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Technologies Available For Use In Distance Learning?

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the what's-there-to-work-with dept.

Technology 131

DaScope asks: "I have been assigned a new project: setting up a distance learning facility where the teacher can simultaneously teach to different people across the country. Audio/video streaming, interactive whiteboards, photo albums and discussion boards are different options available to us. What other technologies are available for distance learning use? What are the cons/pros of the different technologies available, and are they available for Linux?"

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Try MOO (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#474497)

One thing that you can try is a MOO which is an open source virtual text environment. Look at [] which is running on a Linux box. It's running LinguaMOO whose main site is []

Also make sure that you remember to list your courses in the open content distance learning database at Globewide Network Academy ( []

Horizon Live (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#474498)

Our school uses Horizon Live Although I don't do any of the administration I am part of the tech support team for our school. Over all I would rate it as a fair system. It just uses a web browser and has an embeded real player portion for audio and video. There are a LOT of bugs in the system though, we basically have to specify an exact version of Netscape they can use. Anything else and all kinds of weird things happen to the system. Last semester the system was fairly new so we were expecting bugs, but it's been 6 months now and it's almost gotten worse and not better. Overall I am a tech support guy so I see all the bad and none of the good. If you have the student using all the versions of Netscape and Real Player we recommend it works well.

SUNY/ State University of New York uses Domino (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#474499)

I have been taking a crap load of classes (about 20) online over the past 2 years through the SUNY school network for a computer science degree. The facility they use is Lotus Domino from which they deliver message type forums over the web. My experience with it as an end user has been great; their main servers in Albany get hit pretty hard on the weekends. In the event one goes down they have failover servers at various suny schools scattered across NYS which data is replicated and synched I believe every hour. Not sure what the OS they are running it on but Lotus is known for its scalability and cross platform capabilities. With something like online classes where the potential for growth can be so huge, you dont want to screw around with some unscalable or underdesigned solution. I would definately learn from SUNY's example- They are pumping out hundreds of courses (maybe over a thousand now?!) and really get hit hard. Also this is new york, its a whole other country- shit is done here with no patience and much more aggression. Can you imagine how many times students have tried to take these boxes down as an excuse to 'hand in' a paper late?!? :) I tried myself a few times when a new exploit is released on bugtraq! Good luck! check out - geno^

WebCT, AUC, and FirstClass (1)

darkone (7979) | more than 13 years ago | (#474501)

I've worked a a couple schools and colleges and have run into this question before.

In one college we started running WebCT ( [] )for 100 distance education classes. This was developed by a college in Canada, and it worked pretty well for what we needed, and was somewhat setup for multimedia. The server ran on Linux/BSD/Unix (NT support was coming) as Perl and C scripts, and the group at WebCT said had pretty good support, not that we had many problems. There was even talk of a DEC Alpha port. WebCT has most of what you are looking for, you would just need a streaming media server. There are yearly fees for WebCT, but they are not that bad.

Another bigger college I worked at went with FirstClass for oncampus classes, and a few departments started using WebCT for Distance Ed classes. FirstClass is expensive!

The K-12 Public school district I now work for is currently using AUC ( [] ) to support students learning. This is an open sourced free solution that has decent mailinglist support. The OpenSource part is nice for making minor modifications. Also 50% of the suggestions end up in the next release.

Re:Chuck Flynn today (1)

whydna (9312) | more than 13 years ago | (#474502)

that looks almost like a One-Time-Password =)

Tech that works (1)

Jeremy Lee (9313) | more than 13 years ago | (#474503)

I've done a little in this area. Here's some suggestions:

* Resist the urge to stream _everything_. Sometimes it's just better to put the next lesson into a .zip file and mail it to them the day before. You don't want lessons being disrupted because someone's modem drops or the webserver crashes or it's just a slow net day. It also leaves bandwidth for the important stuff.

* Videoconferencing isn't as useful as it sounds. Apart from the bandwidth requirements, you're lucky if what you want to look at is framed properly without multiple cameras. Everyone will want it, however (It's one of those buzzwords, you see) so say it's planned for 'phase 2'.

* Audioconferencing, however, can be extremely useful. If you're going to do it, never forget the possibilities inherent in the humble telephone. Especially as a backup when the modem explodes.

* Work hard on making the audioconferencing work well. Ideally, you want a 'party line' situation, where students can hear the teacher, and can also talk to other students and hear the questions they ask. Also, pay attention to the hardware, which is usually the weak link. Get headsets with little boom mikes and software which 'normalizes' the volume.

* If computers are a central part of the lesson, investigate remote-screen viewing software like VNC. It lets you see that students are coping, help them out when they get stuck, and the knowlede that the teacher is also looking over their shoulder tends to keep students focussed. It doesn't use a lot of bandwidth, either.

Just my $0.02 (1)

Bernal KC (10943) | more than 13 years ago | (#474504)

Take a look at groove at
The raw pper to peer features of Groove might be sweet for classroom application. And it supports security and control that you'd need. Customizing it to suit specific classroom requirements sounds like a good challenge.

BlackBoard and WebMentor (1)

mach (12150) | more than 13 years ago | (#474505)

If you're trying to do plain course delivery, WebMentor [] is a useful (if not very elegant) solution. If you have the resources and clients with bandwidth, take a look at BlackBoard [] , which is more robust than WM.

Digital Dakota Network (1)

illsorted (12593) | more than 13 years ago | (#474506)

You might want to check out South Dakota's distance learning network. They have wired all their K-12 Schools into a state-wide network providing e-mail, web and dns services for each school along with video conferencing, interactive whiteboards, etc. Check out the Connecting the Schools [] page for more info and contacts.

Re:UMUC's use of Domino (1)

bjwest (14070) | more than 13 years ago | (#474507)

I'm currently taking three courses from UMUC's Asian division. So far, this is the only DE system I've used, but personally I don't much care for the layout of WebTycho.

Distance Learning (1)

kaygee (24480) | more than 13 years ago | (#474511)

To me, if you already have a teacher who is actually going to be "teaching" the students (i.e. the curriculum is not entirely web based and created by a committee), then your best bet is a pure "videoconferencing" system over dedicated fiber w/ a bunch of televisions, several cameras, and of course a fax machine.

My mother teaches several rural Nebraska schools using a system such as this and even a newbie like her understands "face to face" instruction requires no special skills on the part of the students or the teacher (well, to a point).

This type of system is OS agnostic, but also rather expensive. For smaller class sizes with a dedicated teacher though, I don't think it can be beat.

Good luck!

Re:Blatant Commercial Plug (1)

the_argent (28326) | more than 13 years ago | (#474513)

I don't know if the server side runs on Linux, but there is no Linux client for it. But then again, right now, there is no Linux client for any Lotus app.
Other than that, Sametime is a very nice app. Got to play around with it a bit a few weeks ago with our Notes dev guys.

Open Source distance learning software (1)

elyxer (31858) | more than 13 years ago | (#474514)

About a two years ago my local LUG (Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts) had a speaker from Emory University to talk about his distance learning/collaborative-computing system call (strangly enough) the Collaborative Computing Framework. It is based on open standards (of course) and at the time clear-board, white-board, and audio were working well across a T1 size pipe. They were working on video, so I assume it is now working as well. It is cross platform (most Unises, linux). It can be found at

Sorta'... (1)

BLKMGK (34057) | more than 13 years ago | (#474516)

LEarningspace IS a good option. However Lotus has once again changed some of the underlying technology - moving from an NSF based version to one that's HTML based. It's STILL a giant PITA to customize the underlying code and Lotus says it's not going to get better until at least the next version. In some of the seminars in Orlando a couple of weeks ago it was apparent that the feature sets in the HTML and NSF based versions aren't even the same and that you'd need pieces of both in some situations - ick!

Their strategy is coming together but it's far from perfect I'm afraid. It IS a pretty neat solution when it's putted together but it can be painful getting used to how it works - especially if you're not Notes experienced.

I'd certainly suggest looking into this product though. It uses browser applets for the students so there shouldn't be a load on each workstation. Unfortunatly I think their silly licensing model is per seat - what a joke! Supposedly this will be changing I was told - we'll see.

