Global Delivery of Education via the Internet
Dr. George K. Kostopoulos
Professor of Information Systems
Texas A&M International University, Laredo
This paper describes the issues associated with global delivery
of education via the Internet, as well as the academic, technical,
administrative, instructional, and behavioral considerations. Also
presented is a course delivery prototype, which has been designed to
serve as a shell for the development of full length courses. The paper's
position is that eventually a cyber-academia will be progressively
formed, with its own culture and institutions, which will meet the
needs of those who are time or place constrained.
Education coupled with culture
comprises the intellectual treasure of any
individual. While culture normally comes from
an individual's immediate environment, such
as the family and the society, education may
come from a wide variety of sources.
Traditionally, these sources have been the
schools one has attended.
The education delivery in the schools
has indeed followed technological advances.
With time, the most familiar blackboard and
chalk have been augmented with a variety of
visual aids, ranging from projected images of
text, or pictures, to multimedia electronic
presentations with sound, video and animation.
Yet, the student's physical presence remained
Parallel to this traditional delivery of
education, education was also delivered via the
postal service, as training by correspondence,
a century old concept. There have been, and
still are, many reputable schools that have
educated thousands who could not physically
be present in the place where the education
was being delivered. Thus, receiving formal
education, without being face to face with the
instructor, is an old and accepted concept.
In the early Eighties, education by
correspondence was re-discovered and was
called distance learning. I recall, when I was,
at that time, a faculty at the Florida Atlantic
University, some of my graduate classes were
video taped, and the tapes were distributed to
various locations in and out of Florida to
students, who had been formally registered in
these courses. The necessary after class
interaction was conducted by telephone, while
all tests were appropriately supervised off
campus. This was the form of tele-education
in the Eighties.
Also in the Eighties higher education,
at least in the U.S., experienced a frenzie in the
establishment of satellite campuses. Their aim
was a combination of minimizing student
commuting and maximizing territorial
coverage. It was indeed a very expensive
version of tele-education.
In the early Nineties, as the
telecommunications technology advanced, the
concept of real-time tele-education became a
reality, although a very expensive one. The
needed infrastructure called for expensive
satellite links and for specially equipped
studios, at least on the instructor's side. As for
the instructor and student interaction, in most
cases it was on a non real-time basis, which
was adequate for the majority of course
Today, in the late-Nineties, the
educators around the world are faced with a
new reality of unprecedented parallel. This
reality is the cyber-campus. Now, an
educator's campus is no more the school
buildings and the related physical
infrastructure, but the entire world. We, the
educators, are provided with a resource that is
beyond reasonable comprehension. What
offers this global access, and at a relatively
negligible cost, are the recent, and hopefully
never-ending, advances in the Internet
The Internet Technology as an
educator's resource outperforms even the sun.
The sun can only shine half of the globe at a
time, while the Internet delivered education
can shine the entire globe, and around the
clock, with knowledge.
The issues that are associated with
Internet delivered education can be identified
as academic, technical, administrative,
instructional, and behavioral. These issues
need be addressed in the context of the
traditional delivery of education, which we
aim to strengthen, and not necessarily replace
with an Internet delivered version. The
objective of Internet delivered education must
be dual. The first is to provide tele-education
for the place or time constrained students, and
the second to maximize the utilization of
instructional technology, in an effort to
enhance the absorption of knowledge.
The academic recognition of
coursework, that has been completed outside
of the physical campus of the degree granting
institution, has always been a debatable
issue. Even if the courses are offered by the
institution's own faculty, accreditation
agencies frawn if the number exceeds one or
two, let alone credit earned through non-traditional learning, like by correspondence,
through self study or through practical
The Internet tele-education, which will
be the secondary educational mode of the next
millennium, is now bringing the issue of off-campus / off-classroom course work to the
foreground and into an unavoidable
recognition. The impact of this eventual formal
recognition of Internet delivered course work
will be more education to more people and in
It appears, that there are two areas that
the cyber campus will initially address. The
first will be the static knowledge, like
mathematics, physics and languages, and the
second the highly dynamic knowledge required
by the professionals to keep abreast in their
The static knowledge, by virtue of
being static and widely used, like mathematics,
languages, history, literature, and the like,
justifies the large amounts of investment
needed to develop effective Internet
The highly dynamic knowledge, like
the content of state-of-the-art courses in
computers, is attracted to Internet type of
delivery because it cannot be supported by
traditional channels of knowledge distribution.
