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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References

<<Building brickwork and stained glass edifices is costly. Yet centres of excellence seem to demand them. Such centres are of limited use unless their product – expertise – can be distributed beyond their walls. Moving experts around the globe to solve problems is costly; moving the problems to experts is not always possible. Virtual institutions can cut the cost by enabling the expertise of a centre of excellence to be distributed more widely and, through telepresence, by enabling more problems to be moved to the experts.>> [N. Beard, ‘Virtual Institutions’, Personal Computer World, July 1994, p.428]


1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References

Education is entering a new era. The school, college, and university, as physical locations for the dissemination of knowledge and the support of learning, are a product of the now waning print culture, the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’. There is, after all, nothing natural about the residential university; there is nothing natural about taking 18-year olds out of the world for three years into the cloistered halls of academia; there is nothing in the nature of history or physics or economics or whatever else, as disciplines, that determines that they can be neatly bounded and bundled up in three-year packages. Indeed, there is an almost perverse unnaturalness in believing that, once a residential course of study has been completed, one knows all that one needs to know about a discipline for a lifetime in work; and yet typically, although employment-based training may continue for some on (characteristically) an ad hoc basis, few adults ever think of ‘education’ or ‘learning’ as an open-ended process.

Yet it was the purely physical restrictions on access to scholarly authority (whether medieval monk or Oxbridge professor) and to the written and printed word that necessitated the creation of bricks-and-mortar centres of learning: a subject expert could only ever be in one place at one time, and if you wanted to benefit from his knowledge and expertise you had no choice but to be where he or she was. In the (– and it has become a clichéd expression –) constantly and rapidly changing world in which we now live, with new technologies relentlessly redefining the way we work and live, it may not merely be an anachronism to continue to embrace the model of the traditional residential university as the primary locus of learning – it may arguably be an impediment to appropriate learning and ultimately a threat to growth, both economic and personal.[1]

The potential of telematics for the creation and maintenance of ‘virtual institutions’ is now well recognised (Beard, 1994; Rheingold, 1994). The confluence of microelectronics, computing and telecommunications that is enabling the emergence of divers kinds of ‘virtual spaces’ and the ‘virtual communities’ that inhabit them is beginning to persuade the tertiary and adult education sectors that there exist real opportunities for, and that there are substantial benefits to be accrued from, the construction of ‘virtual universities’ for open and flexible distance learning and vocational training.[2] If structured high quality learning materials are available online to whoever has access to a computer and modem, without constraints of time and place, then the traditional residential teaching university becomes – from the students' perspective at least – largely redundant. (This would then also enable universities to recapture their historical role as centers for research and for the ‘pursuit of knowledge’, as is exemplified in the UK for instance by residential research activities at the Milton Keynes campus of the Open University.) It was this conviction that last year inspired the European ERASMUS Inter-university Cooperation Programme (ICP) of which I am coordinator to create, in support of its transnational teaching and learning activities, the ‘Virtual Summer School’…, A brief survey of others can be found here.) At the same time, the political and industrial climate is now nurturing further exploratory forays, in the aftermath of the European DELTA programme, into telematics-based distance learning (see, for instance, the EU White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness, and Employment, December 1993, the Bangemann group's recommendations on Europe and the Global Information Society, May 1994, the CCTA report Information Superhighways: Opportunities for public sector applications in the UK, May 1994, and the CEC COM(94) 347, Europe's Way to the Information Society, July 1994, especially with regard to distance learning/‘tele-education’). Echoing the Delors White Paper with its stress on “life long learning for a changing society”, the report from the Bangemann group, for example, seeks through Application Area Two to “promote distance learning centres providing courseware, training and tuition services tailored for SMEs, large companies and public administrations” as well as to “extend advanced distance learning techniques into schools and colleges.”

Against that background, the present paper reports on our ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’ initiative to date, and looks ahead to future developments.

