THE ROLE OF ADVANCED INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF DISTANCE EDUCATION NETWORKS IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. Prof. Tamas Lajos, Co-Chairman of EDEN-EADTU Task Force Eastern Europe, Dr. Andras Szucs Prof. Jacques Vauthier Co-Chairman of EDEN-EADTU Task Force Eastern Europe, European Distance Education Network European Association of Distance Teaching Universities October 1996. 1/ INTRODUCTION
The rapid and positive change of appreciation of open and distance learning, mainly due to the development of the application of advanced information technology and the evolution of the concept of the information society, has interestingly coincided with the rapid development of open and distance learning in Central and Eastern Europe. This process has been supported and stimulated in the region to a large extent by the “PHARE Multi-Country Co-operation in Distance Education” programme.
The development of the initial phase is worth a summative analysis. Since no rigid tradition or habit restricts governments and the human resource development sphere of these countries from introducing new educational methods, there is a unique chance to establish efficient and up-to-date systems of education and training, relying on the new achievements of open and distance learning and information technology.
Moreover, the emerging global market of education materials and delivery systems, which can easily be considered as a consequence of the integration of open and distance learning and information technology, means certainly enhanced efficiency and quality, but in the meantime it can endanger local educational cultures if they do not follow the technical development.
The “Joint Task Force for Central and Eastern Europe” has been established by two major European distance education organizations: the European Distance Education Network (EDEN) and the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU), in order to promote open and distance learning in the region by providing expert support to institutions and organizations, and to assist them in the successful implementation of their development strategies.
This study is one of the contributions of the EDEN-EADTU Joint Task Force. It intends to summarize present trends and to analyse ideas and proposals on the use of advanced information technology in open and distance learning, with relevant conclusions mainly for the Eastern and Central European region, The study is intended to assist decision makers, distance educators, university administrators, etc. n their activities in this significant field. Since the PHARE Multi-Country Project on Distance Education programme is one of the determining facilitators in the region, the study will comment about and focus on the first experiences of the activities achieved in the framework of this programme. 2 2/ THE CHANGING ROLE AND PERSPECTIVES OF OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING IN THE EUROPEAN HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT.
Distance education and the new trends in human resource development One can identify a few general trends challenging the whole human resource development sphere all over the world, inspiring and pushing the substantial changes in the education and training sphere. These trends have been summarised in the strategy paper of the European Distance Education Network (EDEN) in the following way: “The rapidly growing awareness of the importance of both the quality and quantity of human resources has resulted in an increasing need for relevant and high quality education and training in society.
The development of human resources, and the principle of equal opportunities for individuals, requires access to education for non-traditional students and trainees. Generally, however, the increasing diversity and numbers of students has not been matched by a similar increase in public funds, so the introduction of new approaches, and new and efficient methods of teaching and learning has become crucial.
The implementation of the generally recognised and supported concept of lifelong learning calls for new structures for education and training, where the dividing lines between different levels of education, between education and training, and between initial and continuing education become blurred. Independent study is becoming a more significant part of the process, and the emphasis is shifting to continuing education, where special methodological, efficiency and quality requirements have to be met.
As a consequence of the globalisation of the world economy and the rapidly developing cooperation and integration processes, the internationalisation of education has also become an important requirement. The promotion of European integration also necessitates a strengthening of the European dimension of education at all levels. ” When considering these processes in the human resource development, it seems obvious that traditional education methods are not suitable to meet all the new requirements.
Therefore substantial changes (“paradigm shift”) are needed, towards more accessible, open, flexible, professional, costeffective, responsive education, which can meet the special needs of lifelong learning and internationalisation. But, although theoretical and practical knowledge and experience of education methods suitable to meet the new challenges have been available for more than one decade, the European education systems (with a few exceptions) did not react in a relevant way.
The appropriate education methods, that are now called open and distance learning, remained basically on the periphery of the human resource development sphere. Nowadays, the situation has changed completely: the development of open and distance learning is on the top of priority lists of most regional or national human resource development strategies and the practice has also changed substantially. The most significant human resource development programmes of the European Union, SOCRATES and LEONARDO, substantially support open and distance learning.
