Chapter 15

Beyond the Classroom: Virtual, Video, & the World Wide Web


Four faculty from different universities in the Washington Metropolitan Area each taught a course on human/computer interaction in their departments. They had met over several years to pool ideas and resources. They had even discussed the idea of team teaching the course and getting their graduate students to interact with each other, but they had never been able to overcome the barrier of distance which they called the "Beltway Barrier." They were familiar with distance education methods and instructional television (ITV), desktop video conferencing, email and listservs, and the World Wide Web. After much discussion, planning, and even test trials using different media, they arranged to team teach the course in the Spring Semester of 1996.

What was unique about their experience was that it was not a traditional distance education class with one instructor broadcasting his or her lecture to many classrooms, nor was it a two-way video-conferencing between just two classrooms. It was arranged as a four-way conference between classrooms each at their respective universities discussing materials that were hosted over the World Wide Web, using video, audio, and shared workspaces over the Internet.

While much planning had gone into the course syllabus, materials, and projects, the working dynamics of the class could be neither planned nor foreseen. Different communication channels, styles, and cues developed. Over the semester, both the faculty and the students learned much about human/computer interface design in theory, practice, and personal experience. Some things worked and others didn't. Technology seemed to be both the problem and the solution. However, it was clear by the end of the semester that everyone's vision of what should have happened was beyond what the technology could actually deliver in 1996. Both the hardware and the software needed great improvements in speed, quality, functionality, and ease of use. To illustrate, this scenario closes with a description of the typical events that occurred in the course of a class period.

The instructors would arrive about 15 minutes before the class meeting time with students and/or assistant technicians and would see that the computers were on and would start to establish communications. Dr. Debbie Boehm-Davis at George Mason University would initiate a standard telephone conference call. Each classroom had a speaker phone. A technician at George Washington University would start the CuSee-Me(TM) reflector and the rest of the classrooms would start video-conferencing. At the beginning of class it was interesting to see the people in the other classrooms; however, after a short time this novelty wore off and the "video presence" was more of a distraction than an asset.

Each room had a least one Web browser for viewing course materials. Some had one for each student. Dr. Boehm-Davis would generally set the agenda for the meeting. Often the first item of business would be a report by a group of students on a class discussion that had occurred on the Listserv the previous week. The students would look at the summaries accessible on the WWW and the team leader would talk about them for a few minutes. Others might add comments and the rest of the students might add additional comments over the conference call.

Next, a short lecture or discussion would be led by either Dr. Marc Sebrechts at Catholic University or by Dr. Kent Norman at the University of Maryland on human/computer interaction. The lecture notes were shown as pages on the WWW. Each classroom would click to the right page, but unfortunately they would sometimes get lost or have to wait until the page would finish loading before the discussion could start. To avoid this problem some students would access all of the pages before class and have them pre-loaded into cache memory on their computers. Interspersed with these lectures were presentations on enabling technologies such as video-conferencing, computer graphics, and HTML by Dr. Barry Silverman at George Washington University.

Attending to the lectures and discussions was taxing and frustrating. It was difficult for the students to hear and to follow along through the materials when a lecture was being given. During discussions it was difficult to tell who was talking and from what university. In general, it was hard to balance attention between events in the local classroom and in the distant classrooms.

In addition to the frustrations in class, the students were required to work as teams to create a WWW site for a nonprofit organization of their choice. The teams were intentionally composed of students at different universities that had to work together by whatever electronic means they could use. Many of them never met physically during the semester until the last day of class for group meeting to show their projects. Despite the frustrations and stress, the final sense of accomplishment was great. Although the electronic environment was not able to support all of the desired activities adequately, its potential is clear. It will only be a matter of time until the network has sufficient bandwidth, reliability, and interfaces to support even more demanding learning scenarios. (Sebrechts, Silverman, Boehm-Davis, & Norman, 1995; Boehm-Davis, Norman, Sebrechts, & Silverman, 1996)

The new electronic educational environment extends beyond the classroom and the campus to create what we might call an "edu-sphere." Classes may meet at the same time / same place but have the world's knowledge at easy grasp; classes may meet at the same time but at different places bringing geographically dispersed groups and individuals together in synchronous video-conferencing; or classes may be virtual in nature with asynchronous meetings at any time and any place around the world. The world wide connectivity provided by the Internet and the ease and multimedia richness provided by the World Wide Web and associated browsers provide a new technological playing field. The scenario pushed the limit before the technology was fully in place. Nevertheless, the possibilities are endless and the potential for education is immense