2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References

The European Community-funded ERASMUS programme was launched in 1987 to foster links between universities in different EU member states, pre-eminentlty to enable students to spend periods of study in other European universities. The links are formalised in Inter-University Cooperation Programmes (ICPs) which group university departments together in subject area-specific networks; the four types of activity for which ICPs may apply for funding are Student Mobility, Teaching Staff Mobility, Joint Curriculum Development, and Intensive Programmes. First funded three years ago for Student Mobility and Joint Curriculum Development programmes in the area of Informatics/Artificial Intelligence, ERASMUS ICP-UK-1429/11 now comprises Kingston University (UK), Università degli Studi di Milano (Italy), Université Pierre et Marie Curie/Paris VI (France), Espoo-Vantaa Institute of Technology (Finland), Wilhelms Westfälishe-Universität (Germany), Université Montpellier II (France), South Bank University (UK), Universität Leipzig (Germany), and the University of Limerick (Ireland), with the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (Spain) expected to join in September 1995.

After two years of disappointingly low mobility (an optional rather than necessary part of the home courses), the ICP partners observed that, in the light of the very few students we are able to move annually in the Student Mobility programme, even an ad hoc cost-benefit analysis clearly showed a disproportion between the considerable time and effort invested in developing the curricula and teaching materials and the meagre benefit accruing to the partner institutions and their students as a whole.

In the third year, the decision was therefore taken to enable and support ‘virtual mobility’ by porting the programme to the Internet, and building it into the students' home institution taught course. Yet since the programme could now in principle be made accessible to anyone with access to the Internet, whether or not a member of any one of the partner universities, we were further led to the notion of a truly public access distance education no longer tied to the traditional residential university. The principal criteria underscoring and guiding the direction of our initiative were:

  • COST OF IMPLEMENTATION: it should be implementable at minimal cost. We were constrained by a tight budget – an ERASMUS grant of 9,600 ECUs (i.e., around UKL7200 or US $12000) awarded for the academic year 1993-4 to fund the administration of both the Student Mobility and the Curriculum Development programme, and which precludes the purchase of kit, software, books, and other durables, as well as staff costs. The relatively ‘low-tech’ option of the Internet/World Wide Web was therefore an obvious choice.
  • COST OF ACCESS: consistent with the aim of extending the opportunity for ‘virtual mobility’ to many more than the few students who would normally be able to physically move to a host institution, it should allow low cost public access to the programme. Effectively anyone with a computer and a modem, wherever they are physically located, should be enabled to participate. This meant that, at least in the short term, we should avoid high-cost high-tech media such as video-conferencing or interactive television.
  • SCALABILITY/VALUE-ADDED STUDENT PARTICIPATION: it should enable the portfolio of training materials and learning resources to be expanded at minimal cost to include new partners and increased student ‘virtual mobility’.
  • FLEXIBILITY: releasing learning from the time and space constraints of the physical lecture or workshop enables learners to work at their own pace and with just those resources that the s/he needs rather than those that the structured nature of the traditional lecture course imposes. This flexibility then further supports distance learning in continuing education.
  • REUSABILITY: there should be no unnecessary ‘reinventing the wheel’. It should wherever possible, for reasons of sheer commonsense as well as of cost of development, seek to use resources that are already out there in the public thoroughfares of CyberSpace in a cost-efficient customization of the student learning environment.
  • QUALITY ASSURANCE AND CONTROL: subject experts – for example, from residential universities or from professional societies – would be responsible for examination procedures and for conformity with national and international standards
  • CREDIT-WORTHINESS and ACCREDITATION: Potential candidates for such validation bodies are the traditional residential universities and the professional societies (such as the Royal Society of Arts, British Computer Society, British Psychological Society, and so forth). In a many ways the latter option would mark a novel return to the old methods of validating one's professional competence

Two further advantages we perceived in porting the programme to the Internet were that:

  • the teaching and resource materials may be updated, extended or otherwise modified regularly at minimal cost since only a single electronic copy – rather than multiple paper copies – need be changed, and
  • while the ICP co-ordinator would remain responsible for ensuring the global coherence of the programme, the distributed nature of the resource ensures that individual institutions would be able to add further materials reflecting their native expertise (e.g., linguistic engineering from Münster, logic programming from Milan, formal methods from Leipzig, expert systems from Paris, neural networks from Limerick, …).

