Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.4, 527-532
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 527
Applying Wireless Classroom to Build a Highly Interactive
Learning Environment
Qiang Yang
School of Computer Science, Yangtze University, Jingzhou, China
Received May 23rd, 2012; revised June 24th, 2012; accepted July 8th, 2012
Wireless networks now support Web browsing, email, real-time chat, and access to remote computing re-
sources. With the increasing use of small portable computers, this emerging communications infrastruc-
ture will enable many new Internet applications. The innovative project at the Yangtze University is cur-
rently exploring how educators can use portable handheld computers with wireless Internet access to im-
prove teaching and learning in both local and wide area network environments.
Keywords: Cognitive Radio Networks; Artificial Mapping; Heterogeneous Network Convergence; Fuzzy
Logic Inferences
Mobile Education—or M-Education—is a new way of using
wireless and mobile technologies for education by extending
access to a desktop-based online virtual environment called
MOOsYangtze to handheld devices used as part of a mobile
collaborative community. Networked computers and corre-
sponding applications facilitate distributed education with the
mediation of learning activities by a constellation of various
tools (such as shared spaces, whiteboards, etc.) having appropri-
ate pedagogical approaches to collaboration and social interac-
tions. One such example is MOOsYangtze: a community-ori-
ented collaborative environment (Leidner, 1997; Hiltz, 1997). It
provides an interactive map to navigate the virtual community,
and a range of collaborative tools that provide access to shared
content such as chat, message boards, and so on. Three versions
of MOOsYangtze have been developed to date: a classic text-
based MOO, a MOO extended to drive a Web browser, and a
Java-based system. The current research considers how an ap-
plication such as MOOsYangtze, which provides a collabora-
tive learning environment, can be used to support educational
activities in an active, mobile learning community (Jaffe, 2003;
Gay, 2001; Shotsberger, 2001).
M-Education is designed to support a wireless online virtual
community that is linked to the existing MOOsYangtze com-
munity. This will enable users who are interacting from either
handheld devices or desktop computers to merge their learning
experiences in a shared collaborative environment, both syn-
chronously and asynchronously, with reference to the same
underlying data (Goldman, 2001; Park, 1998; Good, 1994). The
communication between a handheld and desktop is similar to
that between two desktops. MOOsYangtze is an integral part of
the Learning in Networked Communities (LiNC) project that
has developed and evaluated software tools and applications for
collaborative learning activities. Research has compellingly es-
tablished the importance of learning communities. At the same
time, mobility, flexibility and instant access of handheld de-
vices add considerable freedom for people to collaborate any-
where, anytime (Aiken, 1992; Jones, 2001).
However, not enough research has been done in integrating
the two concepts, for example trying to coordinate the use of
desktop computers and handheld devices. We are beginning a
research effort to do this; in this paper we use scenarios to ex-
plore an innovative use of wireless and mobile technologies in
Related Work
Numerous efforts are being made in the direction of using
handheld devices for educational purposes. In cases where ef-
forts consider possible coordination between handheld and
desktop environments, none have proposed the rich interactions
we envision in Meducation (Cotton, 1991). By examining a few
related applications and concepts, we shall see how M-Educa-
tion takes learning using wireless and mobile technologies one
step further (Hewett, 1996). It focuses on how its users, in the
context of their local environment, use handheld devices to
access web-based medical knowledge and information. Al-
though this project facilitates distributed and context -specific
access to information, it makes no effort to coordinate such
activities with other educational activities or peers (Walther,
1992; Gunter, 1995).
Wireless Internet Learning Devices (WILD) offers another
vision for how one might use handheld devices in classrooms
for computer-supported cooperative learning (CSCL). It is of-
fered as a substitution for replacing CSCL applications that use
desktop/laptop computers, a sort of paradigm shift (Huang,
2001; Liang, 2001). In contrast to our vision, the use of WILD
in CSCL replaces—rather than integrates with—the use of
desktop computers for distributed learning.
Perhaps the closest effort to the M-Education concept em-
phasized in this paper is, which uses handhelds to support col-
laborative learning (Fjuk, 2001). The authors merely suggest
that handhelds may be used with desktops when the disadvan-
tages of the former such as limited screen space become a con-
siderable issue (Soloway, 2001). M-Education takes the counter
approach, emphasizing that when desktops are not available,
collaboration is still possible using handheld devices providing
the same enriched interactions as available on a desktop com-
puter (Lundby, 2002; Roschelle, 2002). Our vision is not sim-
ply to supplement desktop user interfaces, but rather to explore
the new and varied educational activities that become available
in a mobile computing setting.
