Enriching the learning environment
I have submitted a bid for funding research and development of the EEE MSc learning environment. The idea is to develop a synchronous conference environment. Nothing new in that you might say, telematic conferencing has been available for a long time. True. What is different about this project is to try to recreate the sense of co-location and socialisation that one has in face to face (F2F) meetings. I would like to create the on-line equivalent of allocating students to teams and asking the teams to meet in a syndicate room or the Learning Grid to discuss and plan a mini-project.
I have noticed how EEE students meet as teams at all hours of the day and night, usually in the Learning Grid. I feel that the facilities of the LG are not always needed and indeed, some of the meetings take place in the coffee shop. For the shorter meetings, how much time would be saved if they could hold the meeting without leaving their residence? For students who live off campus the benefits could be huge. Even if you live on campus, the walk from the LG to the residence during poor weather can be challenging.
If as tutor, I would like to meet the students or the students wish to discuss some aspect of their studies with me, virtual meetings become even more attractive. No longer would it be necessary to book a meeting room (usually in short supply). We could just switch on our high definition webcams at the appointed time and let the meeting begin with the contributors located around a table in a meeting room on screen.
Moving on to module syndicate work the tutor could ‘visit’ teams in their syndicate rooms, switching from one room to another as one would do physically. The students would ‘see’ the tutor as he/she ‘entered’ the room. Then of course, the tutor could ask one team to present to the others, promoting the presenting team to a position of prominence on the screen in both position and size so that they could present to the rest of the group. Presentation over, the team could be return to ‘syndicate room’ position and another team prepared to give a presentation.
Such a system would develop to be stateful. That is, similar to programs like MSN Messenger, you would be able to see who is on-line and set up impromptu meetings, much as you can do in Messenger but with full visual semantics to enable the social aspects of learning to enrich the learning environment.
Of course, such a system would be of even greater benefit to students who live far away from the campus, such as our industrial, part-time students, both at home and overseas. I do not envisage that such a system would completely replace F2F contact, no matter how many improvements were made in terms of bandwidth availability etc until perhaps the technology gives us full 3D high-definition…watch this space.