In this chapter we will explore a number of these models and ways in which the virtual environment may change the fabric of education, the dynamics of the classroom, learning environment, and the options available to students, faculty, and institutions. "Web-based" education holds a new promise for highly distributed, multimedia, interactive, and very inexpensive education. Consequently, educational institutions around the world are quickly beginning to arm themselves electronically for the new technological revolution in education. To many it is not a question of whether it will happen, but whether we will do it right. Just as the initial introduction of computers into the classroom was a failure for many different reasons, we may expect many failed attempts to improve education using the Internet and the World Wide Web. On the other hand, as the scenario above illustrates, we learn much through experience and through the design of initial prototypes of the electronic classroom. Moreover, the knowledge gained from these experiences will generalize into the wider environment of electronically distributed education.

While many are enamored with the WWW, it is in principle nothing new, just more. It is unique in its synthesis of multimedia, communications, and standardization across platform. However, at the user end, nothing is truly new. It is just another system. Furthermore, at the system end, designers are debating whether to distribute multimedia materials on disk, on CD-ROM, across the Internet, or on Intranets. It is technical question as to pros and cons of the cost and speed of each media. The virtue of the WWW is that it is extensive across many servers. All materials and communications are digital. The down side is that currently communications are very slow compared to CD-ROM access and that materials across the WWW are highly variable in quality, reliability, and consistency.

More Technological Factors

In Chapter 3 we looked at a number of the technological abilities that the new electronic educational media provides. These were Input-Ability, Display-Ability, Store-Ability, Search-Ability, Copy-Ability, Access-Ability, Link-Ability, Manipulate-Ability, Compute-Ability, and Simulate-Ability. The extensiveness of the World Wide Web turns up the gain on each of these abilities. Materials, whether static images or real time video or text documents or ongoing dialogues can be input anywhere on any computer connected to the net. Materials can be displayed anywhere around the world. The storage of these materials is anywhere, on any machine, thus increasing the size of the storage to be virtually infinite. While search-ability will always remain an imperfectly solved problem, the Web is highly searchable by a wide variety of powerful search engines ; despite the fact that it is so diverse and distributed. The trade-off between copy-ability and access-ability leans in the direction of access-ability. There is little reason to store local copies of materials when they are readily accessible. The only exception is when frequent and fast access is required. Even in this case, most browsers cache these files onto a local hard drive in a method transparent to the user.

Accessability is perhaps the second greatest virtue of the WWW and the Internet. I am currently on sabbatical sitting in my office at the Open University of Israel in Tel Aviv. I have complete access to my course materials on a network back at the University of Maryland. Some of my colleagues here have access to the Internet via satellite dishes on the roofs of their homes. Thus, accessiblity is universal. Furthermore, it is becoming more and more machine and platform independent.

But the greatest gain in the Web is in terms of link-ability of materials. Such links capitalize on access-ability and store-ability. Lists of links, embedded links, image maps and computed links are the forte of the Web, HTML, and scripting languages. Starting from one topic the interested student can delve deeper into the material, jump to related material, or shift ideas altogether following links in the WWW jumping within information on the same server or from server to server around the world.

To these abilities, we must add at least three new ones: Communicate-Ability, View-Ability, and Conference-Ability. Various protocols exist and are still emerging for communication across the Internet from electronic mail and listservs that route email to all subscribers to chat systems that allow near synchronous dialogues in text. In education these vehicles of communicate-ability are being used for a variety of purposes. Email is often used by the instructor to hand out assignments and by students to submit assignments. These uses can be very effective even though the interface is general insufficiently integrated with the educational environment. With only a few students and with instructors who can bridge the gap between various software applications, email is adequate. However, with a large number of students and many assignments, the interface needs to provide management tools for grading, recording grades, and handing back corrected assignments. Similarly, listservs and chat rooms can be very effective in stimulating thoughtful dialogue and for question and answer sessions; but when scaled up, the interface needs to provide ways to manage these lists and chat dialogues without over burdening the instructor. Recently a course was conducted in distance education through the University of Maryland University College that generated according to the instructor over 500 pages of dialogue. Management of course materials, interactions, and products remains an overarching issue in the development of an electronic educational environment.

