C-space ñ The Vital Frontier:

Virtual Enterprises for Education.

Dr. Frank C. T. Voon


A new dimension for global human intellectual activity has been created especially in this last decade of the 20th century. It has resulted from rapid advances in Information Technology (IT) and the recent convergence of this field with those of telecommunications and digital media.

These changes have resulted in the paradoxical "twin cities" of a global village in our physical world that operationally and functionally is dependent on a virtual realm known as Cyberspace or C-space.

While the real world is shrinking in terms of distance and time that has traditionally separated different nations and societies in different parts of the world, the digital realm is increasing rapidly in terms of size, usage, content and interconnectivity.

International business, as well as commercial and entertainment organizations have begun to establish and consolidate their presence in this virtual universe. Educators too need to consider the colonization of a portion of this digital realm for education - islands of learning to which students of all ages can visit, to learn from, and to understand with greater insight, the workings of our natural world on spaceship Earth.


Cyberspace is the information infrastructure that is rapidly being established technologically and globally as governments and companies race to become providers of information and services on the information superhighway.

To understand this ever-growing which will impact almost all aspects of our daily lives, it is useful to develop a concrete and tangible understanding of this essentially virtual phenomenon. One way to do this is to reflect on Cyberspace as C-space, both in terms of what is sounds like, namely sea-space or as a sea-scape, as well as in terms of a number of phrases that begin with the letter C, such as Crisis, Change and Continuity.

Rapid advances in the field of computers and information technology in the last three decades have resulted in providing a common basis for the convergence of this field with those of Telecommunication and Commerce. From the viewpoint of educators, there is a similar convergence of the first two with that of Content, including multimedia entertainment and educational publishing.

Given its increasingly pervasive role in our daily on-going 24-hour global transactions, C-space clearly is the Vital Frontier for exploration by multinational organizations, governments, public and private enterprises, and intrepid individuals of all ages. For educators, the present is a crucial time for them to come to grips with the workings and nature of this intangible universe of information transactions.

All the more because of its ephemeral nature, it is critically essential for them to establish Virtual Enterprises for Education that will impact learners of all ages so that these individuals will have a place of reference for knowledge and wisdom in the shelf-space of the human mind and memory.

Certainly there are many factors to be considered with the convergence of three major fields. This discourse will revolve around three of the most important themes with the central focus on education. These are the themes of change, communication and commitment.


As we move into the 21st century, we are encountering global changes in the way we work, play, live and learn, and teach and think, that are a reflection of the Information Age that we have entered. These changes are increasing, and they are profoundly affecting the way business and commerce are being carried out throughout the world. These changes will spread to involve education at all levels from pre-kindergarten, through K-12 and tertiary education, to career-related and corporate-organized learning.

In effect, life-long learning will become more and more established and be here to stay as long as changes in technology affect society so rapidly. A useful principle here is that we are entering a dimension where change is a constant, and the only constant is change.


The second theme involves that of Communication. This refers to two aspects of communication, one technological and adoptive in nature, and the other social and adaptive in nature. Both have been referred to by their respective proponents with the same term, 'Networking".

The first aspect is seen in such rapidly growing fields as telecommunications, satellite broadcasting, cable television, cellular phones, faxes and mobile computing, and video-on-demand.

The second has arisen partly because of the groundwork laid by the developments of the former and is hence still in the relatively early stages of growth, as evidenced by the growing trends of telecommuting, videoconferencing and the use of groupware.


The third theme is one of Commitment, with respect to determining how one goes about becoming personally involved with the transitional changes from an Industrial to an Information Society. Given that the changes may be in numerous directions with different outcomes, a working principle could be that one of the best ways to predict the future is to invent it.

The world of C-space has certain special infrastructural features that affect the way it is being developed and constructed, and with time, its growth and maintenance. These can then be summarised conveniently as tenets in order to give a measure of predictability to its functionality.

