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Low Cost Internet Synchronous Distance Education Using Open Source Software

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Web Education I: Delivery and Evaluation

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.876.1 - 9.876.10

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Paper Authors

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J. Mark Pullen

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Low-Cost Internet Synchronous Distance Education Using Open-Source Software J. Mark Pullen, Priscilla M. McAndrews School of Information Technology and Engineering, George Mason University

Abstract In the School of Information Technology and Engineering at George Mason University, we have integrated a suite of open-source software for teaching simultaneously in the classroom and over the Internet. The system uses five open-source components from other groups plus a master client, live server, and playback server that we have developed. All software is available at no cost to educational users and runs on low-cost Windows or Linux systems. We have presented about thirty courses using this system, with enthusiastic student response. In order to manage this growing system effectively and at low cost, we have developed a web portal and a set of procedures for support. This paper will focus on lessons learned in eight years of operation that now enable us to combine this form of delivery effectively with standard classroom courses, using minimal resources.

Introduction Over many generations of schooling, academia has arrived at the collective conclusion that an instructor, serving as mentor and interpreter of course materials, can enable more effective use of students’ time for learning. This paper addresses a way in which the Internet can support that teaching process directly. Recent years have seen wide use of the Internet for asynchronous distance education, consisting mostly of remote access to Web-based course materials. Such remote access saves a lot of travel to the library and also saves many trees from being sacrificed for paper. Virtually every faculty member maintains a website with course materials, and there is a trend toward providing full courses asynchronously, providing a faster means of delivery for that earlier form of distance education, the correspondence course.

However, the Internet does not invalidate the earlier conclusion that instructor-led courses are most effective; just as the Internet has made the correspondence course more accessible and flexible, synchronous distance education creates an ability to deliver instructor-presented classes to students1. The growing Internet culture makes synchronous teaching seem natural; the latest generation of students has grown up with a keyboard in hand and Internet connection the norm. Because of the pervasive use of electronic mail (email) for student assistance and mentoring, fewer students avail themselves of instructors’ office hours. Attending class over the Internet is the logical next step, allowing students to spend time studying instead of commuting.

Many educators associate synchronous distance education with television delivery. Thus, they generally assume that Internet distance education means video delivered via the Internet. However, when combined with the personal computer, the Internet offers a means of electronic delivery that can be more effective educationally than television and also cost less to deliver. Our experience shows that, in many cases, audiographics (the combination of audio, high quality prepared graphics, and dynamic graphic annotation) is more effective than video. Moreover,

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004 American Society for Engineering Education

Pullen, J. M. (2004, June), Low Cost Internet Synchronous Distance Education Using Open Source Software Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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