There are two aspects of distance education – the interactive requirement, when teacher and students are separated by distance but not time – Interactive Distance Learning (IDL), and secondly when students complete set activities in their own time via a Learning Management System (LMS).
From a programming point of view, combining both IDL and LMS functionality would be like requiring a single kitchen appliance to be both an oven and a fridge – desirable but from a design point of view they are functionally unrelated.
REACT was not designed to meet both software components of distance education, it was written simply to facilitate teacher/ student interactivity, in circumstances when telecommunications options are challenging – specifically satellite with its high latency and limited bandwidth. There is a plethora of suitable LMS choices, however, there is no substitute for REACT over satellite.
I do not understand the wish by some to have a hyperlink in the LMS that takes the student to the class. A customer may for example, have 4 studios, each potentially teaching 6 lessons each per day, that is 24 per day or 125 hyperlinks per week that teachers must actively generate. Why not just have a venue/classroom that the student enters the same as in any other school.
In my experience, different teaching establishments have a prior investment or a preference for an LMS and would be reluctant to change.
With REACT, I tried to provide a close approximation to a classroom setting where a teacher and students were oblivious to the fact that they may be separated by hundreds of kilometres. I have paid particular attention to minimising latency so that the conversation between student and teacher ‘flows’ more naturally. The importance of maintaining lip-sync particularly for language tuition has also been an important goal.
I was conscious that teachers had developed their own ‘practises’ when teaching and I wanted them to feel that a move to distance education did not burden them or cause them to change their ‘style’, so the simplicity of operation and lots of presentation options were important.
It had been emphasised to me that equity in education was highly desirable goal in education so I employed network protocols that ensured every student observed the teacher with the same video quality and at the same time, so no advantage was given to one student over the other.
I have incorporated functionality such as picture-in-picture and ‘Chromakey’ in REACT so that the teacher has the option to set a ‘scene’ for their lesson. The major limit of any further functionality, such as augmented reality, is the available bandwidth.
Having a link, a session ID or a password is OK for occasional meetings between businesspeople, but it is not the ideal solution for a full-time professional teaching environment. The entire REACT ecosystem is simple to implement, intuitive for all participants to interact with and easy to integrate and administer.
By Michael Wilson, REACT Developer