RITE: Research Institute for Technologies in Education

Network of Centres of Excellence--Letter of Intent

Research Proposal

Socio-economic Impact:

Canada is currently experiencing at least three socio-economic challenges to which we propose a set of responses.

First, its global competitive position is in danger of deteriorating unless it engages in more sustained innovation in, and development of, information technologies in the training of its skilled work force. For the foreseeable future, Canadians will have to work with computer technologies that constantly change throughout their careers. They will have to be adaptable in quickly learning and relearning new modes of work, software, data bases, and electronic communications. Currently these are being produced by isolated individuals who lack a national network of the type proposed by us; hence, they cannot accelerate the development of their products which such networks could stimulate.

The computer-aided techniques produced by our network will impact on Canada's economy by providing methods for lifelong and continuous learning within educational institutions and the workplace. The educational technological expertise developed in a network environment, and marketed by us through a new corporation that we will establish, will enhance Canada's global competitive position in this area.

Second, government debt has forced cutbacks in funds for education. These include resources allocated for teaching. As a result, more efficient methods of teaching will have to be found. Yet the quality of teaching and learning will have to be maintained and increased if Canada is to remain competitive globally.

Within a decade, we will have developed more efficient computer mediated products and services that will immeasurably improve the quality of teaching and learning. We will show others how to teach and learn more effectively with a new alignment of technologies. This will accelerate incrementally in the second of two five-year periods as our products spread throughout global markets.

Third, rapid changes in the "information highway" present two dangers -- Canadian organizations and citizens as producers and consumers of information will be left behind as other countries establish a more dominant presence on global electronic networks; and, Canadian educational institutions will be relegated to a peripheral role on these networks as foreign educational and research institutes establish a greater presence. Access to and utilization of network resources are now essential for teaching and learning. In the long run, weakness in Canada's educational presence on such networks undermines its global competitive position.

The Network set up by us will place Canada on the leading edge of global electronic communications by developing new tools for navigating the information highway. We will train personnel in industry and education in the use of such tools. They, in turn, will teach others their newly acquired skills through a system of satellite networks that we are proposing. Currently, Canada has no national or provincial centres of excellence, nor research institutes, capable of doing this.

Research Program

Teaching and learning are being fundamentally altered by new computer-aided technologies. Instructors, departments and programs in Canada and internationally are experimenting with a diversity of hardware, software and courseware. But this is being done largely on an ad-hoc, isolated and fragmentary basis within each discipline and department. There is little overall coordination of efforts through international, national, or regional networks. More seriously, this activity is being carried out with little empirical validation regarding the most appropriate selection of technologies for enhancing learning. Unlike word-processing and CD-ROM technologies, no consensus around common standards for authoring software in building multimedia course materials and computer-assisted learning (CAL) has yet emerged. As a result, there is little agreement on the best configuration of text, graphics, animation, sound, and video for deepening the quality of learning and skills acquisition. As William Clancey and others have argued, this issue can be properly tackled only if the social context of the technological experimentation is taken into account.

Our Network will seek solutions to these problems by pursuing three general objectives:

Our ultimate goal is to demonstrate and market expertise regarding the selection of the most appropriate hardware, software and courseware for learning in particular socio-technical contexts. The twenty-eight projects proposed as part of this Network will use the same general methodologies, with local variations, to facilitate comparative evaluation across the Network of the effectiveness of different learning technologies. These methodologies will be established in the first year through a Network conference organized by the new Centre for Educational Technology Evaluation (CETA).

Research teams and their projects will function as part of a network environment in four ways.

The scope of the three general objectives covers four dimensions of evaluation: types of LEARNERS, modes of DELIVERY, disciplinary CONTENT, and, SITES.

First, we will focus on two types of LEARNERS: on-campus (local education) projects in five of the six sub-networks (excluding the workplace sub-network), and off-campus learners in the distance education sub-network in the projects on labour at Athabasca, Alberta, on distance learning at CJRT Open College Radio in Toronto, on adult credit courses in Saskatchewan, and on German and sociology at Mount Allison University and the TeleEducation Network in New Brunswick. Adult learners at home and in the workplace will be most prominent among the off-campus groups, especially in the projects by the Ontario Federation of Labour/Centre for Research on Work and Society on workers learning about technology in the workplace, on cooperative telepresence at the University of Toronto, and on electronic communications and computerized work in the Edmonton Police Services/University of Alberta team. Lifelong learning and continuing education will be central features of Network projects in British Columbia, Athabasca, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Montreal, and New Brunswick/Nova Scotia.

