Currently, most virtual campuses are designed for distributing structured course materials and taking tests. Some contain facilities for student management and turning in exercises. Most support various forms of communication. Several pedagogical paradigms, e.g. instructionalism or project-based learning are supported in several ways. However, if we are going to construct Virtual Campuses that are more than just places to read, chat, take tests and turn in home work we will need to design virtual spaces for learning activities.
Learning is an active process constructing knowledge, not just reading, answering questions and discussing. Therefore an educational site should not only provide structured course materials and/or means for communication, but also provide support for learning activities
In my talk I will first give a short feature overview of the various available forms of Virtual Campuses, such as group-ware oriented WWW servers (e.g. WebCT, TopClass), real-time communication tools and Virtual Environments (e.g. MUDs, 2D, VRML-based). Based on our experience I also will discuss a few difficulties with Internet supported teaching like "radio silence" and "students getting lost in their task".
Media have no intrinsic pedagogical effects and teachers can not always mentor at task level. Generally, it can be said that task support and learner monitoring is a real issue and that engaging students in collaborative computer-assisted activities right from the start is part of the solution.
I will report on our experience with a few types of structured learning activities that bring students to participate in online exercises, provide direct immediate feedbacks and let them exchange their experiences with others. More open ended learning activities can be enhanced with various project management tools. All these activities are implemented with relatively simple and freely available Internet technology (PHP, Sql and XML).
The conclusion will merge our own experience with that from some other projects. We will identify some essential or desirable features needed for the flexible, scalable future virtual campus. In short: fewer texts, more activities, ... activities that are collaborative, .... collaboration which is structured, ... collaboration supported by virtual space. In addition, since building truly interactive educational Web Sites is still research in progress we also need improved data collection and mining tools.