EU-Funded ELU Project Develops MHP-Based Interactive TV Learning Tools

ICT Results, an editorial service created by the European Commission to showcase European Union-funded research in information and communications technology (ICT), published a report, Wednesday, on an EU-funded project called Enhanced Learning Unlimited (ELU), that was established to develop methodologies and tools for enabling learning via interactive TV ("t-learning").

According to ICT Results, ELU was tasked with extending the advantages of "e-learning" (i.e. learning via an Internet-connected PC) to a wider audience--especially to people living in the EU's newest member states, which are mostly former Communist Bloc countries where Internet penetration is still relatively low. "Television was targeted as the means to transmit life-long knowledge to potential learners in a highly relaxed and comprehensible mode," ELU project coordinator, Alex Shani, said in a prepared statement. "Learning while watching TV and enjoying oneself is the main driver of ELU's work."

According to ICT Results, the ELU project resulted in a number of application approaches, some ready-made formats and templates for programs, and software for creating interactive TV courses. Among other things, ELU claims to have developed configuration parameters and content that helps define interactive, multimedia presentations; it says it produced templates for multimedia pages and presentations, interactive quizzes, a virtual teacher, and support for ancillary devices. It says that users can adapt the template modules for specific programs, depending on appearance, content and level of difficulty. ELU also says it created an "ELU Script," which describes every course, and an authoring tool that allows educators to create complex interactive courses through a visual interface: the tool was designed as a plug-in for Giunti Lab's eXact Packager e-learning production software; and, ELU says, a multimedia player that it developed is able to interpret the ELU Script and manage user interaction. All of ELU's software was developed using the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) open interactive TV standard, allowing it to be used with MHP-enabled set-top boxes and on Java-enabled devices capable of running MHP.

In order to test its software and methods, ELU developed six t-learning courses (on history, business, ICT, mathematics, statistics and road safety) in different languages with a range of themes, target users (including young school students, MBA students and older adults) and interactive features. For example, an "ICT Basics" interactive TV course was designed for adults 35 and older who had no or only very basic knowledge of information and communications technologies. ELU says that a participating university prepared two interactive modules for the course: one guided the end-user through the process of finding and booking a vacation via the Internet, and the other guided the end-user through the process of preparing and sharing digital photos. ELU also developed a two-module interactive TV course that was intended to encourage small business entrepreneurship in Latvia: the course's first module introduced learners to basic business terms, and offered interactive content related to starting a business; its second module used a personal narrative from a small business owner in Kenya to introduce learners to supply-and-demand functions and offered what ICT Results describes as "built-in interactivity to help users understand the relationship between these market forces."

The courses were tested on users in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia and Lithuania, and, according to ELU, testing "confirmed the premise that t-learning complements e-learning and other methods of transmitting information." According to ICT Results, the ELU project has resulted in interactive TV software that is "close to market quality," and it is "now up to educational content developers to take the process further." The publication says that Czech TV plans to launch a dedicated channel devoted to t-learning, "opening up the way for ELU's products to be tested in the market."

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