Many traditional universities have also started to develop their open and distance learning potential. So, e. g. the “Coimbra Group” of the oldest and most prestigeous European universities has implemented the “Humanities” Project realizing Europe-wide access to teaching materials, called virtual mobility. 3 One of the main reasons for this favourable change was the rapid development and expansion of the use of information technology in ever wider sections of the society.
A typical field of the application of advanced information technology is education, where the efficient use of information technology requires the adoption of the underlying principles and methods of open and distance learning. So the shift of open and distance learning towards the centre of human resource development is not in the first line the consequence of the development of open and distance learning as a methodology itself, it is rather mainly due to the change of regional and national education policies, reacting to the rapid technological changes and the concept of the information society.
Open and distance learning as a special scope of education The term open and distance learning embraces an increasingly diverse range of education and training activities. The most important common feature of these methods is that course contents, information, data, the learning instructions as well as the means for evaluating and assessing acquired knowledge are printed or recorded on different media in a methodically elaborated way: e. g. on printed materials, audio and video-cassettes, computer memories, floppy discs, CD-s.
The course materials can also be available via information networks. These media – among which the dominant ones are still paper based materials – allow the effective independent study of students. The role of the teacher is inevitable in the distance learning process, although this role differs basically from that in traditional education. It is not the teacher who is the main transmitter of course content since the latter is available on different media prepared by other experts, using efficient pedagogical methods.
The task of the teacher is to answer questions, to motivate students, to promote, facilitate and – if necessary – to control their learning, to establish co-operation and interaction between the students, and to evaluate the acquisition of knowledge. In this educational form, the teaching process is clearly separated in two parts carried out in general by different groups of experts: the first one is the preparation of course materials, – this is a long-lasting activity of expert groups; – the other is the process of course delivery, which is the task of other groups of experts (tutors, course organisers).
The application of curricula transmitted by different media, the method of learning without the presence of a lecturer, the changed role of the teacher, and the dominance of independent learning offer a degree of freedom and flexibility for the student – regarding the content of the curriculum, and the pace and place of learning – that is impossible in traditional education. This flexibility does not only allow the students to actually take part in distance education namely to learn geographically far away from his/her teacher and school – but, relying also on the pedagogical potential offered by the use of different media (interactivity, motivation, demonstration, methodically elaborated course materials, thorough tutoring, quality control), flexible learning methods can be applied as a particularly effective means of human resource development and can also be effectively combined with traditional education.
An important feature of distance education is the efficient combination and interaction of traditional academic components: scientific and practical knowledge/skills, pedagogical values, cultural context, background and activities, and similar elements to the process of industrial production: needs analyses, investments, allocation of resources, planning, economy, team-work, organisation, well structured, systematic activity, quality assessment and control, marketing, management, etc. The emergence of the economic approach If we compare traditional and open/distance learning from the budgetary side, there is a significant difference in cost, both in the time and cause of their occurrence. The total cost of thoroughly organised open and distance education is in general significantly less than that of traditional education, but the majority of these costs – e. g. the cost of the preparation of course materials – will be incurred before the start of the course.
The usually higher costs of traditional education arise continuously and they comprise partly the infrastructure used, staff salaries, students’ expenses related to studies and – in the case of continuing education – in the working hours lost. The simultaneous emergence of the development of the methodology of open and distance learning, the decreased costs of education, the application of advanced information technology in education as well as international co-operation in education, create for the first time in the history of human resource development a global competition between course materials and education systems.
All technical conditions are available for an individual to take courses developed and delivered by an institution in another part of the world – regarded as the most suitable for his or her studies – by using advanced information technology. The competition of teaching materials and systems will certainly contribute to the improvement of quality, relevance and effectiveness of education and training. Promoted by different European Union programs, networks of open and distance education centres are being established, facilitating the emergence of the market of course materials and delivery systems.
