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From E-mail conferencing to VRML - Tony Olivero

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Date:
16 Jul 1996

Education in the VRML Environment From Email Conferencing to Virtual Reality

Personal observations obtained from first hand instruction of off-line courses from January of 1995 to the present.

The courses were Advanced e-mail, and Computer Programming.

Both were delivered as part of the Distance Education program of Loyalist College, Belleville, Ontario Canada. Average class sizes were 8 to 12 students who ranged through all age groups, mostly seniors. The courses were ten weeks in length and coincided with the school term and were actually scheduled for Monday evenings at 8:00 PM for three hours. There were no summer terms. Advanced email has run every term but, Computer Programming was only delivered in the spring term of 1995.

A local BBS with internet and fidonet service was contracted to provide virtual classroom facilities where enrolled students could interact through email discussion, the exchange of files and lessons on both the internet and fidonet as well as a community network operated and maintained by the service provider. Most of these features were regularly employed once the initial newbie stress had settled. The scheduled class time was ignored and exchange occurred asynchronously and averaged 250 to 300 in total for each class term. Technical problems were abundant at the start of each term and seemed to increase proportionally to the number of different platforms used by the students. (PC, MAC, UNIX, Amiga etc.)

Software compatibility problems began to arise as 286 technology was replaced by the 386 and courseware and delivery issues also arose as internet access became common place, inexpensive and effective. These difficulties are attributed to the natural growth of the cyber community and were dealt with by moving away from the BBS approach and connecting students directly to the internet through the college. This move reduced the tuition of the course some 20% and afforded the opportunity to explore the resources of VRML and HTML along with class conference and personal email. Fidonet access was regrettably sacrificed.

The Advanced Email course was based on the popular Roadmap course that started in September of 1994 by Patrick Crispen and afforded the personal touch of a small class and individual attention not available to the 60,000 students of the first Roadmap course and Dr. Bob's explanations and tips.. An easy access interface furnished by the service provider was responsible for allowing neophytes quick and easy access to class. This was particularly evident in Joan Moulton's first email class "Getting to Know Your Computer" , delivered in the same format in September of 1994. Her students were not only lacking basic computer understanding but, had no functional understanding of email.

The courses were also registered with the GNA (Global Network Academy) . Several queries were received but, could not be acted upon at the time due to access difficulties. No responses have been received since access was upgraded for the spring semester of 1995.

Overall, the format was very well received. Students learn to interact quickly and only a few have serious connection problems. The single disappointment being the lack of pictures, sounds and visual interaction. That disappointment was felt mostly by me as the students were more overwhelmed with the initial experience. Email works to deliver a message but, a class should be more than the exchange of messages. The result has been a more informed community and an internet capable workforce.

I have to agree with all of you that the VRML format provides an excellent platform for class interaction. It is now functional enough and cost effective enough to warrant investigation. I have implemented a 'college' in Alphaworld at location 763S 651E.

The example course I have installed is 'Internet 101'. It employs email as well as web pages to deliver the section of the course requested by the user. There is no registration required at the moment but, I am able to track it's use.

Further to that, I will set aside a specific time period for PowWow chats once the system inherits users. Using PowWow I am able to 'cruise' the internet with six others. Going to web pages that show the lesson content in real time.

Well, I better get back to it. Thank you for taking the time to read through this and please use these tools. Cya Tony Olivero TOlivero@Loyalistc.On.Ca

For class information and transcripts contact: Trudie Lake Tlake@Loyalistc.on.ca

FidoNet: n. A worldwide hobbyist network of personal computers which exchanges mail, discussion groups, and files. Founded in 1984 and originally consisting only of IBM PCs and compatibles, FidoNet now includes such diverse machines as Apple ][s, Ataris, Amigas, and UNIX systems. Though it is much younger than {USENET}, FidoNet is already (in early 1991) a significant fraction of USENET's size at some 8000 systems.

BBS: /B-B-S/ [abbreviation, `Bulletin Board System'] n. An electronic bulletin board system; that is, a message database where people can log in and leave broadcast messages for others grouped (typically) into {topic group}s. Thousands of local BBS systems are in operation throughout the U.S., typically run by amateurs for fun out of their homes on MS-DOS boxes with a single modem line each. Fans of USENET and Internet or the big commercial timesharing bboards such as CompuServe and GEnie tend to consider local BBSes the low-rent district of the hacker culture, but they serve a valuable function by knitting together lots of hackers and users in the personal-micro world who would otherwise be unable to exchange code at all. See also {bboard}.

PowWow: On line chat system with voice, pictures, drawing and conferencing. http://www.tribal.com

AlphaWorld: Virtual Reality World where users can interact and build. http://www.worlds.net

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