At least the backend code can be run on Linux but you'll have to do any NSF development on the WIN32 platform. The Linux backend Domino server can't handle as many concurrent users as the WIN32 code can either. I'm also not sure that the SameTime stuff from Databeam can be hosted on Linux so I'd check into that. It's also a pricey package wen all of it is added up (sigh).

just a url (1)

redhotchil (44670) | more than 13 years ago | (#474518)

my mom's friend's school in colorado uses software called Blackboard. I believe it lets students read assignments and such online.
My old comp-sci teacher also has a site where his students can read notes and print out worksheets:

Good projects available (1)

limako (45118) | more than 13 years ago | (#474519)

I think that a real danger is the development of proprietary course management systems (WebCT, BlackBoard) that greatly restrict the kind of teaching that instructors can do. A project worth supporting is LearnLoop [] .

I might also, humbly, suggest that people look at Duck [] and, in particular read why I wrote it [] .

Lotus LearningSpace (1)

Chris Brewer (66818) | more than 13 years ago | (#474520)

LearningSpace [] is an add-on to Domino specifically designed for distance learning. You can use the teacher/student model as well as the self-pace model (and the hybrids in between).

As it runs on Domino, you can have either browser based clients or use the Notes clients. Domino is available for Linux and there are still persistant rumors of a Linux Notes client.

Re:Distance-learning has ethical quesitons unresol (1)

samantha (68231) | more than 13 years ago | (#474521)

There is nothing "illegitimate" about spreading any memes you wish by internet. Censorship memes will not be tolerated.

Another blatant commercial plug ... (1)

Yodalf (83088) | more than 13 years ago | (#474522)

I worked on this thing and i know it is being used a lot in distance learning setups.

It pumps out real-time mpeg2 video & audio over high-speed network links.

The reason i mention it here is because i'm quite proud if the box. Really. We put our enthusiasm in it when it was designed, and it shows.

Phone Companies... (1)

RobNich (85522) | more than 13 years ago | (#474524)

I have toured both AT&T and MCI locally.
At AT&T they use a system with a monitor and camera, and each person has a device on the table. They swipe their employee ID card (also for access to the building and time "cards"). They answer questions from the instructor and request assistance (where they can ask a question and everyone can hear them), through the device, which has a microphone and keypad. When they complete and pass the class, their employee records are automatically updated to reflect that. Now, from what I understood, it used an OC3 of bandwidth (155Mbps), but since it was on the same floor as their switch (and I mean *THE* switch, nearly the entire floor), it was nothing.
MCI used almost the same setup, but I was told it was mostly for corporate broadcasts, such as the merger with Worldcom a couple of years ago.
I wrote down the brands/models of the systems, but unfortunately I cannot seem to find it anywhere (that's what I get for using trees!). My suggestion is to call them (usually a salesrep) and arrange a tour. Maybe you can get a gander at the system, just to see what features they have and all that. I had very good experiences touring both places, we ended up getting the tour from the head technician in both cases. They were spouting off lingo, giving us stats on the hardware, etc, confusing the hell out of the salesrep. Some damn fine systems they have! The way that I got the tours was that we were shopping around for our service, and they both wanted our $30K/month contract. I'm not sure if they give a tour to just anyone, but perhaps you could arrange it for a Cub/Boy Scout troup or something similar. I took my son's Cub Scout Den on a tour of the local phone company's main building (Cincinnati Bell) and they went home impressed as hell, though not as much as the adults who came along :).

Distance education will only fill a niche (1)

MZoom (93667) | more than 13 years ago | (#474527)

At IUPUI we have several methods of distance learning at our disposal. But honestly I believe the tools are not utilized by academic staff appropriatly. For example IUPUI has an application called "Oncourse" that they use in a lot of classes to exchange email and schedules for lectures and exams as well as posting assignments and weather information. It also has the ability to administer examinations. But the shortfall of it is it is only used in conjunction with traditional classroom teaching. It's really just used as teacher aid. You can check into Oncourse at

I took a History class that the Professor elected to have the university staff (audio) record his lectures. I later discovered they are using a RealPlayer server to offer the lectures to enrolled students. It is available at but it doesn't offer much information until you logon.

It does the audio lectures via a RealPlayer stream to the student wherever he/she is. BUT, I am unaware of any classes using it for "Distance Education". It is primarily used to supplement the traditional "class attending" student who may have missed a lecture or wishes to review the lecture from home or a campus computer.

I see a real possibility of using an "Oncourse" type application combined with audio/video streaming as a distance education solution. But IMHO real distance education cannot replace attending a classroom until "interactive realtime" communication is possible with the instructor and the student. Take a look at the distance programs out there now. From what I have seen so far it is all reading done at your pace with excercises to email in to the instructor when completed. This would be fine and dandy if learning were so simple. But what if you have a question? Then it is phone calls (consider time zones or professor schedules), emails (consider when it gets read and when an answer is forthcoming), etc,etc.

I dont want to belabor the point but I see this as one of the major problems with distance education. Another problem is a matter of quality in the education you recieve. I wouldn't want my Dentist to get his education over the internet or from snail mail reading assignments. I wouldn't want my speech classes done strictly in front of a video camera...public speaking is more than a good video production.

Until two way realtime communication is more practical and affordable and until academia accepts the non-traditional method of learning, distance education with the technology we have now will only fill a niche in higher education.

Works for me... (1)

mindriot (96208) | more than 13 years ago | (#474528)

Being the often-lazy student I am, I miss a lot of lectures (even though it's just 5 minutes by foot for me to get to my lectures...). But as long as lecture notes, excercises and solutions are provided via the net (usually as PDF or PS), and I can use the discussion group on our college's nntp server, I feel perfectly fine... quite often when I actually do visit the lectures it seems like a waste of time to me since most professors fail to explain their stuff well enough, and it thus doesn't give me any extra information I couldn't have obtained from the notes, and I end up learning from the notes anyway... so yes, I could practically be a thousand miles away, as long as I'm equipped with a net connection I can study alright...

Re:Distance-learning has ethical quesitons unresol (1)

WeeMadArthur (96586) | more than 13 years ago | (#474529)

Any technology can be used for good and evil purposes. Does that mean we don't develop it so that no one "bad" can use it? No. It means we develop it and hope that no one uses it for bad.

I can stab you to death with a pencil. Uh oh. We better stop making pencils because someone bad can use them to do bad things. They can write notes about hate and distribute them to people.

License clause.... my ass. We must keep the children safe. troll.

Andrew (1)

Zalgon 26 McGee (101431) | more than 13 years ago | (#474530)

Open standards anyone? The Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is available at Imagine, designing content to be reusable.

Commuters need offline materials (1)

cps42 (102752) | more than 13 years ago | (#474531)

At one point a few months back, I had a 1+ hour commute each way where I wasn't driving... I would have loved to have had study materials that I could use offline on my Laptop or Palm Pilot, but all of the training materials my company provided were web-based. I never used any of them.

Re:Speaking as an Alaskan... (1)

nels_tomlinson (106413) | more than 13 years ago | (#474532)

I'm replying because I wanted to agree and amplify your other point: we have to actively raise our children, and make sure that they have a set of beliefs which they understand well enough that the beliefs can't be overturned by the first fast-talking con man the kids meet. We must also make sure that those beliefs leave no room for self rightousness and hatred.

I'm from a good deal further West (and North) than Montana. Fortunately, Alaska has a reputation for cold that keeps some of the nuts out, but we have some of both sorts up there too... obnoxious crazies from back east looking for a place to fester, and quiet folk who are left alone because they never trouble others. Not many plain folk up there, but there is a colony of old believers down on the Kenai, as I recall.

Re:Distance-learning has ethical quesitons unresol (1)

j0nb0y (107699) | more than 13 years ago | (#474533)

I agree that there are unresolved ethical questions about distance learning. But I don't think you pointed any of them out. What you suggest is simply censorship, pure and simple. Of course we should keep these hate groups out of our schools, but we can't keep them from offering "educational materials" to the general public, because to do so would violate the first amendment.

