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In Search of a Virtual School by MORTEN FLATE PAULSEN, Assistant Professor NKI College of Computer Science, Norway I believe that the virtual school will dominate future distance education, and F d like to describe a few of the more interesting paths F ve pursued in search of a virtual school. This work has been conducted within the framework of the EJtKO Project of our college, a project to investigate the possibilities of establishing such a school in Norway. In order to explain what I rrtean by a virtual school, I should start with a definition of a school ifi general. In my opinion, the various responsibilities that a school must assume fall into f our main categories: professional, didactic, administrative and social. For all of these, a large measure of interpersonal communication is required. The professional tasks are those of establishing and maintaining curricula for the subjects to be offered at the school. This entails formulating a description of the academic goals for each subject and Traditional distance choosing the educational instruments that will be used to attain these education has not goals. In addition, student performance must be evaluated. It is important succeeded. for a school to establish a professional environment that allows its members to upgrade their own professional standards and competence. The didactic tasks are those of establishing conditions for teaching and learning so the academic goals may be achieved. The actual pedagogic methods used will, of course, depend upon the subject to be taught, the level at which it is aimed, the number of students, etc. The administrative tasks are those of maintaining a good practical environment for running the school, i.e., efficiently supporting and facilitating its teaching duties. Examples are scheduling, conducting examinations and paying salaries. The social tasks consist of creating a socially beneficial and coherent environment for the students, teachers and staff. It is very important for a school to have a good social environment; this will be conducive to both the professional and personal development of its members. Any limitation of the facilities for interpersonal communication will decrease the possibility of creating a good social environment. The kind of school we are all familiar with is the physical school. It has, through the years, proved able to address all the tasks mentioned above, but it has one large disadvantage: It is necessary for the students to be physically present during fixed intervals of time. This poses a problem for many prospective students, and out of this situation has evolved the institution of distance education. Distance Education

Distance education, as it has traditionally been conducted, is eminently capable of dealing with tasks of a professional, didactic and administrative nature, as outlined above. It is, however, not wellequipped for handling the social tasks of a school, primarily because it has very limited facilities for interpersonal communication. It is my claim that traditional distance education has not succeeded in creating a (contmuedonpage 72)

Morten Flate Paulsen n head of the EKKO Ptojett and a membei of both lFlP Woiking Gioup 3 6 on Di stane e Leaintng and the Eu> opean SUPERNET Pi ojet t on Di stane e Leai mnq



Norway What is needed is a virtual school.

Most tasks will be handled by people.

Hebenstreit, J. Microcomputers and Information Technology in the Teaching Process. Ecole Superieure d'Electricite, Plateau du Moulon, Mars 1982. Rekkedal, T. Fjernundervisning og datateknologi, NKI. November 1984. Kristiansen, T. "Teleundervisning—om fjernundervisning i ei naer framtid, TF. " Report, July 1985. Maurer, H. Nationwide Teaching Through a Network of Microcomputers. Institutes for Information Processing Graz, Technical University ofGraz and Austrian Computer Society. Berg, A. "Kristina pluggade på distans med videote.\." Datavaerlden, Oct. 13,1986. Kerr, E. and Hiltz, S. Computer-Mediated Communication Systems, Status and Evaluation. Academic Press, 1982. PortaCOM, Computer Conferencing System. Stockholm University Computing Center, QZ. Stockholm, 1986. Scher, J. and Smith, D. Today's External Degree College, Tomorrow's Electronic University. New Jersey Institute of Technology. Meeks, B. "The Quiet Revolution." BYTE, February 1987. Johnston, C. "One Year Later." PC Magazine, July 1986. Gretz, P. and Wolak, R. "Electure: Just a Hobby or a Wave of the Future?" The Source, 1982. New Jersey Institute of Technology. Telecommunication sand Higher Education. Conference Briefs. New Jersey Institute of Technology, April 29, 1982. Turoff, M. The EIES Educational Experience. New Jersey Institute of Technology, 1982. Hiltz, S. The Virtual Classroom: Initial Explorations of Computer-Mediated Communication Systems as an Interactive Learning Space. New Jersey Institute of Technology, 1985. Turoff, M. and Hiltz, S. Remote Learning: Technologies & Opportunities. New Jersey Institute of Technology, 1986. Haile, P. Computer Conferencing in Post-Secondary Education. New York Institute of Technology, October, 1985. Deutschman, W., et. al. Computer Teleconfercing. The Next Step in Distance Learning. New York Institute of Technology, 1985. Glossbrenner, A. "On-Line College." PC Magazine, Oct. 30, 1984. Richards, A., et. al. On-Line at New York Institute of Technology: Computer Teleconferencing Workshops for Faculty. New York Institute of Technology, 1985. Deutschman, W. Computer Teleconferencing and New York Institute of Technology. New York Institute of Technology. 21. " A Wizard's Plan for an Electronic University." Businessweek, March 19, 1984. 22. Osgood, D. "The Electronic University Network." BYTE, March, 1986. 23. Harasim, L. "Computer Learning Networks: Educational Applications of Computer Conferencing." Journal of Distance Education, Vol. l. No. /, Bates, T. "Computer-Assisted Learning or Communications: Which Way for Information Technology for Distance Education?" Journal of Distance Education, Vol. l,No. 1. 25. Meeks, B. "An Oven'iew of Conferencing Systems." BYTE, December 1985.

