Design, Realization, and Delivery of Pedagogical Events for Telelearning in a French Context

Claude Ricciardi Rigault <crigault@teluq.uquebec.ca>
LICEF, Télé-université,
1001 Sherbrooke Est, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Lauraine André <andre@kaliop.irpeacs.ec-lyon.fr>
IRPEACS/CNRS
93 Chemin des Mouilles, Ecully Cedex 69631, France

Jacques Guidon <guidon@moka.ccr.jussieu.fr>
LID, Université Paris VII
5 place Jussieu, Paris 7505, France

Abstract

We present part of a project whose goal is to promote and develop French learning material to be offered by way of electronic networks. This project, called HyperGuides/RECTO, is conducted in collaboration with various partners, both public and private, located on two continents. In France, different research partners joined in a RECTO mirror project called VERSO. The RECTO/VERSO project originates from a two-year collaboration between researchers from Quebec and France working in the field of methodologies and tools for telelearning. The project includes studies about the design of a platform to support telelearning environments, about different delivery modes, and about the reengineering process of previous material in an international context. Our concern here is the reengineering of a pedagogical activity offered on the Net. Design and realization of such an activity has been done in a collaborative way and shared among French and Quebecois partners. Our point was not only to develop a new type of learning product, which is what we did, but also to discover the necessary organization, tools, and electronic supports capable of making such a cooperative and intercontinental enterprise effective and efficient.

1. Introduction

Headed in Quebec by the LICEF Research Center of Télé-université, granted by the Government of Quebec's Information Highway Fund, the HyperGuides/RECTO project is conducted in collaboration with various partners, both public and private, on two continents. In Quebec, the project includes the Collegial Center for Distance Education (CCFD), General DataComm, Novasys, Eduplus, Bell Quebec, and Teleglobe. In France, different research partners such as the LID (Paris VII U.), IRPEACS/CNRS (Lyon), TRIGONE Laboratory (Lille U.), LIUM (Le Mans U.), and the CNET (linked to France Telecom) joined in a RECTO mirror project called VERSO. The RECTO/VERSO project originates from a two-year collaboration between researchers from Quebec and France working in the field of methodologies and tools for telelearning. The general goal is to make French language products available on the Web for and with the help of French-speaking people, even though cultural and technical contexts may differ between them. The project includes:

The point we want to make here concerns the reengineering of a pedagogical activity on the Net that consists of an initiation to Internet. People from LICEF, LID, and a private Canadian company (Eduplus) thought about designing and offering together a version of such an activity able to reach other French-speaking audiences, not only in America and Europe, but also in Africa and eventually Asia, making them able to join the cybernetic community. The previous course material originated from two different roots. The first one happens to be an undergraduate course offered by Télé-université for some months with a real success. Hundreds of people have taken it at a distance without leaving their own homes or working places. The second one consists of material prepared for a face-to-face graduate course, addressed to people without any computer science background (Paris VII U.). As a result of such heterogeneous approaches, the material had to be laid down. We had to deal with a new audience, to present a quickly evolving content, and also to discover the way to make it possible with a team as heterogeneous as the material.

Two points are of interest in this experience: The first one concerns the research and the design of the new activity; the second concerns the way we organize and live the collaborative design and development of this activity across two continents, using the Internet exclusively.

2. Design and realization of the activity

2.1. Objectives

We agreed on the following major objectives:

2.2. Answers to needs

The first problem we were confronted with was the diversity of the audiences, of their needs, of their current knowledge and know-how, and of their social and technological contexts. So we decided to design the activity by making various units or bases of information and training material, technological and pedagogical content quite independent, but able to be called and used at any time during the implementation of the different pedagogical scenarios.

To answer the need to be informed both of the common knowledge about what the Internet is (with the underlying background) and with its local instanciation, we developed two different and interconnected units.

To answer the double need to be well-informed about the local context and also about the international one, we made available to everybody diverse continental units.

2.3. Pedagogical choices for popular product

We chose to set our choices on the competence and project approach, taking the learner as an actor. The learner chooses a thematic project right at the beginning of the learning process and knows the objective that should be reached. It is through a specific project that he or she will, by using a deductive approach, acquire knowledge about the information highway. The pedagogical choices had to be done on the base of reaching the objectives of a popular product. Such an approach makes it possible to structure easily the project in a ludic, interactive way. The multicultural aspects can also be respected, as the projects are contextualized. To emphasize the "popularization," we decided to give a very large place to the images as a powerful way of teaching and learning.

2.4. Structure

The material is organized in three large components:

A formative and summative assessment optional unit will be added if needed by the contextual use.

2.5. Media and product

The whole hyperbase constituted by the above units is made of hypermedia material. Each part includes a map of contents, procedures and orders, a methodology by competence and by project, procedures to install tools and software, informational and technological contents, and projects to be realized by learners. Each part also includes multimedia-supported documents (static and moving pictures, texts, and so on), tools and software to be installed, and the required material to support learners at a distance during their readings and the realization of their respective projects. A kit of freeware will be delivered to the learners in order to let them build their own environment (on PC or Mac platform) and help them to become efficient in the Internet world.