A prototype version of the ERASMUS ICP ‘ICP OnLine’ was launched in the Summer of 1994. The World Wide Web (WWW), in providing the simplest and most user-friendly access to the Internet through browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape has been adopted as the student interface to the ‘ICP OnLine’, with its entry point via an ERASMUS ‘home page’ on a server located at Kingston University. The primary objective of the project is to support ‘virtual student mobility’ such as to extend the linguistic and cultural benefits of mobility from the tens of students in an institution who can move physically to the potentially many hundreds of students who, with access to the Internet, can participate as ‘virtual movers’.

Resources to facilitate the ‘virtual mobility’ of email-linked transnational student teams include an experimental WWW ‘shopfront’ to the ‘ICP OnLine’, with links to a description of the ERASMUS project itself and of the ICP, to partner institution WWW home pages, to profiles of the participating universities and the cities in which they are located, links to syllabi, courseware, bibliographies, research reports, project guidelines, CVs of staff, cultural resources and relevant ‘social’ USENET newsgroups, and pointers to European language resources, including electronic newspapers, journals, books, and dictionaries.[3] To help ‘virtually mobile’ students orient themselves within the ‘ICP OnLine’ as well as to navigate their way around the labyrinths of CyberSpace, the ICP commissioned, as an expense under the Curriculum Development Programme, the production of an ERASMUS Student Guide to the Internet. Although the electronic copy of the Guide is not yet ‘on-line’, paper versions are being issued to students this year.

3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References

Most of the ICP partners are running AI programmes, linked to the project, in their home institutions during the second semester (February through June) of the academic year. It is during the second semester therefore that the students work in transnational teams on joint coursework projects.

In preparation for this, students in each institution wishing to participate in the scheme are asked to submit an ‘expression of interest’ to their home programme director at the beginning of the academic year, from which a global list of students' email addresses (around 100 in this first year, from six of the universities) is compiled and distributed to all interested students in the ICP. The students then confirm their interest by establishing contact, during the first semester, with other students in partner universities, eventually – with tutorial guidance – settling into self-selecting transnational groups of (optimally) four.[4] Clearly, students who are participating in the scheme electronically (i.e., without physically moving) will not have the opportunity to immerse themselves directly in the cultural and linguistic context in which their peers live and work. We therefore agreed that it was essential that the cultural experience be shared vicariously by getting students talking to each other at an early stage. They would ideally be exchanging not only email descriptions of themselves and their lives, but also, by postal mail, photographs, maps, sample course handouts (for non-core courses), for example, and specimen cultural artefacts such as bus tickets, theatre brochures, photocopies of student cards, and so forth. As the project progresses over time, we hope also that, in a ‘student area’ of the ‘ICP OnLine’, participating students will themselves author ‘cultural’ pages that, through the use of text and graphics, recreate the student experience in their home institutions, for the benefit of their peers in other partner universities.

Students are also individually encouraged to browse the linguistic and cultural resources page of the ‘ICP OnLine’, to access the language laboratories and multilingual text archives, to use the online language dictionaries, to read USENET newsgroups for national cultures, e.g., soc.culture.british, soc.culture.french, soc.culture.german, soc.culture.italian, …, and so forth. To further enhance the cultural experience, ‘walking tours’ of the cities for the universities are accessible from the ‘ICP OnLine’ home page.

In the period February to June (i.e., second semester), during which most of the partner institutions would be running AI modules, transnational student groups will work together on teamwork projects, communicating by electronic mail, sharing common online resources, and working collaboratively on assessed AI projects. The coursework reports are to be written up in each of the languages involved (i.e., in French by the French student, in Italian by the Italian student, etc), and collated reports submitted to the home programme director for each student. Executive summaries of each report will be published online.

Students successfully completing the programme will then, in addition to the normal assessment for a home degree, be awarded an ICP ‘Certificate of Participation’ acknowledging their participation in the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’ project.