Internet Tenet #1

The digital realm of cyberspace has physical, functional and virtual dimensions of reality.

Physical Dimension

Its physical existence is very much a necessity for a world that bases its communications networks on the transmission of digital media where content in the initial analogue form is converted to digital binary digits, or bits.

These are the electronic equivalents or representations in terms of 0's and 1's. This provides an enormous capacity for transformation of different media modalities as voice, sound, text, graphics, animation, videos and films can all be represented as bits and bytes. The necessary Information Infrastructure (or Infostructure) has a physical and technological basis grounded in Sand.

Human society has evolved from its initial nomadic pattern of living, through agricultural and industrial forms, to its present state as an emerging Information Society. In a way, the Agricultural Era with its farming, hunting and food-gathering style of living reflected the Age of the Soil. The Industrial Period with its machinery and factories can likewise be considered as an Age of Steel (or Bronze or Iron).

The present Information Age can hence be seen as the Age of Sand (or Silicon). The electronic instruments that we use are based on Silicon while the fibre optics conduit between networked machines are made from glass which is derived from sand.

Virtual Dimension

The virtual dimension arises from the social connotations that frequent travelers on this communications highway establish, as forms of acceptable norms. The world wide web thus becomes highly segmented in places, as some of these travelers, or surfers of the net, construct their own codes of acceptable behaviour when communicating with one other.

These develop into social boundaries for a particular group, and is evident in what are known as 'newsgroups' on the web. This development can be seen in what is termed 'Netiquette' or social etiquette on the Internet, and the occasional reported cases of 'flaming' when a user or users cause some flagrant breach of the norms of a particular segment.

Functional Dimension

The functional dimension is related to the amount of electronic traffic or data exchanges that flow through this information highway, which leads us to the following understanding.

Internet Tenet #2

The size of the digital realm is inversely proportional to the size of the physical realm which it supports. As the physical world shrinks into a global village, the C-space grows ever larger and more complex. This is a technological functionality to compensate for the removal of the space-time barriers between users in different parts of the globe called Earth.

With the rapid changes in information technology and the concomitant convergence of computers with telecommunications and commerce, our world has been rapidly interlinked, and we consequently describe it as a global village.

The barriers of time and distance that separated nations and societies have shrunk. This decrease in the differences in time and distance between people in various parts of the globe can only exist because it is supported by this digital infrastructure in much the same way that the infrastructure for electrical cabling, air conduits and water piping within a building has to exist in order to support the human activity that occurs within it.

Internet Tenet #3

Increase in size of the digital realm occurs exponentially. The ease with which people can publish electronic material on the web, coupled with the increasing number of people obtaining access to sites on the web, will drive the creation and production of more and better digital content that is available to users of the information highway.

In the world of book publishing, the sequence begins initially with the author as supplier of material in the form of text, photographs and illustrations gathered and organized meaningfully as a prototype for a book. The next producer in this value chain is a publisher, who manufactures multiple copies of the finished book. These books are sent to book distributors, who pass on the products to numerous book retailers, who are then able to sell them in their book shops to their ultimate customers, the readers of the book in question.

This value chain is quite different in the world of C-space, where the authors and readers are the users of the information highway, and the sequence of manufacture-distribution-delivery is essentially a single IT process that is integral to the movement of electronic information in a network. The multimedia computer that a net surfer uses to travel through C-space has the capability not only to deliver but also to create multimedia content as well. Thus the net user can be both an author as well as a reader in this information intensive realm.

Internet Tenet #4

The digital nature of the contents allows for easy transformation from one medium to another, for example, from text to speech, and sound to vision. This has two implications, each with negative and positive connotations.

Implication 1 is that with transformation, the validity or truth or correlation with the original source of what is visualized or heard will be difficult to assess.

Implication 2 is that the ability for transformation will give rise to the possibility of new ways of understanding and new perspectives of "visualizing" data and information.

