M. A. Rentroia-Bonito, Frederico Figueiredo, André Martins, Vitor Fernandes, Joaquim Jorge
e-Learning-in-Organization Research Group, Departamento de Engenharia Informática, IST/INESC-ID,
Av. Alves Redol, 9, Lisbon, Portugal
Keywords: e-Learning, Learning Management System, Moodle, Webcast, e-Presence, Customization, SEMINOLE.
Abstract: This article presents work done at the Technical University of Lisbon, on web systems to support
technology-enhanced learning. Based on eighteen months experience with webcast technologies and
commonly used Learning Management Systems, this work has integrated both concepts and developed a
simple, yet effective learning approach. This approach supports both students and professors in moving
from the traditional classroom to technology-enhanced online settings. We present the evolution of our
system and the results obtained from testing and evaluating the prototype, during the last Spring semester.
One of the major features of our approach lies in combining both online and offline components of the e-
Learning experience and incorporating desirable traits from traditional and technology-mediated learning.
This way, we have identified significant issues for users in order to better manage the changes required to
adapt our system to organizational processes and context of use. Our assessment points to changes in the
teaching method, course organization, and highlights new factors of students’ motivation. Results, however
preliminary, seem to indicate both the usefulness of our approach and the feasibility of deploying e-learning
initiatives with efforts optimization to complement traditional offerings in university settings.
In the past few years there have been substantial
advances in e-Learning environments spurned by
developments in Communications, Media, and
Computing Technologies. However, technology
itself is not the single, most important, driving factor
in improving e-Learning experiences. As we gain
more understanding on the dynamics of online
learning, new challenges emerge. Indeed, there is a
need for proper methodologies and tools to address
these new challenges, as students and educators
migrate from traditional classrooms to online
environments. This is because both Human Factors
and Technology Investments need to be managed in
articulation with learning strategies to explore new
possibilities in a more resource-effective manner.
For courseware developers, this translates into
requirements to shorten the development time of
courseware that are both cost-effective and
acceptable to students. This is challenging work
practices in all kind of organizations. The Instituto
Superior Técnico (IST), of the Technical University
of Lisbon, Portugal, is no exception. During the last
two years, our research group has been developing
an e-Learning system to support the transition of
traditional class-room environments to technology
enhanced-learning, whether online or offline.
This paper’s goal is to share the experimental
aspects of our approach to develop, implement, and
test an e-Learning solution. We are developing
through third-party integration and customization of
off-the-shelf components a SEaMless INtegrated
Online Learning Environment (SEMINOLE).
The remainder of this paper presents a
conceptual overview of our approach and describes
our concrete experience at IST. Preliminary
assessments and lessons learnt, jointly with potential
benefits for each of the main stakeholders, namely
instructors, students, system administrators, and
educational institutions; and future work are
presented. This work aims at setting up a
comprehensive framework to analyze online
learning and guide development efforts towards
resource-effective solutions for e-Learning
(Rentroia-Bonito, Tribolet, Jorge & Ghaoui, 2005).
A. Rentroia-Bonito M., Figueiredo F., Martins A., Fernandes V. and Jorge J. (2006).
In Proceedings of WEBIST 2006 - Second International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies - Society, e-Business and
e-Government / e-Learning, pages 281-286
DOI: 10.5220/0001256702810286
Creating and sustaining e-learning settings indicate
institutional readiness to assume this new paradigm
as part of its strategy, culture, and internal practices.
The literature reveals that this readiness covers
structural and relationship issues (Dix et al, 1998;
Dougiamas & Taylor, 2002; Preece, Rogers &
Sharp, 2002; Rosson & Carroll, 2002) and previous
works (Rentroia-Bonito, Figueiredo, Martins, Jorge
& Ghaoui, 2006b). As shown in Figure 1, as
technology gets in the process of learning, the need
for structure highly increases and the need for
relationship differs.
However, effectiveness and efficacy of this
paradigm still relates to how well courseware
designers: (a) address the specificities of users’
learning needs, characteristics, goals and priorities
taking into account their immediate context and
available resources; and (b) cover not only the
production and distribution of learning content in
educational settings, but also its articulation with
internal work processes and labour market dynamics
and needs.
