Case Studies in Tele-Education: Research and Projects
Miguel A. Vega-Rodríguez
(Dept. Informatica, Universidad de Extremadura, Cáceres, Spain
Juan A. Gómez-Pulido
(Dept. Informatica, Universidad de Extremadura, Cáceres, Spain
Juan M. Sánchez-Pérez
(Dept. Informatica, Universidad de Extremadura, Cáceres, Spain
Abstract: ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) are
a very important educational resource at the present time because they
allow place and time limitations to be overcome and therefore reduce costs.
In addition, multimedia applications offer a set of characteristics in
order to improve learning by means of interactive activities. For these
reasons, we believe it is important to devote efforts to the development
of proposals and prototypes for teaching via Internet. Since 1998, our
research group has been focused on this objective and working on diverse
projects such as SD2I, TEDA or PDIWeb. In this paper we overview all these
projects, presenting a general description of each web platform, as well
as the tools and methods used for their implementation. This paper also
includes the results obtained after the use of each platform and the feedback
from surveys. In this way, several conclusions are presented in the last
section of this paper.
Keywords: Internet, Web-based Services, Multimedia,
Hypertext/Hypermedia, Computer Uses in Education
H.3.5, H.5.1, H.5.4, K.3.1
Internet has become a fundamental tool in education because of its great
advantages: it can be used almost everywhere and at any and moment, thereby
saving costs, encouraging interactivity, etc [Sheybani
2004]. For this reason, our research group [ARCO
2005] has worked on diverse projects for the development of tele-education
web platforms. With this objective in mind, our first project was EDONET
The experience of EDONET allowed us to face the SD2I project [Vega
2002a]. SD2I is a system for teaching, educational control, and learning
process evaluation of the Digital Systems subject through Internet [Floyd
2003]. Digital Systems are the core of different courses at our University
Our following project was TEDA [Vega 2002b],
a multimedia support for teaching the Spanish language to hearing-impaired
people via Internet.
Finally, we have just finished the PDIWeb project [Vega
2004], which is a system for the teaching of Instruction Dynamic Scheduling
through Internet [Hennessy 2003], a fundamental aspect
inside the instruction pipelining (pipelined processors) and explained
in many courses about Computer Architecture that are given at most Universities
(including the UEX).
The rest of the paper is organized as follows: in sections 2,
3 and 4 we give an overview of
these three projects (SD2I, TEDA and PDIWeb), pointing out their fundamental
characteristics. Section 5 explains the tools and methods
followed for the implementation of all these web platforms. Then, in section
6, we detail our experiences in their use and user feedback. Finally,
in the last section our conclusions are presented.
The platform is structured into three sections: theory, exercises, and
2.1 Theory Section
In this section, all the theoretical concepts the students must learn
about Digital Systems are shown. The section is structured in six chapters,
and each chapter is divided into several lessons. The lessons are accessible
from any computer connected to Internet. In this way, students can have
access to the platform from their university center or from their own home,
which provides a solid backup for work done at home and for self-instruction,
and also gives rise to an improvement in teaching quality. This section
also includes a chapter so that students may consult the most appropriate
bibliography and use it as complement to the system.
Students may select a specific lesson (and chapter) to begin a new concept
to study or to continue with the previous day's work. In general, each
lesson is composed of several web pages (figure 1(a)) with a set of concepts
that are shown by means of text, images, tables, animations, etc. Students
can work at their own pace, being free to go ahead or back to a lesson,
leave or change the lesson.
Figure 1: SD2I: (a) One of the web pages that compose the
theoretical content. (b) Example o f a self-evaluation exercise to be carried
out by students
2.2 Exercise Section
In this section, students may answer a set of self-evaluation questions
(5 to 20 questions per set). The self-evaluation questions are related
to the lesson under study. The self-evaluation exercises may be of several
- Selecting the correct answer to a test question.
- Choosing an algebraic expression equivalent to the one given by the
- Selecting the correct circuit scheme from several schemes shown.