Because we decided to develop material for the largest possible audience--individuals, enterprises, institutions, public and private organizations--in countries including, for example, Western Africa, we chose to develop material that facilitates autonomous work using a CD-ROM (developed in such a way that it can easily be stored and offered on a local area network [LAN] or swung to the Web). Actually, some people are still unable to connect while learning, and some others got too low-flow or too expensive lines (African context, for example). So, material will contain documents and resources (tutorial and simulation) to enable them to practice autonomous learning.

But we also wanted to enable learners to access the informational and pedagogical wealth of the Internet in a suitable context. Each unit can display Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) links to the Internet world, which constitute as many starting points as needed to explore and search by way of existing indexes and information retrieval systems.

3. Collaborative international tele-edition

3.1. Contextualization

Different elements were built in from the beginning, such as:

People working on the project were located in five sites and four different places: Montreal, Quebec, Lyon, and Paris. They had to deal with a problematic detail in such a collaborative context: working time. The six-hour time difference between intercontinental partners really was a handicap most of all in the beginning. Another irritant resulted from the Internet environment and the well-known blocking of transatlantic lines when arriving on the American continent.

3.2. How should a distant international collaborative process through telematic services be structured?

Collaboration intrisically implies at least two other dimensions such as cooperation and coordination. The questions are: How could we really implement conditions for "authentic collaboration" and widely for international collaboration. What are the premises? How should the coordination take place in a collaborative process? How should it be organized or structured? How, as human beings, do we "live" a distant collaborative process through telematic services?

This paper presents the retrospective analysis of the design process with conscious "distanciation" as part of the development of an innovative method for telematics usage, more specifically, the International TeleEditing Usage. This part of the paper will be both descriptive and analytic in giving specific events of a concrete project and specific methods that appeared relevant for the development of international collaboration using telematic services. We aim at modeling the negotiation between international partners in the frame of tele-editive collaboration.

International production highlights a lot of different human and organizational dimensions: political, theoretical, technological, and especially human relationship. These aspects have to be considered on national and international levels. First we will discuss those topics.

3.2.1. Political

National

From the national point of view, projects that are financed by public funds have to meet their requirements, even if the international collaboration happened to be ineffective. As any other project supported by public grant, RECTO had specific deliverables, among them the reingineering, for the whole French Commonwealth public, of an existing Internet course. On this basis, right at the beginning of the project, an alternative had to be considered in order to remedy any situation on the international level. The alternative, in this specific case, meant doubling the analysis phase of the design process--to develop a national scenario to meet at least the national objectives of the project.

International

Very soon, in an international project, we have to point out the political aspects--more specifically, the legal aspects such as copyright and commercial benefits that had to be shared between individuals, institutions, and nations.

One of the first steps, just after the signature of an international agreement at the level of the main consortium of the countries involved, would be the elaboration of a basic contract between partners. In a reingineering project such as RECTO/VERSO, the preexisting input had to be evaluated first. Second, the new input had to be estimated from each partner with regard to the final output based on their expertise: Each partner's reponsibilities had to be defined at the beginning of the project, pointing out the benefits for each of them regarding the copyright and the financial benefits in the case of a commercial product. After a few meetings, mutual exchanges, and discussions, a contract was elaborated and signed respecting the inputs of each partner and the legal aspects of every country. It was only after this specific step that the concrete design could start.

3.2.2. Theoretical

Because the deliverable deadline was very short, a specific design approach had to be privileged in order to conceive the work steps in a dynamic loop; it meant starting by working at multilevels with multidisciplinary specialists and multidisciplinary teams. Two or three teams were working in parallel; for example, the production team prepared a script basis while the content team was writing its own part. This approach appears very appropriate for international, distributed, and collaborative work. The coordination takes a central role for dissemination and integration of information and animation of the project actors. We are talking about telecoordination: more than 18 to 20 persons in two countries and five different sites to coordinate.

3.2.3. Technological

In each location, people had access to high-rate connections to the Internet, and they currently worked on different platforms. Some rules appeared to be laid down with the purpose of making exchanges easier within the team. International teams distributing and collaborating work to produce an interactive multimedia learning activity for a diversified and heterogeneous public required the implementation of a common platform for multimedia (text ands image) editing, telecommunication, and a definition of common methods, rules, and procedures.

Concerning the equipment platform, it appeared that we had to deal not only with Unix servers, but also with two different worlds for personal computers--a PC world and a Mac world. Compatibility is still a dream, even if working with Microsoft Word 6. If it is understandable that using different versions of the same software may make people crazy, realize the problems when people use different platforms. The device then consisted of workstations connected by a LAN in each location, and each location was tied to the others by an Internet connection. For the exchange of documents, a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) site was designed with different privileges so that work in progress could not be read or modified. Different directories had to be created for each workgroup and a public directory for the general information updated regularly. Such FTP project sites had to be coordinated by the individual responsible for the workflow for the whole project.

