New Technology Developments

Here is a section of some interesting technology developments which potentially could be useful in the development of telematic-based learning services. More details and further information can be found by JUA members in the electronic news on FirstClass under "Telematics News" and "Technology Watch."

T-Mail

Bell Atlantic have introduced a new service called T-Mail that allows groups and organisations to communicate via their telephone. The trial began in Montgomery County, USA where every single person has been given their own T-Mail mailbox. Bell Atlantic have been working with a variety of selected organisations and groups through the summer putting in applications where the group could send a single message through their telephone to hundreds of group members with a single phone call. Each member has been given their own free mailbox to receive messages.

According to Bell Atlantic the response has been very good and has created an interest amongst other organisations, schools, and groups. Some of the initial successful applications have included day care centres, sports teams, as well as other formal and informal groups. It will not be used by telemarketing companies, but for organisations and groups that are relying upon "telephone trees," monthly newsletters, and word of mouth to communicate information. Although the system does not appear to have been specifically used for education and training, it could be an interesting alternative to electronic mail and an extension to the voice mail systems which are now starting to be used across Europe.

For Further information contact:- via Email Eric.S.Goldstein@Bell-Atl.Com

DocuWeb

The Xerox Corporation has recently announced a hardware/software offering for the higher education market that will allow students to view and print specific digital documents via the World Wide Web. Working directly with Xerox Documents on Demand (XDOD), the solution provides the interface to capture, store, edit, assemble, and print customised documents. DocuWeb enables students to view and print documents residing on the school’s XDOD library, via the institution’s home page.

For more information contact Lawrence F. Vogel
Tel +1 716-383-7948 or
Email lfv.roch817@xerox.com

Text Summarisation

Researchers at BT’s Laboratories have developed an application that turns pages of text into paragraphs and paragraphs into sentences. Known as text summarisation, the technique works on a wide range of text types, but is best suited to factual material such as scientific, business and journalistic works. The "Information Agent" searches text stored on a computer to select entries of most interest to a user. The text summariser then abridges the text to a fraction of its length without losing significant detail, the result being manageable information that is relevant to the operator.

How it works

Like translations, summarising involves two related tasks: making sense of words presented to the computer, and, secondly, generating fresh text that also makes sense. BT’s summariser applies a statistical algorithm to highlight the most important sentences in the text or to discard unhighlighted sections and leave a précis. Any length of précis or summary can be chosen, from 1% to 99% of the original article. The computer must also produce a natural language output that reflects its input. BT’s program uses a statistical approach which does not produce new phrases, but uses sentences already to hand. It then gives each sentence a score and summarises by choosing the highest-scoring sentences.

However, there are certain types of text that do not summarise quite so well - including articles that are list-like and narratives. As a list is, in a sense, already a summary, it would take human intelligence and judgement to determine which items are most important. Neither does it cope well with novels as there are often many plots and sub-plots to a story.

Does it work well?

According to BT tests comparing summaries with authors’ own abstracts have shown that an abridgement down to 5% of the original length typically contains 70% of the originals important information. A quarter length summary keeps virtually all the information. The text summariser was recently demonstrated at the launch of CampusWorld - BT new Internet service aimed at UK schools. It will certainly make the task of reading on-line text much easier.

VoiceType Dictation

IBM has launched VoiceType Dictation, what they claim to be a high accuracy, large vocabulary speech recognition solution that helps doctors, lawyers and other professionals improve their productivity and effectiveness.

It is capable of recognising 32,000 words at a rate of approximately 70-100 words per minute, with 97% accuracy.

Although perhaps still rather expensive at around $1000, for widespread use within education and training, it still could become a very valuable tool for improving the efficiency for remote on-line tutors who find that their typing skills are a handicap to dealing with queries they receive from students via electronic mail and computer conferencing.

VoiceType Dictation is available for OS/2, Windows, and is also supported for laptop and notebook computer users via a PCMCIA digital signal adapter card. It is also available in a number of languages besides English. Professionals whose work includes extensive writing have been able to reduce the amount of typing required to do their jobs, and can achieve immediate document turnaround without waiting for someone to transcribe notes for them. Physically- challenged users who cannot use a keyboard now have greater access to computers through IBM’s VoiceType Dictation.

It uses a sophisticated statistical language model developed by IBM and the computer’s understanding of the individual’s voice allows VoiceType Dictation to accurately convert the user’s spoken words to text. There are also specialised language models for Radiology, Emergency Medicine and Journalism add further accuracy for users. No doubt other specialised models will be developed.

According to IBM, unlike other voice recognition systems, VoiceType Dictation, allows editing after the author has finished their train of thought or their entire document. The system can even replay what the user said, eliminating the need to remember what was said when making corrections. With IBM’s new PCMCIA card, customers can take VoiceType Dictation for OS/2 or Windows with them while travelling or working in a mobile environment. It is compatible with many existing applications, such as Lotus Notes, (1-2-3), AmiPro, cc:Mail, Microsoft Excel, Word, and Quicken. In addition, most existing Windows or OS/2 applications can use VoiceType Dictation with relative ease. The user simply moves dictated text to their program or issues simple commands such as "file", "save" or "print" directly to them.