- Matching circuit schemes with the corresponding algebraic expression
or equivalent circuit. In this case, the algebraic expressions (or other
texts or images) appear on one side of the screen, and the corresponding
circuits on the other. The matching is carried out by clicking on the images
and dragging them towards their supposed couple.
- Selecting or solving the Karnaugh map corresponding to a given expression.
- Analyzing a circuit indicating the signal value in different circuit
- Answering questions on the keyboard corresponding to circuit schemes,
truth tables, ...
The exercise section allows the students to go from one exercise to
another, to leave the exercise set, or to obtain the right answer to the
exercise question directly or to find "tracks" to answer the
The results of this interactivity (learning time, question answers,
evaluations, aides for answering, etc.) are managed and stored by the control
section of the system. We will thus know the students' performance and
the lesson quality that has been developed (educational control, students'
evaluation, generation of statistics,...). Figure 1(b) presents one of
the self-evaluation exercises of the system as an example.
2.3 Control Section
The information generated as a consequence of the interactivity of the
students with the system is internally stored in a database. This information
is of great interest for educators; in fact, it will constitute the only
trial elements at their disposal to help them to be able to evaluate the
students' performance or use of the lessons.
The control section can only be accessed by professors using a password.
Students can only know certain portions of information from the results
of their interaction with the didactic content (mark obtained, percentage
of success, etc.).
Figure 2: (a) Web page with information about the results
obtained after carrying out a test in SD2I. (b) Example of a lesson in
Regarding each student, professors can handle the different work sessions
(figure 2(a)) carried out by the student with an indication of the date
and time, specific lesson, the type of exercise, the time that the student
took to answer each question, the number of attempts or misses, if he/she
requested the solution for help, etc.
A speech defect may lead people to isolation because speech is a basic
mode for interacting with the environment and modifying it according to
necessities. A similar situation happens to people with hearing impairment
[Guerra 2001]. In most cases, this isolation makes
their integration into the habitual environments where they live difficult,
causing an attitude of dependent-passivity that prevents them from having
The continuous advances in Computer Sciences and Telecommunications
allow us to develop applications to help people with impaired hearing through
language teaching [Nelson 1997], using a learning
strategy that is similar to play. In this line, we have developed the TEDA
system: a multimedia support for teaching the Spanish language to the hearing
impaired via Internet. In TEDA, the following steps are given for the progressive
teaching of oral and written vocabulary:
- Initial evaluation of the pupil's competence level in the communication
area: communicative intention, hearing ability, comprehensible language
level, expressive language, ...
- Selection of the initial configuration parameters of the application:
word pronunciation volume, letter size, etc.
- Initial vocabulary selection according to the pupil's wishes and basic
necessities, as well as other necessities considered of general interest,
using elements that are both familiar and motivational. In fact, a key
to success consists in making sure that the pupil can recognize the oral
and written form of the first words we introduce, thus favoring the success
of the first answers. Later on, new vocabulary is incorporated according
to the results obtained and communicative necessities.
- Monitoring and evaluation of each pupil's learning process results.
In this way, educators can give continuity to the selected teaching strategy
or modify it. For example, the educator could change the configuration
parameters or the vocabulary selection according to each child's experiences
and his/her necessities. This monitoring and evaluation of the results
will allow the system to advance in a progressive way, and to prevent feelings
of failure that might lead the student to a rejection of the learning process.