Implication 1 initially will give rise to more of a negative bias, as people begin to doubt what they see or hear or receive as information, perhaps from painful experience of accepting at face value in their usual manner that they are used to in everyday life, outside of the digital realm. Seeing is no longer believing, certainly not without a pause or time for second opinions.

Implication 2 has much more positive potential, in that different people may learn in the various modalities that they are most accustomed to, such as in a visual or auditory or kinesthetic mode. An example from the medical field involves the learning of the differences in heart sounds that can occur with different defects of the heart valves.

Furthermore, the combination of two or more modalities can be brought about to increase the rate of understanding, by providing multiple perspectives of a subject. Again, using the example of heart sounds, visualizing the sound waves of a heart murmur while simultaneously listening to the actual sounds, increase the rate of acquisition of the skill by this method of coordinated multiple sensory input.

Internet Tenet #5

New skills will have to be learnt and taught, in order to cope with the onslaught of available information. What is initially perceived to be information overload, with its accompanying side effect of information anxiety, will be superseded by ready acceptance of this state of overload as being a natural state of dealing with information in the digital realm.

The anxiety will be removed not only by new ways of coping with the organization of information, but also by a new perspective of information as an essential characteristic of an information age. This will occur as people begin to immerse themselves in the new work processes vital for an information economy.

Internet Tenet #6

New paradigms will have to be sought and created, to provide human beings with a solid grasp of what is essentially a virtual world that exists in the "shelf-space" of the human mind and memory.

These new ways of putting into tangible form, an understanding of a virtual world that is ephemeral in terms of location, time and organizational structure are essential for anyone who has to work on a daily basis through this infrastructure.

Essentially, one person's mental and psychological framework or view of this realm will substantially differ from another person's construct or organizational structure of acquired knowledge.

Learning in a networked World

With rapid dissemination of information, a common global world view for framing this digital realm, will be shared by more and more people, who will then begin to have a similar shared understanding of cyberspace. This can be brought about by commonality in digital interface design, and by processes of commercial digital interactions.

For knowledge to be deeply ingrained, most people require a spiral process of learning, which involves repetition in parts, review in general and a pacing of information acquisition, which differs from person to person.

The teacher and the learner should each be able to alter and to adapt any program to their own requirements. New ways of assessment and curricula will then be required for this new educational generation that will be so comfortable with travel through c-space.

One needs to consider the practical constraints in developing and designing innovative and effective new material for teaching and learning, as our students move towards working and living in an information society.

Pedagogical Integration

The pedagogical or conceptual level involves the integration of the various disciplines and topics that combine within a field, to produce a meaningful holistic understandable view of the subject matter.

This integration can range from an intrasubject perspective, to that of an interdisciplinary study. Thus, in the study of the liver, one can not only look at its structure (anatomy) but also correlate that with its function (physiology), its development (embryology), its ultrastructure (histology) and at the intracellular level, the interactions within the cell (biochemistry and molecular biology).

We can study it at the macro level through clinical studies of liver function, diagnostic instrumentation, surgical techniques in the treatment of congenital abnormalities, and even in the field of public health education, with the statistics of liver disease and associated risk factors.

The subject matter being covered, can encompass the range from the basic sciences to the clinical disciplines, and can be linked in a hypertext way to deal with topics in Gross Anatomy and Applied Anatomy to Surgery and Orthopaedics.

The user may encounter material in Embryology that can be just as useful in the other disciplines of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the hypertext links created in such a courseware, can be designed to allow the user the freedom to jump to those topics for further information and applications, such as simulations and practicals.

The Knowledge Hierarchy

In considering the learning process from an IT point of view, knowledge has to be built up from bits of information at the level of details, to the conceptual level for understanding and long-term memory to result.

In this process, the bottom line is whether the important basic concepts, and not just details, have been communicated in the teaching-learning activity.

With regard to this, visualization plays a very vital role in establishing the relationships and linkages between facts that underpin the concepts. For visually-oriented students, understanding a topic in two-dimensional and three-dimensional terms is key to their mastery of the subject.

