The overall goal of the EAST project is to develop an Educational Support server which will provide various levels of support to particular classes of users during particular phases of the education process.
We restrict ourselves to the following classes of user; The Learner, the Tutor, the Mentor, The Training manager and the Training administrator. The phases which we consider are the Public information phase, the pre-learning phase, the Learning phase and the post learning phase.
Amongst the types of support which we will provide will be Training needs analysis, selection of appropriate courses/curricula, delivery of learning material, monitoring progress and provision of tutor support, billing, accounting and ordering learning material.
The educational support system will be installed at 4 test sites which range from corporate training through more conventional academic learning to vocational training. Extensive evaluation studies will be carried out to determine the impact and effectiveness of the support provided.
The origins of the project lie in the work carried out during the DELTA exploratory action in particular the ACES and LEAST projects. In addition they can be viewed as addressing needs which many of the partners both industrial and academic have identified within their own organisations.
EAST implemented 26 tools to support various users (learners, mentors, tutors, training managers and administrators) through an 'Interaction Management System' which conforms to commercial system engineering and architecture principles. Individual tools are integrated into a single multi-user database. Some of these tools have been specifically developed for the project and others, wherever possible, were selected from off-the-shelf products.
A learner coming to the system's intuitive interface is provided with information about courses available through browsing tools, and can move from this phase directly into a learning phase, or can get further assistance in a pre-learning phase which matches their capabilities against job or career requirements and helps define training needs and course planning. In the learning phase, the learner is helped to do the courseware delivered by the training server, results are monitored and tutor and manager intervention is supported, allowing private communication with a specific learner for whom new services can be installed.
The courses are then evaluated against the learners' achievements and each learner's goal is revised with new skill levels and job role options. Tools also administer and manage the provision of learning services in terms of planning, accounting and monitoring service quality.
It is of paramount importance that the approach we take be driven by the needs of the marketplace. To ensure this we have based our work on extensive requirements analysis. During the analysis phase we focused on the chosen test sites and conducted extensive interviews. Additionally, we carried out interviews with, and circulated questionnaires to a large number of suppliers of learning material.
Based upon the analysis we have arrived at our conceptual system architecture. It is shown in the following figure.
The system will provide a graphical user interface which will present to each type of user a view of the underlying support tools appropriate to their individual needs. Access to the underlying functionality will be guided by the Interaction management system. This system will have available to it a characterisation of the individual users (User profiles) and a characterisation of the support available to them.
The tools will provide a range of functionality to meet the support requirements which have been identified. Amongst them will be tools to perform Training needs analysis, selection of appropriate learning material, planning and individualising curricula, Support for tutoring and monitoring, and a range of administrative tools.
The tools will access a number of data repositories the most important of which is a Catalogue of Multi-media descriptors of leaning material. This catalogue will contain descriptions of the material which is currently available at this site together with descriptions of other material which is available from suppliers and details as to how to order it.
A major requirement for the consortium is that whatever software we develop must conform precisely with the identified standards and platforms of the CTA. To this end we regularly submit descriptions of our ongoing work to the CTA consortium through our partners who are in the CTA and we will review our progress in the light of their comments.
The output will be threefold.
We will provide an overall specification of a system to provide educational support to a range of users throughout a range of phases of the education process.
In addition, we will deliver software systems which instantiate subsets of the overall system as specified. These will be installed at 4 test sites. The choice of the subset of functionality to be provided at each test site will be determined by the particular requirements identified at that site.
An extensive evaluation of the impact and effectiveness of the system at the test sites will be carried out and a detailed report outlining the study and its results will be published.
It is expected that the project will have an impact on both the suppliers and the consumers of educational material.
On the supply side it will offer a means whereby educational material can be made available to a wide audience.
On the consumer side it offers the possibility to select and access the most appropriate course/curriculum of study for both individuals and groups.