For further information Tel +44 1705 492249

Call Minder

UK Telecom company BT has recently introduced Call Minder, a Voice Mail answering service to UK BT telephone subscribers. For around £20 per year including VAT subscribers have an answering service which is available when the telephone is not answered and also when it is being used for another call. This service will certainly be a boom for distance learning students who only have one telephone line and use it for accessing on-line services. It will mean that the caller will still be able to leave messages for them whilst they are using the line for accessing information for their studies.

Call Minder uses recorded messages to give the caller information by speaking "yes" or "no" into the telephone or by pressing 1 for yes or 2 for no on a tone dialling system. If the receiver is on the telephone for voice or data transmission, when another call comes in, the caller can leave a message. Up to two messages can be left at the same time whilst the line is already engaged. Once the line is available Call Minder will telephone the receiver to tell them a call is waiting. By dialling a special free number the receiver can listen to waiting messages. Call Minder will also take messages when the telephone is not answered after a certain number of rings. The subscriber can control a number of different options and can also access messages remotely from any other telephone

For further information in the UK Dial 0800 252599

WEST Learning Environments

Web Educational Support Tools or WEST is a multimedia learning environment designed to support the delivery of course material over the Internet using the World Wide Web. The system provides extensive support for course providers, tutors, and students including built-in messaging, electronic submission and processing of student exercises, course material easily tailored to individual students, and support for video conferencing.

The tools are currently being tested in over 60 sites across the world including K-12 schools, colleges and universities and corporate organisations large and small in the US., Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Israel, Australia, Finland, Latvia, Hong Kong and Japan. The Civil & Architectural Engineering department of Drexel University are evaluating WEST for use throughout their curriculum as primarily an adjunct to the typical lecture, lab or studio experience. The Solid State Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory are training employees on the testing requirements for approval to operate their equipment. The Thatcher School in California are using WEST in European and US. History courses.

This first release due out sometime in September 1995 will contain customised course work pages for individual students and electronic submission and correction of exercises. It runs over the World Wide Web on the Internet or on a local area network and is claimed to be simple to install and administer. There will also be full support for remote administration and authoring of courses and cross-platform support for Windows, Macintosh and Unix X-Windows clients

For more information point your url to: http://west.ucd.ie/
or contact via Email, info@west.ie
Tel: +353-1-706-2480
Fax +353-1-269-7262.

WebBase

WebBase is a Web database Server that enables existing databases to be used on a Web site. It works in co-operation with any web server and allows any browser to search a database and display the result on a web page. WebBase works with over 50 database formats including: Microsoft Access and Excel. Database pages can have pictures, input forms, anchors, and any other feature provided by HTML. The fields in a database record may be placed anywhere in an HTML document. The database pages can also have pictures, input forms, anchors, and any other feature provided by HTML. Anything can be made available from the database to anyone browsing the Web site or access to a specific audience can be controlled through password protection. Existing databases can also be made more powerful by adding hypertext links into reports. This feature allows users to delve into a report in greater detail, while maintaining the simplicity of a high level view. It runs on Windows 3.1, and Windows NT and costs $495.

For more information point your URL to: http://www.webbase.com/
or contact ExperTelligence inc. Tel +1 805 962 2558

HotJava

HotJava is a World Wide Web browser, that is claimed by the developers, Sun Systems, to make the Internet "come alive." HotJava builds on the Internet browsing techniques established by the Mosaic browser and expands them by implementing the capability to add arbitrary behaviour, which transforms static data into dynamic applications. The data viewed in other browsers is limited to text, illustrations, low-quality sounds and videos. Using HotJava it is possible to add applications ranging from interactive science experiments in educational material to games and specialised shopping applications.

The Internet is a vast sea of data represented in many formats and stored on many hosts. A large portion of the Internet is organised as the World Wide Web (WWW) which uses hypertext to make navigation easier than the traditional ways like anonymous FTP and Telnet. WWW browsers are used to navigate through the data found on the net. Browsers allow people to treat the data spread across the Internet as a cohesive whole. Web browsers integrate the function of fetching the data with figuring out what it is and displaying it. One of the most important file type browsers understand is the hypertext markup language (HTML). HTML allows text data objects to embed simple formatting information and references to other objects.

HotJava provides a way for users to access these applications in a new way. Software transparently migrates across the network. There is no such thing as "installing" software. It just comes when the user needs it (after, perhaps, they have paid for it). Content developers for the World Wide Web don’t have to worry about whether or not some special piece of software is installed in a user’s system; it just gets there automatically. This transparent acquisition of applications frees developers from the boundaries of the fixed media types like images and text and lets them do whatever they’d like.

