Computer Based Training
The Multimedia Studies Program Online (MSP Online) of San Francisco State
University (SFSU) is a pioneering developer of online courses.
The technical challenges go beyond courseware development.
"After we've developed the content, we have to integrate it into the university system in general"
says Chris Marler, the MSP Online Internet systems manager.
"Online registration isn't just a matter of taking an encrypted credit card number.
It has to be integrated into the main system that the SFSU campus runs,
which is generally a mainframe issue."
At the moment, the main campus is migrating over to an Oracle database.
"We've faced many hurdles trying to create an interface between our Web-based
registration system (on Illustra/Informix) and getting it to interface with an
evolving Oracle system over on the main campus with the resources we have.
As a result, we had to do a lot of time-consuming work."
The development process for a single class takes a team of people three months, on average.
MSP Online serves their courses from an Informix/Illustra database that has been custom modified by in-house programmers. Their courses include animations produced using Macromedia Director and Shockwave. Audio content is prepared with Sound Designer and Macromedia SoundEdit 16, and then compressed with Progressive Networks' RealAudio. Media 100 is used for video production. Programming is done in C, but they are starting to use Java.
Contrast this with the situation after MSP Online switches to Spin.
The database access components that come standard
with Spin allow them to interface to both the Illustra/Informix and Oracle
databases with no custom programming. In fact, Spin provides a standard
interface to a wide variety of databases, so the main campus' switch to
Oracle has no impact on MSP Online at all.
Course developers can still use a wide variety of media types,
and can create media using their tools of choice,
but the different media types can be combined using Spin,
without custom programming.
Programmers now concentrate on writing components that support course development and delivery,
such as course registration components, and templates that automate course authoring.
They have even developed advanced features such as live chat sessions for students
to interact with instructors, teaching assistants, and with each other.
Sophisticated IDL courses can now be developed directly by the course
instructors, without custom programming. In fact, they were so excited
about Spin that they developed a course to teach it! Because Spin
does not require advanced technical skills, SFSU is starting to use
Spin to create IDL courses in other departments, not just Multimedia Studies.
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