Technology and instructional design are main
issues when structuring an e-learning experience. At
this regard, organizational investment in technology
(e.g. network, equipment, software), and human
resources (e.g. instructors, knowledge or task expert,
speakers, helpdesk staff, teachers, and administrative
assistants) should meet users’ local and remote
conditions in order to improve e-learning
effectiveness (Rentroia-Bonito, Jorge & Ghaoui,
2006a). Technology should support and explore all
four different combinations. Our vision is that a
workable technology should address all
combinations even if deployed progressively. This
involves defining clear milestones in terms
organizational acceptance, skill development,
required accessibility and infrastructure supporting
e-learning experiences to allow for harmonious
The following section presents the strategies and
progress of our research work with e-Learning at the
Departamento de Engenharia Informática (DEI) at
After defining an e-learning vision and assuring
required resources, the development approach for
the solution was iterative and incremental. This first
prototype was tested during the Fall semester 2003,
giving a e-lecture to 77 HCI students from three
Portuguese universities, (Rentroia-Bonito, Jorge &
Ghaoui, 2006a). Then, another test was realized
during the Spring semester of 2004. Back then, a
total of 11 PCM students participated.
This proof-of-concept allows the retrieval of
structured and unstructured user feedback that
contributes to improve the current understanding of
e-learning dynamics reflecting it on prototype
requirements and architecture. SEMINOLE was
architected during Fall 2004, tested and evaluated
during Spring semester 2005 with a class of 28 PCM
students. Next, the main development stages until
achieving current version of SEMINOLE are
3.1 Stage I: Archive and Webcast
Before this stage was completed, the course was
supported by a static Website (PCM, 2004) where
contents (announcements, goals, course program,
schedules, grading details, delivery dates, and
information about the teachers, classifications, and
bibliography) were available to all students. All
class contents were edited and published manually
through the edition of HTML pages and later
uploaded to the Website server. In this first stage, we
introduced recording and video archiving of all
classrooms, and live webcast of invited lectures.
Figure 1: Conceptual Framework.
Our first approach consisted of a software tool,
supported by FCCN (Portuguese Foundation for
Science and Research), that enabled audio and video
streaming with support for synchronized
presentation slides. These were defined to simulate
the classic classroom scenario allowing remote
students to interact with other students and the
speaker, through the use of email messages and an
IRC (Internet Relay Chat) online session. This tool,
in its simplicity, had shortcomings related to: (a)
high demands for resources (skills, time and media)
complex pre and post-production processes, and (b)
inefficacies of the integration of IRC session and
quizzes evaluation.
In an attempt to get users’ feedback, the last live
webcast session was evaluated. Based on this user
feedback, the alignment between the learning
process-system for this user group was improved by
implementing a dynamic and more efficient content
management tool tightly adapted to the internal
teaching process (Rentroia-Bonito, Jorge & Ghaoui,
3.2 Stage II: Development of
The version of the system was designed to meet
three main requirements: learning content
management, class webcast and archive, and
evaluation methods. Its main functionalities were
identified based on defined vision, priorities;
university’s teaching process and analysis of
strengths and weaknesses of available Learning
Management System (LMS) platforms.
SEMINOLE is based on an opensource LMS
integrated with a streaming system, as shown in
Figure 2. The former allows students to access all
class of contents, participate in online fora, take
quizzes, check grades, etc. The latter allows
webcasting of all events in a course. This way,
students can attend classes remotely and view slides
which are synchronized with audio and video
streams. They can also participate in classes, via
chat-room, as well as place questions to teachers and
other colleagues.
The learning content management process was
tightly supported by a LMS called Moodle (Moodle,
2004) that embraces the social constructivism as an
educational philosophy (Dougiamas & Taylor,
2002). Moodle provides the necessary tools for
building and managing the course Website (PCM,
2005), facilitating, among others: (a) scheduled
delivery of learning content in different formats, (b)
possibilities of diverse resources and tasks
supporting different learning methods, and (c) fast
feedback to students after doing quizzes. For the
webcast feature, we chose to use ePresence
(ePresence, 2004) from KMDI Labs in the
University of Toronto, along with additional
customization, the component in SEMINOLE
currently supports: (a) lectures by audio and video
synchronized with slides; (b) integrated and
moderated live chat; (c) question submission, and
(d) semi-automated generation of structured,
navigable, searchable lecture archives.
For students to evaluate the usability of
SEMINOLE, online questionnaires were used.
Registered students participated in evaluation
sessions. Motivation-to-elearn items were captured
before students used the system and ten weeks later.
The system’s usability was evaluated in the last
session. Also students reported their system usage
frequency and average access duration time.
Confidentiality and anonymity were assured before
evaluation sessions started. Data was analyzed to
identify improvement areas based on results by: (a)
comparing motivation-to-elearn perceptions,
measured before and after using SEMINOLE; (b)
evaluating the usability of the system, and (c)
content-analysing responses to open questions.
