Telecommuting Arrives in the Classroom

Curt Hill

Paul Juell

Assistant Professor

Professor

Department of Mathamatics & Computer Science

Department of Computer Science

Valley City State University

North Dakota State University

Valley City, ND

Fargo, ND

Curt_Hill@mail.vcsu.nodak.edu

juell@plains.nodak.edu

(701) 845-7103

(701) 231-8196

Abstract

The communications and computer advances in the past two decades have created a new work arrangement for many employees, with gains for both the employees and employers. These gains have not always translated into the educational arena.

Interactive Video Networks are extremely attractive means for reaching students at a distance, but have some major disadvantages. Suitable rooms are expensive, few in number and there is substantial demand for the rooms that exist on any campus. It is impractical to reach very small groups of students or to reach students that are not geographically near such rooms.

The maturation of the Internet in terms of access and capacity have opened new markets for the delivery of education at a distance. The use of the WWW to deliver instructional web pages including video and audio is increasing. Programs like Microsoft's Netmeeting have demonstrated the feasibility of video conferencing of small groups over a LAN. The delivery of live video and audio over the Internet greatly increases the options of educator to reach students at a distance in a way not feasible for interactive video networks.

In the spring semester of 1999 a distance learning experiment was performed, which involved the delivery of a graduate level class using a variety of multimedia internet techniques. Instead of a room with tens of thousands of dollars of video and communications equipment, a regular classroom was put onto the Internet with a roll cart containing a video camera, video cassette recorder, personal computer with free software and an ethernet link. The remote student was able to take the class with video and audio on another computer some 60 miles away. The MBone video and audio were the novel features of the system, but web based presentations were very important. Email, chat rooms, interactive white boards and even telephone calls were also used.

The authors believe that this can be a practical means of course delivery in the very near future. Should this be the case any class, not just those which are scheduled in an Interactive Video Network room, could be taken by any student with fast internet access. Neither the boundaries of college campuses nor the boundaries of a state would be a limiting factor in the delivery of course content.

Keywords: Teleworking, telecommuting, MBone, internet video conferencing,