View-ability in the form of either one-way or multi-point video conferencing provides a sense of "video presence" that can be used for a variety of purposes in education. View-ability is not merely the ability to view a recorded lecture or film, but the ability to view a live, real-time session. Instructional television has been an effective part of distance education for a number of years. However, it has only been available to institutions which have been able to invest in studios and television broadcast facilities. Desktop video conferencing brings the possibility of distance education to a wider market and to a wider variety of uses. A number of video conferencing tools are emerging that make use of the Internet and other communication media. The opening scenario illustrates the versatility in allowing a four-way conference. Other uses include: (a) the standard one-way instructor to many classrooms, (b) one-way instructor to many students at different locations, (c) two-way instructor with many classrooms at different locations, (d) two-way instructor with many students at different locations, (e) one-on-one instructor and student tutoring, (f) multi-point discussion groups, (g) video guest lecture to one or many classrooms or individuals, (h) video views into remote sites for real-time observation such as with the Space Shuttle or a lab at Amazonia in the National Zoo, and many other possibilities which goes beyond the scope of this chapter. View-ability provides additional visual channels which need to be properly integrated and managed in the electronic educational environment so that they support learning activities rather than distract from them.

Finally, by conference-ability is meant the ability to share a workspace and conference over it. Multiple users on the WWW or other media have synchronous access to the space and can manipulate objects in the space. The shared "whiteboard" allows users to present ideas in the form of text and graphics and for others to modify and annotate them. The idea of shared workspaces was discussed in Chapter 7. However, on the WWW the facility takes one a new life because it overcomes the obstacle of the distance. At present whiteboards and other shared spaces have been used more in business and management meetings rather than in educational settings. However, if used in the electronic classroom or in the virtual classroom, the shared space allows the student to "step up" to the board and complete problems or share ideas with the rest of the class. In small classes and seminars the shared workspace can be used effectively in a synchronous manner, but with large classes and with asynchronous access, additional management tools and issues need to be considered.

The electronic educational environment is rapidly establishing its place on the WWW and other distributed networks due to the compelling nature of the abilities listed above. But with power must also come restraint. There is a temptation pull out all of the stops and to use too many tools and teaching techniques. There is a need to manage the tools in a pedagogically effective way. We can expect many failed attempts before the best teaching patterns and methods are established. In the mean time, we must try to use good principles of human/computer interface design and educational methods to forge ahead. The prototype of HyperCourseware is offered as one architecture that will help to provide a unified, integrated, and easy to use interface into the electronic educational environment on the WWW.

Courses, Colleges, and Chaos on the World Wide Web

Literally thousands of courses or parts of courses are appearing on the WWW. The initial step of most faculty at the college level is to put up the syllabus, a list of readings, and a list of assignments on a WWW server provided by the school. Some faculty are adding more detailed notes and graphics to the course materials. A few are beginning to add chat and dialogue sessions using tools on the WWW written for this purpose. The rush onto the WWW can be characterized as a bottom-up, materials driven development. Given the course materials, the question is how to get them onto the WWW and accessible by the students. Unfortunately, little thought or only an after thought is given to the organization of the material and the problem of navigation by the students to access the materials in an efficient and meaningful way. Typically files that were generated by a word processor are translated into HTML and put on a server as one long scrollable document. Or slides generated by a presentation graphics program are converted to WWW pages. These sites tend to be linear, unwieldy, and unlinked. They are essentially electronic replicas of their paper predecessors.

At the same time thousands of colleges and universities are attempting to make their presence known on the WWW. The approach of academic institutions is similar to that of corporations first establishing a presence on the WWW as a means of advertising brochures and gaining name recognition, followed by links to listing of products and services. In the case of colleges and universities, the links are to academic programs, departments, course listings, and to on-line registration. Some institutions have even progressed so far as to link to the instructional materials hosted by individual faculty. It is at this point that many institutions are becoming aware of the problems of the vast inconsistency and uneven quality of the course materials appearing on the WWW by the faculty.