The positive and immediate reinforcement of all the new communicative behavior
that appear in the student is equally fundamental [Marcos
As an example, figure 2(b) presents a screen of
the application associated with the adjective category. In
TEDA, the different words of the Spanish language are classified into
categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Each category is subdivided
into different classes; for example, nouns are divided into classes
like clothes, food, bath, animals, professions, parts of the human
body,... The student can select a category and specific class to begin
with the study of the words included in this class. For each word the
associated image is shown and its pronunciation can be heard by using
the "musical notes" icon, following the
image/pronunciation=meaning scheme. This scheme
is complemented with the word in writing. In this way, the student
will associate each sound (pronunciation) with both the
corresponding written word and the concept or meaning that it
In figure 2(b) we can observe several buttons,
which allow us to go from one word to the previous or to the following
one in the category-class, or to go to the first or last word in the
category-class. The button with a "magnifying glass" allows
us to search for a particular word inside the category-class. At the
same time, it is also possible to obtain a list of all the words or
lessons in that category-class and to select one of them for direct
access. Other functions offered include a button to exit the
category-class and the possibility to hide the writing associated with
Figure 3: (a) Control of student performance in TEDA. (b)
Main page of PDIWeb
Figure 3(a) shows the monitoring of a pupil's evolution after carrying
out a self-evaluation exercise set on a screen. The student is controlled
and corrected by the system all the time. TEDA presents several types of
- An image (concept) is presented to the student and he/she should select
the word associated with this image from several options.
- An image is shown to the pupil and he/she should type the Spanish word
associated with this image.
- A word is pronounced and the student should choose the correct answer
from among several options.
- A specific word is pronounced and the student should type it.
The use of TEDA can be completed while performing other activities.
For example, the planning and creation of experimental communication situations
in different environments or activities is interesting. We should keep
in mind that the immediate use of the vocabulary selected or the new elements
included will make learning and the appearance of new communicative behaviors
easier [Marcos 2001].
At present, the system developed is being used in several Spanish schools
(16). Apart from its main function (the tele-teaching of the Spanish language
to people with hearing, speech or other impairments), and thanks to the
attractiveness that everything related with computers and the Internet
has nowadays, the system may also be used in other applications: Spanish
language teaching in Children's Education or Spanish reading and writing
teaching to beginners by means of play. This is especially useful with
students of certain collectives (immigrants, ethnic minorities, foreigners,
...) that have difficulties in learning Spanish and are subjected to a
difficult process of linguistic immersion.
PDIWeb is a web simulator, based on the architecture of a pipelined
MIPS processor with an instruction set of 64 bits, which simulates the
dynamic scheduling instruction using two different techniques: one centralized
by means of the Scoreboard method, and another distributed according
to the Tomasulo algorithm [Hennessy 2003].
The simulator does not require any installation in the PC by the student,
since it is executed through Internet by a remote server. Furthermore,
the simulator has been successfully tested in the latest versions of Internet
Explorer and Netscape.
Figure 3(b) shows the simulator's main
page. This web page contains the main menu of the platform. The
student can see a help text by moving the mouse over each option. The
following subsections describe the PDIWeb menu briefly.
4.1 Scoreboard and Tomasulo
The web pages for Scoreboard and Tomasulo are similar. As an
example, figure 4 presents the web page for the
Scoreboard method. This web page contains a menu, followed by the
options that control the simulation progress: Partial Cycle,
Current Cycle, Previous and Next. Partial
Cycle allows the use of breakpoints or complete simulations
(without stops). The rest of the page is occupied by the tables used
by the Scoreboard method: Instruction Status, Register Result Status,
Functional Unit Status, and Stage Status.
Figure 4: Web page for the Scoreboard method: from top to
By means of the menu options the student can: go back to the main
page (option Main Page, figure 3(b)), start a
simulation (option Go Simulation!!!), go to the code editor
(option Code Editor) in order to change the program to
simulate, print a simulation (option Print Simulation),
configure the functional units in the processor (option F.U.
Configuration), and show the statistics about hazards (in
graphical, percentage and numerical format) for the current simulation
When the student prints a simulation, the report includes: the tables
of the Scoreboard with the current simulation results, the current simulation
cycle, the hazards and the configuration of the functional units.