The ethical questions I would point out are of the effectiveness of distance learning. What you are doing is taking the presence of the teacher away from some of the students. I believe it would be very difficult to teach in such a situation. Having a message board to post questions to is very different from being able to raise your hand and ask a question. Even with cameras and two way streaming video, this is no substitute for actualy teacher presence, imo.

But then, ianae (i am not an educator)

Re:Why? (1)

galego (110613) | more than 13 years ago | (#474535)

You don't say why your school wants to do distance learning. Without knowing what they hope to accomplish, it's hard to say what technology would be appropriate.

Indeed a good question to ask before purchasing anything...

And remember that not all learners are /. readers...or are yours? And will all of them be? I say this because someone suggested IRC for example. I wouldn't want to use IRC for an average distance learner...and think of the requirements you just layed on.

Distance learning has usually been a failure, and probably will be until technology changes drastically (like really fast broadband access in all the students' homes).

There's some truth to this, but it's also a bad generalization. All teaching/learning involves an instructor, resources (texts etc.), tools for delivery (your voice, a microphone, the web etc.), and an objective. I have had correspondence courses that I deemed useless. My 1,000 student section of history 202 was pitiful while I learned a great deal out of the independent study 201 course where I read at my own pace and did everything correspondence. Teaching and learning is about leveraging the tools and resources to meet your objectives. In some cases, clear objectives lack...and no matter what tools you use, you're screwed! Oh...and then there's learner motivation...which can be killed by too-hard-to-use technology/delivery systems, boring professors, dull material, immaturity etc. Hence the reason technology alone or 'distance learning' alone shouldn't be blamed. Check this [] out.

Anyway...technologies...especially for Linux?

  • WebCT [] - A course development, delivery and management server. Linux version available
  • Sorenson [] - Desktop video conferencing...Sorry, No Linx though.
  • Mimio [] - Whiteboards etc. Linux...Dunno
  • W3C [] - They do web stuff
And I'll stop there...but you get the point hopefully...


some suggestions (1)

paulschreiber (113681) | more than 13 years ago | (#474536)

teamwave [] -- developed by Mark Roseman et al.; it spun out of U of Calgary.

knowledge forum [] -- developed at OISE/UT. i was there once upon a time. :)


Re:Blatant Commercial Plug (1)

miles zarathustra (114450) | more than 13 years ago | (#474537)

Another blatant plug: [] . Not a very commercial plug, since the company isn't doing so well, but I think the product is worthwhile.

The part I designed is the mathematical formula renderer, which can also be found at the Aftermath Café [] integrated into a BBS for students to exchange ideas/answers, and so on. (there is some other random stuff on this page too). All the math teachers I've talked to think the formula renderer is cool, but it hasn't been marketed effectively so the company is going under. Sad for me, since 3 years of work is essentially being lost as a result, and I think it could really help people.

Hey -- I'm a programmer, not a salesman!

If you're running the right browser, the applet version is coolest, but the servlet will run in any browser.

check out my mp3 page []

Re:I would keep it simple. (1)

Red Pointy Tail (127601) | more than 13 years ago | (#474541)

> I'm about to receive a MS from NTU.

i want to receive my multibillion company too!

Cold Fusion.... (1)

x-empt (127761) | more than 13 years ago | (#474542)

Don't purchase anything that runs on Cold Fusion. CF is _extremely_ slow and unreliable... PLUS its EXPENSIVE. If you really want a good web-based application, program it in PHP or perl. (or buy it)

Speaking from experience (1)

Copernican (140571) | more than 13 years ago | (#474543)

I have taken three courses using distance learning technology through an organization called the Babbage Net School ( They use a program called LearnLinc, which provides audio conferencing, whiteboard facilities, a synchronized web browser, and a few other neat features. I took AP Spanish, AP Biology, and Latin I. If you believe that results speak for themselves, I scored a 3 on the Spanish exam, a 5 on the Bio, and had a 100 average for the year in Latin. Generally, I had extremely small class sizes (1-2) and could work closely with the teacher. The whiteboard was invaluable in biology for diagrams. Distance learning is a viable technology, but it requires substantial hardware and bandwidth on each end to be really effective. On my old 26400 link, speech could become very choppy, but was bearable. I had a lot of fun doing it and would recommend it to anyone who is self-motivated. This is important because there isn't anyone looking over your shoulder and reminding you of homework, tests, or reading assignments. Well, take this for what it's worth.

Open/Closed (1)

CarrotLord (161788) | more than 13 years ago | (#474548)

One thing that you may like to put some thought into is whether you want the class to be open (anyone can join) or closed (only by invite) and how you are going to enforce the closedness... IMHO, I think open is better, but you may like to make the non-fee paying people spectators only... ie let people who pay fees contribute to discussions and ask questions etc, but let "freeloaders" listen in only...


Using these tech's within a classroom (1)

CarrotLord (161788) | more than 13 years ago | (#474549)

I just had the thought that things like IRC could be useful for the Classroom Of The Future(tm), as they could help people get over their fear of putting their hand up in a crowded classroom...


2 words (1)

vandelais (164490) | more than 13 years ago | (#474550)

Electronic Simon

And What about Servers? (1)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 13 years ago | (#474554)

Good God! Just imagine if some whacko in Montana set up a web site in their own compound, and painted swastikas on it and dispersed their ideas to right thinking people in New York! Or, golly gosh, they might even start communicating to them with email, with even PGP, so it can't be regulated by the Good Folks at the FBI!

Get a grip.

don't forget the brain (1)

enrico_suave (179651) | more than 13 years ago | (#474556)

The brain is the most important tool in distance learning... =P

When people are talking about a photo album are they referring to a slide show (like power point... but *nix friendly?)

E. [] -- All that is NOT fit to link to

H323 Can't be beat. (1)

Papa Legba (192550) | more than 13 years ago | (#474558)

I am currently HEAVILY engaged with this project with my current employer. I have done some testing as it is with this and here are my observations. Go with H323 gear, if you go with the older standereds you will end up with proprietary junk and be very sorry. The wonder with H323 is that it is a protocol that covers data, voice, and sound all at once. Netmeeting is one example of a program that uses it. People conform to it allowing you to use stuff as cheap as a $200 PC , Ball Cam, Microphone unit To $15K room installations. I personally REALL like the stuff Polycomm makes. They are set top appliances with a built in camera. Just plug them into the local LAN and bam you are up and running. The Intel team stations are good for the teachers side of things. Most important is check the gear you will need outside of the broadcasting ends. People tend to get tunnel vision when designing these systems and go for the camera and mics first. If you plan to get more than two endpoints talking you will need some sort of MCU (media control unit) this allows the IP addresses necesary for three or more participants to tie together. I recomend the one from cisco as it is easy to setup , cascadeable, and web controlable durring conferences (a definate plus). You can connect up to 4 before you need the next peice of equipment. Why this is necesary is that each MCU can handle 5 to 24 users depending on the amount of bandwifth these connections use. since you are building a new system you can skip some of the other items that incorporate ISDN into your systems. If you have the money look into wireless mics for the teachers, the room mics don't cut it and the far ends should have room mics with muteable sounds so that feedback is reduced. Depending on the subject being taught look into a document camera. Both the intel teamstations and the polycomm units can accept the second inputs. Basically anything that can put video to a RCA or S-video jack can be hooked up to these units. If this is going to be a how to use a computer type course look into a VNC program. Their are several desinged for computer lab teachers that would allow you to check in on multiple computer screens. Much easier than having a novice computer user trying to describe the problem they are having , this way you can just look at their screen and the error message. I have not tried this on our sites yet but it is my next step. Papa Legba

Distant Learning... (1)

eTylik (192824) | more than 13 years ago | (#474559)

A University that I use to work with used a combination of Real Audio server for streaming video, slides, online web material, and a chat server. The Chat server they used was by Lotus Notes, but I won't suggest using any product by Lotus Notes.

Students could watch the live video at the time it was recorded using a real audio player, and could also surf over to the website associated with the class and follow online matter at the same time. Students could later view the archived classes via real audio by pulling it out of a media archive available online using restricted access. Also for questions and comments there was a moderated chat room for all the students to join while the class was being initially taught. The moderator would then forward questions onto the teach to answer.

