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School of the Internet: A University on the Internet

Keiko OKAWA <>
Jun MURAI <>
Keio University


The Internet provides the digital communication infrastructure for our society. This new infrastructure allows us to store, share, and exchange our intellectual resources in digital format anytime and anywhere. By fully utilizing this new infrastructure, we can achieve the new educational model for the university environment. In this paper, we set forth the goal of the new environment, analyze the activities in the traditional university, and propose the new model and design of the "University on the Internet (UoI)." We implemented a core set of components of the UoI based on the UoI design to demonstrate the feasibility of the design. Implemented components include (1) a lecture-on-demand system, (2) an assignment system to support collaborative learning, and (3) an Internet student course survey system. Using those components, we started the "School of the Internet" on the Internet in October 1997 as a prototype to prove the concept as a whole. In this paper we introduce the School of the Internet (SOI) experiments, evaluate the UoI design and concept through the experiments, and then discuss the direction the UoI will take in the future.


1. Introduction

The introduction of the "University on the Internet (UoI)" concept and overview of research approach are described in this section. The detailed design of each component is discussed in the following section.

1.1 UoI goal

What the new educational style is, however, is not clearly defined and established yet. Many research activities are going on to find it out[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8].
We define the goals of the UoI as providing the environment where:

  • Students anyplace can take classes anytime
  • Students can build a curriculum by taking classes from any university around the world.
  • Faculty distributed globally can jointly build a new academic area.
  • Students can get credits to certify their competence as a result of their class activity

In order to achieve the above goals, we defined the UoI Model, developed the components, and built a prototype to see the feasibility of the concept.

1.2 UoI model

UoI consists of the students, faculty and administrative body. UoI provides a set of university functions to those members.

UoI is fully operated on the Internet and anyone who has access to the Internet resource can be a member of UoI regardless of their geographical location. Members are widely distributed on the Internet space.

1.3 UoI components

We designed and implemented the following components to provide a core set of UoI functions:

  1. Admissions Office System allows students and faculty to register and maintain their personal information.
  2. Lecture-on-Demand System defines UoI classes and provides stored lectures. It provides necessary tools to digitize classes. Classes performed at the university classroom are digitized and stored; then students can participate over the Internet on demand using streaming media and Internet technology.
  3. Open Assignment System [12] is an online assignment management system focusing on supporting collaborative learning among students. It basically provides a mechanism for submission and review of assignments online.
  4. Internet Student Course Survey System [11] is a generic course survey builder and manager to encourage all class owners and/or administrators to perform a survey of the course and share the results widely for both the students' and faculty's benefit.

1.4 Prototype

Using the components listed in 1.3, we started the "School of the Internet (SOI)" from October 1997 as a prototype of the UoI concept. Currently, there is a strong demand from students to learn Internet skills but no university in Japan has a "Department of Internet" yet. One of the reasons is that the Internet is a rather new academic area, and it is difficult to have enough academic experts to build the department in one university. Another reason is that creating a new department requires a few years to be approved by the government in current educational system in Japan. UoI technology allows us to create such a new curriculum by collecting several related classes from several different universities in timely manner. The SOI is the prototype of this concept.

In fall 1997 semester, SOI served four Internet-related technical classes from two universities in Japan. In all, 276 people, including adults and university students from all over Japan and other countries, are registered as SOI students and participating in the classes, submitting assignments and discussing the courses with each other on the Internet.

1.5 Experiment and evaluation

After going through the operation of one semester, we evaluated the feasibility of the SOI system and evaluated the UoI concept based on the students' feedback. Also through the SOI experiment, we encountered some interesting regulation problems in Japan. We realize that we will need to revisit the current university regulations, which were established for the traditional teaching environment and will not be suitable in the new Internet environment.

2. Design of system

In this section, we describe the UoI system design and implement the UoI concept by defining the a) members of the UoI family and b) functions that the UoI system should provide to those members as a university platform. In this paper, we are focusing on three major components as a core set of those functions. The overall design is followed by the detail design of those three major components within this chapter.

2.1 UoI Members

UoI consists of students, faculty and the administrative body. Anyone who has access to the Internet resource can be a member. Therefore, they are widely distributed on the Internet space. Each member category is granted a certain amount of access to the university resources.