4.2 Code Editor
Figure 5(a) presents the code editor, where the
student can indicate the program to simulate. In the central area, there
is a text editing window (where the user will introduce the code and instructions
of the program to simulate) and information about the instruction subset
of MIPS64 accepted by the simulator. At the top there is a menu with the
different editor functions. Briefly, the editor options allow us to type
the code of a program, delete this code, check the validity of the typed
code, save this code in a file or open a code file, display several example
Figure 5: (a) Page with the code editor. (b) Page with the
theory development within PDIWeb
This web page includes an introduction to the theoretical foundations
of the Scoreboard method and the Tomasulo algorithm, as well as the dynamic
scheduling instruction in pipelined processors (see figure
In this page the student can download didactic material related to the
simulator. For example, at present it is possible to download a local application
that simulates the Scoreboard method. This local application is an application
for Windows, with a user-friendly and full graphic interface.
The page presents a brief description of each application that can be
downloaded, explaining its main characteristics, showing images of that
application and including its technical specifications (name of the installation
file, size, language, etc.).
This web page includes a list of links to websites that, due to their
contents, have some relation with PDIWeb.
5 Tools and Methods
For the development and maintenance of all these projects we have several
servers that support the educational systems through Internet. The servers
under the Windows 2003 Server and with the Internet Information Server
(IIS) offer web page publication and administration services (WWW), file
transfer (FTP), Gopher, electronic mail, etc.
The SD2I platform combines techniques based on HTML, Java and CGI, together
with commercial software (Macromedia Authorware).
The information obtained as a consequence of the self-evaluation exercise
is internally stored in a MySQL database that has the data tables necessary
in order to allow the processing of all the information: student information,
teacher information (for restricted access to the system), exercise information,
information of the interaction with the system, etc. The communication
between the system and the database is carried out by ODBC, so it would
be easy to change to another database management system.
The data confidentiality is double, which prevents the possibility of
"modifying" them. On the one hand, the data are stored only in
the server. On the other hand, accessing the data must be done by using
a password. This password is known only by the corresponding teacher and
is managed at two authentication levels. The first authentication level
is handled by the SD2I system itself, to gain access to the web site where
the platform is. Moreover, the system restricts the access to the database
by means of a password managed by MySQL through ODBC.
The password system also has passwords for the students. Consequently
each student must introduce his/her password before gaining access to the
system. This prevents a student from having the possibility of gaining
access to another student's data, the possibility of changing the educational
results (interaction results), etc.
In implementing TEDA we have used tools and methods similar to SD2I.
particularly because the TEDA platform also combines techniques based on
HTML, Java and CGI, together with Macromedia Authorware for web page design,
the question and answer systems, the educational content elaboration, and
pupil learning control.
For the implementation of PDIWeb we have used PHP language mainly. PHP
is executed in web servers and allows HTML pages to be created in a dynamic
specific functions. HTML code fragments are also present, since, after
all, the simulator is formed by a set of web pages. Nevertheless, 80% of
the code is implemented in PHP.
means of the Macromedia Dreamweaver tool, a powerful application for the
creation and maintenance of web sites. Macromedia Fireworks was used for
the graphic design of diverse web elements: images, animations, flash texts,
After the construction of the system, these three platforms were evaluated
by students. That is, once they were concluded, the students were asked
to test the developed platform. In this way, compared to traditional teaching
methods the defects and virtues of the system could be detected. This evaluation
was carried out by means of their using the system in a massive way, and
then having them respond to surveys. In addition, the experience allowed
students to check the correct system operation, as well as to learn their
degree of acceptance. Due to a lack of space we provide only the results
of the survey on the SD2I project. The results obtained from the TEDA and
PDIWeb were similar and so were the conclusions.
A total of 67 students tested the system for the SD2I platform and answered
an anonymous survey. All the students had enough knowledge about Digital
Systems and experience with the conventional teaching of this subject to
be able to evaluate the SD2I platform and compare it with traditional classes
(explanations given by a teacher). We did not give any explanation about
platform use to the students. Their ages ranged from 18 to 27 though the
majority were students of 18 and 19 years old. The next figures show the
most significant results of the survey.
Figure 6(a) shows the evaluation to the SD2I
platform contents. 97.01% of the students believe that the contents
are good or very good. Figure 6(b) presents the results about the
platform's pedagogical utility. Again, more than 90% of the students
(specifically, 94.03%) think that the pedagogical utility is good or
very good. It must be observed that, from the pedagogical point of
view, none of the students evaluates the platform negatively.
