1-2 VMDL and the Swiss Participation

Virtual Mobility and Distributed Laboratories (VMDL) was a pilot project in the European Commission, Directorate DGXII programme, Human Capital and Mobility. The project built upon recent experiences of the Just-In-Time Open Learning project (JITOL), which was part of the DGXIII Delta programme. The latter undertook field trials of various information and communication technology (ICT) tools and methods for the support of knowledge exchange between professionals. Based on JITOL experiences as well as others involving the support of distributed collaborative work among professionals, the VMDL Project looked more closely at the processes of distributed collaboration and the technologies and instrumentation that can profitably support thoses processes.

The predominant form of interaction between the VMDL members has been through electronic mail and computer conferencing (asynchronous) with four face-to-face workshops and other information sub-group meetings which have taken place as opportunities arose. Electronic communication has been extensive with, generally speaking, around 5-10 interactins each day across the whole team during certain phases of the work. Some of these have been operational and social, but the majority have been concerned with the research itself.

The project chose to limit the forms of electronic communication used in order to ensure complete technical reliability and to avoid any project member being excluded for reasons of limitations in their access to certain communications channels. Limited use has been made of less robust, though more advanced systems in order to enrich the perspectives of the research.

The research itself has taken the form of Case Studies which have been used as data for analysis of a small number of distributed research teams. Those studies most deeply have been:

These research groups were selected because of wide variation in their tasks, composition, management structure, use of communications technology, other forms of interactivity and life-span.

One of VMDL goals and research questions was to assess ways in which ICT meet the needs arising in researchers' communities as they work collaboratively with one another. As the VMDL european group mainly used and/or researched electronic asynchronous conference and electronic mail, the Swiss decided to have a look into the future, into some of the latest collaborative technologies, considered as full of promise, and to see if these live up to this fame. To respect the european approach, it was decided to give as much emphasis as possible to users' experiences of these media; for this reason, the Swiss contribution is based on case studies.

Geneva contribution is about synchronous communication systems. It is divided in two parts, the first one concerns textual virtual reality server coupled with world wide web display (WOO environment) and the second one deals with videoconference and other multimedia-based communication technologies. This choice has been made from the evaluation reports of the VMDL junior scientists. After months of deliberate reflection on their own functioning as a distributed research community though the CAUCUS communication system, these junior scientists mentioned a need for both synchronous and asynchronous communications and for sharing of non-textual information like graphics, audio and video data.

VMDL/MOO Report - 17 FEB 1996

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