ERCIM News No.33 - April 1998

Classroom 2000: Towards an Integrated Environment for Distance Learning

by Giovanni Coray, Antoine Delley, Lorenz Muller and Christine Vanoirbeek

Technological changes have a strong impact on engineering sciences, so continuing education is a first priority for active engineers. The new information- and communication technologies have created a fundamental change in the content and methods of the learning processes. Our continuing education system has to adapt rapidly to these new requirements. International interdependence through growing global networks makes it unavoidable that the international aspect be integrated within the professional development and training strategies, particularly in the field of information and telecommunication technologies. The achievement of these goals is the main motivation of the R&D-project CLASSROOM 2000.

The CLASSROOM 2000 project is the structural and technological framework for the implementing of new learning technologies, in the form of modular courses for engineers and technicians, to be tested within two independent education programs. It is divided into three subprojects whose more specific goals concern: authoring tools for the preparation of teachware, course implementation methodology for the dissemination of courses over synchronous and asynchronous communication channels, and validation of the approach taken .

Presently, the project-partners are developing a selection of tools and concepts for the implementation of computer supported teachware. On this technological basis, adequate protocols for the implementation and use of these tools within the context of learning in a virtual class are being developed. In a third step, a pool of modular prototype courses with CAL- elements, partially disseminated within a virtual classroom and specially focused on the needs of engineers and technicians, will be delivered and evaluated.

The scientific and organisational coordination between the subprojects and the overall project management is an important task of the FNRS-funded CLASSROOM 2000 project (grant Ç Fonds National Suisse de la Recherche Scientifique È No 5003-51362). Coordination and exchange of expertise extends to a dozen (non beneficiary) Swiss partners. European contacts are welcome and different forms of partnership are possible. It is worthwhile to mention the integration and further development of the CR 2000 pool of course- modules, into a European Master in Information System Technology. This European postgraduate diploma will be defined and run by those European partners enrolled within CLASSROOM 2000 and other interested international institutions and consortia.

CLASSROOM 2000 is an important preparation step for the realisation of the virtual campus in Switzerland. Its technology and methodology is based on a conceptual hierarchy of synchronous communication schemes: The virtual classroom for a one-to-one multimedia communication between tutors and students at their actual working place (interactive distant learning); the electronic classroom for the multimedia transmission of a course or seminar to another school (remote teaching); and the high bandwidth transmission of a lecture or a conference to an amphitheatre at an other university (remote lecturing). Within CLASSROOM 2000 different types of higher education institutions collaborate to define coherent technical and methodical projects and concepts for the realisation of the virtual campus.

Authoring Tools

This subproject deals with research and development related to tools and technical aspects of computer assisted learning and the realisation of remote control systems for the tele-laboratory. Its main focus is the production of teachware and the generation of support and preparation tools for courses. An initial concept and prototype implementation of a new generation of tools builds on MEDIT (Multimedia Environment for Distributed Interactive Teaching), an experimental environment for authoring and administration of highly interactive distance learning.

Striking features of this development are:

Methodology and Course Dissemination

This subproject focuses on the implementation of tools, processing protocols and methods to obtain a consistent course curriculum considering ergonomic, pedagogical and economical aspects. It deals with the running and dissemination of a course over new forms of synchronous or asynchronous communication channels and the optimal use of new forms of teachware within the learning process. A first output of the VIRTUAL CLASS subproject is a successfully tested implementation concept for the virtual classroom using an interactive distant learning environment in combination with head on course elements and interactive learning material for self studies (suitable for group learning). The interactive distant learning environment is based on a mix of synchronous (Videoconferencing, application sharing, chat, remote control of technical equipment) and asynchronous (Web, Email, forum, file transfer) communication schemes. A planned additional output of the subproject is a concept and a test implementation for a network of electronic classrooms to link the sites of the future Colleges of Higher Education (Berner Fachhochschule, Haute Ecole Spécialisée Suisse Occidentale).


This subproject concentrates on the exploitation and validation of the results of the two R&D-subprojects running and evaluating prototype courses for testing purposes. In our view the future of continuing education lies in a combination of present and remote teaching, interactive distant learning with a tutor, computer supported group learning and self studies with support of interactive teachware. To achieve a high acceptance for such new learning technologies and concepts students and teachers have to be prepared and the implementation methods must be adapted to the actual training needs. For this, we upgrade existing course modules in established continuing education programmes (NDIT/FPIT - Nach Diplomausbildung Informatik und Telekommunikation / Formation Postgrade en Informatique et Tlcommunications - and others) with chosen elements of new learning technologies to serve as prototype courses. The goal is to achieve experience in the practical use of new learning technologies and to optimise the implementation of new learning technologies in a realistic environment. A postgraduate study program for IT-engineers: an ideal testbed The NDIT/FPIT university enterprise training partnership (Nachdiplomausbildung in Informatik und Telekommunikation / Formation postgrade en Informatique et T_l_communications) is a successful working example of a collaboration between different types of educational institutions (Universities, Colleges of Higher Education) and technology oriented industry enterprises. The target public for its educational offers are engineers and technical project managers in the field of computer science, business information systems, telecommunication and multimedia. Today over 160 students are enrolled in the offered postgraduate courses and cycles. The students assemble their individual curriculum from a modular programme that includes over 80 course modules, offered by the specialised partner institutions at their site.

The geographically distributed course providers, the collaborative organisational concept with modular courses, and highly skilled and motivated students make this program an ideal testbed for the implementation of new learning technologies. Already a selected sample of the courses are offered in a virtual classroom environment. During the CLASSROOM 2000 project more of the NDIT/FPIT courses will be upgraded with newly developed interactive teachware or prepared for new dissemination methods. All test courses are stringently evaluated with the collaboration of the students and the teachers.

Information on the web on the CLASSROOM 2000 project is available at:, on the NDIT/FPIT courses at

Please contact:

Federico Flückiger - NDIT/FPIT
Tel: +41 31 999 3071

Giovanni Coray ­ LITH EPFL
Tel: +41 21 693 25 72

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