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Setting up a Computer Mediated Communication Network for Secondary Schools

Setting up a Computer Mediated Communication Network for Secondary Schools

Kürsat Çagiltay <kursat@knidos.cc.metu.edu.tr>
Petek Askar <askarp@rorqual.cc.metu.edu.tr>
Attila Özgit <ozgit@knidos.cc.metu.edu.tr>


Turkey has initiated a project for setting up a computer mediated communication network among 53 secondary schools. This project is running under the control of National Ministry of Education, Department of Information Technology in Education (DITE). Financial support is supplied by the World Bank. With the installation of 53 schools equipment, each school will have basic equipment and software to participate in a computer-mediated communications network. Establishing such a network could be a part of a cost-effective strategy for providing both technological and pedagogical support to those schools.

In this paper, Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) project for secondary schools in Turkey will be presented along with its details, experiences, technical and administrative problems, political concerns, user support, training and assessment.


1 Introduction

During the 1980s, Turkey laid the foundation for her transition to an information based economy (IBE).

In 1984, the efforts for using computers in Turkish schools have begun. In 1985-1987 about 2400 computers were purchased and distributed to secondary and vocational schools. During 1988-1989, 2000 computers were put into use. Several firms, with the cooperation of the universities, developed courseware materials and applied them in selected school.

During 1990-1991, 6500 computers have been bought and firms completed their studies on preparing 142 courseware. On the other hand 5000 teachers and 195 teacher trainers were taken into in-service training by the universities. Up to now, approximately 10.000 computers have been purchased and distributed to schools. The schools also purchased microcomputers through other sources. An estimation of 20.000 computers are now available in our schools. Although this trend is growing exponentially, the percentage of the schools which have computer labs is not at the desired level (About 15% of them have computer labs).

In 1993, in order to take a major step for Turkey to leap to the informatics society a project called CES (Computer Experimental Schools) was initiated under the control of National Ministry of Education, Department of Information Technology in Education (DITE).

In accomplishing this project, 53 CES schools (located to many different cities-Figure-1) equipped with basic hardware and software is expected to use this potential in teaching and learning. This approach backed up with a participation in a computer-mediated communication network can provide a technological and pedagogical edge to the CES schools.

Figure-1 Locations of CESs

DITE's initial aim in establishing a communications network is three-fold. These are related with evaluation and maintenance, curriculum and training. Ultimately this will lead to an increased interaction among schools through services like electronic mail (e-mail), computer conferencing, access to on-line databases and electronic bulletin boards (BBS). These aims are summarized below:

Evaluation and Maintenance Goals and Functions:

  1. Exchanging e-mail about certain problems and solutions discovered during implementation. Also, sending more formal evaluation forms to teachers and administrators for completion and return.
  2. Monitoring implementation of CES project through e-mailed questionnaires and on-line networked meetings.
  3. Maintaining a help desk through e-mail to help schools solve their technical problems.

Curriculum Goals and Functions:

  1. Cooperative project work among national schools and schools abroad.
  2. Teacher and student access to multimedia resources.
  3. Establishment of a student news and information bulletin boards.

Training Goals and Functions:

  1. Teacher training through computer-aided distance learning.
  2. Provide links among educators at all levels for professional development.
  3. Distribution of news and information from DITE in the form of a bulletin.

In order to establish above goals and functions CES schools need to have Local Area Networks (LAN) and all of them should be connected together around a Wide Area Network (WAN). This connection will be utilized for various tasks including e-mail, computer conferencing, access to on-line databases and electronic BBS, remote access, file transfer etc.

In the operation of CMC the issues are divided into three major categories :

a- Activities

b- CMCN (Computer Mediated Communication Network) system design

c- Training

2 Activities

There are many working and effective examples of CMC use that support teachers, students and school administration. Some of the activities which are planned for Turkish high schools are followings:

2.1 Collaborative Projects

Collaborative learning can be defined, in an umbrella way, as the acquisition by individuals of knowledge, skills or attitudes occurring as the result of group interaction [1]. Collaborative study or team work is one of the desired skill for Information Age. CMC could give this opportunity to the students and teachers in order to conduct research, gather data, test the hypotheses and discuss the findings. In addition, students can shore all these with the scientists via computer networks.

The areas for those activities could be science, environment and geography. The applications can increase the motivation of the students, can give opportunity to contribute to an authentic research project, and the chance to work with real scientists.

2.2 Pen Pals

One of the advantages of CMC in the variety of ways in which it can be used to enrich the curriculum. Through the use of CMC it is possible to bring experiences into the classroom.

Students from different countries can communicate via e-mail to learn about cultural differences by improving writing and language skills. This experience can make foreign language learning more meaningful.

2.3 On line help for Teachers

CMC offers a promising medium for the induction support of especially for teachers in the project. Since project requires new skills and knowledge, teachers will need support for the ongoing activities. They can get personal, emotional and technical support via CMC immediately.