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socially satisfactory school environment. What is needed is a virtual school. I define a virtual school as an information system able to handle all the tasks of a school without the basis of an existing physical school. The world "virtual" usually means "imaginary" as opposed to "real." A virtual school will thus not exist as a physical building containing classrooms, offices, teachers, staff and students. Nevertheless, it may be thought of as real, since it can assume all the responsibilities of an ordinary (physical) school. Most tasks will be handled by people, as in a physical school. Many of these tasks involve interpersontl communication. A virtual school should therefore possess a maximurn of facilities for this. Ideally, such communication should be free of limitations with respect to time and place. A virtual school may be regarded as art information system, that is, a system for generating information. This entails the gathering, processing, storing, transmission and presentation of information. These activities may be performed manually by people or automatically by computers. In any information system there is a coherent order, or pattern, defining the context in which the information is to be generated. A school is an example of such a context. All the tasks of a school entail the generation of information, as outlined above. My proposition is that it is possible to create a virtual school around a computer-based information system and that virtual schools will dominate future distance education. Where Can a Virtual School Be Found?

I have tried to learn whether any virtual schools exist today. In this search I have proposed the following four requirements for a virtual school: • It shall address the professional, didactic, administrative and social tasks of a school. • It shall be accessible from any geographic location. • It shall be accessible at any time. • It shall satisfy the need for interpersonal communication among members of the school. Much work has been done in trying to adapt new technologies for use in distance education. This concerns, in particular, the fields of computer-assisted learning (CAL) and telecommunications, I have, therefore, concentrated on these two fields. CAL may be included as an element of a virtual school. It may be used to relieve the teachers of some of their tasks and may also offer the students a satisfactory alternative to traditional textbooks. The use of interactive video and various techniques of artificial intelligence may further enrich this type of teaching. In Norway, the Dambu and Grimstad Projects have been central in establishing our competence in CAL. CAL contains many exciting professional and didactic aspects but is totally lacking in possibilities for interpersonal communication. It will, therefore, never be able to act as a base for a virtual school. The general aspects of CAL1 and its bearing on distance education2 are discussed elsewhere. Telecommunications

It has become customary to use this term to mean communication over long distances by means of electronic equipment. This offers flexible

possibilities for interpersonal communication and will, therefore, be a central element in future distance education. Work in this field is mainly concentrated in two areas: audio/visual and data communication. Audio/visual communication is transmission of information by sound or pictures or both. The Research Department of the Norwegian Telecommunication Administration (Televerket) has issued a comprehensive report on the use of audio/visual communication in distance education.3 This report discusses the use of local area television networks, telephones with loudspeakers, linked studio transmissions for television conferencing, language lab equipment in cable networks, electronic Communication should blackboards and interactive video. be free of limitations. The advantage of this approach is that communication proceeds in a "natural" way. The disadvantage is that it must run in real time. The facilities for communication among all participants in a group are also limited. Technology has not yet progressed to the point where it is possible to create a virtual school based upon audio/visual communication. By data communication we mean electronic communication between computers. This technique can be used to transmit information, which may also be stored and processed by computers. It is used today to offer distance education based upon videotex and computer conferencing systems. Austria Uses Videotex