  1. Students
    1.a Students - study for their degree, have right to take classes, submit assignments and get the feedback from the faculty.
    1.b Auditors - study but will not obtain degree as a result, have right to take classes but not to submit tasks nor to get feedback from the faculty.
  2. Faculty
    2.a Degree-granting committee - A group with authority over a certain area of study. They are responsible for building a curriculum, evaluating students' performance and granting degrees to students.
    2.b Tutors - Responsible for planning and implementing classes in line with the curriculum and evaluating students' performance in the classes. Anyone who wishes to teach classes can register the class with UoI.
    2.c TA/SA - Teachers' assistants - Faculty explicitly delegate their access to the certain university information to these assistants.
  3. Administrative body
    Responsible for the UoI functions described below and for resource management . The administrative body keeps the personal information and academic records of all the members and has ways to authenticate the individuals' identity. It stores and maintains the class content.

2.2 UoI -- Functionality

UoI provides the following functions on the Internet environment to support each member's activities:

  1. Classes: Faculty members give classes. Students take classes over the Internet. UoI provides the mechanism to capture, store and distribute the classes. The detailed design will be discussed in section 2.3.
  2. Assignment: An assignment is one of the effective ways of sharing opinions and achievements among students. We have implemented the online submission and open feedback system of assignments to support collaborative education, which is clearly distinguished from one-way professor-to-student education. This system enables students to refer to each other's assignments and get comments about their own assignments from both faculty and students. We discuss the detailed design of the flexible assignment system in section 2.4.
  3. Student course survey: As UoI concept focuses on the students' satisfaction, the course survey by the students is a very important tool to obtain student feedback on the class, faculty and UoI implementation. The student survey system should provide an anonymous and secure submission mechanism and result in an open-sharing mechanism. By providing an easy platform for Internet student course survey that any organization can utilize, we foresee that many survey results will become open to the public, increasing the opportunity for students to find a good classes all over the world. The design of the Internet student course survey is defined in 2.5.
  4. Communication control: UoI should have a clear method for registration and deletion of members and authentication for all communication and access control. Based on the authentication mechanism, UoI controls the access to the resources and information owned by the university, such as class content, private records, and information. UoI also provides a communication method among students and faculty for keeping the required level of security and privacy. For example, different levels of security will be necessary for individual record notice, report feedback or open discussions.
  5. Payment system: The administrative body sets the price of the resources of the university. UoI should have an easy payment system. Although this is a very important part of UoI functions, we will not discuss this area in this paper.
  6. Examination and thesis review for degrees: Degrees should be reviewed by all the members of degree-granting committee over the Internet. UoI should provide an environment for this particular communication among faculty and students.

In this paper, we focus on the top three functions from the list above. The detailed design of those three functions will be discussed in the following subsections in this chapter.

2.3 Classes and the lecture-on-demand system

A class consists of three components:

  1. Class static information
  2. Class communication method
  3. Lectures

Class static information is the information available beforehand such as prerequisites, syllabuses, reference books and staff's names etc.

Class communication method is the necessary components for UoI for a) open discussion for all students and b) closed discussion between faculty and student.

Lectures are the main portion of the class. UoI defines the lecture-on-demand model as follows:

Lecture model - A lecture is defined as a set of digital media synchronized with time. A lecture is defined as a set of URLs representing each digital media with time information (Fig.1). This information is stored in a "lecture file," which is also specified by a URL, handled by "Lecture Manager (LM)".

Players of the each component media should have a capability to start playing at any given time and also have an interface to stop, start, rewind, change and specify URL to play, so that LM can control each media. Players are responsible for obtaining the specified URL to play over the Internet by their own methods, preferably using streaming technology.

The users specify the "lecture URL" and "start time" to the LM. LM tells the URL and start time of each media to the other media players. Then, each media player on the client side obtains the specified resources by his or her own method and plays it on the client system from the specified starting time.

For example, assume a user specifies the Lecture URL of Fig.1 Lecture Information. LM tells "URL1" and "t5" to the Media1-Player, "URL4" and "t5 - URL4_START_TIME" to the Media2-Player, "ULR5" and "t5" to the Media3-Player and "URL11" and "t5 - URL11_START_TIME" to Media4-player.

Figure 1: Lecture information

2.4 Assignment system

The requirements of this system are "online submission," "reference of assignments," "attachment of comments," "reference of comments" and "authentication". Assignments are required to be in HTML to support any kind of media. The submitter of the comments needs to be identified by a certain group of people as the assignment owner and faculty member, but anonymous to others for assurance of their privacy and freedom of comments. This type of communication control needs to be specified by the faculty. Authentication is required to limit submission of assignments to students (not including auditors). In addition, flexibility is required so that faculty members can set the timing of reference, degree of openness and conditions of authentication according to students' desires and the contents of assignments.

