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The Faculty of Engineering at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada has been offering a Master's degree program in Internetworking since 1997. The program also provides comprehensive "hands-on" laboratory experience in configuring, maintaining, troubleshooting and simulating networks. The university intends to increase its student base through online education retaining the same quality of interactions as the onsite program. In the online context, the design and the implementation of an effective remote interactive laboratory (RIL) environment is highly challenging on account of the special hardware, simulation and computing needs of the internetworking courses. This paper focuses on translating the onsite laboratory elements into the online RIL environment by allowing students at geographically remote sites to access and interact with internetworking devices located at Halifax. The RIL is devised using de-facto networking standards, free software and commercial Internet browser. Real-time interaction and information transfer with the Halifax site are achieved independent of the technology available to the remote student. The RIL design and delivery mechanism are tailored to: i) provide a constructivist pedagogical approach; ii) model a collaborative learning environment for group interaction; iii) match the characteristics of the delivery media to specific learning processes (media-synchronicity theory) including the provision of unambiguous feedback and guidance; iv) assign appropriate instructional roles; and v) determine desirable student competency outcomes; all in a remote learning context. A 4-tier role architecture consisting of faculty, facilitators at both local and remote sites and students, has been determined appropriate and adapted to maintain academic integrity and offer the same quality of interaction as the onsite program.
Date of Conference: 5-8 Jan. 2004