Videotex is the internationally accepted term for a new medium of information distribution. It affords the possibility for electronic mail, graphics, color and animation. The public videotex service in Norway is called Teledata. In Austria, an impressive amount of work has been done to establish a system of computer-based distance education.4 More than 200 CAL lessons are available on the national videotex network. Most of these are available free of charge for all 10,000 videotex users in Austria. The courses include data processing for teachers, introductory programming and videotex. A separate project named COSTOC is attempting to produce more than 2,000 lessons covering a wide variety of subjects. In Sweden, Inventel has produced a videotex-based course on microcomputers,5 and in Norway, the Edb skolen offers a videotex-based course on data communication. So far, all existing videotex systems have one disadvantage in common: The possibilities for communication in groups are rather limited. We expect that this problem will be solved in the future, but today these systems do not offer sufficient facilities for interpersonal communication to create a virtual school.

A virtual school may be regarded as an information system.

Computer-Based Conferencing Systems

Computer conferencing is designed to facilitate interpersonal communication. Several different programs are available.625 Most of these are used by conference hosts for purposes not directly connected with teaching. But some hosts, notably within university environments, use this medium actively for organized distance education. I maintain that computer-based conferencing systems can be used to establish a virtual school. In fact, when judging the various technologies available, my conclusion is that, at present, computer conferencing is the only technology that can serve as a basis for creating a virtual school. This is summarized in the following table:

(contmued on page 74)




Virtual schools will dominate future distance education.

CAL is lacking in interpersonal communication.

74 DEC./JAN. 1987/88


There is a wide variety of software available for the type of system that may ultimately lead to the virtual school of the future. I have provided an overview of the ones with which Fm familiar in the accompanying table. Conferencing Systems in Teaching

The first use of such systems for teaching, I think, was on The Source's PARTICIPATE system in the Fall of 1982. The teaching material was presented in seven two-page "lessons," one per day for a week. After each lesson, the views of the "students" were invited, and various questions concerning the topics covered in the lesson were discussed. Altogether, about 100 persons participated in one or more of these lessons. Gretz and Wolak 11 draw this conclusion about the electronic lecture, or "electure": "Audience interaction is especially pronounced in the electure format. The computer conferencing mechanism made the postelecture exchange less of a question-and-answer period and more of a free-for-all discussion....The information presented in comments provided many examples of the ideas presented in the electure as well as some opposing views. "The electurer tends to assume a less dominant role than a normal lecturer." The New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is among the leading research environments in the field of computer conferencing. The EIES system was developed there, and this system has been endowed with several functions designed for teaching purposes. In 1982, NJIT arranged a conference on Telecommunications in Higher Education.12 Several virtual courses have also been given.1315 The New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) is another leader. B. Ward Deutchman and his collaborators have used the PARTICIPATE system in various teaching projects.1620 NYIT has established the American Open University (AOU), which currently offers 130 online courses. Telelearning2021 in San Francisco is a company which was started by Ronald Gordon in 1983 to distribute university courses to students through the Electronic University Network (EUN). The actual design of the courses, however, is the responsibility of the university. The following universities have been connected with this project: Ohio University; the University of Nebraska; Thomas A. Edison State College in Trenton, N.J.; City University in Bellevue, Wash.; John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, Calif.; and De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif. According to BYTE magazine,22 around 17,000 students have registered with the EUN. The courses are varied—from MBA degree studies to