More and more universities launch open and distance learning activities contributing their huge intellectual potential to its improvement. In in-service adult education the emergence of the global market of course materials and education systems radically improves the level of supply and the effectiveness of the training. By using this education method, multinationals are able to provide all of their employees and customers with information at the same time. Open and distance learning enables companies to select and introduce in a relatively short time the best-fitting courses, facilitating e. . technological change within the firm. There are already pilot education systems providing mainly small and medium enterprises with “tailormade” education, simultaneously with the evolution of the need for new knowledge and skills (e. g. because of the introduction of a new technology). In the meantime, the suddenly developing global market of open and distance learning materials and systems may be dangerous: it may extract a significant part of the better students from less developed education systems; e. g. ocal education cultures, which will appear (only technically or in their marketing activities) in this context as non-competitive, may become redundant or may play a subordinate role, while high quality uniform curricula – which is meanwhile lacking local cultural and social relevance – may become predominant in education and training. A further phenomenon is that new and unususal shareholders have appeared in education: e. g. in industry, not only as customers of the products of education but also as providers of information technology.
The partnership of industry, as a rather powerful actor, following partly different priorities than the academic sphere, is a completely new element, offering new opportunities but also bringing different threats. 5 3/ THE FUCTIONS AND POSITION OF OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING IN THE CHANGING SOCIETIES OF CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE Common challenges in the region Besides the global challanges listed above, human resource development systems and organizations in Eastern and Central Europe have to face nowadays special tasks in serving their societies.
EDEN`s Strategy stated in this respect: “In rapidly changing societies, such as in Central and Eastern Europe, the need to expand student numbers, retrain employees and educate people for democracy and social-political involvement provide good prospects for the wide scale introduction and development of open and distance learning. This is also reflected in most of the newly developed educational policies in the region and demonstrated in a number of international assistance programmes as well as local efforts. The main challenges which human resource development spheres of the countries of the CEE region are confronting are as follows: • access: a basic shortcoming of higher education and, more generally post-secondary education in Central and Eastern European countries is its inability to open up to larger parts of the population. A particular bottleneck is presented by traditional, full-time education establishments which are characterised by a weak infrastructure; • flexibility and diversity: another common problem is the inability of systems to adapt to the needs of rapidly changing economies.
The traditional, academically-oriented, long-cycle type of higher education is not flexible enough to accommodate the new need for professionals. It could be said that the more rapidly an economy and society change, the more justified it is to introduce short-cycle post-secondary education. This kind of job market-oriented, professional education is largely missing in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe; • continuing education: a further common shortcoming in the region is the non-existence or outdatedness of adult education in its various forms and at various levels.
The adaptation of distance education for continuing education could be an effective way to supplement professional knowledge which has become obsolete, ### transfer of new knowledge and skills: the ongoing economic, social and political changes in this region need the enhancement and development of the transfer of relevant knowledge and skills to the wide population and the strengthening of the European dimension of education: languages, European studies, management, business administration, environment, social studies, political sciences, advenced technologies, etc..
This need can not be met in the short and medium term in the frame of traditional educational systems. Distance education has a role to play in addressing the major issues described above, contributing to the re-structuring and further development of the educational systems and responding to the needs of socio-economic development in Eastern-Central Europe. 6 An ambivalent predecessor: correspondance education The position of open and distance learning in countries of the CEE region is in a certain sense a bit sensitive and contradictory.
Correspondence education delivered in the past decades by many higher education institutions on the one hand makes the academic community open towards new education methods, but on the other hand, as a result of the low efficiency of correspondence courses and their political connotations, there are strong reservations among lectureres and potential customers. In the meantime, the modernization processes accomplished in the region and the embedding of the information society idea in the overall national development policies, promote the introduction of open and distance learning as an education method harmonising with these developments. / THE PHARE MULTI-COUNTRY DISTANCE EDUCATION PROJECT AS INSTRUMENT OF THE DEVELOMENT OF OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. In 1994, with the support of the EU Phare programme, following a Hungarian initiative, a feasibility study was carried out, investigating the apropriateness of distance education development on a regional basis in Central Eastern Europe. Contributions were made by all 11 PHARE beneficiary countries, including detailed reports for each of the countries, as well as by two major European open and distance learning associations EDEN and EADTU.
The feasibility study revealed that the Ministries of Education of all participating countries take a strong interest in developing a modern distance education system, either by innovating former systems of distance education (in most cases based on the principle of correspondence courses) or by building up a new system, to be linked to the higher education institutions or to be developed as a “single mode” distance education university. On the basis of the feasibility study, the European Commission agreed to launch a Regional pilot project in distance education with a 3 MECU budget in the PHARE actions for Regional cooperation in 1994.