Another important factor is the capability to incorporate multidimensional levels of learning into the courseware to allow the freedom for students to take individual learning paths. The user can traverse a learning module through different routes. Hence, a presentation that is designed for orthopaedic surgeons will allow for medical students to take their own pathways of learning through a corresponding module.

Principles of interaction

There are a number of principles of interaction that are applicable to learning of this nature with digital multimedia, such as Discovery Learning, Individual Pacing, Annotation, Repetition, Intuitivity, Levels of Knowledge, Flexibility of Use and Multimodal Presentation.

Discovery learning

One of the main aims of the research projects was to provide interactive learning environments for the individual users to explore a subject to the breadth and depth that they were capable or in need of, and in the process to acquire or arrive at an understanding of the concepts of the subject matter.

Individualized Pacing

People have varying rates of learning, and the same student goes through different sections of a topic at differing rates. Hence, the provision of an environment where the rate of learning is user-paced is another method of learning enhancement.

Personalized Annotation

A student will annotate at various points in a book as an adjunct to internalizing the material. Computer peripherals, such as printers, can be included in the computer network to facilitate the printing of selected portions of a program.

Print outs also have the advantage that the user receives the needed information in a tangible form, which can be referred to at anytime, away from the computerized learning environment. This extends the period of integrating new ideas quite considerably.

Alternatively, the educational courseware can allow the individual user to customize the learning program. In these instances, users can annotate on the screen, what they would have written in a textbook. This allows them to start the courseware at the point where they stopped in the previous session.

Learning Loops

The review of the various parts of a program are within the control of the user, and a section may be repeated as often as necessary for a complete understanding of the topic. This is of special significance in a learning module where sound plays a critical role, as with language and pronunciation.

In medical education, the identification of the various heart sounds (for both normal and abnormal heart sounds) heard over the different regions of the heart, can be greatly enhanced by courseware that allows one to click at selected areas on a diagram of the heart. The heart sounds usually heard at that region can then be played repeatedly until the user learns to identify them.

Intuitive Navigation

The user interface design of courseware is an important element in the ease of use of the learning programs. They can now be adapted to incorporate intuitive features, which make the transition to learning on a computer less rigid and artificial.

Hence, the screen can have the picture of a book in the background so that one appears to be reading a book, instead of staring at a screen. Searching the database would appear like turning pages of text.

Diagrams can have clean uncluttered appearances, with pointers and key indices appearing on-screen, only when the appropriate regions of the diagrams are clicked on. Viewing an organ of the human body can be done by clicking on the appropriate region of the atlas, instead of having to search through an indexed list of words.

Modular Levels of Knowledge

The courseware is modular, with multiple levels of difficulty or specialized knowledge. Passwords may be incorporated, so that users are guided within a defined corridor or pathway of learning.

Alternatively, it may be designed to be entirely free-form, or with artificial intelligence techniques and heuristics to guide the user intelligently through the program. Here, questions may be set selectively at various portions of the program, to gauge the understanding of the user . One can then cover the entire depth and breadth of the available material, if one's responses are appropriate.

Flexible Accessibility

There should be multiple points of entry into (and exit from) a learning module. The teacher and the learner should be able to alter and adapt a program, according to their own needs. New ways of assessment and curricula will then be required for this new educational generation.

Linkage formation

The recall of knowledge and memorized information depends in part on the extent of linkages formed between related topics. The process of linkage formation can be likened to that of learning to tie a knot.

In doing so, one must deal with three-dimensional relationships in terms of which end of the rope goes in front, and four-dimensional relationships with reference to what has be done first before something else.

Finally, testing to determine if a knot slips or whether it holds has an equivalence with checking the validity of relationships between ideas, facts, concepts and constructs.

Multimodal presentation

The presentation of the material to be learnt can be adapted for different types of learners in terms of their previous exposure to the courseware.