To solve this problem a number of schools and software companies are beginning to develop and provide courseware shells for WWW course development. The advantages of such shells are great. They provide both structure and consistency in the development of WWW courses; they provide navigational tools for accessing materials; they protect access to the course materials with passwords for the students and faculty; they provide tools chat, internal email, news, and other interactive protocols; and they hope to provide easy to use interfaces for both the students and faculty. Basically these shells are an attempt to provide on the WWW what the HyperCourseware prototype provides in the electronic classroom and across a local area network. Consequently, design of prototype tools and the lessons learned in the electronic classroom are extremely valuable input to the development of WWW courseware shells.

Table 15.1 gives a list of some of the current shells. A brief tour of the shells reveals great differences in the emphasis on different pedagogical tools from straight presentation of text and graphics to interactive discussion and from asynchronous interactions in individualized instruction to synchronous sessions with real-time video and audio participation. There are also great differences in the ease of generating courses and even whether they can be authored by the faculty or whether a professional software company is required to put up and manage the materials. Most of the shells, however, use a database management system which stores all course materials and student information. Depending on the selections of the user, the shell accesses this database and generates a code to display pages on the WWW browser. While this is a very efficient approach, it limits the flexibility of the courseware and creates a self contained, closed system. Within the shell a consistent set of page templates and navigational options can be maintained. While such consistency and standardization is good from a user interface perspective, it may be dull and ineffective from a pedagogical standard point. A second disadvantage of self-contained systems is that they limit the power of the WWW to cross link to information around the world.

Table 15.1

A Sample of WWW Courseware Shells

WebCT: University of Bristish Columbia:
Chalk by The Interactive Factory:
Web Course in a Box:
TopClass from WBT Systems:

It should be mentioned that there are other electronic systems that use the Internet and other networks for course delivery besides the WWW. Some of these began before the WWW as did HyperCourseware; and others make use of high speed communications that allow for high resolution real-time video presentation. Again most of these grew out of the need for video conferencing in business and management environments. Some of these are listed below in Table 15.2.

Table 15.2

A Sample of Educational Conferencing Systems

FirstClass: University of Wisconsin-Madison:
Lotus Notes: Domino
Lotus Learning Space:
VTEL SmartVideoconferencing:

HyperCourseware as a Prototype on the World Wide Web

As education moves from the hard disk of the personal computer to the distributed networks of the World Wide Web, the same need for an integrated, seamless, easy to use system becomes even more critical. Jumping from reading assignments on a listserv to a word processor to submitting the completed work in email is not acceptable. Opening and closing and resizing windows of video images and flipping between internet applications and browsers can be overwhelming. Poor interfaces, confusing installation and setup of applications, and the need to "futz" around has cost business and government billions of dollars (Scientific American Article). Educational institutions and particularly students cannot afford this loss. Moving from a syllabus to the lecture material should be a simple click of a button. Interacting with other classmates should be in the context of a graphical seating chart (or a map of the world as appropriate) with pictures and information about the students. The information overload of the WWW and the complexity of networking applications should not deprive the student and teacher of cognitive energy that should be directed at the learning task.

Several years ago the ideas and concepts of HyperCourseware described in Part III could only be prototyped in object-oriented stackware on a local area network. Today it is possible to accomplish all of these function on the World Wide Web in HTML (HyperText Markup Language), JavaScripting, Applets, and CGI scripting (Common Gateway Interface). This translation is underway and demostration versions can be viewed at . Nevertheless, HyperCourseware, as noted throughout this text, is a prototype and not a commercial system to be purchased. As protoware, it is to be tested, evaluated, and copied. In the electronic classroom, it has developed in response to the need for interactive lectures and class discussion. On the WWW, it is expected that HyperCourseware and other shells will be developed in response to additional educational needs that include more personal search and access of information, individualized instruction, self-monitoring and scheduling of learning activities, and academic and career planning. HyperCourseware, the ideas embedded in it, and the interface design should be used as a model for development.

As the educational environment surfaces on the WWW, it needs to include the functionality of HyperCourseware and more. Table 15.3 presents an overview of the the functionality that is needed. Moreover, many institutions are interested in evaluating and comparing WWW shells. It is extremely difficult to make such comparisons at this point due to the rapid change and development of shells and the ability to reconfigure shells to do other things and to add modules. Without assessing the current state of shells, Table 15.3 can be used as a target for the modules and functions that should be considered.

Table 15.3

Modules and function to consider in WWW courseware shells

Home Screen (Entry point and navigational hub)

The Home Screen logs the student in, provides a selection for the particular course, and records/displays student information. It should provide as much opening material as possible to minimize menu traversal. Furthermore, it should provide course messages, indications of incoming messages, alerts regarding assignments.