Software for Computer-Based Conferencing Systems COM is a comprehensive system that can handle mail, blackboards and conferences. It was developed at the Swedish Military Research Institute by Jacob Palme and collaborators^ and put in operation in 1979, It is distributed by QZ, the Swedish University Computer Center. The foilowing institutions have also been involved in the development of COM: the Josef Stefan Institute in Yugoslavia, the University of Oslo (Norway), the University of Duesseldorf (German Federal Republic), the University of Helsinki (Finland) and the CSATA Institute in Bari (Italy). Originally, COM was developed for Digital Equipment Corp. computers, bu,t it has since been converted to run on other machines as well. The system, generally denoted as PORTACOM, is available on the foilowing computers; VAX/VMS, Sperry 1100, CDC NOS, Siemens BS2000, Burroughs B78QO, IBM MVS/TSO, VM/CMS and Prime/Primos. EIES (Electronic Information Exchange System) was designed by Murray Turoff at the New Jersey Institute of Technology toward the end of the *70s.8 The program is written for the Perkin-Elmer 7/32 and 8/32 machines and for the whole 3220 series. The system is very comprehensive, containing facilities for mail, conferencing, user groupings, personal document files and personal registers. In addition, EIES offers grading sheets and transcript systems specially designed for teaching purposes. EIES had a predecessor called EMISARL PARTICIPATE is an advanced conferencing system that is widely used. It was< developed by CH. Stevens at Participation Systems, Inc. of Winchester, Mass., in collaboration with the New York Institute of Technology. Perhaps the most well-known user of this system is The Source, NOTEPAD is a simple and user-friendly conferencing system. It can handle online conferences in real time as well as coftferences where contributioris (talks, comments, etc,) are stored over a period of time. It is also possibie to conduct a vote online. This system is used by NASA, arnong others, and is marketed by the U.S. company InfoMedia. eFORUM from Network Technologies International, Inc. is one of the more recent products in this line. It is very user-friendly. The company has developed a microcomputer program that enables an IBM PC to link up with eFORUM. The system also contains a word processing package. CoSy was developed by J.W. Mayer at the University of Guelph (Canada). This system was chosen by BYTE magazine for its BIX (Byte Information Exchange), a conference for BYTE readers. CoSy runs under UNIX and is, therefore, available on mainframes, minis and micros. It offers electronic mail, addressable to both individual users and groups of users, and both open and closed conferences. AUGMENT can offer both online conferences in real time and stored conferences. It is possible to search for text in stored conferences both by headings and by authors* names. The system was originally designed by Douglas Engelbart under the nĂĽme of NLS. The name was changed in 1978, when Tymshare bought the rights to the program. GENIE was developed by Stephen Heitmann for use in research and educational environments. It contains very advanced facilities for text manipulation. Several authors may work in parallel on the same contribution in a conference. HP-FORUM is a system that offers mail, bulletin boards, real-time communication and voting.9 It was developed by Ed Sharp at The Computer Exchange in Phoenix, Ariz., for the HP 3000 computer. CONFER was designed by Robert Parnes at the University of Michigan around 1975 for an Amdahl computer. It offers conferences and electronic mai! addressable to individuals as well as groups. Mail may be stored in the system until a date specified by the author and then distributed. Hewlett-Packard has chosen this system for internal use in the U.S. Among the other available conferencing system software programs are HUB, developed for DEC computers; P ANALOG, designed by Edward M. Houseman at the GTE Labs for use on the IBM 3033 computer; and PLANET, a simple conferencing system developed for DEC computers. More detailed descriptions of all these systems may be found elsewhere.6-25 Conferencing systems based upon micros as host computers are widely used, but they have serious limitations on capacityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;particularly as concerns the number of contemporaneous participants possible. Some are in the public domain. Many of the available microcomputer conferencing programs were described in a 1986 article in PC Magazine.10

Computer conferencing is the only technology that can serve as a basis.

Audience interaction is especially pronounced in the electure format.



Norway All existing videotex

systems have one disadvantage in common.

A virtual school itiust be independent of pface.

76 DEC./JAN. 1987/88


single courses in accounting, mathematics and computer science. There are approximately 150 courses. The EUN uses a conferencing system called Protege. At the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in Canada, a course titled Equal Opportunity in Computer Training was given in the Spring of 1986. Forty-one teachers from various parts of the province of Ontario took part in this course. The material was presented using the OISE's PARTICIPATE system.23 At Datahogskolen in Norway, a course on computers and data processing was given in the Fall of 1986. Ninety-six on-campus students took part in this experiment. The conferencing system EKKO, developed at Datahogskolen, was used. The Open University in England is planning to start using conferencing systems in distance education this year.24 Among other universities claiming to use this medium for teaching are: Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va.; the University of Cincinnati, Ohio; and Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In my search for a virtual school, I have arrived at this conclusion: It is possible to establish a virtual school based on a computer conferencing system. During the last few years, work has been done on this in various environments, and some valuable experience has been gained. There is still a long way to go before all the problems raised by virtual schools have been solved. But I maintain that we've now progressed to a stage where the virtual school exists. QD

In Search of a Virtual School  

The first article Morten Flate Paulsen wrote about online education in English in 1987.

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