The key objectives of the Pilot project were the following: ### to develop the conditions which allow the participating countries to interact and cooperate on an equal basis, ### to act as a catalyst for national policy formulation in the field of distance education, ### to define areas of common interest in which regional cooperation can support national policies, in terms of enhanced quality of the outputs, speed of development and/or economies of scale, ### to develop and introduce two pilot courses on an experimental basis.
By addressing these issues jointly through regional cooperation, important added values were intended in terms of a more effective and efficient use of resources and by allowing the participating countries to build on their mutual experiences. On the basis of the achievements of the Pilot Project the European Commission launched in 1995 for 7 all Phare partner countries a “Multi-country co-operation in distance education” project for 1995 and 1996. The budget for the project was 10 million ECU.
The programme has the following objectives: ### Supporting the establishment of a trans-regional network of distance education study centres, In order to support the development of the delivery system for distance education in the Phare countries, a network of 40 operational study centres across the participating countries are intended to be set up. To establish the network, the following activities are foreseen: ### the provision of basic equipment for interactive distance learning ? he establishment of electronic links among the distance teaching centres, by the use of existing networks ### human resources development: a training of trainers and tutors in student support methods, the use of multi-media and tele-teaching equipment, as well as foreign language training ### the analysis of market needs for training ### the provision of selected literature and documentation. ## Developing distance education course modules in subject areas of relevance to socio-economic transition and to the further integration with the EU. ### Supporting the development of a long-term strategy for distance education, with specific regard to legislation, the link with EU policies and the role of advanced technologies. / PRINCIPLES OF LARGE-SCALE REGIONAL OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING DEVELOPMENT AS REALIZED IN THE FRAMES OF THE PHARE MULTI-COUNTRY DISTANCE EDUCATION PROGRAMME General considerations The development of distance education in Central and Eastern Europe offers an exceptional challenge and opportunity for the large-scale implementation of new methods and structures, initiating and catalysing processes which can than play a determining role in the development and transformation of not only the educational systems, but – through the intensive multiplication effect of modern training methods, combined with the latest information technologies and telecommunication – also for the societies and economies themselves.
As up-to-date open and distance learning is hardly present in the countries concerned, the establishment of basic national structures, the development of national policies, and the creation of the physical and human infrastructure for distance education development is in most cases accomplished in a situation, in which the steps taken can and in most cases certainly will determine basically the direction and extent of future developments. 8 Since, in general, national frameworks can not provide the sufficient intellectual, financial and institutional background for the large-scale introduction of open and distance learning at a satisfactory pace, international co-operation is a key factor in the establishment of national structures in distance education.
A basic principle and requirement for these developments concerning both national educational structures and the telecommunication/informatics infrastructure for educational systems is evidently the compatibility of structures and infrastructures created within the Central-European region, in order to allow smooth co-operation and communication within the network of the study centres established. This network, starting now with just 40 study centres in the countries, will evidently form the basis of the future comprehensive network of distance educational operational units in the whole region, including future sub-centres and other supporting institutions. The principle of expected compatibility is particularly valid for the informatics and telecommunication infrastructure.
The development of distance education through the co-ordinated establishment of national structures and harmonised support to the national policy development will result in the creation of a real regional, multi-country network of institutions. This network can be considered as a principally loose, but through its functionality, large size and stability, very efficient trans-European structure. The network can ensure the involvement and contribution of local educational cultures, and the maintainance of cultural diversity and social relevance of the course materials and course delivery systems. The presence of the European Union in the establishment of this structure offers a very special dimension for the above development.
As usual, the financial resources ensured by the EU Commission for this purpose from the PHARE budget are not huge, but the final output of the whole operation, strenghtened by the co-ordinated presence of the European dimension and by the additionally mobilised national resources certainly ensures an impressive order of magnitude of achievements. The development of distance education systems in Central and Eastern Europe came at a very opportune moment in the sense that the trans-national structures and networks in the countries of Western Europe have undergone during the last years a considerable development and now, with the establishment of the Euro Study Centres network and that of the European Open University Network (EOUN) as an institution, they can serve as a really positive and efficiently functioning institutional example for the international educational networking.