4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References

Based on the experience of running the ‘ICP ONLINE’ pilot, a consortium comprising the ERASMUS ICP-UK-1429, Open for Business for the Open University of The Netherlands, Question Mark Computing, TeleTraining, Easynet/Cyberia (the UK-based Internet café group), and Birmingham City Council Libraries and Leisure Service department, among others, is now preparing a proposal for the generalisation of the scheme to create a generic framework for a ‘virtual university’ as a conduit for independent course providers to deliver high-quality interactive multimedia training programmes to all EU citizens either through Community Learning Resource Centres (CLRCs), or in company-based training rooms, or from home.

Delivery of courseware would be via a mix of CMC media, including the World Wide Web, Timbuktu Pro, ISDN and Internet-based video-conferencing with shared whiteboards, and FirstClass conferencing. Monitored online self-assessment for rapid feedback together with submission and assessment of coursework via electronic mail would form the hub of the student evaluation process; creditation is expected to be given by the participating universities, other course providers, and by professional bodies.

The CLRCs (including the first demonstration sites for the project), as the physical nodes and access points to the proposed ‘virtual university’, are planned to be:

  • Adult Education Centres
  • Company training rooms
  • Internet cafés
  • Special schools for students with learning or physical disabilities
  • Public libraries
  • Prisons
  • Selected homes

Stressing the importance of low-cost public access, the ‘virtual university’ would continue to be Internet-based, though we now envisage (i) a strong shift away from purely text-based towards multimedia learning materials, and (ii) as an additional facility offered to the CLRC-based user, a ‘virtual tutorial room’ admitting up to four users at a time (e.g., 4 students, student and tutor, student and industrial mentor, …; see also footnote 4). Video-conferencing software running over the Internet, such as CU-SeeMe (already tested), would underpin the ‘virtual tutorial’.

4.2. Video-conferencing

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References

With the prospect of the addition, in late Spring 1995, of student video-conferencing in the ‘virtual tutorial room’, we are moving closer to real meetings of minds across national and linguistic borders. In addition, Université Pierre et Marie Curie and Kingston University are currently experimenting with ISDN-based video-linking using France Telecom's VisioAmphi system; the first synchronous ‘tele-lecture’ between the two sites is scheduled for early Summer 1995, with its extension to other sites later in the year.

4.3. Enhancing the student experience

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References

That telecommunications and computing technologies enable the creation of a ‘virtual university’ is not in itself a justification of its use or demonstration of its effectiveness. The most common objection raised against the concept of ‘virtual mobility’ in the context of our ERASMUS programme, for example, is that it falls far short of the experience of physically immersing oneself in the language and culture of another country. A virtual croissant and café crème just don't taste the same as the real thing, a virtual rose can never smell as sweet. While this is true (and remain true pending the arrival of fully immersive virtual reality!), we believe that there may for the participating student be great benefit in the vicarious electronic experience as a hypermedia resource complementary to the home institution courses in European languages and culture. Among our plans for future developments, we will expect to address in greater depth the issue of enhancing the student's learning experience.

Among the numerous parameters along which successful learning may be measured, three emerge as particularly significant:

  • NEGOTIATED LEARNING: the extent to which the learner is able to customise his/her personal learning regime to perceived and agreed training needs. Residential college and university courses, under the constraint of needing to address mass audiences, mirror the mass-production mode characteristic of the first industrial age and may consequently fail the individual learner; freed from the residential constraint, telematics-based programmes can support the ‘mass-customisation’ of learning through pick-and-mix learning-on-demand.
  • PARTICIPATORY LEARNING: the extent to which the learner is enabled to participate actively in the learning process. The university lecture is, for example, a paradigmatically passive non-participatory activity; simple ‘page-turning’ multimedia may provide the learner with some degree of engagement in the learning process, but may still be ‘inter-passive’ rather than properly interactive; high-quality multimedia should involve the learner in active task-based problem-solving.
  • EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING: the extent to which the learning content is embedded in the ‘context-of-doing’ (cf. Lave, 1988; substantially the same point is discussed in Gay & Lentini's paper, this volume). Effective learning of a complex and content-rich cognitive skill takes place most effectively through its rehearsal in an environment that, as closely as possible, simulates the real-world environment in which that skill would be put into practical use (hence, for example, flight simulators for trainee pilots). Multimedia and virtual reality can model such environments.

