Apple University Consortium Conference - Flexible Learning: Exploring the myths and realitiesMary Peat
School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney
The 1998 conference was held in Melbourne over two and a half days and attended by over 300 delegates from twelve Australian and six New Zealand universities belonging to the Apple University Consortium. The theme "Flexible Learning" was picked up by each of the keynote speakers and between them they explored the issues of delivery using technology, how to support flexible thinking with interactive multimedia, enhancing relationships in educational organisations with the use of technology, and the development of high bandwidth classroom resources. The conference had a special focus on distance education over the Internet.
Dr Blaine Price from the Open University, UK discussed how they have moved away from the traditional delivery modes of paper, cassette and video to using the Internet to deliver courses to Britain and Europe. The sheer size of the operation is mind-boggling but it is now successfully operating in IT mode. Blaine also talked about the service that is being provided to British primary and secondary schools that links them with high-speed low-cost wireless connections to the University's backbone. This provides them with fast Internet access as well as the University's high-speed servers and caches. This service deserves some consideration by all our universities.
Highlights of the conference included a discussion of "High Tech" versus "High Touch" and a demonstration of a piece of software (InterBook) that has been developed to support this approach. The software was being trialled by John Eklund at the University of Technology, Sydney. In "High Touch" learning, the teacher modifies the material delivered to the students depending on his/her level of understanding of previous content. InterBook attempts to mirror this behaviour by highlighting topics in the table of contents in earlier sections. Students still have the freedom to follow their own path through the material and not follow the recommended path. For more information, see the article on page 8 of this publication. Further details about InterBook can be obtained from http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~plb/InterBook.html
A number of sessions were dedicated to new technologies and some revisited old technologies being used in an innovative way. These included AppleScript being used to automate complex routine tasks (Andrew Winter, Architecture, The University of Sydney) and QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) (Roy Tasker, University of Western Sydney Nepean). QTVR can be used to interactively rotate objects or move around inside a 360 degrees panorama using a mouse. Roy has used QTVR to not only rotate models of chemical compounds but also to change the way in which the model is displayed. By moving the mouse vertically in the movie, the chemical model changes from a ball and stick to electron density, chemical formulae, or specialised chemical notation. A demonstration can be found at http://vischem.cadre.com.au/html/qtvrobjects.html
WebObjects is a powerful Internet tool for accessing information contained in any number of dissimilar databases anywhere in the world and delivering it to a single web page. Marie-Therese Barboux Couper (The University of Sydney) is doing some innovative work with the package. WebObjects can be seen at http://www.apple.com/webobjects/
UniServe Science News Volume 12 March 1999
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