Taking into account this situation, the comprehensive distance education development planned in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe should be implemented in a way, which considers the above described far-reaching dimension of the operation, and ensures that the structures created and the infrastructure established show a clear compatibility with the similar institutional structures and infrastructures in Western Europe. Structural tasks and roles of the study centres The expected tasks and roles of the 40 distance education study centres to be established in the framework of the Phare Programme for Multi-Country Co-operation in Distance Education can be summarised as follows: 9 ### creating access for the member institutions of the distance education study centre partnership (placed in neighbouring region) to the basic equipment provided in the centres for interactive distance learning and to the incorporated learning materials (as CD-ROMs), as well as to electronic links facilities (e. g. atellite TV antennas or Internet access); ### offering access to distance education students and teachers to selected literature and documentation available in the centre (including videotapes, CD-ROMs) and to create facilities for the demonstration of distance education; ### acting as deliverers of courses developed in the framework of the Phare Programme for MultiCountry Cooperation in Distance Education; ### managing the delivery of their own distance education courses and programmes; ### fostering links and cooperation between existing local institutions and practitioners in the field of distance education; ### promoting links with similar units in the EU Member states and in Central and Eastern European countries; ### playing an active role in the field of promotion and awareness raising for distance education at a local level; ### supporting student support (through further training of tutors) and course development (through information and up-dating of course authors) on local level; ### creating the basis of future credit and course transfer, accreditation and the recognition of certificates, through adding homogeneity and coherence to the approach of distance education all over the region of CEE. ### direct course development of distance education programmes; ### procurement of distance education or open learning materials. 6. THE ROLE OF ADVANCED OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN Before addressing the possible use of advanced information technology and facilitating the operation of the above mentioned study centres, the general state of the art of the use of technology in open and distance learning and its opportunities and bottlenecks should be summarised.
Advanced information technology plays role in three fields of open and distance learning: ### PC-s are a very effective media and instrument of “traditional” distance education; ### computer-based telecommunication increases the access to and effectiveness of open and distance learning, decreases costs and opens ways for new approaches; ### multimedia teaching materials and methods offer qualitatively new opportunities in open and distance learning. The role of computers in “traditional” distance education. Besides printed materials, audio and video tapes, and floppy discs for personal computers play an increasingly important role in “traditional” DE systems as an extremely effective medium transferring course materials to students. The potential of the computer makes it an increasingly significant 10 instrument of the learning process: besides transferring course materials, PCs can facilitate the acquisition of knowledge by offering access to databases, by demonstration, by simulation of processes, by interactivity and by making self-assessment possible.
Since the use of computers hasd become part of more and more human activities, and more and more course materials address different aspects of informatics and computer science, PCs play an increasingly significant part in the learning process as “home kits”, facilitating the individual practical work of students. Telecommunication in open and distance learning The rapid progress in the use of advanced telecommunication, particularly computer-based telecommunication, opens completely new perspectives for open and distance learning. Its first obvious application is the combination of traditional education with the opportunities offered by on-line, two-way TV telecommunication: opening the classroom by ensuring interactivity. The equipment needed and the operation costs of these systems are quite expensive, so they are, and in the near future, will be used rather in group education.
In this way, this education method does not utilise a number of the basic values of open and distance learning, like freedom in place, pace and time of learning. The costs can be significantly reduced by providing interactivity through ISDN. Computer videoconferencing is particularly becoming an increasingly important part of advanced open and distance learning systems. There are already systems available, using ISDN, enabling computer videoconferencing for individuals at a relatively modest price. Some of these systems offer extremely useful tools in educational conferencing, like voice transfer, a common “desk”, a common library, transfer of simulations, opportunity for collective editing, drawing (also in 3D), plotting etc.
Further methodological development is needed to exploit the great potential of computer videoconferencing and to find its right role in open and distance learning system e. g. in tutoring and in lecturing in postgraduate training. Computer conferencing as well as E-mail as standard and relatively cheap methods of communication are additional opportunities offered by networks that can be efficiently used in student-tutor as well as student-student interactions, which are extremely significant constituents of open and distance learning systems. The Internet and WWW allow easy access to databases, distance education course materials, simulations and self-assessment tests, contributing in this way to the extension of access to and successful application of traditional distance education systems.