Figure 2: Current SEMINOLE Architecture.
During this stage four main lessons were identified.
First, from technical perspective, several areas of
improvement were identified: (a) integrating user
logging to allow further analysis of students' access,
usage and communication patterns; (b) facilitating
content publication by implementing an automated
schedule; and (c) taking full advantage of the
possibilities of the platform in terms of delivering,
and reutilizing, current and archived contents in
different formats. This will address the structural
and relationship issues shown in Figure 1, improving
the alignment between PCM course and
Second, structuring e-learning experiences
demands strong organization skills from instructors
as well as enforcing the application of standard
operating procedures. This is required to coordinate
efforts from involved staff (e.g. Helpdesk, Content
managers and producers, invited speakers, teaching
assistants, among others) in order to assure
consistent communication during the different
events (e.g. posting news, instructions, feedback).
Third, from a class dynamics perspective,
learning tasks were facilitated. In particular,
communication with local and remote students
improved due to the possibility for them to talk to
each other. Within webcast sessions, a total of 910
messages were sent, using e-Presence’s chat-room
feature. 73% of messages were related to
communication between the students and the
moderator, mainly concerning technical aspects of
the session. Fora optimized the process of class
communication by turning individual answers into
collective ones. We also verified that “Course
Program”, “Evaluation Details” and “How to
perform exams (quizzes)” were the most viewed
resources, which calls for planning when designing
e-learning experiences. For instance, self-reported
responses indicated that 58% of students that
evaluated SEMINOLE, accessed the system
frequently (three or more times per week). 91% of
the students reported to have spent less than ten
minutes each time they accessed the system, 58% of
them took less than five minutes. This raises specific
concerns regarding the usability of SEMINOLE.
Usability evaluation of the system was done at the
week of course by 86% of registered students.
Based on system data and user questionnaires, out of
79 posts, 53% were discussions initiated by students.
On average, posting was reported as an easy task to
perform in the system. Yet, almost 42% of
participating students never posted anything. Also,
few students reported not to have accessed archived
learning content and uploaded materials using
SEMINOLE. This translated into specific actions to
improve the usability of SEMINOLE’s interface.
Fourth, involving students as users into the
development cycle, proved to be useful and
resource-effective. They were asked to report what
they liked the most, the least and what technical and
physical conditions must be improved. 45% of
responses were given in the first evaluation session.
Short-term actions were taken to address some
issues (e.g. physical conditions, class rules, site
usability, communication issues, among others).
Those suggestions that could not be implemented
during this semester will be considered for a new
version of SEMINOLE (e.g. content organization
and structure, improving class dynamics, better user
manuals, etc.).
Using our system brought forth several benefits.
First, two specific system administration tasks were
simplified: (a) edition / re-edition is done directly on
the platform, and (b) pre and post-production of
webcast classes (live and archive) had their time
significantly reduced from one working hour per
class hour to about 15 minutes per class.
For instructors, administrative tasks related to
quizzes and standard communication instruments
(e.g. program, course details, etc.) and events (e.g
meeting with students, orientation sessions, etc) are
also simplified. This raised other issues, such as the
effectiveness of mixing paper-and-pencil and online
quizzes, the need for a timely implementation of the
course plan and the amount of time required to
structure the learning experience once compared
with traditional ones. Nevertheless, it is
unquestionable that a home-grown and easy-to-use
e-learning system, which is also resource-effective
to build and maintain, can be a competitive tool to
deliver learning content.
For students, the dynamics of e-learning, during
SEMINOLE testing, created a “common
communication space” for those that actively
participated. In this way, online and offline
communication reinforce each other, if consistently
given. At this regard, frequency of use could be a
good indicator of adequate user engagement and
participation in online experiences. This will also
allow identifying or anticipating specific
performance issues and thus setting up the agenda
for offline meetings with students, when needed.
For system designers, structured user feedback
allowed to concentrate on critical issues negatively
affecting engagement and performance (resources
and time). Generally speaking, this will likely
improve development time, user acceptance levels
and help anticipate major changes in organizational
process and required competencies.
For process owners or managers, the results of
data analysis (self-reported and coming from system
database) will allow obtaining performance metrics.
They will be of great value to estimate the
usefulness, effectiveness, articulation of results and
strategies, return of investment of this kind of
initiatives, and support later business-driven
decisions. Within current business environment, this
will be a useful feature for all kind of organizations
to be competitive.
