The Mayflower Project employs satellite telecommunications techniques such as multicasting IP, IP/DVB and Internet return channel to enable the delivery of university courses in Medicine. Two groups of participants employed the system. One group was based in Italy and was led by the University of Perugia, which focused on nursing. The other group was based in Norway and led by the University of Tromsoe, which focused on nursing and medicine. Students attended Perugia University courses either from home or the University classrooms.
Additionally a group of professional nurses in Naples used the system for a course on "clinical pathways". The system used in this project can be easily used in other educational fields, in particular Continuing Medical Education (CME).
Mayflower is designed to build a service centre based tele-education model. From a business point of view this model foresees an operator, not necessarily the same as the telecommunications provider, that operates the application servers and makes the facility available to the users.
The users are:
- Education providers: in our case Universities, but also CME providers and others,
- Content providers: in our case the same Universities that also have production facilities,
- Courses administrators: to enroll students, give authorizations to courses, etc,
- Teachers: accessing the system during on-line sessions,
- Students: accessing courses off-line and on-line.
The project duration was from November 2002 to November 2005.
Italian regulation does not foresee complete e-learning courses for Universities.
The five courses were attended by 15 students at home and 70 in classrooms. Another five students in Norway and five in Naples used the system. This activity was integrated into their normal education and at the end they performed, in addition to on-line questionnaires, a normal examination to comply with regulations and obtain the corresponding credit. The educational modules that have been produced are in the paramedical aspects of the following fields:
- Medicine (2 courses),
- Surgery (2 courses),
- Biotechnology applied to territorial epidemiology (1 course).
At the end of the course the students were provided with a proper grounding in the basic subjects of the five modules for Nurses. The scope was to get the best understanding of the most important elements of the physiological and pathological processes from a nurse perspective, and to understand the therapeutic and rehabilitative intervention.
During the whole course, the students were involved in theoretical (Mayflower e-learning) and practical training activities in Perugia, under a tutors direction in both cases. This was done during the e-learning part of the project, employing interactive software and personal contact in Perugia.
The proposed system has relevant social and economic advantages:
- Allow employed persons, like nurses, willing to have a University degree, to attend courses from their locations and in the time frame they prefer,
- Allow people not to travel to attend courses,
- Educational institutions in less developed regions, which are not well equipped in terms of infrastructure for education and training of their students, have access to knowledge which is otherwise very difficult to obtain,
- Citizens (students) experiencing mobility difficulties (e.g. persons with special needs), are given the capacity to access knowledge that would otherwise not be accessible. This enables them to complete their education in a better way, facilitating their future integration in the community by minimising some of the constraints associated with any mobility impairment.
These issues are associated with the EU's general objective of equal opportunities for all citizens, to which any such research and development effort contributes. This facilitated sharing concept may also induce direct economic benefits through a more efficient exploitation (e.g. continuous, shared use) of existing educational infrastructures and resources.
The main project features are summarised below:
- The system is based on a software product developed by Kell (J-Study) dedicated to tele-education and running at the Elsacom service centre in Avezzano, where also the up-link is performed,
- Educational modules are made by slides and video content and are collected on the central database at the service centre,
- Data flow is very asymmetric, exploiting satcom operations. There is no requirement for the session leader workstation, except for when the on-line video is used for tutoring. The roles of the participants are logically assigned by the software and not dependent on the terminal features,
- The content is collected in a hierarchical form in a relational database. In this way structured access to courses will be granted and large amounts of multimedia content will be administered and maintained centrally in a well ordered way,
- The access to content will be conditionally granted based on user privileges. The tutor will grant access to the appropriate educational material. This is also relevant in the future commercial operations of the proposed system,
- Content is sent off-line to students using satellite multicast on a regular scheduled basis or on student demand,
- The on-line sessions are dedicated to tutoring, either based on the content already transferred off line, or accessing on-line content,
- The program allows user graphical commands to be automatically sent to all the participants who see the same window and can give commands that will be multi-casted to the others,
- Evaluation forms can be administered to students to perform periodic proficiency tests,
- The software includes a learning management system (LMS) for user and content administration, that can be accessed remotely by technical personnel or customers of the service center.
The following image shows a sample lesson:
The drawing area (called virtual board) is a shared space between participants and a chat area enables messaging, where the bandwidth does not allow teleconference. When a graphic window, as a slide, is opened from one of the participants it is automatically transferred on the virtual board where operations like zoom, pan and basic drawing can be performed and are replicated on the PCs of others. To facilitate user enrolment, the loading of courses and administration, a learning management software has been developed in this project.
The project duration is 24 months, to allow 12 months of pilot operations. During the first 6 months the system is set-up, the educational methodology established and the software adapted. Then, after 4 months of network deployment, the pilot trials will begin. The last 2 months are dedicated to project evaluation. Starting at month 6 an important activity of public information on the system and promotion will be done.
The project ended in November 2005.
The students that attended courses at University of Perugia received their credits using the Mayflower platform and expressed appreciation for the e-learning model.
Italian contractors commercial activity to extend the model has been delayed, as the regulation in the sector is still to be approved. This situation did not stop a contractors commercial activity that concentrated on the possible captive market made by the University of Perugia, in view of the diffusion of the initiative.
The University of Perugia is interested in setting up a public/private company dedicated to the commercial exploitation of Mayflower, providing University courses not only in nursing and medicine but also in other fields.
At the end of the course, the University of Perugia submitted the results to the Italian Ministry of University and Education. They obtained a certification for a mixed e-learning and conventional nursing course based on the Mayflower model. This is one of the main accomplishments of the project.