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This paper discusses the challenges inherent in distributed education and presents the development of a distance education environment to meet the needs of educators and geographically dispersed students at Lulea University of Technology in northern Sweden. The design rationale and experiences from teaching in the environment are discussed. During the course of the research, several prerequisites for quality distance education were identified, one of which is the main topic of this paper. Here, the needs identified by the educators who are to use the created environment are discussed. Those needs have led to the design of the environment, including physical spaces, tools and technologies. Our results indicate that it is now possible to design a highly useful environment for distributed education at a much lower cost-to-quality ratio than only a few years ago. Such a system may be created in a way that allows teachers to learn to use the environment self sufficiently. Thereby, the need for support staff is greatly diminished. The results indicate that the use of appropriate methods and tools lets teachers work in a distributed environment in a way that closely resembles their normal way of work in a teaching situation. In addition, a strategy for future development of the environment, based on the results presented here and on previous research, is suggested.
Date of Conference: 14-16 Jan. 2008