Beyond using the Internet to extend and complement traditional distance education, it offers the opportunity of real globalisation of distance education, if efficient and relevant methods constituting open and distance learning systems are found and introduced for education (including tutoring) through the Internet. A number of pilot open and distance learning schemes have already been introduced in order to utilize its potential. Although the bandwidth and speed available on the Internet is in general not enough to transfer e. g. video films, new developments make it possible to transfer simulations, voice and even multimedia materials using, instead of video records, animations (that need much smaller bandwidth) for education purposes through the Internet. 11 The networks, especially the fast (in most cases local) networks with large bandwidth, have great potential in meeting the educational needs emerging in the economy.
Tailormade education materials with easy access and interactivity can provide for “just in time education” of employees of enterprises needing continuously new knowledge. Inhouse training can be completely carried out by using regularly updated, interactive multimedia course materials that can be made accessible simultaneously for hundreds of learners by using e. g. mediaserver. The existing and regularly used information technology infrastructure in enterprises, firms and other organizations allows the rapid and not too expensive introduction of the most advanced applications of information technology in open and distance learning. So, e. g. he services of industrial and innovation parks, and the computer networks of tele-working systems may include continuing education arrangements for employees. Efficient education systems, which meet the emerging needs can be relatively quickly realized by putting together existing hardware, software elements, network and relevant course materials. Another function of networks can be the facilitation of joint development and testing of teaching materials by several experts located in different cities. An important feature of the network-wide access to electronically (centrally) stored course materials is that continuous development, renewal and correction is evidently possible and so the most up-to-date course delivery can be ensured.
Electronic access through networks also allows a kind of “hierarchical access” to course materials, making possible e. g. to separate those blocks of courseware for which the access is eventually subject of payment. The use of multimedia in open and distance learning The development of information technology makes the increasingly wider application of multimedia in education possible. In contrast to several applications of advanced information technology, where the basic ideas and priorities of open and distance learning have to be given up mainly because of the high costs of the systems and their use, multimedia education builds on these basic principles – such as individual learning, interactivity, and freedom of learning in terms of time, place and pace.
Although excellent multimedia learning materials are available, there is still no standard method for building up multimedia-based open and distance learning systems. That is why intensive work is needed to find efficient education methods, including tutorials and practical training where relevant, utilizing the potential of multimedia-based open and distance learning systems. Besides CD ROM, networks of sufficient bandwidth will be more and more applicable to transmit multimedia education materials. As already mentioned, the replacement of video films by animations reduces the necessary bandwidth considerably. This, and the use of multimedia servers, pave the way for the wider use of multimedia education of individuals via the network.
The compatibility of quite expensive multimedia education materials is an important issue, particularly in countries where different computer systems exist. One of the possible ways to overcome this difficulty is the use of a “common language” for all computer systems (e. g. Internet browser) for the development of multimedia materials. 12 The wide interactive application of compatible multimedia education material systems via networks, providing sufficiently fast access, the utilisation of the potential of hypertexts, enabling the interconnections between a continuously widening pool of course materials, and finding adequate tutoring and practical training systems where relevant, open very promising new perspectives in the field of human resource development.
New opportunities and threats: advanced information technology in the activities of regional distance education centres The new developments in the field of open and distance learning, particularly with regard to the use of advanced information technology raises questions that should be responded to according to local circumstances, traditions and cultural background when planning distance education systems of the country and the network of regional distance education centres, which is its backbone. The first concern is the role of the local education cultures, in the period of the emergence of the worldwide market of teaching materials, when a new actor, the provider of information technology also appeared on the scene of education and training.
How can the marginalisation of the individual educational system by the dominance of highly efficient course materials and delivery systems with no or weak local social and cultural relevance, coming e. g. from outside of the country be avoided? How can the increasing dominance of technology in education be avoided? The usual conservative reaction for these questions is the refusal of the use of new technologies would enhance the threat; it would lead to the bypassing of local education systems. The proper response of the academic sphere and of educators should be the active and efficient participation in this process. In this way, a balanced contribution and impact of academy and technology can be achieved that is needed for respecting the basic values of education.