The second focus will be on two modes of DELIVERY. The first consists of the four basic elements of text, audio, graphics, and animation/video. Under the guidance of the learning cognition sub-network, the communications/networking and visualization/ multimedia sub-networks will jointly evaluate standalone and World Wide Web courseware, electronic books and journals that link these elements in hypertext (hotjumps between keyword text locations in the same or different documents) and hypermedia (hotjumps among two or more of the four elements). Projects on multimedia courseware in computer science and psychology at Brock University, in 3D visualization in mechanical and electrical engineering and psychology at the University of Western Ontario, and in physics at the University of Manitoba will test whether the configurations of elements created by hypermedia are more efficacious for learning than sole reliance on text based courseware, with or without the use of hypertext. Second, a higher order dimension builds on the foundation of these four elements. Its central axis are four relations among teacher, learner and machine in terms of these elements: face-to-face contact between teacher and student, with varying use of computers; self paced learning by the student with or without computers; interactive learning by the student with the use of computers and without the direct presence of the teacher (intelligent tutoring systems); and, interactive audiovideo and multimedia systems, either in standalone or networked classrooms, with at least one teacher present. The second and third will be evaluated in the software development/ artificial intelligence sub-network, and the fourth in the distance education and multimedia/visualization sub-networks.

The third focus of the general objectives is the disciplinary CONTENT. The effectiveness of alternative technologies will depend, in part, on the disciplinary environment to which they are applied. What works in mathematics may not work in civilization courses. Evaluative comparisons will be made between the on-campus and Internet writing, critical thinking and foreign language skills courses in the joint project of the McMaster and University of Toronto Humanities Computing Centres (two of the leading centres in Canada), and the multimedia electrical and mechanical engineering courses at the University of Western Ontario. Evaluative comparisons will be made between technologies used in general secondary and post secondary education courses and case based curricula in professional schools and workplace centered training, where interactive audio and video are more appropriate.

The fourth focus relates to the SITE, setting, or sociophysical infrastructure of teaching and learning. We will comparatively evaluate eight sites: the community; home; workplace; traditional classroom; electronic classroom; networked classrooms; student labs; and, cyberspace (conducting classes directly on the INTERNET and other networks). Comparisons will be made between solo versus group learning (groupware), and the degree of social and electronic connectivity. The home, traditionally the site of solo and passive learning, is rapidly being transformed through electronic networking. Even traditional classrooms are being transformed by on-campus and distant audiovisual connections. We will study how the teacher-student relation is altered by introducing the long-distance student into the local classroom. Connectivity is also breaking down the barriers between workplace industrial training and the traditional schoolroom, with consequences for the integration of teacher, student and practitioner. The communications/ networking and cognition/learning sub-networks will jointly study whether thoughts and data are organized differently in 'connected' versus 'unconnected' learning. A goal of the Network is to evaluate the effects of the site or setting of the learning environment on the process, the subject, and the object of learning. We will examine the effects of the social, technical and physical characteristics of sites on expanding the objects of learning from narrow formal education courses to society's culture (home based, interactive computerized multimedia television being promoted by cable and phone companies).

Highly Qualified Personnel

Beyond traditional areas of training, we will train graduate students, campus technical personnel, and private partner employees in three increasingly critical skill areas. First, given the lack of knowledge in this area, training in comparative methods of evaluation in measuring the enhancement of learning by technologies will make our trainees highly marketable. Second, we will train people how to work in networked environments. This involves the steep learning curves of network multitasking: not only does one learn one's own project, but simultaneously one learns how to navigate the information highway in learning linked tasks in other projects. This critical skill is increasingly required in a more electronically connected work world. Third, because our projects are networked across disciplines, our trainees not only come from different disciplines, but will work and be trained in a multi-discipline and multi-sector environment, a skill now required by employers.

Training will be incremental in two senses. First, by 1999 we will help to position Canada globally with a more highly skilled work force in the above three areas than it has at present. Second, the unique satellite networks established under our proposal will enable us to incrementally diffuse training throughout the country among sectors not directly represented in our Network.

We will develop a nontraditional training strategy that fully exploits networking in three ways. First, students and technical personnel will be exchanged between research projects to expose them to a variety of methods in the development and testing of learning technologies. Second, modeled on an Internship program already established at McMaster, university students and personnel will be 'loaned' to the private sector, which will send personnel into the universities, for purposes of training. This program will allow us to immediately gauge the changes in private sector areas of greatest skill needs, and hence the capacity of industry to absorb the kinds of personnel we produce. Third, thousands of workers in the Canadian Auto Workers and Canadian Union of Public Employees, and those in the affiliated unions of the Ontario Federation of Labour, will be trained in the use of communications technology to access union resources for labour education.

Our nontraditional training satisfies Canada Employment Equity guidelines in at least two ways: the participation of native persons in the Nechako Electronic Bus, one of our operational networks; and, a project by a Vera Chouinard, a disabled woman researcher, partnered with DAWN, the Disabled Women's Network, to train other disabled women instructors and learners in computer-mediated communications.