The central difference between HotJava and other browsers is that while other browsers have a lot of detailed, hard-wired knowledge about the many different data types, protocols and behaviours necessary to navigate the Web, HotJava understands essentially none of them. This essential difference results in great flexibility and the ability to add new capabilities easily. When the HotJava Browser "collects" something from the Web it also checks to see it the user’s computer has the appropriate "tools" to view it. If not it will also "collect" the "tools" needed to make it work. This eliminates the need to have a number of different browsers which can "read"different protocols. It has just become available for Windows 95 and Windows NT but not for users of Windows 3.11.

Further information can be found in the HotJava Browser White Paper which is available in Internet Watch on FirstClass for members of the JANUS User Association or point your URL to: http://java.sun.com/.

Envision brings Multimedia into The Living Room

Olivetti have recently previewed - Envision - their new multimedia personal computer providing a complete range of functions for work, entertainment, information and communications. It offers entry into the world of digital information: photographs, movies, music, information, games, business and learning applications, as well as communications, including Internet access, fax, modem and an answering service all on a single machine. Olivetti claim that it is one of the most powerful PCs on the market, and is also the first PC to offer a remote control and a wireless keyboard so that applications can be run collectively.

The new Olivetti PC has been designed to function with televisions, VCRs, telephones and hi-fi equipment and has been equipped with a single CD drive that supports the main types of compact disk currently available on the market, including the new digital Video-CDs, which are beginning to replace today’s video cassettes.

Envision can interact with the television via a SCART cable, the TV monitor becomes the PC display, providing high resolution colours. A special device eliminates the flicker that normally occurs when televisions are used with computers, and guarantees high brilliance and contrast. Envision also uses the TV loudspeakers, which are more powerful than its own speakers. In the future, it will be able to act as a set-top box (a device that converts digital input

into analogue television signals) to receive satellite video on-demand services. A second SCART cable connects Envision with the VCR, so that CD-Rom application sequences and images from Photo-CDs can be stored on a normal video tape.

Linked with the telephone via a normal phone cable, it can operate as an answering machine, recording messages on the hard disk and storing incoming calls, and as a fax, sending and receiving texts without wasting paper: incoming messages are stored for display on the PC monitor or the TV screen, while outgoing messages are keyed in via the keyboard and then sent to the receiver. Envision’s communication capabilities also include access to the world’s largest computer network, the Internet.

Envision is also the first computer to be equipped with a remote control device of the kind used with televisions and VCRs. The remote control operates the system’s main functions: it can run music, photos and video, select music or photographs, control volume, freeze video sequences and so on. Another feature that distinguishes Envision from conventional personal computers is the wireless infrared keyboard, with which the user can write, play games and activate commands from an armchair, without having to worry about cables. The keyboard includes a trackball and can be used at distances of up to five metres from the receiver.

Comment

The implications for the development of this type of product for the education and training market are rather unclear. Certainly it could make learning a family or group activity with access to interactive information on a larger TV screen. But competition within the home for all that can be viewed on a TV screen could reduce the about of more formalised home learning or studying. However, entering the home consumer market could create the economy of scales needed to reduce costs and enable the PC to be cheap enough for two or three to be available in the home as is now the case with the TV. This could vastly increase the potential for home learning.

For further information point your URL to: http://www.olivetti.com/.

Language Translation Technology

According to a studies conducted recently by Ovum language translation technology has "come of age", after decades of development, new products are beginning to make an impact on the market. In the last five years there has been a rapid development in all areas of translation technology products due to technological advances. But, there has also been an increase in market demand due to breakdown in trade barriers and the globalisation of large companies. The insufficient supply of human translators to meet the growing demand has also increased pressure to find technological solutions.

There are utilities which support the translator. These include language reference- products, such as dictionaries and language checking tools; language resources such as terminology-handling systems and terminology databases. There are also products which provide automatic language translation and include machine-translation systems and translation-memory systems.

Of a number of trends identified, three include the availability of resources and tools on-line; better matching of machine translation with user needs, with better and more generic translating environments; and lower prices, better functionality which is leading to faster uptake.

Comment

These developments could have some interesting implications for education and training particularly as some courses are starting to be offered world wide across the Internet. It could also lead to developments where students who don’t speak the same language will be able to communicate ideas via a translator. There will of course still be difficulties in the depth of thinking which is being communicated, but those developments will start to help better understanding between people with linguistic and cultural diversities. The development of translators will also mean that educational and training material can be more easily translated. This is particularly important with the production of complex and expensive multimedia materials which will need world wide markets in order to be able to sold at a reasonable price within the education and training market.

The full reports "Globalisation: Creating New Markets with Translation Technology" and "Ovum Evaluates: Translation Technology Products" can be obtained from Ovum Ltd, 1 Mortimer Street, London W1N 7RH, UK.
Tel +44 171 2552670
Fax +44 171255 1995
Email: info@ovum.mhs.compuserve.com

Issue 5 "Learning in a Global Information Society" 20 September 1995