Setup function

The faculty gives the assignment configuration to the assignment system. Configuration includes class-id, assignment, deadline, openness level, content type, review type, etc.

Figure 2: Design of setup function

Submission and review function

Figure 3: Design of submission and review function

2.5 Internet student course survey system

This system provides a secure polling mechanism and ensures all members can practice in the course survey in their own method easily. The requirements of the system are "authentication," "single polling," "anonymous communication," "disclosure," "validity," "handy," "general" and "effective usage."

This system is divided into three functions, which are the Startup Function, Basic Function and Supporting Function. The Startup Function allows the users to start a survey. The Basic Function permits the users to make a survey in the secure communication pass. The Supporting Function permits the users to analyze all data collected from the voters. These functions consist of some servers defined briefly as follows:

Startup Function
Registry server: To hold the registry form and help users to make own questionnaire.
Basic Function
Authentication server: To authenticate whether students have a right to vote using the ticket that cannot identify the voter's name and whether they are certified as voters. The ticket is issued to the voters who are authenticated. There are many ways to authenticate users.
Reply server: To provide the voter the reply form and send ID, password and the answer to the authentication server.
Collect server: To get ID and the answer from the reply server and show the result.
Supporting Function
Analysis server: To analyze the collected data.

In addition to those functions, there is the ticket receiving server to update the password file automatically.

Figure 4: The elements of this system

3. Experiments -- "School of the Internet"

We prototyped the new department "School of the Internet" using the components based on UoI concept. In this section, we discuss the implementation of the components for SOI.

3.1 Overview

School of Internet served the following classes in the fall 1997 semester. All topics are related to the Internet.

Class ID Class Name Faculty Performed at Number of Lectures Number of Students
97001 Information Processing SystemJ. Murai KEIO Univ.14206
97002System ProgrammingO. Nakamura KEIO Univ.1480
97003Information Network SystemH. Sunahara NAIST559
97004Network ProgrammingJ. Murai KEIO Univ.14123
97005Special Lecture (1)D. Crocker KEIO Univ.1N/A
97006Special Lecture (2)J. Morgridge KEIO Univ.1N/A
iw97_tutInternet Week Tutorials18 tutors IW97 at Yokohama18N/A
GTLDAcademic Meeting (1) - Domain Name System *gTLD meeting at TokyoN/AN/A
iw97_ipmAcademic Meeting (2) - IP Meeting '97 *IW97 at YokohamaN/AN/A

3.2 SOI system configuration

In this section, all the computer- and network-related resources to support SOI experiments are listed in the following three categories;

  1. Servers: For several Internet function services

    • HTTP server: Apache server running on SPARC Ultra server
    • HTTPS server: Apache + SSL, secure World Wide Web (WWW) server
    • Japanese search engine: SSE 1.1
    • Japanese bulletin board system (BBS) on the WWW interface: N-BBS
    • SMTP server and mailing list server
    • Streaming media server: RealMedia Server on SGI workstation, Netshow Server on PC/WinNT
  2. Working environment: For SOI lecture contents creation
    • Pentium 200MHz PC and Pentium 300MHz PC with video and audio capturing
    • Video and 8mm deck connecting to the above 2 PCs
    • Pentium 200MHz PC for audio/video manipulation (such as noise reductions)
    • Several PCs for material digitization
  3. Classroom environment: For recording the class activities
    • 1 microphone, 2 8mm cameras for taping the class
    • 1 laptop to capture the timing events

3.3 Administration

The SOI admissions office has the following functions provided through WWW interface, implemented as Common Gateway Interface (CGI).

  1. Student registration
  2. Class registration
  3. Individual authentication by e-mail address and password
  4. Individual information update by students and faculty

3.4 Lecture-on-demand system

Each class has its own top Web page giving all the information about the class. Each class has a a) student mailing list, b) faculty mailing list and c) BBS through WWW interface as a communication method.

SOI implemented and tested two types of lectures.