One of the target applications for MOOsYangtze is an ongo-
ing community project called Save Our Streams. Save Our
Streams is a national watershed education and outreach pro-
gram that uses hands-on activities, such as cleaning up stream
corridors and monitoring stream health, to help restore water-
sheds (Luchini, 2002). Through these activities, community
members learn about the importance of protecting their local
watershed and become more educated about the environmental,
economic, recreational, and public health benefits of clean wa-
The national Save Our Streams program consists of over 300
local chapters that coordinate activities for their local citizens.
In Yangtze University, the Museum of Natural History at Jing-
zhou organizes field trips for grade school children and offers
training sessions that teach others how to monitor and adopt a
stream section. One of the major activities is an assessment of
the stream’s health through biological sampling, such as insect
counts (Carroll, 2001). Participants on such trips learn about
stream ecology and how to assess water quality. The data col-
lected on these outings are often provided to the local and state
government to augment their knowledge of the stream’s condi-
Currently, the local Save Our Streams project conducts bio-
logical sampling at seven distinct locations. We have modeled
each of these locations in MOOsYangtze, such that all of the
data related to a particular site is available online (Rosson,
2002). Through the use of synchronous and asynchronous chat
tools, Save Our Stream leaders as well as other community
members, can discuss interesting findings such as the overall
condition of the l o cal stream.
Teaching and Learning in the Wireless
Local Area Wireless Access
The objective of Project Numina, a cooperative effort among
faculty at UNCW, Pearson Education (Prentice-Hall), and Hy-
percube, is to use one seamless format to facilitate learning of
abstract scientific and mathematical concepts by integrating
media, interactive exercises, and hypertext materials into the
classroom. Using handheld PCs (H/PCs) equipped with the
appropriate software and connected by a wireless network to
the Internet exposes students to a rich variety of Web resources
that can help them learn abstract chemistry, mathematics, and
computer science concepts (Farooq, 2003). This approach also
enhances the learning experience by increasing student-instruc-
tor and student-student interactions.
Student Response Pads
One of the project’s many educational applications is a Web-
based interactive student response pad developed for use in
large classroom settings. Numina’s classroom environment
consists of four Cisco Aironet wireless access points and 100
Hewlett-Packard Jornada H/PCs. Students use the H/PCs to
respond to the instructor’s questions, and the system stores their
responses in a remote database and displays the collective re-
sponses graphically at the front of the classroom. SWATT. The
Student Web Answer Technology Template, a server-side Web
application implemented as a Java servlet, drives the system.
SWATT is completely Web-based and does not require any
special software on the client side other than a Web browser.
The instructor poses a question in a multiple-choice, true-
false, or yes-no format and directs students to a Web site that
generates a Web form on their computer screens through which
they submit their responses. Multiple question-and answer sce-
narios are possible. A back backend database stores only re-
sponses to questions, not information about the student, so re-
sponses are anonymous. Real-time learning. The instructor
controls the question number and whether to display the re-
sults—which appear as a dynamically updated bar chart gener-
ated from student responses as they are submitted to the data-
base—on an overhead projector that all the students can view.
Another interface provides a quiz-like format for questions and
tracks responses by student identification number.
In contrast to the typical 2 to 3 percent response rate in a
more traditional classroom setting, all of the students partici-
pating in our project respond to the instructor’s questions. This
suggests that students are more comfortable responding to a
question when they see others doing the same. Another advan-
tage of SWATT is that instructors can see immediately how
well students comprehend a specific topic they have presented.
Other Applications
Project Numina is testing several other applications of Inter-
net technology in the classroom. For example, we are studying
how instructors and students use an electronic version of a
widely adopted chemistry textbook that is on the Web—com-
plete with graphics, equations, and illustrations—along with
online references and other utilities that take advantage of the
HTML format. We are also evaluating a pocket PC version of
HyperChem, a software application from Hypercube that pro-
vides all the standard functions a student needs for general and
organic chemistry on an H/PC. Finally, we are testing legacy
DOS applications in the classroom using the Jornada H/PC,
which supports MS-DOS emulation.
Types of Interaction in the Instruction and
Learning Process
Computer-Mediated Intera ction
With the addition of computer technology and Internet net-
working, the teaching and learning process is relocated from the
physical to the virtual classroom. Virtual learning is a common
term used to describe these changes. For instance, classrooms
are no longer the only place to learn. Students in the classroom
may use computer networks to communicate with each other
rather than talk face to face. In the virtual classroom, there is
not exact necessity for instructors to deliver lectures—they may
lead a group discussion on the bulletin board systems (BBS)
rather than give an in-class lecture. Instructors commonly re-
garded students entering a virtual classroom should do some-
thing more than find and read texts but involve the students in
some activities, such as an assignment, an exercise, a debate, or
problem-solving. This kind of interaction, the interaction via
certain computer media and Internet connection like electronic
mail (e-mail), BBS, or electronic meeting, has been called com-
puter-mediated interaction /communication (CMC).