2.4 Data Collection

For the assessment of the performance indicators of the project, data collection is needed. Since 53 schools are from all over the country, it will be easy to collect data electronically. It will save time and money. In addition immediate feedback can be provided to the schools.

Besides the above activities, CMC will provide electronic publications, electronic galleries, archives and on-line databases.

3 CMCN System Design

In order to design the system of CMCN the following procedures will be actualized.

3.1 Survey of Similar Experiences

Advances in computer and communication technologies have led to various standalone or joint projects on educational networks in many countries. According to the best of our knowledge, most of these projects are on the implementation phase. Some of the advantages in reviewing similar examples can be stated as,

3.2 Survey of the Turkish PTT's Capabilities and the Infrastructure in Turkey

Wide Area Computer Networks are mainly based on PTT services in Turkey. This makes the PTT capabilities and infrastructure essentially important while designing such a network and its topology. Each of the available PTT communication technologies has its own advantages and disadvantages. Before starting on the planning stages of the topology, a survey of the Turkish PTT's infrastructure and capabilities would be necessary to investigate the following issues:

While purchasing any communication equipment, the interface standards that the equipment should possess must be considered with PTT's future plans in mind. A wide variety of technical alternatives for connectivity are available. The major selection criterion among these alternatives are their cost. This will necessitate a careful review of PTT tariffs for each communication platform to be considered. While defining the topology, one of the items that should be taken into consideration is the cost analysis. On the other side the Turkish Government is currently planning the privatization of the communication services of the Turkish PTT. How this privatization will affect the services, infrastructure and cost of communication in Turkey is not known yet.

3.3 Survey of Network Technologies (Hardware and Software)

The project is primarily focused on connecting many individual Local Area Networks (LAN) which exist in CES schools under a Wide Area Network (WAN). More than one type of network hardware technology could be utilized at different levels of the implementation.

The criteria for this evaluation will include cost, vendor reputation, product reputation, reliability, compatibility, portability, efficiency, capacity flexibility, etc.

The software level of networking technologies also has a wide variety of choices. Searching the best networking software will result in an analysis which consist of criteria such as applicability, ubiquity, coexistence, simplicity, portability, modularity, flexibility, and capacity, etc. Also the results of search and analysis of networking technologies will effect the design of the network topology.

At this stage, some alternative solutions will be installed in a laboratory environment (or in one or two of the schools) and their advantages and disadvantages will be tested in real school network environment.

3.4 Network Topology

Since 53 CES schools are distributed geographically in different locations of the country, the topology for the interconnection of these schools should be planned by exercising ultimate care. All possible topological alternatives will be analyzed.

Topology selections will be outlined by concentrating on applicable and inapplicable ones which will be finalized in lists. Most effective choices will have proven criteria such as manageability, simplicity, capability, expandability, cost effectiveness, security, availability, redundancy. Also examples from the real networking world will be searched and analyzed concurrently. The new technologies will also be investigated to make possible for the projected network to be expandable.

3.5 Network Management, Operation and Support

All networks require some level of management, ongoing network support and their related resource requirements. In this part of the project, CES network management, operation and support requirements and their details will be investigated and reported. Actually, those operations can easily be divided into two main categories: LANs (Local Area Networks) that are school networks, WANs (Wide Area Networks) that are the interconnection of LANs and the global INTERNET.

3.5.1 LAN(Local Area Network)

After the installation of a LAN in a school, an ongoing network support, management and operation is essential. Otherwise this investment becomes a dead born baby.

In this part of the project following tasks will be undertaken:

Here, the recruitment of skilled staff is one of the key issues. Any plan for implementing computer and network technology in schools must also consider staff availability. Training is often the most neglected aspect, and lack of training can lead to failure of the project. In projects like CES, the train-the-trainer model, in which a group of people are trained on a subject or tool and each individual in turn trains other groups could be a good model for network training. A small group of motivated teachers can be provided with training who can then educate their colleagues.

It is clear that all educators, administrators, librarians AND students should have the same access to the network. So, here a question about network security comes in to mind. Computer security is unquestionably important, both in maintaining the security of school's computers and in ensuring the proper behavior of the school's students (and others who use the network). In this area, rather than the school's policy, Ministry by laws and rules should be determined and applied. Additionally, capability to withstand catastrophic events (natural disasters, sabotages, etc.) should also be analyzed. All aspects of security matter will also be analyzed and several computer crime prevention methods and policies will be presented.

3.5.2 WAN (Wide Area Network)

All CES laboratories will be interconnected to each other and integrated with the global INTERNET through a WAN. This communication will be realized mostly by PTT's facilities. So, a well-defined and organized network management is a must to operate this network efficiently. Following are the important items of this part:

Management activities are normally performed by Network Operations Center (NOC). NOC oversees the performance of the physical network and some of its software support systems. Real time monitoring of the network can be performed by some software tools. Such network monitoring allows NOC staff to detect problems quickly and reduces the personnel required to perform this function. Detailed structure, job descriptions and personnel profiles of NOC will be determined.