There are two reasons. One is that there are
not enough instructors to cover the demand,
and the other is that books preparation and
their distribution take such a long time,
relative to the speed of change in the
respective knowledge, that, unfortunately, the
books turn obsolete shortly after they are
At this point in time, in the U.S., of the
several thousands of institutions of higher
education less than seventy offer courses via
the Internet. Collectively they amount to about
2,500 courses. A research as to what
today constitutes Internet delivered courses
has indicated that the practice varies from
mailed video tapes to interactive multimedia
web based courses. In all cases, however,
there is instructor accessibility via e-mail,
often, by telephone as well. In addition,
complete degree programs are currently being
offered, and in many cases the courses allow
open entry, so that a student may start cyber
attendance at any time (Caso, 1998).
Courses offered over the Internet, can
be full courses, with sole Internet interaction,
or may be supplementary to an in-campus
course, in which case the student - faculty
interaction remain on a face-to-face basis.
Properly designed, structured and
offered Internet courses may result in
significant competitive advantage for an
educational institution. There are tremendous
financial gains ahead for the publishers of high
quality multimedia Internet deliverable
courses. Today, a very small percent of the
Internet delivered courses fall in this category.
But with time, and as appropriate course
authoring tools are developed, there will be an
abundance of Internet delivered educational
programs provided for a subscribed access,
and for free, as a public service.
Examining the trends, and the expected
windfall returns to schools, one may foresee
that degree programs will eventually have two
components, the in-campus courses and the
cyber courses, with certain courses offered
through both media.
The way the Internet technology
advances and the way it is globally accepted, it
will not be too long before Internet course
offerings by academic institutions, will be
expected, as websites are being expected
Eventually numerous complete degree
programs, will be offered over the Internet,
not only by currently established academic
institutions, but also by new ones, that are
truly virtual, having no physical campus at all.
These academic program offerings will
comprise the global cyber campus, an
academic community with its own scholastic
standards, accreditation criteria and its own
culture. Currently, some cyber programs are
accredited by the Distance Education and
Training Council (DETC, 1998)
The delivery of courses via the Internet
depends on three main technical factors,
namely, the network access, the server
capabilities and the browser compatibility.
For an effective world wide delivery of
education, the already existing and globally
available technological infrastructure must be
utilized. This is none other, but the Internet
Technology. Dedicated microwave terrestrial
links or satellite links, the prominent
technology of the Eighties and early Nineties,
are not necessary anymore. The current
Internet Technology, absolutely, meets all of
today's technical needs, for the delivery of
education. However, to become useful, this
technology must be understood, learnt and
At the same time, it must be recognize,
that while the Internet Technology itself does
meet the speed needs for node-to-node data
transfers, the last mile problem still exists. By
last mile, we mean the user's connection to
the Internet service provider, or to the first
node. For the general public, this link has been
a dial-up telephone connections, with all its
advantages and disadvantages.
The last mile problem, which now
limits effective video delivery, is overcome
when wireless networks for Internet access are
being utilized (ZD, 1997a), ( ZD, 1997b),
(ZD, 1997c). In California, the Bonita School
District, in the Los Angeles County, is
currently planning to link up all its fourteen
schools with a wireless Internet access
network, as Washington, D.C. schools have
already done (ZD, 1997a), (TV, 1997).
Wireless Internet access networks with
data rates of 3Mbps, which is twice that of a
T1 line, easily support multimedia applications
including full motion video and Internet
telephone communications. The per site
installation cost of a wireless system is,
presently, $6,000, and is expected to decrease,
where single installations may easily
accommodate one hundred users (ZD, 1997a).
In addition to offering superior quality over
telephone lines, wireless Internet connections
also eliminate costly telephone bills and pay for
themselves in one or two years.
The Server is the origin of the transmission, and the power of its performance directly affects the quantitative and qualitative features of the accessed presentations. The necessary server must feature multi casting (multiple broadcasting), which is the simultaneous transmission to multiple users of Internet data, including live audio and live video (PC, 1997).
To best emulate the in-classroom
lecture environment, the presentations must
be made live, with real-time interaction. Live
presentations delivery can be easily
implemented with the popular RealAudio
servers, and may include audio, video and
animation (RA, 1998). This is a proven
technology, with about 30,000 servers in use,
and over one million respective players already
downloaded (RA, 1998a).
For live interaction, there are two
options. One is the electronic mail. In this
case, the instructor, during, or at the end of
the live lecture, will read the electronic mail of
the cyber audience and will respond verbally
before ending the live presentation. However,
sometimes, it may take hours for an e-mail to
arrive, and this approach may end up being
impractical. The other option is live Internet
audio, or video, broadcast from each student
station, and a multi-browser multi-listening
configuration at the instructor's site, which
might be somewhat technologically
An easy start into the Internet global
education delivery is offering predesigned
educational programs on demand. In this
case, the program, which may include audio,
video and predesigned interaction, resides in
the instructor's server from where it can be
accessed at any time.
The delivery of the associated audio or
video can be, either downloaded files in their
full size and played on arrival, or can be
downstreamed files sent in isochnonically
delivered data packets, where the modem
requirements can be as low as 14.4Kbps.