The mobilization and utilization of local intellectual resources will result in course materials and delivery systems that may be highly competitive. Another question concerns the limited access of individuals to the equipment necessary to attend open and distance learning courses using advanced information technology. Disregarding the in-house training of employees where the standard information technology of the firm can be used, in most countries only a small part of population can afford to buy the equipment and services necessary to participate in technology intensive courses. (Although in the past decade the prices have gone down radically, the equipment required has became increasingly sophisticated, so their cost has not changed considerably. By introducing courses without considering this fact, the basic value of open and distance learning, its openness and access will be harmed. What is the right answer to this challenge when planning the work and equipment of the regional study centres? According to the mission of the centres, they should offer courses accessible for the target groups of the society. The use of any education technology wich is not accessible by its potential participants would discriminate and consequently discredit open and distance learning. The use of proper and, for each participant, accessible alternatives (e. g. PC based material is accessible also in a printed version, or consultation centres could offer regular access to PCs) could solve this problem. 13
The system of functions of the study centres Regarding the situation in Central and Eastern European countries in open and distance learning and the use of information technology, a dual mission of the regional distance education study centres can be formulated: ? these centres should facilitate the introduction and implementation of efficient and quality open and distance learning in their countries, accessible to the members of the target groups concerned, in order to assist the development of the society and economy and to promote the wide use of new education methods in the human resource development sphere; ? in order to support the national education system by participating in mainstream activities of the development of education technology, the centres should work in close cooperation with the local human resource development sphere.
The international open and distance learning community should actively participate in the development and piloting of new open and distance learning schemes using advanced information technology. This means, in terms of concrete tasks that the centres should use the information technology (besides obvious general applications like office infrastructure) for the following activities: a/ Link and co-operation with the Programme Management Unit, National Contact Point and other Centres in order to ### facilitate the smooth implementation of the project, ### to exchange information, ### to develop course materials jointly and ### to launch and implement courses in co-operation. / Link and cooperation with the sub-centres belonging to the regional centre and with the close environment in order ### to raise awareness concerning open and distance learning, ### to disseminate information on the project and on the services of the centre, ### to develop course materials in co-operation, ### to launch and implement open and distance learning courses in co-operation, ### to train the staff and tutors of the sub-centres. c/ Development of open and distance learning course materials in co-operation with other centres, subcentres and organizations through ### the preparation of audio and video materials, demonstrations, animations and simulations, ### the joint development of conventional and multimedia course materials, ### the record and transfer of course materials using traditional media, CD ROM-s and networks. / Development of open and distance learning delivery systems using information technology intensive courses and launching pilot courses in co-operation with other centres and sub-centres, by ### adapting traditional DE course materials and developing course delivery systems for dissemination through the Internet, ### piloting and extending computer video conferences and computer conferences as well as other forms of electronic student-tutor and student-student communication, ### integrating multimedia course materials into open and distance learning systems, ### piloting new information technology intensive systems for multimedia education by using electronic networks. 14
The equipment of the study centres For the implementation of the tasks of the study centres, needing use of advanced information technology, the main features and priorities of the equipment for the centres can be identified as follows: ### The centres (and possibly their sub-centres) should be linked with at least ISDN network enabling the communication between them. ### A mainframe computer should back the information technology activities of the centers which has to correspond to the following requirements: ### the computer should simultaneously meet the needs of development and delivery of traditional course materials and that of the use of advanced information technology in open and distance learning. ## since the direction of the development of use of advanced information technology in the open and distance learning can not be predicted, the computer should be as flexible as possible in terms of purpose and ways of its use and it has to be extendable according to the emerging needs, ### the computer shoud be of high capacity in terms of data storage and computation speed, because of the demanding tasks to be fulfilled ( video and computer conferencing, E-mail communication, file transfer, storage and transfer of digitalized video and audio records, preparation of demanding, possible 3 dimensional simulations and animations for multimedia materials transferred via network). * CD reading and writing, further video processing for the course development should be a standard asset • In order to fulfil safely the networking functions, it is