The project plans to address these three parameters by seeking to provide:

  • CUSTOMISED LEARNING-ON-DEMAND: a genuinely modularised learning regime allowing the user, after the model of US tertiary education programmes, to select on demand and (on successful completion) be accredited for just those modules that meet his/her perceived learning and training needs.
  • a MULTIMEDIA INTERACTIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: the provision of learning materials that will actively engage the learner through problem-solving, immediate feedback, and graded progression through the programme
  • SIMULATION AND VISUALISATION: multimedia display techniques combining graphic, textual, audio and video material can be used in the presentation of ‘visualisations’ (flat screen 2-D renderings) of, and simulations of, complex real-world problems. 3-D modelling software such as Virtus WalkThrough or SuperScape enables the creation of ‘virtual virtual realities’ in which the learner is empowered not merely to observe simulated real-world problems but to actively participate in their solution.

Creating the ideal student environment is a massive and costly task. The consortium is this year submitting a proposal for funding, under the European Framework IV programme, of a Telematics in Education and Training project which, over the three years of funding, would enable us to study and, we hope, implement the above measures.

5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References

The market for open and flexible distance education in general is vast, as is witnessed by the emergence worldwide of numerous distance learning universities and colleges in the past 25 years (the British Open University, the French Centre National de l'Enseignement à Distance, the Open University of the Netherlands, the Canadian Open University, the Japanese University of the Air, …), by the huge growth in the number of learners studying by distance mode, and in the establishment of such networks as the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities, the European Open University Network project, Saturn, EuroPace, Janus, and EuroStep. The size of the potential market (i.e., number of potential learners) for specifically telematics-based distance learning can be gauged from the growth in numbers of Internet users (currently estimated at between 25 and 30 million worldwide) and concomitant increase in the number of access providers in Europe (around 50 in the UK, for example).

With a population-to-host computer ratio of 101 for Finland, 372 for the UK, 543 for Germany, and 801 for France (figures published in Wired, UK edition, April 1995, p.34), and with the rapid penetration of cable into European homes (96% of homes in the Netherlands, for example, are cabled), the infrastructure for online learning is already in place.

Our belief that the mode of access to the proposed ‘Virtual Campus’ should be through the World Wide Web was likewise in part based on the growth of WWW traffic in 1993 (in, that is, the 12 months following the launch of the Mosaic browser) by a phenomenal 443,931%. Although we propose to undertake, as part of a forthcoming extensive user needs analysis, a more rigorous survey of the market, our confidence in a broad and expansive learner base for the European virtual university has been reinforced by surveys conducted (in 1994) by MacWorld magazine of its readers and by Inteco of 11,500 European cable subscribers and computer owners which clearly indicated that learning-on-demand is a high priority for subscribers to telematic services (BBSs, Internet, AOL, CompuServe, …).

Finally, however, we clearly recognise that however feasible in principle, in practice there will be problems, in a multicultural and multilingual Europe, of acceptance and cultural adjustment. Most of such problems are obvious, and need not be rehearsed here. The cross-cultural problems are potentially, perhaps, the most interesting and ultimately the most daunting. Teichman (1994, p.66), for example, highlights misunderstandings between American and German high school students in the course of a teleconference between their respective schools:

The fact that one set of American cards of self-introduction was made on pieces of cardboard ripped by hand from old folders no longer needed, had very amateur photographs and were written in pencil in what would be classified in Germany as poor handwriting led to the incensed interpretation by the German recipients that the American partner pupils obviously were not really interested in the project and had not taken care to produce high quality results. In other words, they interpreted the appearance of the American artefacts by reference to their own cultural standards of the importance of neat external form and orderly appearance and the economic possibilities of their school to provide quality, new cardboard and photographic equipment and expertise.