Figure 5: Lecture type A

Type A encodes the lecturer's voice and figure to the RealMedia format. SOI provides 20Kbps and 50Kbps versions of the video clip for each lectures. Presentation materials are provided in text-based HTML format. We developed the supporting utilities for HTML conversion as 1) PowerPoint to the HTML converter run on Windows platform 2) text to HTML utility, and 3) timing capture utility to record time of slide change event. Using RealMedia capability to synchronize, new page corresponding to the lecturer's voice is automatically loaded in certain timing. (as in Fig.5).

Figure 6: Lecture type B

Type A only synchronizes material and audio/video. Type B synchronizes the pointer device to point to the certain place on the presentation material. We developed the Lecture Manager, PowerPoint Manager, Point Device Capture utility and Point Device Player. At the classroom, all the pointing device events and the slide changing events are captured by the capturing utility. Then the point device player plays the captured data on the client system to move the pointer on the client screen so that students can see which part of the materials is pointed out by the tutor. PowerPoint Manager controls the slides to display corresponding to the given time (as in Fig. 6).

3.5 Assignment system

Setup, submit and review modules are implemented as CGI running on the SOI WWW server system. Students create their own assignments on their own WWW server and register the URL through the SOI Assignment Submission System. Only the registered students can submit their work. Depending on the faculty's direction, the submitted work may become open to public as soon as submitted or only after the deadline, or it may never be opened. Students can review the other students' work on the SOI Assignment Review System. At the faculty's direction, students are encouraged to submit their review comments to each other's work (see fig. 7). Submitted comments are open to public without the reviewer's name, and open to assignment's owner and faculty with reviewer's name.

Figure 7. Assignment submission and review screen

3.6 Student course survey system

Implementation of this system is written by Perl as CGI script on the WWW client. The secure traffic is assured by using SSL (Secure Socket Layer).

The registry server holds the registry form used, the HTML FORM. The configuration file that includes the information about the users and the questionnaire (there are three types of questions, and the users can choose the question types in this file.) is very important for the users to do their own survey.  After the registry server gets the configuration file, the tool kit programs develop the servers, and the users receive the class ID and URL from the registry server.

The authentication server has the password file that sends information from the ticket receiving server. The ticket receiving server adds the ID and password to the password file at the same time that the ticket is received from the ticket distributing server. When the users practice the survey, they need to distribute the ticket to the voters as the certification.  The reply server shows the reply form used, the HTML FORM, to the voter in according to the voter's request with certification. All data from the reply server are calculated in the collect server and disclosed on the Internet.  Therefore, we can know the result as soon as the survey is closed.

3.7 Information archive

All the slides are retrievable through the search engine. All the slides have a button to start the corresponding video and audio from the specified starting time. Students can see the slides and hear the lecturer's explanation about the topic described on the slide (Fig.9). In this way, lecture materials stored in SOI server automatically become part of a multimedia type of database.

4. Evaluation

We evaluated the SOI implementation through the questionnaire to the students and faculty. Over 79% of the members expressed their satisfaction with the SOI classes and services to learn Internet. Over 85% of the members expressed interest in continuing these activities.

4.1 Assignment system

The effectiveness of the assignment reference system was shown through experiments in one class held in SOI, the information procedure. Students researched differences between an authentication system in real life and on Internet, submitted assignments and attached comments on assignments of other three students. The following is the result of this experiment:

  1. All students: 141 persons
  2. Students who have submitted assignments: 47 persons (33.3%)
  3. Students who have attached comments: 32 persons (22.7% of (1), 68.1% of (2))
  4. Number of comments: 97 comments (1998.1.21 / 3 days after deadline)

At the same time, we asked students to answer the questionnaire regarding this open assignment system. The following is the result:

  1. Number of those who answered: 32 persons
  2. Was referencing other students' assignments effective?
    • Yes: 28 persons (88%)
    • Don't know: 3 persons (9%)
    • No: 0 person (0%)
    • No answer: 1 person (3%)
  3. Were attachment and reference of comments easy?
    • Yes: 24 persons (75%)
    • Don't know: 7 persons (22%)
    • No: 1 person (3%)
  4. Did you experience any trouble with attachment of comments?
    • Yes: 4 persons (13%)
    • No: 27 persons (84%)
    • No answer: 1 person (3%)

4.2 Student course survey system

We have observed whether this system has accomplished these requirements.  The experiment of this system was executed in SOI course survey and also in Campus Amenity Monitoring Project of Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus (CAMP2). There are some differences between these two surveys.  The features of the survey are as follows:

  • SOI course survey
    • The voters are authenticated by the SOI ID and get the ticket.
    • The period of the survey was from January 28, 1998, to February 6, 1998.
    • There are 20 questions.
    • Percentage of the voter was 42.00%
  • CAMP2
    • The voters are authenticated by CNS (Campus Network System) user ID and get the ticket.
    • The period of the survey is from January 20, 1998, to February 10, 1998.
    • There are 74 questions.
    • Percentage of the voter was 55.00%

This system is adapted in these different conditions and satisfied the requirements in both surveys. We also have had favorable opinions from the students in the survey.

