Using Java Computing to Improve Cooperative Learning
Llamas, M., Anido, L., Fernández, M. J.
Área de Ingeniería Telemática. Dpto. Tec. de las Comunicaciones
E.T.S.I. Telecomunicación. Universidade de Vigo
Campus Universitario 36200 Vigo. SPAIN
Tf : +34-86-812171, Fax : +34-86-812116
e-mail : {martin,lanido,manolo}
It is well known that learning is an essential process in order to achieve a high cost-effectiveness in industrial and professional environments. Nowadays, there is an increasing number of fields where employers and employees have to cope with changing technologies. They must update their knowledge almost every day.

Different approaches to improve this process have been carried out and intensive research is being dedicated to provide new ones. Teleeducation is one of this ways. It presents a large number of advantages which, unfortunately, have to vie with some drawbacks. Physical separation among the agents involved in the learning process could turn out to be an insuperable difficulty.

In this paper we will show how this drawbacks can be overcome. From a technical point of view, the use of the Java computing allows to provide a range of possibilities which are able to fill the gap due to the geographical distance. We will show which these possibilities are and how they can be use in distance learning environments.


Most relevant topic: Applications. Technology for human training and learning (number 4.4).



1.- Distance Learning by means of Telematics.


In conventional distance education systems, trainees are allowed to study everywhere, at any time and at their own pace. Thus, important economical advantages are achieved. Both for students or trainees and for the institution which takes the charge of carrying through the learning process. Since there is no need for travelling, trainees and tutors have not to waste their time and money. On the other hand, from the point of view of the institutions, neither equipment nor lecture rooms have to be prepared.

Distance learning by means of Telematics adds new advantages, like the use of multimedia material to improve the interaction level, or communication channels. Nowadays, the paramount telematic network is, beyond all doubt, the Internet. It is easy to use, it is cheap and it can be accessed from the trainees? homes. Therefore, we should focus our attention in Internet-based learning environments.

Internet and WWW-based educational environments have proliferated over the last several years with a high level of acceptance from everyone. Internet-based education offers remote access from everywhere and at any time. Moreover, it broadens the Computer Aided Training capabilities in standalone systems. Because every lecturer can place educational material on Internet, every student or trainee in the world, not only those close to that lecturer, is able to access to that information. As a result, anybody with an Internet connection could take advantage from the knowledge of the best experts in every subject. Furthermore, the use of multimedia and simulations, not available in traditional lectures, improves the interaction and therefore the learning quality is increased.

However, we have not yet won the game. We must take into account the point of view of the main character of the movie: the learner. In conventional environments, they are used to asking to their teachers, to discussing with their partners, to having their exercises or training practices checked, etc...



2.- How can we provide the same feelings?


In Internet-based educational systems, there are many approaches to provide cooperative environments. All of these have the same objective: to provide a virtual lecture room. In this way, students or trainees would feel as is they were in the classroom itself. In this section we will show different tools that are being used in one of our teleteaching systems: the SimulNet telelaboratories platform[1] . These tools, whose functionalism is outlined here, have been developed using Java[2] solely, the technology that best suits for our purposes. In this section we will show how they would improve the learning quality in such environments, as it is shorten below.

Three different off-line tools can be used by trainees and tutors. The first one is an electronic mail between students and teachers. Many trainees are more likely to ask to their teachers in this way than in traditional lecture rooms[3]. The next one is a notebooks facility for the tutors of the system where they can share information about their students: comments, grades, etc... And the last one is a students' notice board whose main idea is from the Internet News. It is like a bulletin board where every one can record his opinion on, besides, students can post a private note which cannot be read by other people. Every page in a course could have its own page in the notice board.

So far, we have the first step to make trainees feel as if they were in a real lecture room, but we need a lot more. Carrying this one step further, we also provide on-line tools:



In our final version we will detail the operation of the presented communication tools and how they can be used in a right way to provide a virtual lecture room feeling.


Figure 1: Virtual Communication


3.- Java has changed the Internet look.


Java, by Sun Microsystems, was originally called Oak, and designed for the use in embedded consumer-electronic applications by Mr. James Gosling. After several years of experience with

the language, it was retargeted to the Internet and renamed Java. Java is a general-purpose concurrent class-based object-oriented programming language, specifically designed to have as few implementation dependencies as possible. Java allows application developers to write a program once and then be able to run everywhere on the Internet. Its success has surpassed the most optimistic expectations. Recently, in the International Internet Associate Symposium hold in Berlin in november 1997, Mr. Ed Zander, Sun Microsystems CEO, stated that, since Java showed up in the Internet, more than one book about Java was published per day and the most important computer companies in the world have licensed Java.

Java can provide a new look to the Internet pages but also new functional characters to those Internet-based educational environments. In fact, in the last Internet Symposium in Berlin, we could attend the conferences "The Road to Java in Education" where we felt that the communication tools we have presented before, can be easily integrated in any other teleeducation system. Thanks to the basis of the Java computing with multithreaded server applications combined with applets we provide virtual communication rooms by means of a transparent set of pairs of TCP/IP communication channels. In the final version we will include a brief description of the distributed architecture to implement the presented functionality.



4.- References


[1] LLAMAS, M., ANIDO, L. AND FERNÁNDEZ, M.J., SimulNet: Virtual tele-laboratories over the Internet, Proceedings of the 1997 IFIP TC3/WG3.3&3.6 Joint Working Conference, Madrid, Spain, 27-29 November 1997.


[2] GOSLING, J., JOY, B. AND STEELE, G. The Java Language Specification. Addison-Wesley ISBN 0-201-63451-1


[3] HILTZ, S.R. The virtual Classroom: Learning Without Limits via Computer Networks. Norwood, N.J. Ablex 1994.