2000 Conference Proceedings

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Web-Based Real-time Distance Learning: A Hands-on Experience

Russell Thomas Cross
Prentke Romich Company
1022 Heyl Road, Wooster OH 44691
rtc@prentrom.com

Training On The Web

For over a year, the Prentke Romich Company has been developing web-based training for people working in the field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Cross (1999) outlined how the company was developing training via a Learning Server. Initially, the aim was to develop a number of synchronous courses that individuals could take part in provided they had an Web-browser and a separate phone line for voice.

Such synchronous courses take place in real-time, thus allowing individuals to interact spontaneously and to ask and answer questions immediately. The computer acts as a mediation tool, operating as a shared whiteboard, but also allowing for course materials to be uploaded and downloaded. There is also the facility to have private text chat and point students remotely to other web sites.

The present format is to develop a Course that is made up of separate Classes and each Class lasts no more than 2 hours. As an example, the course entitled Introduction to Liberator, aimed at teaching people how to configure a particular communication aid, consists of three 2-hour classes that can be separated over time. Being separated also allows for homework and discussion to take place between the sessions.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Courses

On-line training can be done either in real-time, called synchronous, or not, called asynchronous. Any training course can be seen as having any of three objectives; to teach knowledge, skills or attitudes. Asynchronous training can be used effectively to teach knowledge. For example, a web page that lists the names of all the US States and their capitals is knowledge. Attitudes are better addressed by a synchronous approach because changes in attitude can only come about by interaction and discussion. Skills can be taught in both ways.

A comprehensive on-line training facility should offer as many methodologies as possible, allowing for a wide range of access options to suit the facilities students have. For example, a student who has a browser that is not Java-enabled could not take part in one of the PRC synchronous trainings. However, the same student could take an asynchronous course that doesn't make use of Java-scripting.

Learning To Use The Tools

As a hands-on session, the main aim of the presentation is to give the students experience of on-line training. This will take the form of interacting with a distant trainer and each other, via the Internet. Apart from basic keyboard and mouse use, no special skills are needed to take part. A number of techniques and experiences will be used:

  1. Coming to Class: Students will learn how to come to class by logging on to the Learning Server. Once there, they enter their names and enter the classroom.
  2. Getting Comfortable by 'Floating': Students learn a two-click technique that allows them to use their entire monitor as the classroom. They will then have maximum access to the class whiteboard, tools, and chat room.
  3. Using Tools: Students will learn how to write and draw interactively, allowing them to change and record items on the screen.
  4. Time For A Chat: A single-click opens up the Chat Room. Here, students can use plain text to communicate - a skill that can be used in trainings that don't require a voice line.
  5. Pop Quiz: Another technique is to respond to on-screen pop-up questions. This allows trainers to test students or to poll for comments.
  6. Sit Back And Watch The Show: Another facility open to the trainer is to be able to guide the students around the World Wide Web by taking control of the browser. The students can simply watch as they are taken to target web sites.
  7. Check Out Other Classes: Students will learn how to browse through the list of courses and classes currently available.
Next Steps

As well as having access to Real-time courses, there are others available that can be done at any time, giving students the opportunity to manage their time better. During the workshop, there will be the opportunity to see some of these and experience the way in which they work. Many distance learning packages use such asynchronous materials successfully, along with correspondence by e-mail to provide some level of interaction and the PRC Learning Server also offers such these.

Summary

The workshop is designed to provide a hands-on experience of real-time Internet training for those people who have never had the opportunity to work in this medium. By the end of the session, participants should have the necessary skills to take part in a scheduled class and have an appreciation for the possibilities of addressing some of their training needs via the World Wide Web.

References

Cross, R.T. (1999). Developing Web-Based Distance-Learning Courses For The AAC Community: A First Step. In Proceedings of the 1998 CSUN Conference on Technology for People with Disabilities. Available on-line


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