However, with today's 56Kbps modems high
quality audio can be received even via
At the student's computer, the browser
must be compatible with the technology of the
delivered program, and should have installed
the necessary plug-ins, like the audio, video or
animation players. This should not pose a
problem, because the instructor's side will be
providing the cyber audience with all
necessary information on the needed
At the instructor's computer, if no live
interaction is expected, the e-mail capability
will suffice. On the other hand, if there is to
be real-time interaction, the instructor's
computer must have multireceiving (multiple
receiving) audio or video capabilities. This can
be accomplished through multiple browser
installations with own audio/video players.
Eventually, there will be multireceiving
browsers for educational or similar needs.
Using multiple browsers openings the author
was able to simultaneously hear only up to two
independent audio sources.
Satellite Internet Access
Neither the instructor nor the student
need be in a fixed geographical location in
order to interact over the Internet. Today's
technology facilitates satellite Internet access
via portable small size antennas that connect to
notebook computers (Alpha, 1998).
An educational program, in addition to
the actual delivery of the planned education,
entails a large number of support activities,
such as the posting and the maintenance of
academic information. This need can also be
fully supported by an appropriate website.
Such site will display information on
the institution itself, on the course availability
and scheduling, on course syllabi and faculty
interests, as well on other related activities or
services, making any person-to-person contact
unnecessary. Through the same site, students,
through passwords, will be able to access their
records, or other confidential information.
Also, through the site prospective students
may formally register by completing
Faculty, who may be located around
the world, will also receive the class rosters,
and enter the grades via this site. Thus, all
administrative needs can be met through the
The prime instructional considerations
in Internet delivered education are two. The
technical support the instructor will need in the
preparation of cyber course, and a mechanism
for the evaluation of the cyber students.
Not too long ago, professors were
using the services of graphic designers for the
preparation of visual aids, and the services of
typists for their notes. These days are past and
gone. Today, professors are computer literate
by necessity, and are expected to be preparing
their own electronic presentations, using
appropriate software applications. Similarly,
while today professors use the services of
Website designers for the preparation of their
cyber courses, in the near future they will be
expected to use cyber courses development
tools themselves as part of their instructional
activities (Asymetrix, 1998)
Such cyber course development
applications provide users with a ready
structure, a shell, where stand-alone files
(text, audio, video or animation) will be linked
to the shell resulting in a complete Internet
In a cyber instruction environment
student evaluation, is a major issue. However,
it may take one or both of two equally valid
forms. One is the traditional examinations,
which, in this case, will be proctored by an
institutional representative. The other is, video
or audio only, live Internet presentations,
technically similar to those of the instructor.
It is true that cyber instruction
deprives the education process of the very
important classroom ambience for which there
is no direct replacement.
However, with Internet audio and
video in multi casting and multi receiving
mode, we may create a live global
conferencing environment. It is quite possible,
that because of its global nature, student
cyber attendance may be more interesting and
more punctual than traditional classroom
attendance. Undoubtedly, it will be most
fascinating, for once or twice a week, to be
meeting in cyberspace with classmates from
various parts of the world.
Thus, while the traditional classroom
environment is not maintained in an Internet
based instruction, a totally new concept is
being created, that of a live global cyber
classroom, with its very own merits.
Tele-education, while a valuable and
important educational resource, will especially
benefit the dedicated students, who are time
conscious, self disciplined, self motivated and
appreciative of the received education.
For a major academic institution, the
question is not whether to offer, or not to
offer, tele-education via the Internet. The
question is what courses and in what timetable
and format. With time, no academic institution
will have exclusive geographical territories by
virtue of proximity, because Internet tele-education will be available in every home
around the globe.
To successfully put into practice
education over the Internet, academic
institutions must first effectively address the
issues that are associated with the
implementation of such undertaking.
In an institution, the first cyber course
may be the result of a professor's own
initiative, later there might be a departmental
pilot program, but eventually, every major
academic institution will need to have an
Internet tele-education department that will
administer this global marketing and service
The most challenging issues, associated
with actually putting a series of courses over
the Internet, are not technical, but technology
mastering, faculty training, and course
restructuring; and in that order of challenge.
It has to be recognized by academic
administrations that the Internet technology,
besides being most fascinating, is evolving
very fast, and no amateur can keep track by
casually flipping through the pages of related
Mastering the Internet technology is
more than one specialist's full time job. It
requires a dedicated multi-member staff that
not only follows the technology's evolution,
but also practices the various technological
offerings in a real world environment.
For an academic institution, mastering
the Internet technology is not a luxury, but a
necessity, because without a thorough
knowledge and expertise of this technology,
every effort will end up in vain demonstrating
the use of obsolete methods and technologies.