Syllabus (Index of lessons by date)

The syllabus lists lecture topics, readings, assignments, and quizzes by date. There should be direct links to these items. Dates should be easy to change at any point. Roll out of materials should be determined by a distribution date and final deadline date.

Lecture Material (Course notes provided by the instructor)

Lecture material is often organized as a linear series of screens beginning with an index. Screens are cards with any mix of graphics and text objects including fields. A navigational bar should be provided. A hierarchical organization of material may be preferred from the instructor's and courseware designer's vantage, but from the student's perspective it may be a problem. Students have to be very careful to navigate down every branch. If the materials are generated and stored hierarchically, additional navigational control should be added to provide a sequential path through the material. Finally, an indication should be given that the student has or has not covered the material. While most browsers provide an automatic indication that a link has been visited, they do not provide user control to check that they have adequately covered the material.

Embedded Tools (Simulations, spread sheets, calculators, etc.)

Scripted object-oriented programs provide embedded tools that can be used for demonstrations, simulations, and student applications. JavaScript can be added to the HTML in the pages or links can be provided to Java Applets.

Note Taking and Annotation

Text annotation fields should be provided that are associated with the screens. They should be accessible from the original screen. The notes should also be independently accessible and lecture screens should be accessible from the notes. Ideally, students be able to annotate the materials graphically as well.

Major Exams

Major exams must be scheduled and highly controlled. They should be accessed from the Home Screen or Syllabus rather than embedded in the Coursework. Exams are given at an instructor determined start and end time. Exams should be of any form: multiple choice, short answer, essay, or mixed.

Quizzes (Embedded in the coursework)

Quizzes may be either self-paced, locked into the sequence of the materials, or time scheduled. Group feedback should be available in addition to individual feedback. Quizzes may be embedded in the linear sequence or even the hierarchical structure of the coursework.

Homework (Written material, worked problems)

Homework should be accessed and submitted through an assignments module giving an index of assignments with a starting and deadline date for each. Each assignment should have a workspace should be submitted directly from the assignment screen.

Students should be able to submit both text and graphics and even paths. There should be word count and spell checkers as tools. Students should be able to submit homework directly.

Reading Assignments (Instructor guide to readings and actual readings)

The reading module should give a schedule of all readings in the textbook with notes from the instructor on what to read. These may be either stored locally or be linked to external hosts. The students should be able to check readings that they have completed.

Seating (Classroom and geographic location)

In the physical classroom, a map of the room should be displayed with student names at each workstation as they login. Clicking on a name should access the picture and biographical information provided by that student. Or clicking on the teacher's name should open up that information. In the case of distributed students, a virtual classroom should be generated for each class. Students should click on a the desk of their choice when they login. In addition, the geographic location of the students should be available on a world map.

Collaborative Projects (Teams and team projects)

Projects module should provide shared workspaces accessible by designated groups of students. These can be structured in a number of ways to ensure that all students participate. Tools should be provided for generating different models for collaborative projects and shared work spaces.

Chat and Discussion

Any number of chat channels should be easily generated and accessed for each course. The instructor should be able to give instructions as to how these channels are to be used. The instructor should be able to easily set parameters for identity or anonymity. Discussion lists should be integrated into the course and scheduled as to when to start and end discussions. Threaded discussions are needed. Tools for sorting and filtering messages should be provided to the instructor.

Class Roll (Student pictures and information)

Class roll information provide a list of the students in each class, access to a picture, and biographical information. Students should be able to update their information at anytime. The instructor should be able to edit any information. Class roll information is essential in creating a group class atmosphere. Students should also be able to add links to their own personal homepages.

Messages and Email

It should be possible for all of the members of the class to communicate with each other. This is particularly important for collaborative projects, studying for exams, and for building a sense of group cohesiveness. Tools should be provided and integrated into the system to select names or groups of students to send messages to. In addition, tools should be provided to the instructor for automatic distribution of messages and materials.

Feedback, Questions, and Course Evaluation

Question and feedback buttons should be provided on each lecture screen, screens at the end of each section, and questionnaires at the end of the course. In general, if students are required to provide feedback, they do. If it is optional, they do not. Feedback and evaluation should be build into the schedule of the course. Feedback should be somewhat mandatory so that the student cannot progress to the next section without some sort of input.