Clearly, having access to the appropriate technology is only the beginning of the project. The major issues are not technological but social.

Footnotes
  • [1]

     There are, of course, some obvious benefits in attending the traditional residential university, not the least of which is social. As Acker (this volume), suggests, following Oldenburg's (1989) description of the city, deprived of the social opportunities offered by the university, “people remain lonely within their crowds. The only predictable consequence of technological advancement is that they will grow ever more apart from one another”. We are not yet sure what the social experience of our distance learners will be, or how the social dimension supports the learning experience, though on the one hand we assume that they will ‘in real life’ continue to enjoy whatever extra-curricular social life they might have (and as have traditional distance learners) while, as members of an online learning community, discover the kind of community experience that Rheingold lauds in his Virtual Communities.

  • [2]

     Distance learning is, of course, not a new phenomenon. From the ‘commercial correspondence courses’ in the 19th century to the ‘Open Universities’ of the late 20th century, the notion of solitary learning at a distance has become well established. Much of the growing appeal of telematics-based learning as a successor to the traditional correspondence course mode lies in the capacity for reaching, and responding to, learners more rapidly and, through the potential offered by videoconferencing, recreating the sense of presence inherent in face-to-face communication.

  • [3]

     At the present time, English remains the lingua franca of the ICP, not through choice but through necessity. With most academic publishing being in English, non-English speaking students throughout Europe are obliged to acquire a competence in the language, while native speakers of English – especially when students of technology – have little incentive to learn other languages. We hope to address this issue over time, however, and are already starting to publish materials in more than one language.

  • [4]

     The magic number ‘4’ was based on research into conversation groups by anthropologist Robin Dunbar (Dunbar, 1992; Dunbar, 1994). Adducing evidence from a broad array of sources across time and space, he not only persuasively argues that “human conversation groups should consist of an average of 3.7 individuals” but convincingly shouws that “indeed they do”. Dunbar's work was subsequently used as a theoretical basis for the design of a ‘virtual meeting room’ by Chris Condon, of Brunel University, in two EC funded projects in industrial ‘telepresence’. The meeting room was designed around a 4-way video window. Our own experience of managing student group work in the universities has been that not only do self-selecting groups optimize around four members, but also that where the number of group members is four the performance of the group as a whole (coordination of group work, project management, quality of outcomes) is better.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction: Education in the Information Age
  4. 2. Origins of the ERASMUS ‘ICP OnLine’
  5. 3. Structure of the Student Programme: the student experience
  6. 4. Beyond the ‘Gutenberg galaxy’: Looking to the Future
  7. 4.1. The Community Learning Resource Centre
  8. 4.2. Video-conferencing
  9. 4.3. Enhancing the student experience
  10. 5. Concluding remarks: risks and opportunities
  11. References
  • Beard, N. (1994). ‘Virtual Institutions’, Personal Computer World, July 1994.
  • Brown, J.S. & Duguid, P. (1991). ‘Organisational Learning and Communities of Practice: Toward a unifying view of working, learning, and motivation’, Organisation Science, 2(1), pp. 4057.
  • Dunbar, R. (1992). ‘Why Gossip Is Good For You’, New Scientist, 21 November 1992, pp. 2831.
  • Dunbar, R. (1994). ‘Co-Evolution of Neocortex Size, Group Size, and Language in Humans’, Journal of Behavioural and Brain Sciences.
  • Hämäläinen, M. (1994). ‘Collaborative Distance Education: The Role of the Internet in Resource-Based Collaborative Learning’. Draft MS of paper to be submitted to The Journal of Organizational Computing.
  • Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in Practice. New York : Cambridge University Press.
  • Rheingold, H. (1994). The Virtual Community: Finding Connection in a Computerized World. London : Secker & Warburg.
  • Teichman, V. (1994). ‘An Interdisciplinary Project Orientation Using Telecommunications Media in Freign Language Teaching’, in H.Jung & R.Vanderplank (eds.), Barriers and Bridges: Media Technology in Language Learning. Frankfurt am Main : Peter Lang.