Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Elearn: Towards a Collaborative Educational Virtual Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Elearn: Towards a Collaborative Educational Virtual Environment

Article excerpt

Introduction

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) (Britain & Liber, 1999) are learning management software systems that synthesize the functionality of computer-mediated communication software and on-line methods of delivering course material. Most of the systems that are currently under development are intended not simply to reproduce the classroom environment online, but also to use the technology to provide learners with new tools that facilitate learning. An Educational Virtual Environment is a system where the emphasis is mainly on the "education and collaboration" (Bouras, Psaltoulis, Psaroudis, & Tsiatsos, 2002). Collaborative e-learning is any kind of learning process performed by more than one person that takes place mainly in a virtual environment (Michailidou, & Economides, 2002).

The implementation of innovative pedagogical practices is a response to the social needs for educational advancement. Participants are experiencing new ways of learning and communicating with teachers by organizing the learning environment in a different way, based on several technological innovations. Additionally, one should respond to the academic, linguistic and cultural diversity of today's world, to avoid the risk of creating systems of low social, pedagogical and economic efficiency. This is the reason why the situation needs a holistic perspective of study and discussion.

Tools used for Lessons Development

Elearn is a virtual world that motivates students to participate in the educational process by exploring and playing with the lessons material, communicate with other students and teachers, and collaborate among themselves in performing several tasks. The lessons described electronic commerce issues, an attractive topic in the new information society.

Active Worlds (http://www.activeworlds.com) environment has been used for the development of the lessons, using virtual reality. This environment integrates in the same window, the virtual world, the web pages (Internet Explorer has been used for the development of the web pages) that are connected with particular incidents regarding the virtual environment and synchronous chat among the users. Synchronous chat, along with the inhabitancy of many avatars in the same virtual environment enhances collaboration. A general aspect of the environment, which has been developed, is presented in Figure 1.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Administration of the lessons has been programmed in ASP (Kauffman, & Willis, 1999). In applications dealing with a group of users, it is necessary to develop a strong administration tool. In the first page of such a tool, the opportunity of choosing any of the offered functions must be given. In such a case the following functions must be considered: the opportunity of adding and removing users (students, teachers) and even changing some of their elements, such as their address or phone number. Only the lessons' administrator is entitled to use the above. On the other hand, a user should have the ability of searching and finding information concerning the teachers or the students.

The administration tool can be connected to a database, which has been created with an SQL Server (Specifically, an NT Server--SQL Server 7.0 with IIS4.0 has been used) through the ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity) environment. A database has been created, with two basic tables, one for the students and one for the teachers. Both students' and teachers' tables consist of the following fields: Lastname, Firstname, Age, Address, Tel (for the telephone), Email and Comments (for information concerning their previous education, their interests, etc.).

The web pages that are integrated in the Active Worlds environment have been created using Microsoft Front Page 2000, an environment capable of easily creating, updating and manipulating web pages. There has been an effort to integrate some necessary functions and characteristics, concerning the development of the virtual environment for the electronic commerce lessons, such as the opportunity of enrolling, searching for information, getting help, and so on. …

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