The development platform was Director 4, 3D-Studio due to the multiplatform possibilities. The telecommunication synchronous platform chosen for videoconferencing was Picture Tell as groupware because of the capability to share applications, CU-SeeMe for video-group discussions, and Talkshow for group textual conferences.

3.2.4. Design and development process

For a reengineering product, the analysis consists of collecting information from every intervening party who works on or with the specific products in order to build a statement of the situation. This responsibility was assumed, as a natural process, by the person who had the project mandate from the organization that had the main involvement in the preexisting product. The coordination of responsibilities process started right at this point.

The second step was to establish, with the respective partners, the specific characteristics of the product. On this topic, the specific needs of each organization (in this case, two universities, but one with distant education objectives and the other with standard education context) emerged concerning educational objectives. As the product had to be developed for the whole French Commonwealth, the economic and cultural contexts appeared soon after.

Trying to define the end users--university students, individuals, enterprises, institutions, public and private organizations--in different countries--France, Canada, and some West African countries--and making the decision to develop material for a larger audience than in the preexisting product, the contextual aspects appeared more and more important and imposed a more "mass-media-training-activity" aspect than the course as it existed before. This pointed out very important criteria for the design of the final product: The popularized approach, user-friendly and easy-to-use support, taking the African conditions into account, for a larger and heterogeneous public, made us plan to develop on CD-ROM and finally determine the pedagogical and technical choices.

Next step was elaboration with all the participants in each partner's organization of a general timetable for design, development, and usability phases. On that basis, a detailed description of tasks and a precise calendar were submitted, discussed, and approved by all participants in each partner's organization. Different asynchronous and synchronous periods of time were planned for the cotele-editing work.

The project was divided into three main work packages: design, scriptwriting, and realization or production. More than 20 experts worked on this design process.

3.3. How, as human beings, do we "live" a distant international collaborative process through telematic services?

Trying to establish a real international collaboration is the real challenge for this type of project. First, we had to identify the experts in each organization who could become part of the different working groups of a cotele-editing project. The constitution of such an international collaborative, multidisciplinary team required more attention to a rigorous presentation for any action than in face-to-face or distant meetings. Precise information documents and agenda had to be sent before every meeting.

In such a project, the telematic services are giving new possibilities to the development of real collaboration, but their use has to be very selective: These new services correspond to specific moments, timing spaces, and specific tasks and activities. To illustrate this, we will make a descriptive resume of the concrete "living" of the relationship, human-to-human interaction mediated by textual, video, and groupware teleservices on which we based this opinion.

At the beginning of the project, we proposed methodologies and installed different tools and procedures to be used by the participants: e-mail, videoconferencing, textual conferencing, chat, and groupware for text and images coediting.

The first contact was very often estalished by e-mail for introduction of the project and discussion of people's interest in being part of it. Immediately after, the phone appeared to be the pertinent tool to advance the discussion and reassure each of the actors on their interpretation of their respective mandates. Another objective of the use of the phone is more relevant to the establishment of a human relationship, because voice contact starts to instill a closer relationship among the different participants.

While the daily question-and-answer tool appeared to be e-mail, the experts collaborating on the project also needed access to a site where they could share information with their counterparts in the other country, as well as send and find general and specific information.

In the middle of such a distributed work process with members in so many sites, the people wanted to see and discuss with their vis-a-vis team. The videoconferencing tool appeared to be the appropriate tool to answer the user needs at this precise moment--to check the orientation, their respective interpretations, and new proposition. Furthermore, in front of a videoconferencing system offering the possibility of sharing information, we could observe another very important move: the development of group relationships.

It is only in the last phase that participants asked to use the groupware to share applications and work in asynchronous way to finalize the last version of the mutual work.

3.4. Telecoordination

The telecoordination role was a crucial one. In the technical aspects, it consisted of preparing telepresentations; in preparing, activating, and moderating the teledebate; and assisting the different experts on different levels in tele-assistance. In the human aspects, the telecoordination had to be more structured--to send, collect, and disseminate the information so that everybody could benefit as much as possible from the short face-to-face mediated contact.

4. Conclusion

The main results of this experiment are at two levels. First, they concern the work environment and relationships between partners. The present setup is built on software running on ordinary stations (multimedia and connected to the Net). Is this satisfactory, or do we need a larger bandwidth, a specialized environment, and dedicated workstations to realize more efficient collaborative work? How can we efficiently support teamwork when people belong to different organizational cultures? We have to keep in mind some particularities which made our experiment easier: The participants exchanged in the same language; most of them were university members; and not only did they know each other, but they had also gotten used to working together before.

The second level concerns the possibility of designing and realizing generic products. They have to be adaptable for different contextual learning environments. They must offer the flexibility to be used online or offline when necessary. They are destined to be delivered to learners living in different technical and cultural contexts. And finally, they may be exploited in basic learning contexts or in lifelong learning ones.

We kept track of all the events occurring during this project and hope that an a posteriori analysis will yield elements of answers to the above questions.