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Internet-Based Distance Education for Sustainability

Hae Un RII <>
Dongguk University

Hyo Hyun SUNG <>
Ewha Womans University

Gill-Chin LIM <>
Michigan State University


We are living in a society with an unprecedentedly rapid pace of social transformation. As we move into the information society, we are inundated with both technical and nontechnical information from all around the world. Our world is experiencing information revolution and globalization. For educators, information revolution and globalization demand new understanding of social trends, technological possibilities, and cultural mandates to improve the quality of education and eventually the quality of life for all people on earth.

For equal quality of education and sustainable education, distance education using educational technology such as computer-assisted learning, computer-managed learning, the World Wide Web, and computer-mediated communication is a possible solution. In this paper, we explore the technical and social potential of using the Internet to heighten the quality of education and eventually the quality of human life in an information era.

To ascertain the situation in the Korean educational sector, we created maps for distribution of elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as universities and colleges using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) with spatial and attribute data. An important background element of our paper is the broadly defined concept of sustainability. We also described various possibilities of educational technology and applied the conceptual model of managing educational institutions using GIS. Along this line of technical modeling and assessment of networking in the Korean educational sector, we also presented EDUCOM -- a voluntary civic movement to reform the educational sector by combining humanistic values, information technology like the Internet, and a sense of community.

The Internet is a highly efficient means to generate and evaluate complex location-allocation problems involving educational opportunity, governance, quality, and satisfaction. The advances in sciences and information technology face various criticisms and challenges. We believe that people can lead our society to a bright future if we make the best use of science and technology, guided by humanistic values. The Internet provides powerful technological possibilities to construct sustainable educational systems.


I. Introduction

Since the invention of Internet, many innovations have taken place in different sectors of the society -- government, business, education, arts, culture, and military. Education, being closely related to social transformation and well-being of the population, is one of the sectors which has introduced technological innovations to improve the quality of teaching and learning. To this end, governments and educational institutions around the world are increasing their investment in construction of Internet systems for the educational sector.

Although the use of the Internet for the educational sector has become widespread among nations, there is a lack of methodological and practical guidelines for Internet-based educational systems. Such a lack may lead to an inefficient and inequitable allocation of resources -- hardware, software, humanware -- and other technological advancements in an information era. In this paper, we propose a framework of Internet-based distance education with the concept of sustainability as a philosophical foundation. Employing the concept of sustainability will facilitate an efficient and equitable allocation of resources in the long run.

The concept of sustainability was proposed on a global scale by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987. The Commission defined the sustainability as meeting the needs of the present generation while considering the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs as well (WCED, 1987).

In the current literature, sustainability has been defined rather narrowly by looking at mostly economic and environmental compatability. In this paper, we broaden the concept of sustainability by encompassing (i) Economic sustainability, (ii) Institutional sustainability, (iii) Ecological sustainability, (iv) Technological sustainability and (v) Cultural sustainability. Ideally, a sustainable society should be able to maintain individual and social needs over generations in all five areas.

Sustainable education is defined as innovative ways in the educational sector to create a sustainable social system for learning, educational organizations, and cognitive processes among students, teachers, parents, and communities in general. With this definition, we shall look at not only the technical issues but also social values pertaining to using the Internet for sustainable education.

The organization of this paper is as follows. Section Two proposes the Educational Technological Classification System (ETeCS), a comprehensive list of conventional as well as newly developed technological instruments currently used in the educational sector. Section Three presents the Internet-based distance education system. We focus on developing a methodological framework which can be sustained over generations and across formal and informal segments of education. In this section, we attempt to encompass the five elements of sustainability. In Section Four, we describe a practical social action called EduCom to use the Internet for education and a case project. EduCom (Educational Information Community Movement) is a nationwide voluntary social movement to use the Internet for education in Korea. We also give a case of an environmental project in a community as an example of Internet-based distance education for sustainability. A summary and a conclusion are given in Section Five.

II. Educational Technology Classification System (ETeCS)

There exists a wide range of conventional and new technologies available for teaching and learning in formal, family, and social segments of education. These technologies, when applied appropriately, can create an environment to enhance all elements of sustainability. Eventually, the sustainable education system can contribute to economic progress, institutional stability, environmental quality, technological efficiency, and cultural richness.

We have reviewed the current literature and actual examples of educational technology (Deakin Centre for Academic Development, 1997; Gerber and Williams, 1992). We constructed the "Educational Technology Classification System (ETeCS)" (below), which can be used for educational research:

  • 1. Print
    • 1-1. Books
    • 1-2. Journals
    • 1-3. Copies
  • 2. Transparencies and slides
    • 2-1. Transparencies
    • 2-2. Slides
  • 3. Noncomputer tapes and films
    • 3-1. Audiotapes
    • 3-2. Videotapes
    • 3-3. Films
  • 4. Non-computer CDs
    • 4-1. Audio CDs
    • 4-2. Video CDs
  • 5. Radio
    • 5-1. AM radio
    • 5-2. FM radio
  • 6. Television
    • 6-1. Wave TV (UHF and VHF)
    • 6-2. Cable TV
  • 7. Noncomputer communication
    • 7-1. Telex
    • 7-2. Audio telephone conference
    • 7-3. Video telephone conference
    • 7-4. Facsimile and individual wave communication system
    • 7-5. Person-to-person meetings
  • 8. Computer-based, internally contained educational software
    • 8-1. CDs
    • 8-2. Tapes
    • 8-3. Diskettes
    • 8-4. Hard-drive-stored
  • 9. Computer-mediated communication
    • 9-1. E-mail through Internet
    • 9-2. World Wide Web through Internet
    • 9-3. PC communication
    • 9-4. Internet phone
      • 9-4-1. Internet audio phone
      • 9-4-2. Internet video phone
    • 9-5. Computer conferencing
      • 9-5-1. Audio computer conferencing
      • 9-5-2. Video computer conferencing

Integrated computer-based system: combination of selected items from the above list.

Users choose items of technology from the above system (ETeCS) by assessing the following aspects of individual items. These aspects are decision criteria which are developed from the five elements of sustainability:

  1. costs
  2. quality
  3. speed
  4. durability
  5. political implications
  6. environmental impacts
  7. convenience of storage
  8. cultural implications
  9. realm of coverage in the society

These decision variables changes over time. For example, the Internet is spreading quickly owing to the decrease in cost, speediness, minimum environmental impacts, convenience of storage, and a wide realm of coverage. However, people criticize the Internet for negative cultural impacts such as computer addiction. The future of the Internet depends on its relative strengths and weaknesses in comparison to other technologies. Projecting from the current trends, it is highly likely that Internet-related educational technology will expand rapidly and replace conventional means of education.

To design an optimum system of education, educators need to combine selected elements listed above with the assessment of the decision variables. We developed Internet-based distance education by bringing together ETeCS items 7, 8 and 9. We make use of non-computer communication(ETeCS 7), GIS (Geographic Information Systems)(ETeCS 8), and computer-mediated communication (Internet) (ETeCS 9).

III. Methodological framework for Internet-based distance education

GIS can provide a flexible problem-solving method for Internet-based distance education. Decision makers can generate and evaluate alternative solutions to investigate the possible trade-offs among conflicting objectives and to identify unanticipated and potentially undesirable consequences of solutions in management of distance education. Decision support system using GIS provides a framework for integrating database management systems. Despite the fact that the need for effective information management is well recognized among decision makers, the Korean educational sector has done little to use GIS-based strategy to deal with its problems.

The combined GIS-Internet system we constructed is applied to various aspects of education such as learning, teaching, administration, physical facility planning, human resources planning, and community-based system design for sustainable education. Decision makers in education can design cooperative, networking, and integrative systems in more broadly defined communities in which educational institutions and other institutions plan and act in partnership using GIS and Internet. Examples are vertical and/or horizontal integration for an Internet-based distance education system linking universities, middle and high schools, elementary schools, and kindergartens; evaluation of cooperative ventures between educational institutions and business enterprises; decision models for establishing, closing, and merging schools; information-based community development; community-wide environmental protection and pollution abatement; and optimum design of information network.

The methodological framework we created is based on GIS which contains 6,249 elementary schools, 4,400 secondary schools, 249 universities and colleges, and 15 educational administration institutes in Korea. The government plans to connect all institutions in Korea through the Internet by 2010. EduCom, which will be explained in the next section, is a civilian movement to facilitate provision of the Internet for educational institutions. The data stored in our system includes descriptions of schools and regional characteristics such as administrative boundaries, area, population, population density, and households. <Map 1> shows all educational institutions stored in our system. Our framework enables us to manage data input, editing, selection of an object area for analysis and evaluation, screen display, information inquiry, information analysis, and output. The function of our system is summarized in <Table 1>.

<Map 1> Distribution of Educational Institutions in Korea

<Table 1> The Function of System

IV. A case project for Internet-based distance education

IV-1. Background for the case project

A successful implementation of the methodological framework described in the previous section hinges upon a practical social action and its case project involving diverse groups of people in a community. In this section, we explain EduCom, a nine-year civilian movement officially launched on June 19, 1997 in Korea. The EduCom movement consists of volunteers from universities, research institutions, NGOs, and private businesses. EduCom stands for EDUcational COMmunity, COMputer, and COMmunication. The purpose of EduCom is to educate all students, teachers, and administrators in Korea and to help develop sustainable communities through the Internet, transcending temporal-spatial dimensions.

There are four reasons why EduCom is needed in Korea:

  1. Utilizing civilian and voluntary resources can facilitate the provision of information technology to educational institutions and communities.
  2. Korea needs to educate people who can function competently to deal with international competition and cooperation. The educational sector needs innovation with the new concept of sustainability.
  3. Reforming education will be successful only if all relevant parties work together with the sense of community sharing humanistic values.
  4. It is critical to prevent inequality in education which might be caused by unequal distribution of resources for information technology among different groups of people or regions.