As our knowledge of the fundamentals of e-Learning
requirements and praxis improves, we expect to
derive useful models to assist courseware developers
in developing high-quality resource-effective
learning materials and interactive courseware. Four
areas for future work were identified
First, we believe that collaboration and
personalisation are two essential requirements for
learning effectiveness. SEMINOLE lacks the ability
to: (a) allow students to specify personalization
features; (b) promote cooperation and collaboration
among students and instructors from local and
remote universities, and (c) foster collaborative work
among instructors and students In traditional
classrooms, students have their own materials
available; they chose what to take to a classroom and
in what way they want to take notes. Thus,
improvements could be added in order to: (a)
enhance the feeling of belonging and social presence
(Tu, 2002); (b) allow students to specify
personalized features, for example, each student
could be notified of the archived materials he/she
has not yet seen, and (c) enhance the publication
workflow. Currently, materials are prepared outside
the learning environment, and once they are ready
for publication they are added to the archives.
Again, as students should be able to share
documents and learning materials among
themselves, instructors could also be able to create
their materials online in a collaborative manner.
Second, from a technological standpoint,
SEMINOLE’s development will be directed towards
two main goals: (a) improving cost-efficiency, and
(b) increasing instructor and student immersion/
interactivity. The system’s interface and workflow
will be simplified by optimizing pre and post-
production processes. This way a “one man show”
scenario can be possible. Tests with low-cost and
highly available hardware have already begun. In
these tests, a camera was replaced by a webcam, and
the media-encoding server and instructor
presentation computer were replaced by a single
laptop. Additionally, multimedia content
distribution presents several challenges for
SEMINOLE: (a) webcast delay, and (b) network
bandwidth requirements. To face these challenges,
three options were analyzed. Replacing unicast
streaming with multicast streaming can reduce
bandwidth requirements (Multicast Streaming,
2005), but raises several issues when deployed in a
heterogeneous network environment since “a large
portion of the Internet is not multicast-enabled”
(Yeo, Lee & Er, 2002). Tunneling between
multicast-enabled networks (Francis, 2000)
potentially solves the bandwidth issue, but the live
media delay remains. Research in peer-to-peer
content distribution may solve both bandwidth
concerns and live content delay. This is based on the
principle that interested content receivers will be
willing to resend it (Yeo, Lee & Er, 2002;
Xianliang, Mengshu & Chuan, 2005).
Third, planning standardized contents using
Sharable Content Object Reference Model
(SCORM) for multiple assets, such as presentations,
simulations or webcasts, is under way. Also,
building basic learning objects from previous raw
classes’ contents, through the process of
standardization, is another step. Then, with sets of
basic learning objects, we will develop SCOs
(Shareable Content Object). A SCO represents the
lowest level of granularity of learning resources that
can be tracked by a Learning Management System
(LMS) (Advanced Distributed Learning, 2004).
Each SCO will have a predetermined sequence and
can be seamlessly used for multiple course lessons.
Lessons are created from groups of SCOs that can
contain a concept, fact, procedure, process or
principle (Cisco Systems, 2003). Adding Learning
Objects Metadata (LOM) is also planned. LOM
makes SCO more reusable, since instructors can
search and find them easily. Issues resulting from
SCO usage will be analyzed, among them:
increasing or decreasing contents granularity;
choosing a set of basic learning objects to build a
SCO; selecting the right SCOs to build a lesson, and
finding an organization or navigation structure.
This approach, using standards like SCORM (or
others), brings advantages by making it possible to
use materials from different sources into the future
standard-compliant SEMINOLE. Changing the
learning environment will have no extra costs,
beside a new course deployment, because there will
be no need to change the SCO itself. This achieves
interoperability among user technologies. Standards
provide a common data model and by using a
standard-compliant SEMINOLE potentially assures
that the course will be correctly delivered,
interactions logged and student grades saved.
Standards also provide a common packaging format
that ensures an easy storage and distribution process.
Moreover, building a repository of standardized
SCOs is also resource-effective, because reusability
Last, there is a need to rethink business models
for effective deploying ee-learning solutions. This is
required to develop cost-effective and sustainable
approaches to enhance existing curricula through
judicious use of IT. This should be the subject of
further studies.
We have presented our ongoing work towards a
web-based system for supporting resource-effective
e-Learning. The main advantages of this solution lie
in its cost-effectiveness and just-in-time approach to
content production and distribution. We achieved
this by using opensource tools and making
functionalities available based on user feedback and
system data analysis, while trying to respect
organizational culture, processes and idiosyncrasies.
Usability evaluation results showed that: (a)
SEMINOLE is easy to use for the main
stakeholders: instructors and students, and (b) e-
learning is a team-based process with a complex
nature due to its non-linear impact on expected
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