Networking and Partnerships

At the present time, linkages exist only among researchers within universities. There are some links between pairs of universities, and some projects with the private sector, but nothing envisaged on the scale of the present proposal. Our Network will expand these initiatives and boundaries in two ways.

First, all research teams and their projects across the country will be networked electronically , an essential requirement for the comparative evaluation of technologies. The ongoing development of the research projects and their products will be continually tested and improved on this electronic network through the active interaction of researchers in cyberspace. This is a relatively new concept in research. Thus we go beyond the concept of a Network with physical locations or 'nodes' (a network with walls) to one that is open and nodeless, with no walls among research sites. The nature of our topic requires us to seek funding for 'state of the art' equipment and software, such as a powerful server for the Network and sub-networks (which will be connected to the INTERNET), ftp sites, listservs, and teleconferencing facilities. Several communications products will become integral to the operation of the Network as well as being viable commercially. There will be frequent on-line conferences with audio, and possibly video, capabilities. While annual workshops at physical sites will facilitate Network exchanges, daily electronic and informal audio communications are absolutely critical for achieving Network objectives.

Second, each private partner will be integral not only to one or more research teams and their projects, but also to the Network as a whole. This will be facilitated in three ways: by their direct representation on the Board of Directors; by their electronic connectivity to all research projects in the Network; and, by their role in evaluating the practicability, applicability and marketability of the results of the research projects. They will thus have a central role in the management and direction of the research projects from a Network perspective.

We provide only a few examples of the involvement of private sector partners in research projects. a) The Medical Television Network will provide its production studio facilities and feedback files for use in broadcasting to 3,000 French-speaking doctors in Quebec. b) Videotron will make available its Videoway System, a computerized interactive technology, in the Quebec videoconferencing project. c) Ford Canada will provide the training site for the University of Victoria study of the effect of 'naive theories' on the absorption of new information. The results will be circulated electronically across the Network and incorporated, where appropriate, into other projects. d) IBM Canada has offered its educational technology consulting services, its new multimedia program, Express Author, and its new PowerPC computers [in 1995]. e) IBM and Apple Canada have jointly offered us access to their educational multimedia technology and distance education expertise.


The Network consortium will form a consulting corporation that will market its newly discovered expertise around the world. Knowledge gained about the most efficient computer-aided strategies, both from the point of view of cost as well as the rapid digestion of information in learning, will be a rare commodity. The research results from the development and application of alternative technologies in education will place us at the forefront of knowledge, experience and expertise in this area. This can be quite easily marketed as a commodity which other markets will purchase.

The initiative to upgrade and market existing products will come from private industry as well as from the universities. Our comparative evaluation of technologies will include improvements in products currently under development in industry. Additionally, a number of new products will be created within the Network. They will be marketed in Canada and abroad. For example: 1) A hand-held, voice-activated remote controlled device for running interactive multimedia modules networked into data banks in large lecture theatres will be developed at Brock University. 2) Intelligent tutoring systems for qualitative text analysis programs will be developed at McMaster and the Universities of Guelph and Toronto. These will be marketed in a list of 34 countries. 3) The communications systems developed at the Edmonton Police Services will be sold throughout Canada and abroad, especially among policing and legal organizations.

Network Management

Management will be integrated between business and scientific structures and functions. A BUSINESS MANAGER with experience in business, marketing, and administration will be appointed to a full-time salaried position. This person will be responsible for implementing the business and administrative policies and procedures of the Network. A BOARD OF DIRECTORS will consist of ten members plus a Chair selected from nonparticipating institutions. Five members will be drawn from private sector partners. IBM Canada has already agreed to place a member on the Board. One member will be the Business Manager. The remaining four members will be from universities, two from participating and two from nonparticipating universities. Of the two participating members, one will be the Program Leader and the other will be a major researcher from another participating university. An NSERC representative will be added to the Board. The Board will devise policies regarding the coordination of Network activities, establishing the public/private structures, monitoring the progress of the research teams and their projects, setting schedules over the four year period, forming a plan for technology transfers and the exchange of personnel between the public and private sectors, allocating resources among the research teams, and outlining the general administrative functions of the Network. A unique Board function will be to devise a market strategy, in conjunction with the corporation we will form, to exploit the expertise and products we create. It will be the responsibility of the Business Manager to ensure the implementation of these policies. S/he will also ensure that researchers adhere to their agreements with the Network. A RESEARCH MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE will consist of the Program Leader and one researcher from each university. It will ensure that the scientific goals of the Network are achieved. All public communications about Network activities will be routed through the Business Manager and Program Leader.
Contents, NCE Page, University of Calgary Page, KSI Page
LINCS@acs.ucalgary.ca 25-Nov-94