In addition to the presence or absence of the functions and modules listed in Table 15.3, one needs to consider several factors in evaluating or generating shells. These have to do with (a) in-house versus out-sourced, (b) open versus closed architectures, (c) whether the system is a hard shell or soft shell, and (d) whether it is overly specialized or overly general.

To what extent should an institution or even an individual teacher develop their own shell with its own look-and-feel as well as the course contents or have a "professional" company develop these for them? At present, the first option seems beyond the scope and abilities of most teachers except a few in the computer media itself. Some institutions are developing groups in house to help faculty but most are out sourcing this work. Consequently, at great financial investment institutions are contracting multimedia companies to generate their on-line courses. However, even at the present time both software tools and the expertise of concerned educators are making the second option an unnecessary expense. In the same way that paper publishing moved from professional publishing houses to end-user desktop publishing, the same will happen in a move from expensive, time consuming multimedia publishing to inexpensive, rapid electronic desktop publishing. Teachers at all levels and institutions of any size will be able to craft their own courses and materials and shells at a low cost.

Courseware shells may be developed in software applications that are fairly self-contained and closed. Any new modules must be written specially for this system and generally by the same vendor. On the other hand, open architecture allows one to combine different components from different vendors as long as they comply to some standards of communication. The virtue of the open architecture is that it ensures competition. One can mix and match and pick the best module to add to the suite of modules in the shell. One is not locked into one brand or vendor. Unfortunately, open architectures can have problems with incompatibility and inconsistency in the human/computer interface. As an example, the HyperCoureware prototype is a closed architecture written in WinPlus. As such, it is easier to maintain a consistent user interface and to fix problems. As HyperCourseware moves to the WWW, the architecture will be more open and will link to other tools on the WWW. Ultimately, open architectures are preferred, but one must constantly strive for compatibility, interface consistency, and adoption of standards by the software vendors..

Similarly, courseware shells and their components whether in a closed or open architecture may be either in hard or soft shells. Hard shells give a look-and-feel to the courseware that cannot be changed. Soft shells allow the instructor or the institution to easily customize them to their application, needs, and style. Hard shells require less work in installing and customization but tend to be rigid. Course material must be reshaped to fit the shell. Soft shells are preferred because the pedagogical style and course structure drives the shape of the shell.

Finally, shells that are over specialized can only be used in certain applications due to the hardness and structure of the shell. Shells that are overly general require too much work on the part of the courseware developer. One needs to find the right point on this continuum to allow the most efficient hosting of the electronic course materials with the least amount of work programming the environment.

Virtual Universities, Virtual Faculty, and Virtual Students

Gradually over the centuries and at an accelerated pace in the last decade, education has been decoupled from it's human sources, the teacher and sage, the tutor and scholar. In the ancient history of the oral tradition, the teacher was the sole source of information and learning. Knowledge was transmitted orally from one generation to the next. Skills were transferred form the craftsman to the apprentice. With the invention of writing, information could also be communicated asynchronously from the teacher to the student. The printing press made this transmission of information available to the masses. Radio, audio recordings, film, and television have provided additional media to the education process but have further decoupled information from the human source to electronic mediators.

The economic advantages of this decoupling are substantial. The cost of one-on-one tutoring is immense and in the past restricted education to only the wealthy and the elite. When the class size is small, meeting together as a group has new advantages of peer interaction and collaboration. Public education has developed a compromise in the classroom by accommodating from 20 to 50 students per teacher and in higher education up to 500 and 1000 in the large lecture hall. Distance education further increases the student/teacher ratio by allowing one instructor to cross the geographic boundaries and interact with multiple classrooms. Thus, fewer and fewer teachers teach more and more students. The economic savings is great, but the question of our technological age is whether it out weighs the loss of human interaction and involvement.

A second advantage of the decoupling of instructor and material is standardization. The teacher is a variable in the equation of education. Humans vary in teaching ability, knowledge, perspective, and many other human factors. While teachers add personality, they can also detract from the materials and objectives of the course. Educational institutions have always sought to control the teacher variable to insure a quality control on education. The idea of total quality management in education is not new. Standardization of curriculum, teacher credentials, etc. have been instruments by which school systems try to produce a consistent product.