Today, information-seeking directly
identifies with the Internet, tomorrow,
education-seeking will similarly identify with
Internet tele-education literacy for the
faculty is a major and critical issue, because
faculty participation is of paramount
importance. Here, however, there are two
The first is time. In today's fast pace
world, available time is a scarce resource.
Faculty are already preoccupied with being
abreast in their own fields, and can hardly find
time to learn the Internet technology that even
outpaces the experts.
The second is lack of will, on the part
of most faculty, to leave their beloved
blackboard and chalk, and to learn new
knowledge delivery skills - that of the tele-education technology - a technology that is
useless, unless it is mastered in full.
Presenting a lecture over the Internet is
not showing a video of the instructor in front
of a blackboard with his back turned to the
audience while writing solutions to problems.
Internet delivery of education is a multimedia
production, prepared for a multi-year use,
where every second of video and audio
content effectively conveys quanta of
In the classroom, an instructor may
write five words on the board and deliver a
one hour lecture based on these five words. In
tele-education the visual content, which re-enforces the aural delivery, should be changing
continuously, preferably every ten seconds.
Therefore, courses will have to be
redesigned, so that the visual flow, video or
animation, and aural flow, speech or music, are
both continuous and captivating.
It has to be realized that developing a
course for Internet tele-education is a very
serious undertaking, like the development of a
good textbook. On the other hand, the
academic as well as the financial rewards can
be very significant. For many student this form
of learning may be their only access to
education. In terms of financial rewards to the
academic institution, a well developed cyber
course can pay for itself within a semester.
Aiming at the eventual development of
a simple cyber course shell for the subsequent
production of cyber courses, a prototype has
been designed taking into account some of the
discussed considerations. The subject
presented in this prototype has been
multimedia. It is a twenty minute presentation
of fourteen pages that can be manually
selected or sequentially presented without
In structuring the prototype, the prime objective was to develop a shell, where educational material, as well as presentation parameters, can be easily entered. In this case, the educational material is a sequence of HTML pages, which may include embedded files, such as audio or video, in addition to images and animation.
The prototype opens up with a full
screen page, shown in Fig. 1. Embedded in
this page is a MIDI file, to create a relaxed
atmosphere, and an audio RA file, welcoming
the user and describing what is to follow. Use
of WAV files would be impractical due to their
large size and need for downloading, rather tha
For design simplicity, and to provide the users with a feeling of security, that they would not get lost inside a labyrinthic website, the course presentation has a consistent appearance, illustrated in Fig. 2, where the Table of Contents is to the left and the Controls Panel is to the right. In the middle of the viewing area is the educational material, which may be experienced, that is, viewed and listened to, under the user's control.
Here, there are three options in accessing the presented material. The first one is through the Table of Contents, shown in Fig 3., by clicking on the particular page. The second is through the Controls Panel, appearing in Fig 4, where the selection is relative to the currently displayed page. The third option is to let the presentation run by itself at a pre-defined sequence without any input from the user. The user, however, may interrupt the presentation at any point through the Table of Contents or through the Controls Panel.
All audio files in this prototype were
originally recorded into WAV format, with a
sampling rate of 11Khz and a sampling
amplitude resolution of 8 bits. Through a WAV
to RA encoder, provided by RealAudio, the
audio files were compressed into RA files for
28.8Kbps modems (RA, 1998b).
The above described course delivery prototype, with minimal additional programming, can be scaled to accommodate any size of presentation. In the case where a presentation contains images, the images can be either part of the course pages, which appear in the middle of the screen, or they may have a frame of their own, preferably in the upper left corner, as illustrated in Fig 5.
The layout of Fig 5 aims at providing
a shell structure where the user will develop
only text pages. Images, animation and videos,
though initiated in the text pages, will appear
in the images-frame located in the upper left
area of the screen.
The Internet, as a network, coupled with the
streamed audio technology, provides in total
the necessary infrastructure for global course
The need, today, is for course
development tools, the learning and use of
which, will require the minimum of skills, time
and effort on the part of the educator. Using
such tools, which will resemble those of
multimedia development, courses will be
prepared for endless deliveries on demand.
The educational horizons that have
been opened, thanks to the Internet and to the
streamed audio, technologies are
unprecedented magnitude and importance.
With time, via the internet, education
will shine onto the world population, as solar
energy shines on us daily. Eventually, no one
should be deprived of education because of
location or time inconvenience.
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THE AUTHOR (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr. George Kostopoulos is a Professor of Information Systems with the College of Business at the Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. His professional interest is the Internet, as it applies to Electronic Commerce and Global Education Delivery, while his academic interest is International Education.
This paper appears in the Volume 3 Number 3 1998 issue of the Internet Research: Electronic Networking Applications and Policy, ISSN 1066-2234.