The Virtual Class system is a new flexible learning and teaching environment with comprehensive resource materials specifically designed for the World-Wide Web based on interactive multimedia, computer assisted learning, and internet technologies. It aims to improve the quality of teaching and learning and to improve the access to higher education for students on-campus, off-campus and off-shore. Three main functions of a virtual class are interactive two-way delivery services, on-line/off-line Web-based CAL modules, and computer-mediated interaction facilities for students and teachers.
A customised higher-level
authoring system is introduced to help produce Web-based learning
and teaching documents for students and Web-based management documents
for teachers. Six basic subsystems have been identified: the CAL
modules, the logical content map, the submission subsystem, the
interaction subsystem, the printing subsystem, and the external
virtual class, world wide
web, computer-based teaching and learning, flexible delivery,
The acceptance of the internet and the convergence of telecommunication
systems with information technology herald the beginning of a
new era in education systems where boundaries between universities
and campuses are no longer relevant. This presents an urgent challenge
to every university to be globally competitive in respect of their
quality of the teaching and learning environments.
Political and Social Trends
of public funding for higher education systems and an increasing
dependence on private funding sources and tuition fees have placed
more pressure on universities to attract students from global
ëmarketsí, to deliver better quality education in
a cost effective manner, and at the same time cater for the increasing
demands of students and industry, such as equity, accessibility,
and flexibility in time and place of learning
Educational Trends Emerging
technologies on the internet present a timely opportunity to improve
the quality of teaching and learning environments, and to improve
accessibility to university programs. This is especially true
for traditional on-campus universities with little or no options
of flexible learning. Traditional modes of teaching are not flexible
enough and are often not the most effective methods of teaching
As part of its strategic planning initiatives, the Department of Applied Computing & Mathematics is developing an innovative teaching and learning system (Virtual Class) for its computing units. The Virtual Class is designed to provide a cost-effective quality learning environment for off-campus/off-shore students as well as to complement on-campus teaching.
The Virtual Class uses emerging
technologies available on the internet combined with existing
technologies, to address some of the challenges and problems facing
the higher education system, such as in equity, quality, accessibility,
flexibility, and costs. Interactive multimedia, Computer Assisted
Learning (CAL), and internet technologies are used to create a
flexible learning system which will improve studentsí learning
experiences in ways which are not possible by more conventional
2 Virtual Classes
A virtual class is a tutorial-based flexible learning & teaching system with comprehensive resource materials specifically designed for the World-Wide Web (WWW). It provides:
ï on-line Web services for delivery of tutorials, assignments, and teaching and learning materials;
ï off-line Web-based interactive multimedia CAL modules to facilitate active learning;
ï tutorial and discussion sessions held face-to-face, using on-line services, and computer-based video and audio facilities;
ï computer-mediated interaction facilities for students and teachers; and
ï printed materials.
This change of the teaching and learning pattern from passive didactic teaching to active learning with appropriate feedback will help students develop problem solving skills and improve their understanding of subject matter. This will lead us back to a 19th century Oxford/Cambridge style tutorial-based active learning system.
If it is to be effective,
however, the WWW has to be further developed and customised as
an effective interactive learning and teaching environment. The
new tools and methodologies will enhance the functionality of
the WWW in the following areas.
2.1 Improved Uploading Capabilities
The WWW was designed for effective dissemination and delivery (downloading) of all kinds of information to the vast array of heterogeneous computing systems connected to the internet. At present, passing information back to a server (uploading) is rather limited. For example, delivering assignments or information to students in various computing systems is simple and efficient, but submitting assignments or information from various computing systems to a server (a teacher) is quite complex and difficult to accomplish. A simple HTTP file upload facility has been introduced as a FORM input type in Netscape Navigator 3.
As an interactive learning
and teaching environment, there is a need to develop integrated
facilities for submitting documents (from students to teacher)
as well as integrated facilities for returning documents (from
teacher to students) in the virtual class system.
2.2 Improved Facilities for Interaction
interaction technologies are emerging on the internet. The effective
integration of these asynchronous and synchronous facilities between
students and teachers is crucial in order for the WWW to be fully
accepted as a quality learning environment, rather than a simple
delivery system. These technologies include email, bulletin boards,
interactive whiteboards, talk and chat, audio/video conferencing
and shared windows.
2.3 Improved Authoring Capabilities
To benefit directly from the
power of the WWW, interactive multimedia CAL modules of Virtual
Classes are developed as Web-based products. However, given that
the current authoring capability of the Web is somewhat limited,
comprehensive integrated authoring tools for the virtual class
system which extend the current capabilities must be developed.
Once this has been done, Web-based multimedia CAL modules will
provide an active learning environment off-line or on-line.
2.4 Improved Printing Capabilities
Hyperlinks provide the means
to connect documents according to their logical sequences. To
complement information available on-line, there is still a need
for an effective printing facility, following its logical hyperlinks
in a document.
The Project team is developing
new tools for the WWW and methodologies for the development of
Web-based resource materials in order to fully utilise the WWW
as an effective information delivery system and to establish the
WWW as an interactive and effective learning environment.
3 Framework for Implementing
All activities of a virtual
class are carried out through studentís and teacherís
Web documents. A virtual class has six subsystems: the CAL modules,
the logical content map, the submission subsystem, the interaction
subsystem, the printing subsystem, and the external applications
An interactive content builder
(a customised high-level authoring system) is being designed to
help produce Web-based learning and teaching documents for students
and Web-based management documents for teachers.