The biggest down fall thus far to all of this is with the archived data. You could give the student back the streaming, a log of the chat session, and the material online, but none of it was synced with the streaming video at that point and at times could be cumbersome to follow.

Hope this helps a little.

UTSA (1)

jeffy210 (214759) | more than 13 years ago | (#474563)

I am currently a student at UTSA, and we have 3 campuses, the two that are used for distance learning are about 20 miles apart. Currently all they use is 4 monitors (2 big screen 60" tvs for the students, and 2 27" tvs for the prof). one camera is constantly trained on the prof (regaurdless of campus) and the other one will zoom in on a student when they press a button on the desk, also a mic will activate above their head. This is actually an effective way of teaching because any student can ask a question even when they are on a different campus. The two campuses are linked via a dedicated OC-3. But on a non-technical note, the distance learning does provide a gap that still can't be overcome from having the teacher there with you. Most students at the other campus don't like to ask questions.
-------------------------------------- -------------------------

Re:Eye scanners hold the most promise... (1)

Reedi (218043) | more than 13 years ago | (#474564)

No need to go for such vuuting edge and expensive solutions.
I work to bring access solution to other disabled people and we often recommend the use of a device called a HeadMaster or the SEMERC head operated mouse ( which costs GBP 199.00 in conjunction with an on screen keyboard.
Other solutions include a scanning keyboard/pointer controler using 1 or two switches, (eybrow switches, suck/puff devices etc). These can be set up for around GBP 200 to GBP 300

Access technologies do not have to be exotic or expensive or pinched from an attack helicopter.
The attitude that it has to be high tech is one of the reasons that disabled people are not getting the access solutions they need.
I am constantly faced by incredulous IT managers who seem to think that a GBP 200 solution cant be right because it only costs GBP 200 !


4.0 browser? (1)

infiniti99 (219973) | more than 13 years ago | (#474565)

>We have a completely web-based elearning
>product that requires nothing beyond a 4.0
>browser and a 28.8 connection...

Damn, I guess I'm outta luck. My Konqueror browser is only at version 2.1

Distance learning is hard... (1)

maxphunk (222449) | more than 13 years ago | (#474566)

my school uses a program called horizonlive. i believe the server is a *nix, but im not sure of the deals. im in the position of providing tech support to end users, and i gotta say that its a bitch. having mac and windoze users complain about their 33.6k connection... geeze... anyways the stream in real audio/video, and supports an audio only mode for users w/ a slow connection. audio only is around 6k/s, video 20k/s. this is the only system of the sort i've seen but id be interested in helping develope something that works better. horizonlive only works for users w/ netscape, not that that's a bad thing but when supporting non=technical windows users its hard to explain this to them. we've had a TON of problems with the system, i think its only beta quality software, but thats only my opinion.

Re:Distance learning is hard... (1)

maxphunk (222449) | more than 13 years ago | (#474567)

actually i'm at chico state too. being on the support side of horizonlive i can tell you that it really doesnt work right with ie. we usually recommend that all users use netscape exclusively for distance education programs UNLESS netscape will not work on their computer at all. don't even ask about mac support...

Re:FirstClass (1)

fleck_99_99 (223900) | more than 13 years ago | (#474568)

I attend the University of Maine, and MANY courses here rely on FirstClass... We're one of the largest active user bases of the software (in fact, that's often a difficulty because we're punching it to its limits), and it's a reasonably nice conferencing/email/chat program. The most interesting part I've seen is that UM has a web gateway into FirstClass; while I'm not sure how universal that is, it provides clientless access to nearly every feature of the software..

Re:Open/Closed (1)

cicadia (231571) | more than 13 years ago | (#474569)

you may like to make the non-fee paying people spectators only... ie let people who pay fees contribute to discussions and ask questions etc, but let "freeloaders" listen in only...

An interesting variation on this would be to make the freeloaders pay for the information they are receiving, but make it free for those who are willing to actively contribute to the discussion.

And no, I have no idea how to implement this in practice, nor how to enforce payment or quality.. just an idea

- cicadia

Re:FirstClass (1)

fifthcent (234843) | more than 13 years ago | (#474570)

The client works fine for the most part using wine [] . (Running wine [] 20001222 and firstclass [] 5.623)

D. Education in Australia (1)

SirFlakey (237855) | more than 13 years ago | (#474571)

Hiya, I work for a school in OZ, given the size of the country and the spread of people in the land they tend to use distance ed quite extensively down here (although not always satisfactorily). We started a distance ed part beween the "mothership" (main school grounds) and an school in the Snowy Mountains (it does snow in Australia =)). For the moment we are using PC Sharevision (the old creative labs stuff) which has worked remarkably well so far BUT it's point to point. The computer at the remote side is connected to a TV monitor rather then a 15" screen which (at a loss of resultion) allows others in teh class to "see" the teacher. Audio works fine. This is the only way Language classes (requiring usually specialised teachers) was available to the students in the mountains.

If the distance education was for Computing science or other "text based" subjects I wouldn't have gone that way - I would have invested in a Web based system such as WebCt [] (or for that matter written my own =)). Just my 2 cents worth =)

WebCT (1)

blueskatz (241135) | more than 13 years ago | (#474572)

I work for the University of North Texas Distributed Learning. We've been using a program called WebCT for years now for almost all of our distance learning classes. Its a web-based application implemented in HTML, Javascript, XML, and CGI scriping that offers a wide variety of teaching tools including discussion boards, online quizzes and exams, and grading. Its very customizable and user-friendly, even enough for our profs that don't know their way around a computer very well. url's our webct site: webct itself:

My school thinks it's good at this... (1)

pornaholic (242268) | more than 13 years ago | (#474574)

I'm a student at Northern Arizona University, and the distance learning program here is highly regarded (at least locally). We have systems all through Arizona, and some through California as I understand it.
Try looking around at [] . If you can get ahold of somebody, I'm sure they'll be willing to talk with you.

Re:WebCT (1)

myz24 (256948) | more than 13 years ago | (#474575)

We also use WebCT at Minnesota State University Moorhead for online testing, quizzing, chat, BBS, and grading.

We are currently running version 3.1.3 on a Dell Poweredge 2400 running RH 6.2 and software raid. The software runs very well on Linux and has been extremely stable in comparison to our old WinNT 4.0 SP6 system running version 2.2.

Running WebCT on Linux has allowed us to integrate the system with existing systems on campus such as email with very little hassle, something we couldn't accomplish using WinNT 4.0.

I have also heard of blackboard but never used it.

WebCT does offer a free trial of their software and it's extremely simple to install and to get running. You can download their software at []

Blackboard requires a registration keycode to use their software (no free trial) but you can find their site at []

Distance-learning has ethical quesitons unresolved (1)

Chuck Flynn (265247) | more than 13 years ago | (#474577)

When I first heard of distance learning, I thought it was a great idea, letting engaging teachers confer knowledge upon dedicated pupils without regard to the physical or sociocultural boundaries between them. But the more I read about it, the more I'm left wondering: can't this same technology be used for illegitimate purposes?

If there's no longer a physical boundary between students in New York and teachers in Montana, then can't militias in Montana start recruiting new members from New York via educational fronts that these technologies would permit? Technology is blind to politics, and so plenty of presently marginalized groups will step forward to claim their spot at the fountain of knowledge. Except instead of bringing forth the sweet fruits of education, they will poison the fount with the acids and agents of hate.

The solution is clear: those who are writing distance-learning software should incorporate a clause into their liscenses which would forbid the use of the software for illegitimate "educational" purposes. There are accreditation boards already in place for conventional educational facilities which would be ideal for judging the new online ones. Only then can we be sure that our children will be safe from the hate that looms on the horizon of the new millennium.