At the institutional level additional forces are beginning to operate to decouple universities and colleges from geographic locations and physical campuses. Academic institutions have either appealed to location as regional sites (e.g., the neighborhood school, the regional community college, or the state university) or have sought to bring potential students from afar on the basis of their national or international reputation. Electronic education allows regional institutions to offer courses at the world wide level and internationally renowned institutions to come to your door. It will remain to be seen what the outcome will be on this new global playing field of educational competition. It is expected that new alliances and consortiums of universities and software companies and telecommunications corporations will form. It is certain that academic institutions as we know them today will be radically different in the future.

At the faculty level, the electronic environment of the Internet presents new possibilities. The scenario at the beginning of this chapter illustrates one of these. Other possibilities include teaching from home or during a trip away from the university. More interestingly, faculty may decouple themselves from universities. If teachers offer courses on the WWW, they do not need classrooms or universities. Students can register for classes directly with the teacher and the teachers can submit grades and certificates directly to academic registries. Education would thus bypass and eliminate university administrations. Teachers need only develop their own courses and rent space on a WWW server. Eventually, teachers on the WWW might join together to form new virtual universities.

From the perspective of the student there may also be advantages in the decoupling from location and even from persona. One's presence in the educational process is different on paper from face-to-face, and now quickened in the electronic environment it may be even more different. The virtual student can attend classes anywhere, at anytime, and taking on a number of different personalities and/or names. The virtual student may even be decoupled from the individual. There is no reason why a couple or a group of people could not team together to create a composite student that would work toward a particular degree for some purpose. For example, a husband and wife might earn a joint degree in architecture. The husband might excel in aesthetic design and the wife in structural engineering. They would have joint ownership of the degree and would be hired for one position in an architectural firm. Each might work only half-time but the couple would be able to produce first rate work as a team.

Ultimately, the edu-sphere may be viewed as a global educational process in which the distinction between teacher and student is no longer meaningful, between individual and corporate, and between one degree and another. But the problem is that some sense of identity, human dignity, and individual worth is lost in the world of disembodied education. In the midst of this change the new electronic educational environment needs to preserve some sense of reality despite the tendency to create virtual worlds. Perhaps what is needed is an interface that preserves personal identity of individuals, face to face interactions, and as sense of personal responsibility and accountability.


It was stated earlier that in the midst of change, some things stay the same. The electronic educational environment is undergoing rapid development and change, especially with the introduction of the WWW and other global networks. Nevertheless, students and teachers remain the same human beings as before with the same limits, potentials, purposes, and needs. In consideration of human needs and values, the development of courseware delivery systems should not be centered around self-serving economic considerations or institutional aspirations, but truly centered on the needs of the student for a quality education in a quality environment. The hope is that the WWW and other such networks will bring inexpensive but quality education to people around the world. This hope will only be realized if the channels of education are kept open and competitive. If gateways, barriers, tariffs, or monopolies form to regulate and tax education, the situation in the electronic education environment could be worse than the print based system. The diversity and extensiveness of the WWW, openness in sharing of information by educators, and a sense of global responsibility will help to keep the new electronic paths of education open to all who desire to learn.


1. Select a shell on the WWW and write out a list of its functions and/or modules as listed in Table 15.3. How does this list compare with other shells on the market? Be sure to actually explore the modules rather than just copy a list from promotional materials.

2. Find a complete course on the WWW. What course materials are given on the WWW and what other tools for interaction and communication are used? Evaluate the course and suggest ways of improving the materials and the use of the WWW.

3. The scenario at the beginning of this chapter was far from ideal. Rewrite the scenario as it might occur in 10 years.

4. Imagine that you are enrolled as a virtual student in a completely virtual university. You will never meet other students or faculty face-to-face. You will never visit the campus because it exists only in a high speed Internet server somewhere. How do you feel about this?


Boehm-Davis, D. A., Norman, K. L., Sebrechts, M. M., & Silverman, B. G., (1996). Using technology to team teach across institutions: The Circle Project. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, PA.

Sebrechts, M. M., Silverman, B. G., Boehm-Davis, D. A., & Norman, K. L. (1995). Establishing an electronic collaborative learning environment in a university consortium: The CIRCLE project. Computers in Education. 25, 215-225.

[Table of Contents] [Chapter 14] [Chapter 16]