Mediterranean Project: Research and Training for Developing Countries
by Maria Claudia Buzzi and Paola Venerosi
The Italian National Research Council (CNR) is promoting an initiative aimed at supporting the transfer of technologies and cooperation between Mediterranean Countries, and encouraging socio-economic and cultural development in the Mediterranean area. This activity, known as the 'Progetto Mediterraneo: Ricerca e Formazione per i Paesi Terzi' (Mediterranean Project: Research and Training for Developing Countries), now covers 68 specific topics in different areas of Science and Technology.
The network of the Mediterranean Project is coordinated by two CNR institutes in Pisa: CNUCE and IEI. It was activated in September 1996 with two main purposes:
- to develop and experiment the use of a digital library dedicated to the diffusion of information on scientific and techno-logical themes of particular interest for countries in the Mediterranean region
- to support and experiment tools for Network-Based Training applications.
The first of these objectives has been pursued using the system of NCSTRL (Networked Computer Science Technical Reports Library), in order to create a repository containing the technical reports produced by the transnational networks belonging to the Project. NCSTRL employs two distinct technologies: Dienst, a Cornell University protocol and a server for Digital Library distributed over the Web, and WATERS, a system that connects distributed technical report databases via FTP. This has provided a vehicle for a rapid exchange of research results between partners and the adoption of a research product based on up-to-date and robust technology.
The second objective is being currently carried out through the analysis of tools supporting the development of distance learning applications on Internet/WWW and with the development of an experimental application. International competition forces organizations and companies to have highly skilled personnel at all levels of qualification, and training represents a particular challenge for the Mediterranean Countries. With the current rapid development of Internet technologies and their applications, Distance Education is becoming a promising way to promote collaboration between European Research Centres and Universities, in order to produce courseware fitting specific educational needs; to transfer advanced research results directly throughout high quality courseware; to access distributed material available on the Web and to involve Mediterranean users in an international educational network.
The goal of the IEI/CNUCE team in the Mediterranean Project is to create an integrated environment where training technologies and information transfer aspects can be considered in conjunction. The emerging field of media processing is bringing together communication technology and media technology, providing opportunities to explore new applications and ensure remote collaboration. Our target, with respect to both approaches, is also to explore, evaluate, integrate and exploit up-to-date techniques and tools to make them available to Mediterranean Countries. An integrated environment for Web-Based Training has thus been designed supporting on-line courseware access for geographically distributed user groups with different educational backgrounds.
The features required for the target application are: self instruction; interactive training; download capabilities; creation and use of distributed repositories for courseware and other didactic material such software and multimedia data.
Basic Web-Based Training resources considered are:
- the infrastructure for the use of Internet technologies such as network connections, student access to equipment and technical support personnel
- a development environment containing conversion tools, Java programming tools, scripting tools, HTML editors
- link validation tools and support tools
- a set of repositories linked to a Digital Library network containing the course material, the Network-Based Training archives, and the relative management software.
The working process is represented by the interoperability of five modules which can be combined in a common interface integrating the various features transparently. The modules consist of:
- archives of didactic material
- archives of Network-Based Training procedures and courses
- communication and cooperation unit
- administrative unit
- client set-up procedure.
The communication and cooperation unit is the most critical in that it manages the interaction between teachers and students. Interaction can be provided by asynchronous tools (e-mail, newsgroups, etc.), requiring low bandwidth, and/or by more sophisticated synchronous systems such as Computer Mediated Communi-cation (CMC) technology for electronic conferencing. In the case of interactive training using high-cost technology, which enables more advanced features, the required functionality of the units becomes more complex (for example, the practical part of the unit that manages the archives of the didactic material would need interactive exercises or video conferencing to permit the teachers to evaluate the students).
Some of the issues studied in the setting up of the Digital Library of the Mediterranean Project will be treated in more depth in the context of a recent agreement for collaboration between GMD-CNR. An INCO-DC project proposal on the topic of technological development of Web-Based Training has also been submitted on the basis of the experience we have acquired in this project.
Paola Venerosi - IEI-CNR
Tel: +39 50 493427