Video On Demand Systems (1)

Action_Jax (267425) | more than 13 years ago | (#474578)

Your best bet would be to look at some VOD on demand based systems

Here's a few

MBONE VCR on Demand Service

The MASH Project

A Good list of VOD related applications

The Berkeley Continuous Media Toolkit

Good example of a simple but it works VOD system can be found at (It's mostly in Korean)

You might also want to look at this slashdot article as well: html

-Action Jax

"I may not know about it today but there's always tomorrow"

whyDNA? today (1)

Nerds for News (302438) | more than 13 years ago | (#474579)

Wet Hustler Yang Dreck Nuts Academy

FirstClass (1)

Jose Arcadio (306678) | more than 13 years ago | (#474580)

I recently participated in a course in which a so-called "virtual classroom" was used. The software packet was called First Class [] . Unfortunaly, no linux/unix clients available.

FarView (1)

timemavic (310471) | more than 13 years ago | (#474581)


I've had some experience with a software product called FarView. It was started by a group at Rochester, and they turned it into a commercial product.

It allows you to share audio, and different visuals (including a whiteboard). It also allows for interactive quizes and displaying output from other kinds of programs.

One of the biggest hurdles with these projects is that the students often times have to install the software themselves. They were not always technically savvy and many had really slow connections. The biggest problem is trying to accommodate a broad audience and support them.

Blackboard at UAA (1)

jfeasel (310506) | more than 13 years ago | (#474582)

I am a software engineer at the University of Alaska Anchorage. We have recently unveiled a campus wide (10,000+ user) implementation of Blackboard [] 5. The cheapest version is $5,000. It is available for Linux, Solaris, and NT. I was pleased to discover it uses primarily OS tools - Apache, MySQL, Perl and mod_perl (of course). There is a more expensive version that uses Oracle. In the base product, users all have to be created manually. This can be overcome by writing some scripts to plug more data into the MySQL database. This should be a major point for most power users looking for some standards - based systems - although you can't (under the license) change their code, the system is open and side things can be done (like inserting into the database). The blackboard code has proven to be scalable enough to handle this workload, and the end users enjoy the flexiblity and power that it provides. It is a shame that it isn't free, but I doubt that the university would endorse it if it were.

Voice Message Boards: Wimba (1)

Keith Ross (310562) | more than 13 years ago | (#474583)

I recommend visiting the Wimba site at to see (and hear!) several innovative asynchronous voice applications, including voice message boards and voice e-mail.

Downloading and installing automatically, simple and easy to use, Wimba's voice messaging applications allow learners and teachers to asynchronously interact with their voices.

Any site can integrate Wimba Voice Forums in just a few minutes. You can even customize the applet's user interface to integrate with your Web site's look and feel.

* Excellent sound quality
* Highly interactive and responsive
* Runs fine behind 28K modems
* Works on PC and Macintosh; Netscape and Internet Explorer.

Wimba provides both a licensed server solution
(Java servers that run on practically all OSs) and a hosted solution.

Bandwidth, Money, People, and Gotchas (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#474585)

I just finished a Master where several of the courses were taught via distance learning. I also work with a group where the focus is development of web-based educational content. My particular interest is in determining what it takes to add streaming video (synchronous and asynchronous) to on-line teaching.

Bandwidth - Modem: If the clients are on the end of a modem, then Real Audio and text chat, along with a web-board type threaded discussions is about the best you can get. Students can submit via e-mail or via a website (either a site under your control or each student on their own). An integrated package like O'Reilly's webboard can make synchronous sessions more interactive as the instructor can post urls, syllabus pages, and extra information, while the students can chat amongst themselves during class.

Bandwidth - DSL/Ethernet: Streaming lectures, both synchronous and asynchronous, become accessible when bandwidth climbs. Allowing students to have web-cams (Classpoint) can mean greater interactivity, but the result is somewhat problematic because of the 20 second delay for streaming (do not underestimate this problem). If you control both ends of the wire (i.e. satellite Corporate sites), then doing web or video-conferencing can work well. It's still a good idea to have text chat as a component as both an emergency channel and for student whispering during class (and whispering is important for building group cohesiveness).

Money: Takes a fair amount of money up-front, to get several people and sufficient equipment in place. Almost all distance learning requires significant lead times (semester or more) for technicians to ready equipment, work out procedures, and work with instructors to create content. For example, the instructor needs a full syllabus and all of the materials they intend to present in electronic forms at the start of teaching (this can be significant impediment -- don't underestimate this problem).

People: Takes people, both technicians to run the equipment, trouble-shoot problems for users, work with the instructors, and ensure the content is available for the students. It also takes people during each session (which can be a real problem sometimes).

Gotchas: People forget, then realize belatedly, that all of the administrative work they used to do in person or via mail, needs to be converted to an electronic format. This can mean setting up a secure site with .pdfs of what needs to be read, mechanisms to register and deregister people, sometimes handling money, getting certificates (or whatever) back to the student, advising (etc. -- a lot depends on the type of teaching).

Comment 1: It can be useful to have at least one "physical presence session" where everyone gets together in one room (if it's a full-semester course). A surprisingly large number of problems and gotchas can be solved by this session. This may not be feasible for many situations, but for our Masters program, it is one of the key reasons why the program works so well. Students who attend the session meet their peers, see the instructors, and "bond" with the school during these "once a semester" sessions.

Comment 2: One of the easiest way to gauge what you'll need is to try and find a distance program that does pretty much what you think you'll need. Most distance education programs are still novel enough that reports get written with ancillary web-sites that extoll the wonder and usefullness of their particular program. I've also found most developers involved with distance learning to be responsive to serious inquires about specifics (usually with too much information :-). I would spend a good two weeks to two months (or more -- depends on the scale) searching to find as many distance education sites as possible and to get a feel for what folks are using. Work through the sites, make sone tentative choices, then try to contact the principals directly for comments. Any serious use of distance education is going to cost money, often lots of money. The amount of money your group will spend on having you visit a few sites to actually see how it's done is going to be cheap compared to making even one mistake in choosing, buying, and implementing a technology plan that will likely be with you for years.

Comment 3: Good luck -- you need it. The right people and the right technology choices can mean the difference between "wasting" hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of time Vs. getting something up that works. The risks of failure are real as "you" are becoming a integral part of the teaching and learning that will go on. Most likely you're not an educator, thus not able to fully comprehend what will happen as learning gets funneled through whatever technology choices you make. The rewards won't be very great because most don't realize just how transformative your technology choices will be on the process. Your sponsors "expect" success and learning and probably don't understand how big of a duty they've pushed on to you.

The "modem" on-line courses I took were from:

H.323 must die. (2)

drsoran (979) | more than 13 years ago | (#474586)

Please, support anything else, but do NOT support that bastardized "standard"! "Security" wasn't even on anyone's mind when they drew up those specs! It uses random TCP AND UDP ports established from both directions and encodes the IP address of the client into the packets making NAT'ing it a bitch. This has got to be one of the worst protocols ever devised and I want to urge everyone to avoid it so that it goes away. If you have a firewall or even a nat'ing gateway you are quite literally fucked if you need to support this.

Re:WebCT (2)

Sabalon (1684) | more than 13 years ago | (#474587)

We also use this. However, our people decided to run this on NT/Win2k. While Win2k has not been a problem itself, the WebCT product does not run too well on Win2k.

It is mainly a bunch of perl scripts and the apache server. However it seems their chat script is buggy as can be, and that most fixes involve a reboot. Their tech support isn't that great either - many times, even though they say they support NT/2k, they claim a problem is caused by us running it on there.

However, in their defense, our faculty love it and I think the students like it as well.

Re:Why? (2)

Sabalon (1684) | more than 13 years ago | (#474588)

I remember back in around 1992, some guy from IBM demoing some program he wrote that uses a laserdisc for chemistry.

The idea was that you could select what you wanted to react (magnessium strip and fire) and it would play a pre-recorded scene of the result.

Pretty cold and inpersonal, however that may help with the "hands-on" experiments.

Personally, I like sitting in a class with a faculty member to learn, but I'm getting old.

Re:Distance-learning has ethical quesitons unresol (2)

Sabalon (1684) | more than 13 years ago | (#474589)

The solution is clear: those who are writing distance-learning software should incorporate a clause into their liscenses which would forbid the use of the software for illegitimate "educational" purposes.

How can you define illegitimate education?

There are accreditation boards already in place for conventional educational facilities which would be ideal for judging the new online ones.