4.3 Law and regulations

In operating the School of Internet, it was found that there are several problems concerning legal issues in education, including the following three topics:

Intellectual property of lectures

Lectures are thought to be the intellectual property of each university, and use of lectures is strictly limited, especially in national universities. But this rule was established in times when a lecture could be taken only in a classroom in one university. Development of technology has enabled lectures to be stored and accessed from a distance. Now it is time to create a new style of relationship between universities and faculties and make it possible for anyone who wants to learn to access lectures from all over the world.

Copyright of materials

Some materials used in lectures are protected by copyright law. In universities, use of them is permitted as "educational use," but it is not clear whether this rule is also applies to UoI. So that lectures can be accessed from all over the world, it is necessary to establish an international consensus about educational use on Internet; its coverage should not be limited to only universities admitted by the government of each country.

The degree

Unlike countries, UoI has no borders and should not be under the control of governments. It should be free from regulations regarding the number of students, length of classes, required subjects, and equipment. Students and faculties could build curriculums and design classes based on their own desires. The operation of university could be distributed among administrators, faculties and students. The degree system authorized by a government is not suitable for UoI. For this new environment, we have to create a global education system based on the demand of faculties and students all over the world.

5. Conclusion

We have proposed the model and design of "University on the Internet (UoI)". Based on the UoI design, we implemented and tested a core set of components including  a) class on demand system b) assignment system and c) Internet student course survey system.

Using those implementation, we developed and has been operating a prototype of UoI concept as "School of Internet" to demonstrate the new possibility of UoI.

From the result of the questionnaires to the SOI students and faculty and from the usage statistics of SOI servers, we have concluded that the implementation components did work and the prototype of the concept is approaching to the goal.

SOI experiments revealed both the current technical and non-technical issues to be solved. For example, it is clear that the class-on-demand system requires a new type of presentation material player to support streaming technology and that the government educational rules should be revisited in light of the new environment.

To prove UoI concept, a complete set of implementation components is mandatory. We will continue to add new components to the SOI environment to continue the experiments. Also in order to prove the feasibility of this concept to areas other than computer science, we will widen the academic area of experiments using SOI technology and improve the implementation.

Finally, further research through the experiments focusing on the university operation model including management, payment and copyright issues are necessary to make this concept workable in the real society.

6. Acknowledgments

The School of Internet project is supported by WIDE Project. A number of colleagues at KEIO Univ. VU research group and WIDE project SOI working group have contributed to the work which we describe here, including Ken Sakaguchi, Katsuhide Ohashi, Keiichi Kawai, and Toru Hiroishi. Special thanks to Yuri Ijuin and Yoko Murakami for their help in writing this paper.

7. References

  1. Ramnath Chellappa, Anitesh Barua, and Andrew B. Whinston, "An Electronic Infrastructure for a Virtual Univerisity," Communications of the ACM, September 1997/Vol 40 No.9
  2. Stanford University Online -
  3. Larry Leifer, "The Stanford University Learning Laboratory: A Prospectus," NIME'97, Chiba, JP, 12 November 1997
  4. ORTELIUS The Data Base on Higher Education in Europe -
  5. Western Governors University -
  6. The Graduate School of America -
  7. California Virtual University -
  8. K. Okawa, Y. Ijuin, K.Ishibashi, N.Shigechika, J,Murai, "Virtual University - New Higher Education System on the Internet," Internet Workshop, IEICE, October 1997.
  9. Noriko Yokokawa, "A Design and Implantation of Anonymous Electric Polling System," 1995
  10. Virtual University Research Group, "Report of the Online Course Survey," KEIO SFC Report 1997
  11. Yuri Ijuin, "Internet Student Course Survey System," graduation thesis, KEIO Univ. SFC, February 1997
  12. Ken Sakaguchi, "Assignment System to Support Collaborative Learning," graduation thesis, KEIO Univ. SFC. February 1997

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