Presentation, Control and Collaboration in the Networked Classroom
by Leandro Navarro-Moldes and Manuel Oneto
Classrooms with networked PCs can be augmented by software to facilitate learning. Presentation: an IP multicast-based application allows screen content, streaming video, files and Web pages to be viewed in all PCs efficiently. Control: the instructor can observe a mosaic of thumbnail views of all PCs, and can select one for remote support. Collaboration: the instructor can define groups of students who can share screens, files or messages to facilitate collaborative learning.
This project was undertaken by the Distributed Systems group at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) in Barcelona (Spain), with the support of a Spanish publishing company (edebé). It was conceived in 2000 as an evaluation of the learning and collaboration possibilities in the growing number of classrooms in schools and universities that are equipped with networked PCs. The idea was to define, pilot and develop networked applications using simple PCs connected via Ethernet with no additional hardware. We started considering reliable multicast transports for screen-sharing applications based on the Remote Frame Buffer (RFB) protocol, as a software replacement for expensive and inconvenient screen projectors. As part of the research, pilot tests with hundreds of schools from many educational levels all over Spain were carried out, which provided feedback and suggestions from the field. As a result of this process, an initial application was developed and a spin-off company (Rededia.com) was initiated in the summer of 2002. This company specializes in multicast-based synchronous applications and is also providing technical support for the product.
From that experience, the software evolved towards a complete reimplementation of a Windows COM component-based synchronous and multicast-based middleware for 1-N, N-1 and N-N communication over a LAN supporting several synchronous applications. The current application goes well beyond simply replacing a screen projector: it supports interaction between the instructor and all or several PCs in the class in both directions, and also within groups of students defined by the instructor. Screen content, files, streaming multimedia, Web URLs and objects can be efficiently shared among PCs in the class.
The research group and the company are working together in complementary topics. While Rededia.com is supporting, maintaining and commercializing the Redianet class product, on the research side the group at UPC is working on extensions of the transport for additional media, for larger-range distribution beyond LAN towards supporting multi-site collaboration, and on integrating sensors for tracking the location of people and PCs and automatically detecting the formation of groups. These new mechanisms would provide the applications with the context awareness to automatically and immediately offer collaboration support for emerging groups of people who are simply sitting at the same table, or move close to one other.
This long-term collaboration between a university research group and a technology company has proven mutually productive. Rededia.com and UPC recently applied for research and development project grants in national and European funding bodies with other ERCIM research institutions. Given the strong research component of our work, there is strong interest in collaborating with other ERCIM members, as well as offering the product of our work to ERCIM members (particularly universities: an evaluation version of the product can now be downloaded in Catalan, Spanish and English, and feedback is both appreciated and useful for the evolution of the product).
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya: http://www.ac.upc.edu
Leandro Navarro-Moldes, Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain
Tel: +34 9 3401 6807
Manuel Oneto, REDEDIA, Spain
Tel: +34 9 3413 7952