And if a company wanted to use it for training people around the world??? I don't think they'd be certified by any of the regional/national certification boards - so I guess that's illegit education?

Only then can we be sure that our children will be safe from the hate that looms on the horizon of the new millennium.

I believe that you'll find more hate looming in your home town with prejudice and racisim and general stupidity then you'll find in online courses.

Distance Learning - The Whole Kit ... (2)

chris_sawtell (10326) | more than 13 years ago | (#474590)

... is here []

Moderators: Tiny posting, but exactly what he wants.

Re:Distance learning is hard... (2)

Edward Teach (11577) | more than 13 years ago | (#474591)

Cal State Chico uses Horizon Live and it supports IE5+. I have to say that the video is crap but the overall system is pretty good. They use it in conjunction with WebCT. You can find out more about it at []

--- This is my sig. There are many like it, but this one is mine. ---

VRVS (2)

rw2 (17419) | more than 13 years ago | (#474592)

VRVS [] ?

The VRVS system achieves bi-directional communication among participants who enter the same Virtual Room. This communication media can be audio, video, and whiteboard, depending on what media each participant selects.

An audio stream consumes between 9Kbit/s and 78 Kbit/s depending on the audio format that is selected in the control panel of the audio application (PCM: 78Kbit/s, DVI: 46Kbit/s, GSM; 17Kbit/s, LPC4: 9Kb/s).

A video stream can put a much higher load on the network: from 10 Kbit/s up to several Mbit/s. The maximum data rate value is defined for each source by a bandwidth limit slider in the control panel of the video application. For a video stream over the Internet the advised data rate is typically from 15 to 128 Kbit/s.

The VRVS system aims at controlling the maximum bandwidth used by videoconferences taking place in the virtual rooms.


UMUC's use of Domino (2)

theclinic (22674) | more than 13 years ago | (#474593)

The University of Maryland's distance education school (UMUC) utilized Lotus Domino to build some terrific distance learning scenarios. It is really slick. I would highly recommend checking out their web site (

Ryan Wilhelm

Speaking as a Montanan.... (2)

scotpurl (28825) | more than 13 years ago | (#474594)

There are far more militias and gun-nuts "out east", in any state (take your pick) than there are in Montana. Most of the ones that have made the news all started out in the militias in other states (like Michigan), then moved out west in search of some intangbile personal liberties -- and fewer minorities. The miltia folk then claim to that all they wish is to be left alone, but then engage in exactly the sort of activity that begs for government intervention. The Hutterites and the Amish want to be left alone, and they are.

As for the seeds of hate, they are most frequently passed from parent to child. If we want to control racism, we must control, or hold accountable, parents.

As for opposing a technology because it can be used for an illegitimate purpose: anything can be used for an illegitimate purpose. You can not name one thing invented for the purpose of good that has not been, or can not be, subverted for evil purposes.

Re:WebCT (2)

tbo (35008) | more than 13 years ago | (#474596)

WebCT was started by my Operating Systems prof, Murray Goldberg. He's a pretty cool guy, although he has to travel a lot to run the company.

As for WebCT itself, it's pretty good, but the discussion boards aren't well-suited for extremely active discussion (when it gets over 500 messages, it becomes hard to find things).

Live video is probably unnecessary. It's a rare teacher who can accomplish more though a video connection than could be done through well-designed online notes.

Experiences (2)

BobLenon (67838) | more than 13 years ago | (#474598)

There are many tools out there for doing DL. Ive had experince with them from a developer end, oppesed to the student end. Heres a few that I am familair with:

Blackboard: Its basicly $20k+ of perl scripts that are constantly broken and cant do what you want. DONT USE IT!

FirstClass: A very nice email/conference system. It has Mac and Windows clients and a Web Client( Which does not have all features). This is a very nice product that provides many features ( ie drop boxes, chat, email ... ).

LearnSys (?) Something like that ... used net meeting as a basis for a whiteboard (obvisouly very platform specific) ... but you could do polling and give voice to a person at a time ... It seemed ok ... only did evaluate it.

Prometheius - A cold fusion appilcation ... not familar with it ... just know it exists and i belive its supposed to be could. Hey, you can get the source ;)

Other technologies ive used in conjunction with DL are RealVideo, IRC, Video Tapes ( Taped lectures sent to the students), CDs with content (much like the Video Tapes).

On the cheap end of things (as all of these listed here cost $$ )... i dont know of much.

Video streaming wise ive had many experinces (Real, Quicktime, Windows Media ). Basicly Real has the most support, but is VERY expensive. Quicktime a bit cheaper (get server softwear for free!). Still need the encoder, but u can mahe multirate streams like you can with Real and Windows Media. Window Media is the cheapest ...the server comes with Win2kServer ( u can dl it for NT) and the encoder is free. It also has the best quality I have seen for streaming media.

Those are what i can recall right now ... Of course you could always implement your own web-based system, but that carries a lot of issues...


What a blatant troll! (2)

billstewart (78916) | more than 13 years ago | (#474599)

Flynn's article suggests that educational technology ought to provide censorship over content because, gasp!, Bad People From Montana might also use them to teach politically incorrect materials. Some of those marginalized groups are certainly better than what passes for education these days, with the schools teaching kids that the War On Drugs is good, and the Wars On Commies were in America's National Interest [there can be only one!], just like the support for military dictators around the world is good. We certainly need to have central control of Our Nation's Thought Patterns, to prevent Un-American Activities, just like we need to stop those Commie Plots against our Precious Bodily Fluids, such as the movements to fluoridate water, decaffienate coffee and make non-smokable hemp. And we definitely need technology to stamp out sex on the internet (except when it involves President Clinton, who's one of those Evil Democrats.)

I'm not a moderator this week, but it'd be nice if somebody moderates Flynn's article appropriately.

One nice little program... (2)

11thangel (103409) | more than 13 years ago | (#474600)

One program is speakfreely. I believe the website is on freshmeat. It sends voice messages compressed over any net connection (not quite like a phone convo, more like IM). Works nicely on my 56k, if you have a little T line than it would be great.

E-Nun2k (2)

Huh? (105485) | more than 13 years ago | (#474601)

My biggest problem with distance education is my lack of motivation/attention. Maybe we could make some sort of Nun emulator (E-Nun). I can see the possibilities now. "E-Nun has detected that you are not progressing with your course work." "E-Nun would like to inform the student that pr0n may lead to blindness, and will surely lead to the burning pits of hell." "E-Nun advises the student to refrain from using the internet for devils work, and continue with the course work." If E-Nun detects this sort of behavior again, E-Nun will contact the students mother." kill -9 e-nun2k

Re:Distance-learning has ethical quesitons unresol (2)

nels_tomlinson (106413) | more than 13 years ago | (#474602)

You should of course put whatever license you like upon your efforts. I would like to point out that to someone somewhere, your suggestion will smack of the sort of twisted hatred that should be banned from the earth. My point is that such a license would boil down to "... you can only use this for stuff (author's name here) approves of...", which is not likely to attract any significant use.

I would certainly not trust any accreditation boards; they are as susceptible to political correctness as any other group, and thus teaching Shakespear might wind up verboten, and teaching that ALL consentual sex is rape might not. One of those should seem innocous, and the other should not, to pretty much everyone.

This problem has been around for as long as there has been communication: someone might lead someone else astray. It's old enough that the ancient Greeks had a word for it: someone who led a lot of folks astray was a demagog.

Check out U of Phoenix Online - Tools are here! (2)

bdolan (125199) | more than 13 years ago | (#474603)

The University of Phoenix online is an accredited degree program including masters degrees. They have more online students than many large universities (>10,000). You might find it interesting that they use means for running their classes: Internet Explorer and a web equivalent interface. Since in fact, they use newsgroups and email along with electronic books, there is nothing that isn't available for the open source users. Note, that this is run of the few IPOs of the last quarter, and it has gone up (2.5 x!), so they must be doing someing right! They specifically arrange their classes so that students and teachers do not have to be online at the same time. A friend's experience has been quite good, individual attention to assistments and problems from the teachers, several give out their home phone numbers if you get really stuck. I can't see that watching a video is better than optimizing for asynchronous conversations and getting professors that are willing to talk to students, not at the lecture, but when the help is needed. This does not seem to be a technlogy issue, but having an administration that expects responsiveness from teachers. Asynchonous availablity is really important for distant learning, otherwise you have a scheduling nightmare depending on the time zone you happen to be in -- unless you are a full-time student.