Figure 6: (a) How do you value the contents of the SD2I platform
in general? (b) Value the pedagogical utility of the SD2I platform
As for the platform's facility of use, 97.01% think that the
platform is easy or very easy to use (even without explanations). The
most selected option was "very easy" as figure 7(a) indicates. Figure
7(b) shows the degree of utility given by the students to the
platform for its use within the subject of "Computer Science
Foundations". Again, positive response exceeds 90% since 91.05%
consider the platform to be useful or very useful for this
Figure 7: (a) Value the facility of use of SD2I. (b) Do you
consider the application of SD2I to be useful within the subject?
We then asked for the decision of adopting SD2I to other subjects about
Digital Systems (Figure 8(a)). On this occasion and
after evaluating the SD2I system the decision is unanimous: 100% of the
students say that it should be used in other subjects about Digital Systems.
This question corroborates and even improves the results obtained in the
previous question where the platform was described by more than 98% of
the students as useful. Figure 8(b)m shows the results
obtained when students were asked if they would favor the implementation
of this kind of application for other subjects. Once again the answer is
also unanimous, 100% support this type of initiative and they consider
the development of educational contents (theory, exercises, etc.) through
Internet as a key to improve the teaching quality of other subjects, regardless
of their content.
Figure 8: (a) Would you encourage the use of SD2I in other
subjects about Digital Systems? (b) Would you encourage the implementation
of applications of this kind for other subjects?
The following question presents the students' conclusions after
using SD2I. As shown in figure 9(a), 97.01%. were
motivated and even delighted by the platform. We consider it quite an
honor to get statements from students saying that something has
delighted them; therefore 7.46% can be considered as a great
achievement. Another question of interest is the one shown in figure 9(b). We asked students their recommendation
for Digital Systems learning. 97.01% think that the best alternative
is to hold conventional classes (professor's explanations) and use the
SD2I platform as didactic reinforcement. These results indicate that
students evaluate the presence of the professor in the class
positively. In conclusion, they feel that personal contact is
Figure 9: (a) Your conclusion as a user of the SD2I platform:
It has ... you. (b) After having examined SD2I, what would your recommendation
for Digital Systems learning be?
Not only were the results obtained in the previous questions good, but
comments provided by students in a follow-up question and answer session
were also notably positive and encouraging for us to continue work in this
As part of our efforts to improve teaching and enhance students' knowledge
and capacities, we should apply all the resources that technical advances
provide us with, such as multimedia technologies and the Internet. In the
same way, these technologies should also be applied to university teaching.
This is the case for the SD2I and PDIWeb projects. SD2I is used by undergraduate
students, while PDIWeb is used by post-graduate students. Moreover, these
technical advances should also be applied in order to improve the quality
of life of people with disabilities. We have worked on the TEDA project
with this view.
As previously seen (section 6), the results of the
surveys on these projects are very good, and we think that these results
would be exportable to other web platforms on other subjects. Therefore,
it is worth spending the time and effort on systems dedicated to tele-education.
In conclusion, these platforms strengthen the concepts introduced in
class and motivate the students to carry out more practical exercises,
thereby improving both teaching and learning.
After evaluating the fact that students are pleased by these web applications
(the surveys in section 6), another important evaluation
is to find out how much better students can learn by using these platforms.
As future work, we will statistically analyze the exact improvement observed
in students when using these platforms. For this analysis we will divide
the students into two groups, one of whom will use the platform and one
of which will not. At the end of the course we will compare the results
from both groups.
SD2I and PDIWeb were supported by Vicerrectorado de Innovación
Educativa y Nuevas Tecnologías and Instituto de Ciencias de la Educación
(University of Extremadura), under the framework of two Educational Innovation
TEDA was supported by Junta de Extremadura (local government)
under the framework of the IPR00A003 research project.
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