3.1 The Logical Content Map
The Virtual Class System helps
a content expert create a logical map of content (which is a collection
of interactive multimedia CAL documents) for a virtual class and
allows the expert to combine the various Web documents. The logical
content map specifies the logical relationship among learning
materials and it directs how Web documents are presented to students
on-line. Furthermore, the content expert can modify the content
and re-arrange the logical ordering of content by changing the
logical content map.
3.2 The Print Subsystem
This print subsystem of virtual
classes allows students to print the whole or a part of the resource
materials based on the logical content map, in addition to the
standard print facility provided by a Web browser. This differs
from the H2FDoc system (Yang et al. 1996) which can automatically
print a document by following its physical hyperlinks, rather
than a logical content map which is used for the printing in a
3.3 The Submission Subsystem
The submission subsystem of
virtual classes allows students to submit all kinds of information,
from simple forms to various kind of files. It collects and maintains
all submissions, transmits submissions to teachers on request,
maintains an up-to-date status of submitted materials for students
and teachers, collects and maintains all returned submissions,
transmits returned submissions to students on request, and maintains
the integrity and security of the subsystem
3.4 The Interaction Subsystem
This interaction subsystem of virtual classes provides various kinds of (synchronous and asynchronous) computer-mediated interactions for students and teachers. These include asynchronous interactions (such as email, bulletin boards, and listserve facilities) as well as synchronous interactions (such as text-based chat and talk, shared windows, interactive whiteboards, audio and video conferencing facilities).
The email facility is integrated
with the studentís Web documents, while an email management
system is integrated for the teacherís Web documents (in
a manner similar to the submission subsystem).
An electronic appointment
system within the interaction subsystem allows the students and
teachers to make arrangements for face-to-face and computer-mediated
3.5 The External Applications
The external applications
subsystem allows subject-specific client-side applications to
be ëplugged iní to the studentís Web documents.
For example, the external applications subsystem could allow a
C++ system to be activated from a studentís Web document.
The submission subsystem will
allow some indirect access to the server-side applications for
students through a submit-return protocol. Furthermore, a subject
management system will be included in the lecturerís Web
4 Issues for Flexible Learning
The Virtual Class is leading towards a convergence of on-campus and off-campus education by removing the known deficiencies in current learning systems by
ï introducing effective interactivity to the traditional distance education system;
ï complementing the remote-classes of open learning with the added flexibility in time and place of learning; and
ï complementing on-campus
learning with the provision of quality resource materials and
flexibility in time and place of learning.
Sir John Daniel, the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University, UK identified some key principles that underpin the field of distance education and open learning (Daniel 1996).
However, before being accepted
fully as a credible alternative, flexible learning and teaching
systems must address many associated issues and their implications
to students, academics, institutions, and society.
ï Change of teaching and learning pattern from passive teacher-centred to active learner-centred, and from lecture-based to tutorial-based learning
ï Change in the roles of academics from teachers to facilitators
ï Resistance to adoption of flexible learning systems, especially in traditional universities compared to newer universities, and resistance to the materials developed elsewhere
ï Quality assurance process for flexible learning systems
ï Recognition and rewards for academics and technologists at departmental and institutional levels
ï Commitment and collaboration of experts and collaboration between departments and institutions
ï Costs associated with
the production, delivery, maintenance, student support system,
and management of flexible learning systems.
The Commissioned Report No.
33 of the National Board of Employment, Education and Training
(1994) identified and analysed some of the key issues associated
with developing and implementing resource-based learning on- and
off-campus, in an Australian context, and Bates (1995) provided
a methodology for costing educational technologies.
Virtual classes are not suitable
for all subject areas of higher education, but many areas will
benefit from the use of some or all of the components in the virtual
class. A virtual class is a convergence of the three traditional
modes of learning (Distance education, Open learning, and On-campus
learning) by World-Wide Web technology.
Can we afford to develop such
a system within Australian universities? The question should
be, can we afford not to?
In the new globally competitive
world of education, Australian universities should be prepared
to deliver some of their own high-quality programs elsewhere in
the world in a cost-effective manner. With reduced funding, it
is a difficult challenge, yet it presents an opportunity for the
future. If the challenge is not met, some Australian universities
could become campuses of overseas international universities.
Prototypes of the Virtual
Class system are being constructed. It is expected that by 1997,
two computing core units will be fully implemented as virtual
classes. This is the pilot stage in a long term plan to convert
our bachelorís program into Virtual Classes for both on-campus
and off-campus/off-shore students.
Bates, A.W. (1995) Technology,
Open Learning and Distance Education, Routledge, New York.
Daniel, J. (1996) New kids
on the box: Distance education enters its third generation,
Keynote speech, 3rd Interactive Multimedia Symposium, Perth.
National Board of Employment,
Education and Training (1994) Costs and Quality in Resource-Based
Learning On- and Off-Campus, The Commissioned Report No. 33,
Yang, J., et al. (1996) ëFrom
Hypertext to Flat Text: A Tool for Document Constructioní,
Proceedings of AusWeb 96, Southern Cross University Press,
Lismore, pp. 67-72.
Young J Choi and Soon-ja Yeom ©, 1996. The authors assign to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 96 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.