WebCT (2)

lordpez (126699) | more than 13 years ago | (#474604)

Here at Marietta College [] we use WebCT for our "course management system." It doesn't do the live video, but it does do online lessons, chats, quizzes, and grades. If you need to, you can replace their apache with your own custom compile so you can add php, ssl, or what not. Perhaps live video support can be added this way? However, a simple link on the course page to a realvideo server might be simpler.

It can run on Linux, and people connect to it with a normal web browser.

The downside is that it is commercial, but usually the institution wants something commercial anyway. Check it out at [] .

Blackboard and Tegrity (2)

Therlin (126989) | more than 13 years ago | (#474605)

We are currently using a mixture of two systems. One is Blackboard [] which we use as the main gateway for all our distance learning courses and the backbone of the courses reside there.

To suplement those courses we are also using a system by Tegrity [] which allows you to stream live audio and video over the Internet. It works together with powerpoint and it supports a whiteboard for the teacher.

You can also use the interactive whiteboard in blackboard together with tegrity if students don't mind having both windows open.

You may also want to look into Rotor [] which is a very nice system that is used for anything from distance learning to presentations for/by the entertainment industry.

Re:IRC/Instant Messaging (2)

ibpooks (127372) | more than 13 years ago | (#474606)

I've had a good experience with this technology. I had an economics professor at MSU who held regular office hours via AOL messenger and Yahoo! messenger. It was very helpful not having to walk across campus to ask a quick question. Surprisingly, the pure text notation was not too clumsy for meaningful conversation.

GPLed Interactive Classroom Software (2)

-benjy (142508) | more than 13 years ago | (#474608)

Take a look at the Authenticated User Community [] (AUC) package. It is a GPLed intranet system for providing online classrooms. While it will not handle the streaming audio/video parts of your problem, it is a nice tool for coordinating the class. There is a live demo at the web site where you can discover the following features and more:
  • Interactive Classrooms with facilities for announcements, assignments, class calendar, and forums.
  • Fully functional web-based email client
  • Web based file manager
  • School Newspaper engine
  • Web-based maintenence tools for teachers, online aides and the sysop

Realvideo has a free encoder and server for linux (2)

sanemind (155251) | more than 13 years ago | (#474609)

Available at If you have a V4Lin compatible device, the encoder can do live on-the-fly encoding for delivery to the free realserver. The free server can only stream to 25 clients simultaniously, however. You must pay for more clients.

Alternatively, you could just use the realencoder to save to a file, and as many people as you want could download that via plain old http.


Remote TA Distance Learning Software (2)

techmuse (160085) | more than 13 years ago | (#474610)

I used to work on a project called Remote TA. The project is run by Professor Walters [mailto] of the UC Davis Computer Science Department [] . It includes all of the features that you are looking for. Drop Dr. Walters a line and let him know that you are interested.

Avid ePublisher (2)

silhouette (160305) | more than 13 years ago | (#474611)

Avid Technology has been putting together an application called ePublisher. The intent of the program is to allow someone who knows almost nothing about either video or html to create a self-contained web page with streaming video synchronized to html events. A completed project looks somewhat like a powerpoint presentation with video.

The relevance is that you can film a class lecture with whatever equipment you have, import the video into the ePublisher program, import all the class handout materials or slides into the program, create a table of contents that allows a user to jump around to different stages of the lecture, and upload it to a server so that anyone can visit the URL and see the entire lecture.

Although it may sound like it, this isn't a plug for the company or even the program. My university was asked to beta-test the program, and I've since become way too familiar with all the dirty little details. It's in release 1.0 and so has its share of problems and bugs, but definitely has potential for distance learning.

Pros: you can record a lecture/presentation with all the original materials (slides, etc). Anyone in the world who can visit the webpage can view the entire lecture. A user can jump around in the lecture's timeline non-linearly. If something went by too quickly in the lecture, a user can jump back to that section/chapter. If the lecture goes too slow, a user can jump ahead to important sections. Also, Avid provides a USB video capture device with the product, so all you need to import video is svideo-out or composite-out.

Cons: It takes time to complete a project in this way. You need to have some kind of recording equipment to capture the video (although you can also make an audio-only project), and the process of synchronizing events (slides, handouts, etc) to the audio or video within the application is time-consuming. Also, I am fairly sure that there is no Linux version - the release is for 98 right now (In fact, I think they're still working on NT/2000). And on top of all that, the current release is still 1.0. I think that speaks for itself.

Collaborative Virtual Workspace (2)

skotske (197815) | more than 13 years ago | (#474612)

The article asks about asychronous techologies, which are pretty widely available and you'll have alot of choice with both 'free' and commerical solutions. Problems will arise when you want to move to synchronous technologies. I'm involved in delivering this kind of material (albiet in an enforced windows environment), and the largest problem for synchronous learning technologies is the bandwidth not anything else. There are packages out their that allow multi-point audio and video crossplatform. eg Collaborative Virtual Workspace - (but there are others) Unfortunately, this requires your students all to have access to a pretty speedy connection for it to work. Also when you get into the sharing of applications with 2+ people to work on (in terms of assignments) the networking just can't handle it. Hope is at hand, if you are part of the academic world then the Internet 2 project is being build precisely to facilitate this kind of DL.

Re:I would keep it simple. (2)

juerg (228182) | more than 13 years ago | (#474613)

The web based discussion forum can be done with a news-server (e.g., inn). I set up different private news-groups in the past (for discussions while doing group-homeworks and group-projects). I made very good experience with it and my class-mates liked it.

Re:One nice little program... (2)

haukex (229058) | more than 13 years ago | (#474614)

The url is [] , but the server seems to be down right now.
I haven't used it for conferencing with more than one person, but I can agree that I like it in its simplicity :-) One nice thing is that it features various encryption standards (including PGP, using your already existing keys), and you can turn on more than one encryption type at once.

Re:WebCT and difficulties (2)

LauraLolly (229637) | more than 13 years ago | (#474615)

I teach a few courses over WebCT, and I have found several difficulties - if my courses have a low enrollment, I am not paid enough to justify upgrading the course, but it needs to be done anyway.

If the students have a low bandwidth connection, the connections to some of the associated course files do not work well.

Finally, the course ID setup works well for students who take multiple courses, but the learning curve for WebCT itself is very high for students taking their first course.

Courses which were correspondence courses still have about the same drop out rate as WebCT courses - it all depends on student maturity and motivation.

Syllabus is commercial but has info (2)

LauraLolly (229637) | more than 13 years ago | (#474616)

One resource that educators have is Syllabus [] , a magazine supported by software and hardware providers of classroom technology solutions. Much of it is targeted to distance learning.

Caveat lector; It is a commercial publication.

I would keep it simple. (3)

Bwah (3970) | more than 13 years ago | (#474617)

I'm about to receive a MS from NTU [] . The entire degree program at NTU is distance learning. (Mainly MPEG sat-tv,but moving into web streaming as well.) I have never met one of my profs face-to-face.

Based on my experience, I would say one of the most important things you could setup would be a web based discussion forum. The need to easily interact with the rest of the class during non-class hours is something I have really missed. An important thing to allow (I think) would be anonymous posting. Since the distance students are kind of "disconnected" from the rest of the class (if there is a live class at all) it can be hard to get a feel as to where the rest of the class is at in comprehending the material. It would be good to allow people to post questions without their names on them to avoid looking like a complete dumbass. This may sound stupid, but its a lot more common than you may think.

The next most important thing I would say you should think about is applicable to live classes only. (A lot of NTU feeds are on taped delay.) This would be some way for the distance learning people to interrupt the teacher in real-time. There have been several times when I would have really liked to have been able to ask a question. I would say it would be OK not to have a AV feed from the student back to the teacher (Umm, can you say OVERKILL!), but SOMETHING (like ICQ maybe) is needed to allow the distance people to break in.