The people engaged in EduCom are particularly interested in developing contents which promote the idea of sustainability in the educational sector. EduCom encourages teachers, researchers, students, and residents to develop educational materials which deal with harmonizing the goals of economic development, institutional stability, ecological balance, technological efficiency, and cultural commonality (Lim, 1996a; Lim 1996b). Such an attempt has been made in previous years through KidNet (Song, Rii, and Moon, 1997). The educational material developed for elementary school children emphasizes the importance of environmental protection and moral values which are consistent with the concept of sustainability in our study.

IV-2. A case project: environmental education

A practical example is an environmental project using the GIS-Internet system involving air pollution in Seoul, the capital city of Korea. The participants in our GIS-Internet system are students and teachers in elementary, middle and high schools, students and faculties in universities and colleges, citizens, and environmental NGOs. The overall objectives of our project are to develop partnerships among all levels of educational institutions and among formal and informal educational sectors and to encourage wider use of telecommunication through the Internet in education. Specifically, in terms of environmental issues, the project focuses on comprehending environmental problems in the community; teaching available technology for students, teachers, and citizens; involving students, teachers, and citizens in data collection, problem analysis, presentation of the results, and feedback; making use of technology for solving environmental problems; and enhancing environmental awareness.

There are five steps to carry out a case project:

Step 1: Project design
Step 1 is the design of a data collection system by a university with our GIS-Internet system including educational institutions and air pollution measurement stations in Seoul.
Step 2: Data collection
In Step 2, students, teachers, and citizens collect data at assigned measurement stations and send the data to a university by Internet.
Step 3: Database construction and analysis
In Step 3, the university constructs a base map and database using the data from two sources: a set from students, teachers, and citizens at the measurement stations and a supplementary data set compiled by the university such as transportation, land use, and population relevant to air pollution.
Step 4: WWW home page construction
In Step 4, the constructed map and database are put on a World Wide Web home page accessible to all participants in the project. The university provides the reviewers' feedback form to students, teachers, and citizens. They fill out the forms after examining the home page and send them to the university. The university will in turn revise the content of the World Wide Web home page.
Step 5: Problem solving and distance learning
Step 5 is using the content for problem solving and environmental education in general. Participants can provide alternative solutions to reduce air pollution in their local area and evaluate the effectiveness of alternatives. Not only the participants in the project but also those who have the Internet can access the home page as a text for distance education in environmental problem solving. The users, whether they are students, teachers, or citizens, can use this project to advance environmental awareness among all people.

A pilot project for this process was actually implemented in Seoul in January 1996. The home page for the base map and database, which contains daily and hourly air pollution maps such as the distribution of SO2, TSP, O3, NO2, and CO; road maps; the distribution of population and industrial facilities; and maps for traffic flows, has been constructed. For illustration, we present <Map 2> An hourly SO2 level and <Map 3> Minimum, average, and maximum traffic flows by 25 administrative units. The university, which is the project leader, has analyzed the factors affecting the level of air pollution in the study area. At present, we are experimenting with several schools to use the results for various educational purposes.

This project opens up new educational opportunities without temporal-spatial restrictions, provides a variety in educational contents, and facilitates interactive education. Overall, this project strengthens the concept of the sustainability in economic, institutional, ecological, technological, and cultural areas by mobilizing available resources in the community and maximizing participation of all schools.

<Map 2> SO2 Level on January 1, 1996 (0:00 a.m.)

When you choose the category of air pollution, and the time and date you want to look at, it shows the map of selected category of air pollution at selected date and time.

<Map 3> Minimum, Average, and Maximum Traffic Flows by Administrative Units in Seoul(1996)

V. Summary and conclusion

We explored the technical and social potential of using GIS and the Internet to heighten the quality of education and eventually the quality of human life in an information era. Important backgrounds of our paper are the broadly defined concept of sustainability and the Educational Technology Classification System (ETeCS). We are interested in applying sustainability and currently available educational technology to the Korean educational sector.

We presented ETeCS, a comprehensive educational technology classification system with which educators can design a system of educational processes or projects. Then, we described our GIS-Internet system for distance education in Korea which combines three ETeCS items. As an apparatus for implementation of the framework, we explained EduCom -- a voluntary civic movement to enhance the quality of education by combining the concept of sustainability, information technology, and a sense of community. We also presented an environmental project using the GIS-Internet system involving air pollution in Seoul, the capital city of Korea.

In general, the GIS-Internet system developed in this paper is a highly efficient method to generate and evaluate complex location-allocation problems involving educational opportunity, governance, quality, and satisfaction; to design educational systems without temporal-spatial restrictions; and to involve students, teachers, and citizens in fieldwork and interactive learning. Our case project demonstrated that our system can vastly improve efficiency of education for a larger number of the population. Technological advances have both positive and negative impacts on human life. We believe that people can lead our society to a brighter future, if we make the best use of science and technology guided by humanistic values. The combined GIS and Internet system provides powerful possibilities to construct sustainable educational systems and to ameliorate the condition of human life.


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