December 12th, 2018
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October 21, 2010. Billie Moreland, PhD, of Billie Moreland and Associates and Steve Simmons, PhD, E...

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The Idea (1994)
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10/30/2002 - EWU Computer Class Pilots Digital University

Ideas spawned in the Terabyte Triangle have had worldwide impact. The Triangle itself has been offered as a model at several international, regional and local economic development conferences. By now, many ‘second generation’ wired downtowns have been inspired --- from San Diego to Brooklyn. Our pioneering Educational Metropolitan Area Network (EMAN) project, uniting District 81 schools via gigabit Ethernet, has also been widely imitated. A new candidate for such an impact is being piloted during this quarter by Dr Steve Simmons and the 22 EWU students in the graduate software engineering course he is now offering in the SIRTI building.

The class project is initial design work for the Inland Northwest Digital University (INDU) --- a plan to create a media-rich, cutting-edge broadband cyber university in the Inland Northwest. “The reason this project is ambitious” says Dr Simmons, “is its potential to provide a model for a new, third generation, form of electronic distance learning,” which Simmons nicknames “3G-DL”. In his view, the first generation was the television monitor classroom with two way audio and video; the second, the currently popular ‘thin pipe’ Internet distance learning featuring PowerPoint views accompanied by small-frame talking heads. The third generation vision (3G-DL) is that a completely natural classroom experience would be presented at a distance, using gigabit MAN technology --- so convincing that all at the receiving end classroom would feel that they are in a real, live classroom with a real, live teacher. This will require far more elaborate video, audio, data transmission and bandwidth than do previous generations of distance learning. But the result, according to Simmons, will be worth it: “You will have the full strength human experience of collaboration and shared learning --- without degrading the educational experience by forcing it towards the lowest common denominator.”

The ambitious INDU project is a characteristic challenge in large-scale integrated system design. Large scale and new technology projects are noted for engineering difficulty and risk --- as shown by notorious examples of delay and budget overruns such as the Denver Airport Luggage Handling System. So, according to Simmons, this ‘mega-project’ is ideal as course subject matter. Two major tactics will be used to try to bring the risk and complexity under control. The first is architectural design --- four student teams will attack four large components of the final INDU system. These range from a component to archive and serve class sessions for those who miss them, to a component to coordinate the course offerings, course numbers, and start times for various INDU member universities. The second tactic is scaled project evolution. The class will concentrate on a ‘starter’ design for each component that embodies only the most important of the actions desired from that component, as well as the key interactions between the four components. Larger scale versions will be left for later projects.

Simmons has great confidence in the ability of the class to conquer this challenge. “Three quarters of the class,” he explains, “are currently working in the software and systems development world, including several full time employees of IT companies like XN Technologies, Getronics, and Itron”. In addition, all of the class members have previous experience in executing team projects in diverse fields, from computer graphics systems to web sites to research projects in distributed computing. “This project is exciting, challenging, and fun,” Simmons enthuses, “and will also provide a jumping off point for future class projects and masters level research to develop, refine, and integrate the INDU components.”

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