Thus, a first-time user may well prefer to use a presentation in the guided tour mode. More experienced users, on returning to review the material, may have a preference for browsing, fact collection, experimentation and simulation, or simply archiving.

There has to be allowance for different modes of output that produce a variety of multimedia formats for removable content whether as printouts of text or as videotapes and audio cassettes.

Learning in a Digital Realm

There are implications for use of the understanding of these features of the virtual world of C-space, that can be appropriately used to improve, the quality of life and of education in the real world.

New skills will have to be acquired and mastered to provide for an innate facility to move swiftly and meaningfully, through this information universe. The following is a suggested listing.

ï Authoring, and the creation of interactive multimedia courseware.

ï Basic IT skills, with widely available programs such as those that involve word processing, spreadsheets, drawing and imaging.

ï Communicativity, in terms of the special ability to communicate with others, whether in real time or in time-shift mode, which overcome the barrier of distances.

ï Desktop publishing, desktop videoconferencing and desktop videoproduction.

ï Electronic Worknetting, involving the collaboration of a team of people, working on a common project, with updates in real time that are being made feasible by groupware.

Thuse have reference to three major concepts or facets of C-space, namely those of Virtuality, Connectedness and Time.


Newer forms of visualization, construct formation and rapid learning can be created, that will fit in with and enhance, present day modes of teaching and learning.


In this last quarter of the twentieth century, the different nations and societies of the world have been brought closer together by electronically-based information links, such as those by the entertainment and public media establishments. This is reflected in the ever increasing numbers of people simultaneously being able to observe on television world events in real time, like Operation Desert Storm, the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

Witness too the increasing popularity of superstars in the world of basketball, soccer, tennis and golf, along with the ready recognition and acceptability of the products of the accompanying corporate sponsors, whether it be soft drinks or athletic footwear, by people in all the major land masses of the earth.


The digitalization of data has expanded the capability of human societies to not only collect and store information, but also to control the dissemination, distribution and delivery of that information, as knowledge with varying degrees of resemblance to the actual events captured in the data. One significant example is the ability to time-shift.

A simple everyday example occurring with greater frequency is the use of the VCR (videocassette recorder) to free viewers from having to adapt their daily life schedules caused by the programming idiosyncrasies of television stations.

Not only can they view the recorded telecasts at times of their own choosing, but many also save time by fast-forwarding through the commercial breaks. The introduction of video-on-demand in future societies, will provide a greater segment of the population with this ability to time-shift to suit their own activities, with potentially positive as well negative effects, on social interaction.

Life-long Learning

The art of learning, like every art, necessitates the presence of a teacher who can be a facilitator, like a guide on the side, to make it easier for one to acquire either knowledge, skills or changes in attitude, which by one's own resources or without help, one may fail to achieve successfully, either because of lack of know-how, discouragement or unavailability of training and resources for practice.

The knowledge should just not be data or information. The skills have to be integrated with one's existing practiced or polished set of skills. The improvement in attitude should be a steadfast one and should form a psychological bedrock, and not just be an assortment of mental models.

Simplicity is the essence. The paths to learning should be simple, especially amidst the clutter, chaos and confusion that can result from information overload and information anxiety. The same learning can encourage the proficient as well as launch the beginner. There is a simplicity to be found in the unity of learners of all ages using the common path in the learning journey.

Learning, like life itself, with its various facets of work, relationships, accidents and planned events, should reveal the wonder of the Transcendent Intelligence in the processes existing throughout the world and the universe.

The teacher's main task is to get out of the way and to reveal the beauty of this infinite intelligence underlying our daily life and evolutionary existence on this planet.

Dr. Frank C. T. Voon

Faculty of Medicine,

National University of Singapore,

Kent Ridge,

Singapore 119260.

tel: (65) 7722 066

(65) 7723 208

fax: (65) 778 7643

email: vcofvoon@nus.sg