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communicating computers

Communicating with Computers...
not just for distance learning!

Have you considered the advantages which software packages for enhancing communication could bring to conventional courses? Such packages have obvious uses in distance learning, but the "asynchronous" tools where the participants who are communicating do not have to be logged on at the same time, can also enhance learning in conventional environments, for example:

Also, in many cases, an archive record is created: this can form the basis of a FAQ sheet (a list of frequently asked questions, along with their answers) for your course, can be used for assessing students, and will give you information about which parts of the course students find difficult.

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Email

Most email servers allow the option of having mail which has been sent to one address delivered to many others. This can be achieved by your email administrator setting up an alias address or installing a piece of software known as a listserver (HyperMail, MHonArc, listserv and majordomo are some of the more popular ones).

You can then use email to set assignments, and your students can use it for discussions relevant to the course. Depending on how the list is set up you could be able to act as regulator: reviewing and, if necessary, rejecting messages submitted to the list. The advantage of an email list is that receiving mail requires no more effort than checking a mailbox, a task which many students already perform regularly; disadvantages are that it may require extra effort to make an archive of the traffic on an email list available in an accessible format (some packages, for example, HyperMail automate this process).

Supplier contacts

Probably the best person to contact is whoever maintains your departmental or institutional email system.

Example of use

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HyperNews

HyperNews is one of several conferencing systems that integrate with the Web. It comes from NCSA, the people who brought us Mosaic, and has been available in several versions for sometime but is still being developed and refined. It is modelled on the form of discussion that happens in newsgroups (hence the name) but if you have good access to a Web server with a friendly System Manager it is straightforward to set up your own area with password protection for different groups of users. HyperNews has been used in Scotland to promote discussion between students, both on an anonymous and assessed basis.

Supplier contacts

Example of use

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FirstClass

First Class is really an extended email package, which has a graphical interface (using a desktop metaphor) to simplify the management of messages. Messages are sent to individual users, or to 'conferences'. With conferences, messages on the same subject are kept together (although true newsgroup style threading is not supported). The system administrator has control over who has access to individual conferences.

Real-time conferencing is available using 'chat' facilities, as is file exchange. Although the software does not use Internet Mail, gateways are available to allow users to send and receive via this route. There are plans to make clients WWW-friendly, allowing course administrators to interface the conferencing software with WWW based courseware.

Supplier contacts

Example of use

  • Some examples are available on the SoftArc site.

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Knowledge Tree

Knowledge Tree is a networked software system that provides learning support for students through the use of a structured database of information. Staff and students can email comments, questions and graphics into the centralised database under headings pre-defined by the lecturer or create their own topic titles to set up a new area for discussion. Students can comment on questions posted by other students, and an email of the original question can be automatically sent to a nominated “domain expert” who can give the "official" answer. The software can be used to construct collections of Frequently Asked Questions and Answers, a resource base of information, or to develop an email discussion between groups of students.

Supplier contacts

  • Information from UCoSDA.

Example of use

  • The Knowledge Tree software includes some example of use.

CommonSpace

CommonSpace is collaborative writing software that allows a group of users to create and revise an electronic document together. This interaction might be between a teacher and a student, a group of students working on a project, scholars authoring an article, committee members revising a report, or an editor and author working on final changes in a manuscript. While the program may be used on stand-alone systems by swapping diskettes, its optimal use us over local and wide area networks and the internet.

Supplier contacts

Example of use


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Last modified: 20 November 1997.