3.6 Network Services for CES

On which communication protocols should the CES Network Services based on and how these services are presented to CES Users? Answers to those questions are explained below:

Communication Protocols and Software:

The infrastructure in the CES schools are initially planned as PC Based LANs. Although there are a number of solutions for this structure, to be able to integrate the CES network to the world of INTERNET and benefit from the facilities of INTERNET, the same network design principles and computer communication protocols currently running on the INTERNET should be used to build the complete CES network. TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) proves itself as the most suitable protocol. The main benefits of TCP/IP are listed below:

Application Software / User Interference:

It would be easily predicted that the familiarity of the potential users of CES Network (teachers, students, librarians) with the networking technologies would be quite low. A training must be given to the users. However, while using the services of CES, expertise should not become an obstacle and should be targeted to the end users.

The basic CES Network services such as sending e-mail within the CES School, CES Network or reading news from the CES Bulletin Board System would not be an easy task for this group of users, unless they are presented by a user-friendly graphical user interface.

Today, to surf the INTERNET, there exist easy-to-use applications and tools. Gopher and WWW (World Wide Web) are the most important examples of them. For example, graphical WWW clients like NCSA Mosaic, Cello, and Netscape look suitable and a school student may use them by clicking on the mouse provided that he/she understands English.

To use the CES Network efficiently a software for CES users would be prepared. The main characteristics of this software are listed below:

The set of services (e-mail, teleconferencing, etc.) would determine the cost of the application software and accordingly the network topology.

4 Training

Teachers are the key resource for developing or applying the new technology. As a result, in order to train our children to be well equipped to compete in global economy in which information technology skills are required, teachers have to receive proper initial and continuos in-service training.

In the project, every school will have at least one computer coordinator who was the full responsibility of the computer laboratory, the courseware, and the implementation. In addition this teacher will give training to other teachers in the school regarding the use of computers.

The inservice-training of the computer coordinators have been implemented at the universities since 1990. This summer, training is going to be conducted in the universities also.

The content of the training course is: disk operating systems, tool applications, aspect of using IT in education, types of educational software, evolution of educational software, how to develop educational software, multi-media, classroom management and CMC.

The CMC module's objectives are:

- To describe the properties and functions of Networks

- To list the usage areas of Computer Networks

- To describe the usage areas of Computer Networks as Educational tool.

- To list the general properties of Networks

- To list of Network Operating Systems

- To describe the properties and functions of Novell operating system

- To list the types of network environments.

- To describe the properties and functions of communication links.

- To describe the properties and function of wireless communication links

- To describe the properties and functions of INTERNET

- To describe the history of INTERNET

- To describe which centers and who are linked to INTERNET in Turkey

- To list the access environments and types of INTERNET

- To describe the properties and functions of access environments and types of INTERNET

- To describe the service facilities of INTERNET

- To describe How to use telecommunication in education

- To describe How the telecommunication is used in education throughout the World

- To describe How the telecommunication is used in education in Turkey

- To describe the types of telecommunication applications in schools.

- To describe How the communication among schools and ministry is provided.

- To describe the properties and functions of application programs (mosaic, gopher etc.) on INTERNET.

- To demonstrate How to use the application programs, mosaic and gopher on INTERNET.

- To describe the properties and functions of e-mail applications.

5 Conclusion

In this paper the aspects of setting a CMCN to 53 high schools in Turkey was discussed. This project will be a major step for Turkey towards becoming an informatics society.

The implementation will be started in 1996. The results of the implementation will be discussed at the next conference.


[1] Kaye A. Collaborative Learning, "Special Program on Advanced Educational Technology", NATO Final Report, 1994

[2] "TURKEY: Informatics and Economic Modernization," A World Bank Country study., March 1993.

[3] Schlosser A.C. Anderson M.L. (1994) Distance Education : Review of the Literature. AECT Publication USA

[4] Ministry of National Education Reports on CAI.

Author Information

Kürsat Çagiltay is a graduate of Mathematics Department, Middle East Technical University (METU). He holds an M.Sc. degree from Department of Computer Engineering of METU. Currently he continues Ph.D. at the department of Science Education, Faculty of Education, METU. Mr. Çaðýltay is the manager of Networking in METU-CC (METU Computer Center). He is a member of the executive committee of TR-NET (Turkish Internet Project Group). His professional and research interests are: computer networks, communication technologies and computer aided education.

Petek Askar is a professor at the department of Science Education, Faculty of Education, METU and is the director of DITE at Ministry of Education. She is a member of EARLI and AECT. She has published articles and books on the use of computers in school, instructional design of computer-based environments and computer based mathematics instruction. Her research interests are: Applications of information technologies in education, future schools and instructional message design.

Attila Özgit is a faculty member of Computer Engineering Department and the Director of Computer Center of the Middle East Technical University. He is a member of the executive committee of TR-NET. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from Middle East Technical University. Dr. Özgit's research interests are: distributed systems, operating systems, and computer networks.