilities, communication bandwidth, and material authoring are forthcoming.

Special multi-media authoring tools are available already to help in integrating the various components in course units. A specially interesting trend is in the development of authoring systems which generate modules to be used on heterogeneous platforms. Thus, the effort of authoring need not be repeated for each target platform.

Output

The demonstrator for the Modular Training System will include a course section from the CAD/CAM area and will provide the promised functionality of the MTS and a small domain of modules from all layers.

The LTC operating will provide a demonstrator platform for course developers, trainers, and trainees. The infrastructure available is used to realize and test a first set of courses with Advanced Learning Technology. The material necessary (video, graphics, sound, animation) is collected and integrated into courses with technology available. During this phase, constant feedback and exchange of ideas takes place with the MTS development group. Course concept suitable for the MTS are developed and tested.

Once the first prototype of the MTS is installed in the LTCs, existing courses are ported to the MTS architecture. Extensive pilot test support will be given to ensure that the overall behavior of courses is inspected from the views of trainers, trainees, and LTC managers as well as from the views of course developers and MTS designers. Possibly detected shortcomings can be explored in detail and lead to effective revision and upgrade of the MTS in the third year.

Pilot testing the courses will result in a demonstrator to show the validity of the MTS approach and prove the cross-platform compatibility of courses developed with MTS.

For evaluation and validation a strategy is set up among the partners, and an initial evaluation will be executed.

Impact

The project partners running the LTCs in Germany, Portugal, Greece, and France will use the technology developed in DEDICATED to improve their training programs for both industrial and university target audiences. The areas primarily addressed by the courses are:

computer graphics and
computer aided design
in the areas of mechanical engineering and architecture.

An expected outcome is to proof the correctness of the MTS architecture to allow for cross-platform compatibility of courses. This shall help the partners to address the training market better and more cost-effectively.

Coordinator

Zentrum für Graphische Datenverarbeitung eV
Address
Wilhelminenstraße 7
64283 Darmstadt
Germany