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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Web connects design students
Projects are published every week in virtual studios BBC
Projects are published every week in virtual studios
An innovative programme using interactive learning techniques has allowed architecture students and professors from across the US and Latin American to share and pass on their knowledge.

The virtual learning initiative involved more than 130 students and 20 professors from seven schools of architecture.

Using the internet, students from the US, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and Ecuador were able to work together on design projects and put their work online for assessment.

The project is an example of how universities are taking advantage of digital technologies to enrich traditional learning environments.

Virtual design studios

Conventionally, architecture students would be taught in design studios, where they would develop models and sketches of projects.

Students put their work on webpages BBC
Students' work on the web
Their work, represented by physical models and design drawing, would then be reviewed by their professors visiting the studio.

For this experiment in online learning, design studios at seven schools of architecture in Miami and Latin America worked concurrently via the internet in a term-long studio project.

The organiser, Professor Alfredo Andia at Florida International University, Miami, was interested in discovering innovative and creative uses of computer graphics and interactive techniques for learning.

Click here to send us your experiences of online learning

"Every week, students put their work on the internet and we start to develop an exchange of ideas via e-mail, chat and eventually video chat," Mr Andia told the BBC's Go Digital programme.

Students put their work on webpages, with drawings, photographs of physical models or Flash animations of their ideas.

The professors and visiting critics from around the world would set a time to review the work.

Chat worked best

Most of the interaction was done using low-bandwidth internet communication such as chat.


The way people communicate is far quicker and more direct

Alfredo Andia, Florida International University
He admits that initially he did not have much faith in chat. "I thought it was far too frivolous a tool to be used academically," says Mr Andia.

But he soon changed his mind, as it emerged as the best way of exchanging opinions in real time.

"At the moment, the technology that works best is chat, as everyone can get access to this and the bandwidth in Latin America is still very low," he says.

The organisers found the project gave rise to some surprising results.

"The way people communicate is far quicker and more direct," says Mr Andia of the virtual classrooms.

"When students put forward their projects in the chat rooms, they can receive comments immediately, and not just from one but from 10 lecturers, something which would be impossible in a traditional design studio."

Sharp criticisms

"The criticisms were far more pointed, as the electronic anonymity means that people are far less diplomatic and their criticism is far more harsh than in real life," explains Mr Andia.

Project co-ordinator: Alfredo Andia
Project co-ordinator: Alfredo Andia
He is now looking to build on the project, with the development of virtual reality prototypes and the creation of virtual communities.

Among the new collaborative projects is one examining the growth of the peri-urban zone, an area which Mr Andia says has been largely ignored by the architecture profession.

The term refers to the substantial and growing proportion of people living around large cities in developing countries, who depend on natural resources such as land for food, water and fuel.

HAVE YOUR SAY

At TagTeacherNet we also are developing an innovative way for teachers to share ideas and resources. Take a peek at our members section for our early moves: http://www.tagteacher.net/members.

We are already extending the project to offer additional features and functions to acadmeic, education and industrial communities around the world. Our approach aims to give people in the virtual community an identity and public face whilst collaborating on projects, sharing resources, receiving user definied newsletters and entering in to project centered discussions.

By separating projects, resources and projects and examining the way they interact we aim to transcend many of the issues raised by virtual communities in the dotcom boom years.
Karim Derrick, UK

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Go Digital is webcast on the BBC World Service site and BBC News Online every Monday at 1500 GMT.

It is broadcast on BBC World Service radio on:

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See also:

14 Jan 01 | Education
Healing power of online learning
10 Jan 01 | Education
Boosts for online learning
20 Nov 00 | Education
Europe encouraged to learn online
09 Sep 01 | Americas
Cuba learns to shop online
15 Aug 00 | Education
Adult online learning 'first'
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