My final advice would be to train the hell out of the camera operators. It is ANNOYING to have some schmuck on the camera that thinks panning and zooming around all of the time is cool. Just leave the thing in one spot for crying out loud! Make sure the instructors are up to speed on the equipment as well. It can be annoying to watch them spend 5 minutes trying to figure out how to get their PC screen to go out on the feed.

Just my 2 cents. dv

Blatant Commercial Plug (3)

scotpurl (28825) | more than 13 years ago | (#474618)

SameTime 2.0 from Lotus. Java video and audio conferencing, NNTP-style discussions, authentication, restrictions (on who can do what), h.323 compatibility, etc. etc. Also includes encrypted instant messaging, online awareness, and a heckuva lot more functionality than I feel like typing in. Also scales well for really big implimentations.

Distance learning at Indiana University (3)

Skwirl (34391) | more than 13 years ago | (#474619)

A couple semesters ago, I co-authored a journalism project about distance learning that can be found here [] . The most important thing that I learned from my sources is that teaching classes online requires two learning curves: one for the subject matter and one for the technology. It's all good if you're teaching a class to Slashdot readers, but elsewhere, you'll find lots of people will be confounded by simple computerized tasks. To steal a famous quote, "The medium is the message."

As a distance education student (3)

decefett (127257) | more than 13 years ago | (#474620)

Don't focus too much on live video and audio at first. What you need is a good discussion forum that not only keeps messages from the current class but from past classes as well, it is really helpfull to read past disscussions especially when doing a difficult assignment.

Have a section where people can (optionally) post thier email addresses ICQ, AIM etc. If you go the IRC/chat room route make sure you publish the logs (see above) and make them searchable.

Ineractive quizzes. Just do some cgi/php/whatever scripting to randomly select questions and mark them right or wrong when the form is submitted. This allows students to know if they are understanding the curriculum and I can't emphasise enough how important that is. Your students don't have any face time to see if they understand things, quizzes give those who understand it the confidence to move on and tells those that are struggling where to put in extra work. I can't emphasis enough how important that is, after disccussion boards it should be your next priority (ie. before shiny video streams).

As far as video/audio does go I'd put up some mp3's of lectures, nothing fancy just pure audio that will allow people to record them to cassette and listen to them on the way to work etc. I'd do some kind of flash presentation before going the video route, ask yourself what a video feed will get you that a slide show and audio won't, remember that many of your students will be on 56k or less.

Notes to the curriculum designers;
- Optional material. In my experience you will have some distance students who have large ammounts of prior knowledge, optional material will allow you to challenge these students without placing extra pressure on those that are struggling.
- Be very prompt when answering student questions. Solo study is very isolating and having to wait more than one working day for a response just unacceptable.
- Allocate enough tutors (see above). Make sure assesment marks are back promptly. (This is where my course falls down.) It is exceedingly frustrating to not have your first assignment back when your doing your third or fourth.

Best of luck

Practical Distance Learning (3)

Digitalia (127982) | more than 13 years ago | (#474621)

I recently participated in a Latin I course over a video distance learning setup. The teacher was located in a town about 15 miles away, but could have just as easily been 1500 miles away, and taught very effectively.

Each classroom on the system was setup with a camera for the instructor and a camera for the students, microphones for everyone desk in the room, a chalkboard which was situated so that it could be seen on the instructor camera, and a small setup that served as an overhead projector. The teachers most often use this for notes and such as it is more convenient than traditional chalkboard use.

We also had a full audio-visual setup so that the teacher could play video onto the system for all participant to see, or so students could record class periods for viewing. The entire setup was controlled by a fairly simple piece of software on a touch-screen interfaced PC. No one had trouble using the system.

We only had two incidents where we lost connection with the host and these were either intentional, or quickly remedied. It was no different than a teacher calling in sick.

I would suggest you do something similar, if you really want distance-learning. It is very effective.

IRC/Instant Messaging (3)

CarrotLord (161788) | more than 13 years ago | (#474622)

I can suggest from experience that IRC and Instant Messaging are great tools for group discussion... I would suggest talk, but it's a bit clumsy... Most of the IRC style tools give you logs of your discussions and so on. They tend to be pretty bandwidth-efficient, and allow people to have separate chatrooms for whatever purpose... I don't know if there would be opportunity to supervise these other chatrooms, and I don't know if it would be needed...



Why? (3)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 13 years ago | (#474623)

You don't say why your school wants to do distance learning. Without knowing what they hope to accomplish, it's hard to say what technology would be appropriate.

Usually administrators see distance learning as a way of making money. They get the same tuition or fees, but don't have to pay for heating a classroom, janitors, etc. What they don't realize is that doing distance learning right is very expensive, not least because it's a huge amount of work for the instructor to set up the first time, and they can't do it without release time.

There are also some real problems associated with distance learning. Students don't form the same kind of social bonds they normally would. In the science classes I teach, I like to have the students do little hands-on experiments, which they wouldn't be able to do at home. And of course, how do you teach labs? There's also the issue of students pulling scams, like getting help on exams. (At my school, we recently had a person take an entire course for someone else.) Students in these courses also tend to lack the necessary commitment. Of course, all these problems were problems back when distance learning meant TV telecourses. Distance learning has usually been a failure, and probably will be until technology changes drastically (like really fast broadband access in all the students' homes).

The Assayer [] - free-information book reviews

Use almost all of 'em. (3) (199423) | more than 13 years ago | (#474624)

IMHO, the best compromise solution is audio streaming (teacher -> student) with a discussion board/photo album. The way it works is that the teacher lectures along to the photo album. The discussion baord is used for the studnets to post questions and offer solutions to examples.

The only drawback is that the use of a discussion board requires students with a bit of restraint and sometimes that's more of an issue that people think (even with adults).

My $0.02, having done just what I described


Live lectures (3)

wmoyes (215662) | more than 13 years ago | (#474625)

I was in a class where they were broadcasting the lecture to Hawaii over the Internet. Although it sounds like a snappy new application for the Internet, their efforts were misdirected.

Frequently there were equipment problems, network problems, and the latency was ridiculous. The lag and audio quality was so bad the students in Hawaii hardly ever asked questions. How would you like to come to class to see a message written on the board by the TA saying "Sorry, we can't get NetMeeting working today."

A better approach would be to send the audio portion using POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). If you figure how much each student pays in tuition and divide it by the number of lectures he or she attends, the price of the phone call is nothing. Even if you were paying a dollar a minute you still come out a head, keep in mind 30 or so students were attending remotely. One lecture missed due to technical issues means hundreds of dollars in wasted tuition.

Re:IRC/Instant Messaging (4)

nickd (58841) | more than 13 years ago | (#474626)

Its a case of using the right tools for the right job.
Groove - excellent collaboration tool for students to work together and for workshops (but still in beta)

Rotor - interactive video streaming, good for quizzes, questionairres and presenting. The next version will support flash media as the presentation material (instead of jpegs)

Oracle iLearning - course administration replacement - it allows the students to select which courses they take and at what pace, while still enforcing requisites etc.

All of these technologies (and others) have their place in online learning. Quite frankly, the places that JUST video tape a lecturer talking and then stream it to the web have got it completely wrong. It really doesnt add much to the learning experience and still has problems of people understanding the lecturer (either due to quality of audio/video, or of language barriers, or hearing impairments.) Lecturers should be there for guiding students in the right direction and perhaps fielding questions and making clarifications.

my 2 cents

video/audi creates problems. (5)

AugstWest (79042) | more than 13 years ago | (#474627)

I work for an elearning software company, and I can say from experience that if your distance learning initiatives are dependent on video/audio feeds, you're most likely going to run into problems.

One of the main problems is end-user bandwidth. We have a completely web-based elearning product that requires nothing beyond a 4.0 browser and a 28.8 connection, and still end users run into problems...

For elearning today, you're best off using something with forums, threaded messaage boards and text chat. This makes it easier for the teacher to control the situation, and easier for the students to ask questions without completely interrupting. These methods actually fit the model better, and you don't have to worry about as many issues with getting the information out to the student.
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