6. Global Lecture Hall (GLH)(TM) of July 7, 1994: A View from Italy by Dr. M. De Nari, Department of Information Sciences, University of Milan (Transl. from Italian by your editor. Traduttore -- tradittore?) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ On July 7th, in the context of their project to develop an electronic Global University accessible from any location on earth, the GLObal Systems Analysis and Simulation Association (GLOSAS) organized a global videoconference. Although transmitted over the Internet and via satellite, the active or passive participation in the event by thinkers dispersed around the world, many from their own offices, justifies the name -- "Global Lecture Hall". The subject of discussion was an evaluation and comparison of existing technologies for distance education. In particular, the videoconference was conducted against the background of the First Distance Education Conference in Russia, held in Moscow from 5-8 July, whose theme was "Learning at a Distance and New Educational Technologies". Managing the audio and video signals from a computer situated at the Conference Centre of the University of Tennessee, retransmitted by means of satellite to the Convention Centre of the Russian Academy - the location of the Moscow conference -- GLOSAS had a great opportunity to test the alternatives for enlarging the scope of its Global (electronic) University in countries of Asia and the Third World. The idea of the Global (electronic) University was born precisely in order to reach these areas and meet the instructional needs of their many potential students who do not have the means to relocate to places of higher learning in developed world and follow specialized, more technologically advanced, courses. Anyone who has access to relatively low cost equipment can participate in a GLH conference, the equipment being a small dish antenna, a receiver and a monitor for satellite signal reception or a computer with direct access to the Internet. In the case of Internet reception, it was also necessary to have the appropriate videoconferencing software chosen by the organizers, namely, CU-SeeMe (video), MAVEN (audio), MBONE (audio and video) and ShowMe (audio and video). Please note that the first three are distributed freely via the Internet. In order to conduct a proper course, the students would also need to interact with their instructors. This can be done asynchronously, by means of fax, email and other communication tools, or synchronously via regular telephone channels or computer networks such as the Internet. During the GLH there were a number of participants located in various time zones who interacted during a number of demonstrations; for example, Dr. Utsumi (President of GU/USA and moderator of the GLH), Dr. Tikhonov in Moscow (President of the Association for International Education in Russia), and Mr. Power (Assistant for Education to the Director General of UNESCO, Paris). Moving on to the description of what could be seen during the videoconference, it could be said that the feasibility of distance learning was demonstrated by simulated instruction in a number of areas involving either "point-to-multipoint" or "multipoint-to-multipoint" type of interaction. The demonstrations benefitted from such Internet tools as "Friends and Partners", CU-SeeMe with the addition of MAVEN, MBONE and ShowMe. These permit the exchange of various types of information such as text, graphics, images, audio and video in an integrated manner by means of subdividing the monitor space into smaller frames. ShareView, on the other hand, used regular telephone lines and the INMARSAT satellite, but had also been tried without satellite in the GLOSAS project Multi-Media of America (MMOA). It too permits the transmission of text, graphics, drawings, video and audio by subdividing the monitor. It requires channel speeds of only 9.6 Kbps. We participated in the demo from the offices of the Department of Information Sciences at the State University of Milan. We received the audio and video via satellite, thanks to the help from TRAINET; and CUSeeMe, MAVEN and MBONE via the Internet. The satellite signal was excellent, apart from short and rare interference. Poor image quality during several demos was due to problems at the source and not to satellite transmission. In other words, what we saw on our satellite monitors was the signal we were also receiving via our computer, which was not always of best quality. The CU-SeeMe video signal was acceptable, but the MAVEN audio was decidedly not. However, one must take into account that only the address of a single transmitting site (at the University of Tennessee) had been made public and, subsequently, many receivers were linked to this single node. The problem could have been solved by installing a number of repeaters around the world and inviting the participants to connect with the nearest node. However, judging by the output received on our satellite video, the quality of the CU-SeeMe signal was very good for those transmitting near the coordination centre and poorer at the remote sites (e.g. in Australia). The experiment therefore confirms the feasibility of distance learning projects on national or continental scale at best. The MBONE output, on the other hand, was of definitely poor quality. In this case as well, the problem was either our distance from the source or the number of participants. In comparing the two, one must keep in mind that MBONE requires bandwidth of 200 Kbps, while 64 Kbps proved to be sufficient for CU-SeeMe. However, from previous tests with neighbouring European sites we can assert that the same considerations apply to both. Therefore, one can begin thinking of putting into practice real distance education courses via Internet across Europe. For those on the intercontinental and global level it will still be necessary to have faster channels or use satellites for audio and video while using the Internet for interaction between the participants. In any case, trails blazed by this GLH will be followed by many future developers of distance learning. Dr. Mariano De Nardi, denardi@mora.usr.dsi.unimi.it ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Return to GLOSAS News Contents for this issue. URL: http://library.fortlewis.edu/~instruct/glosas/nari43.htm December 1994