strongly advised to install a separate WWW server machine ### For the sake of ensuring efficient international cooperation, the necessary compatibily of equipment with the hardware of other centres as well as with that of the members of Europan Open University Network should be guaranteed. ## The applied hardware and software should be particularly appropriate for supporting high quality graphical presentation, since this plays increasingly significant role in the preparation of teaching materials. The centres should be provided with possible non-computer specific multimedia development tools enabling the development of multimedia course materials compatible with wide range of computer systems. • The centres (and possibly their sub-centres) should be equipped by computer videoconferencing systems that are preferably able to utilise the potential of the use of computer in the conferencing (e. g. voice transfer, common desk, library, opportunities of joint work during the conference). ## The appreciation and support of the centers by the host institution would be strengthened and additional incomes could be acquired if these equipment could be used besides their basic tasks also for supporting the operation of the host institution (e. g. the research and 15 development, the management with e. g. videoconferencing). These activities can not hinder the basic activity of the information technology infrastructure. 16 ANNEX 1. ((((Networking and technical equipment principles of the Euro Study Centres))) Resource: European Open University Network Project “Technical Whatever” Author: Michael Fuminger EOUN, 1995. 17 ANNEX 2. ((((Recommendations of EADTU for the technical infrastructure of the study centres, specialised for course delivery))) 18 INTRODUCTION In this document, some very global guidelines are given for setting up a new nfrastructure within the study centres. For a proper inventory, further steps have to be taken, such as • more detailed user needs analyses • analysis of existing infrastructure • short, middle and long term financial analysis Therefore, a rather global advice will be given below, based on a budget of 50. 000 ECU per study centre. When starting from the scratch, it is important to pay attention to the following areas: • • • • Personal Computers Local Area Network Connection with the Internet, and last but not least, Software In the following sections, a description of every component will be given, including arguments, prices, and assumptions
Personal Computers At the moment, there is a range of Personal Computers available on the market; the best option seems to use the most accepted standard in the business. At this moment, this is the PC based on an Intel Processor, capable of running a range of operating systems, like Windows 3. 1, Windows 95, Windows NT, OS/2, Unix and more. A standard PC could be configured as follows: • IBM compatible PC with a processor on 133 Mhz • Gbyte hard disk (IDE or SCSI) • Mbytes main memory • inch color monitor Multimedia extensions: • Sound card • CD-ROM player Network: • Ethernet adapter card The price of such a system is about 2000 ECU 19 Local Area Network
The computers should be able to communicate with each other, therefore a so called Local Area Network hould be installed. It is difficult to give precise advice about this network, as pricing is rather dependent on a series of different parameters. The price is determined amongst others by • throughput needed by the applications running on the network • number of users of the network at present and in the future • security and reliability • building situation Assuming only a limited set of simultaneous users, the following minimum requirements and components can be given: • PC Server a special Personal Computer, with extra security and reliability features PC erver, 2 Gbyte SCSI hard disk, 2 Gbyte Tapestreamer, Smart UPS Price: 6000 ECU • Network Printer Laser printer capable of producing 12000 copies per month Price: 1000 ECU • Cabling and installation Prices are very much dependent on the local situation, thus only a rough indication can be given Price: 3000 ECU Internet As the importance of telematics grows day by day, it is important to have a good connection to the Internet. The cost of such a connection depends considerably on the position of the study centre. If it is possible to make use of e. g. the infrastructure of an university, this may reduce the costs considerably. An affordable solution can be the installation of an ISDN router.
Assuming this situation, the price estimation can be as below: • Basic Rate ISDN line Price: 500 ECU (installation cost) • ISDN router A router that routes the traffic between the Local Area Network and the WAN Price: 5000 ECU • Provider fees Depending on the provider, a study centre can choose a fee which has to be paid to this provider. As prices may be rather different, no indication without further investigation can be given. 20 Software We assume that on each PC a standard software package needs to be installed. This includes: • an Operating System • a Word Processor • a Spreadsheet • a presentation package • a WWW browser For educational purposes, specialised software may be needed. Furthermore, specialised software could be needed, when the study centres need to co-operate with each other, using telematics. Further information on the detailed needs is necessary, in order to give an indication of products and prices.
For the choice of software, the best solutio seems to choose the most common standard at this moment. This automatically leads to the range of Microsoft products, i. e. for example the following software:. Microsoft Windows NT 4. 0 server software This is the operating system for the file server. For each client an extra license is required. Price: 1000 ECU Microsoft Windows 95 for the Pcs This includes the license needed for logging on to the file server Price: 200 ECU Microsoft Office for Windows 95 This package includes the Word text processor, the Excel spreadsheet and the Powerpoint presentation package. For each PC such a license is needed. Price: 500 ECU 21