Lotus LearningSpace: New Ground

Not that wonderful instructional environments don't already exist. HyperStudio and similar programs serve well in K-12. And e-mail forms the basis for college- and distance-education interaction. But these are largely individual development efforts. Delivering true, "like being there" online courses has not been ready for the mainstream -- until now. 

Framework for Class 

Lotus debuted and demonstrated LearningSpace in October at EDUCOM. LearningSpace is a series of five, interconnected modules that create an interactive, learner-centered class environment online. Interaction isn't restricted to communication; collaborative, team-based activities are enabled as well. Testing and tracking are another feature. 

LearningSpace is, in essence, an automated model for delivering "the best of being there" instruction -- anytime and anywhere. 

Based on Lotus Notes R4 technology, each module is a Notes database. Notes provides the shared, virtual space. Students or the instructor access it either directly from an IP or other network or, via Notes' database replication technology, from disconnected sources. This is the technical basis for anytime, anywhere learning. 

And in early 1997, hosting LearningSpace directly on the Web, for access by Web browsers, will be enabled via Lotus' Domino server technology.

To Know the Modules... 

Elegant is the word for the design of LearningSpace. Each module contains a variety of templates, applets and more. Students receive four modules: Schedule, Profiles, Media Center and Course Room. An additional Assessment Manager is for teachers.

  • Schedule comprises a course's syllabus, its learning objectives, assignments and deadlines. Students use it to access assigned activities or track personal progress. Exams and surveys are posted here.
  • Profiles enables students to post a "home page" with personal data, even a photo, for sharing. This helps class members visualize and "know" one another better.
  • Media Center, a key ingredient, offers a library of subject-specific resources, each launched by a click. Nearly anything is supported: video and audio clips, multimedia CDs, URLs off the Internet, CBT tools, etc. -- even other applications, AutoCAD or Mathematica or any package. Students can generate annotated versions of MediaCenter content, which may be tied to new discussions or kept private. Categories plus searching data, created by instructors or managers, help students quickly find needed information.
  • Course Room is where all interactive discussions and team activities take place. Discussions can be public or private, to all or groups, based on subject or assignment. Collaborative exercises are conducted here, and instructors can track each student's and all team input. Assignments also get submitted here.
  • Assessment Manager, for teachers, is a database of tests and surveys plus grading and tracking functions. Exams, surveys, quizzes and self-assessments with answers are included and modifiable. Questions may be short answer, multiple choice, T/F, etc. These then get posted to the Schedule module for completion. A private gradebook, highly customizable, aids tabulation, assessment and recording tasks. 

While context-sensitive help is integrated throughout, teachers can also create custom help tools, for students only or open to all.

Pricing, Training, Comments 

Lotus provides specialized training for LearningSpace. Two courses are offered, one for experienced developers and one just for teachers. Finally, an additional Customize tool lets developers modify the look and feel and build in new functions. Administrators get Configurator, a tool to manage enrollment and other aspects. 

Initially, LearningSpace is offered in StarterPacks, tailored to aid a successful implementation. These comprise the software application, a single-user license to compose a course for internal use, and a license to deliver it to 50 participants. LearningSpace StarterPacks are priced at $3,500. Contact Lotus Education at (800) 346-6409 for more details. 

LearningSpace's pedagogical design is based on several years' study by Lotus Institute, a research arm. In collaborative activities, it found the highest level of learning occurs in instructor-led, team-centered environments. Thus, LearningSpace was expressly designed as a vehicle to deploy such "best practice" teaching and learning, all without limits from location or time. 

Its look is clean, intuitive and easy to navigate. Its functions are targeted and well implemented. Its ramifications could be immense -- reaching down into K-12 and the academic mainstream via the Web. LearningSpace, with its framework and tools, truly breaks new ground.  

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.