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is one
type of CMC application in education to enhance students’
collaboration and interaction. CSCL is a computer-based net-
work system that provides a shared interface for both individu-
als and groups to work on group work. In this design, students
need to access to a specific bulletin board to fulfill assigned
homework, such as peer review or group discussion. One of its
major characteristics is its capability to allow students to en-
gage in learning-related activities in diverse physical locations
at any time. Teachers’ major job in the CSCL learning envi-
ronment is not to give lecture but to coordinate group work.
Compared with face-to-face interaction in the traditional class-
room, the (CMC) among students is more likely to encourage
students’ participations. Students’ role thus becomes active
learners rather than traditional passive learners.
The CSCL design enables three types of interaction between
members in the classroom, including: 1) one-to-one interaction
between a student and another student either in the same group
or in different groups; and between a student and the teacher 2)
one-to-many communication between the instructor and stu-
dents; and 3) many-to-many communication between students.
Nevertheless, the CSCL design cannot effectively improve stu-
dents’ learning without the support of appropriate pedagogical
practice. For one reason, not every teaching and learning activ-
ity can effectively integrate new computer technologies. For
another, there are many other external factors, such as class-
room structure and the composition of student members that
may affect the outcome of students’ learning.
Human-Computer Interaction
Since the 80s, the emergence and application of “Computer-
Assisted Instruction” (CAI) has led to an educational revolution,
which significantly changes how people learn. Generally speak-
ing, CAI are pre-designed computer software or web-based
programmer designed to tutor students or users. When using
CAI, learners follow the guidance on the screen to process the
instruction. CAI design allows a learner to interact with a com-
puter in a way that the CAI programmer responds to the
learner’s choosing of certain instruction materials. In other
word, this type of instruction is a one-on-one instruction, or
individualized instruction, because each student is automati-
cally assigned with a computer who has been a virtual instruc-
tor or training assistant. Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS) is
one type of CAI design aimed at providing the benefits of one-
on-one instruction automatically and cost effectively. It goes
beyond training simulations by answering users questions and
providing individualized guidance. Moreover, it can assess each
learner’s actions within these interactive environments and
develop a model of their knowledge, skills, and expertise. To
some extent, ITS is acting as not only a problem-solving moni-
tor but also a couch or consultant.
One of the major features of CAI is its design of human-
computer interaction (HCI), concerned with “the structure of
communication between human and machine, joint perform-
ance of tasks by humans and machines, and human capabilities
to us machines.” Simply speaking, when a student is using a
computer in doing something, he/she is interacting with the
computer. By simulation, computers can act like human beings,
such as providing suggestions or ideas and giving evaluations.
Nevertheless, unlike human beings, computers are unable to
generate or express true and sophisticated emotions like anger
or furstration. Despite that CAI permits two-way communica-
tion between learners and the virtual tutor, such communication
is lack of emotional tone and direct nonverbal cues because
pre-designed CAI systems only can respond to learners in cer-
tain ways. Specifically, CAI is unable to provide more flexible
choices of responses for learners. In spite of this limitation, CAI
can benefit learners by always giving them immediate re-
sponses and allowing them to take far longer to learn missing
knowledge and skills without coaching from a human instructor
or an automated tutor. Moreover, learners’ portfolio in the
whole learning process could be recorded for further reviews.
Personal Device Supported Simultaneous Group
Owing to an increasing concern on how student-teacher and
peer interaction can facilitate learning, some researchers at-
tempt to create new type of computer technology to enhance
student-teacher and peer interactions. EduClick, for instance, is
our earlier effort aimed at designing a technology-enabled
learning environment to enhance interactivity in the ordinary
classroom. EduClick enables each student to use a remote con-
troller to choose an answer in responding to the instructor’s
question. Following that, the instructor can use his/her remote
controller to give evaluations to each student respectively.
Having similar functions like EduClick, Group Decision/Pro-
cess Support Systems (GPSS), which is often used in electronic
meetings and business settings, can be also used as an educa-
tional technology-supported tool to improve the learning ex-
perience of each student in the group decision-making process.
The GPSS functions in a way that students use the handheld
devices, such as a learning pad, to respond to the instructors’
questions in either multi-choice or yes-no and true-false format,
and then the system stores their responses in a remote database
and displays the collective responses on the screen in the front
of the classroom. Meanwhile, all responses can be saved in a
session file, allowing students and instructors to analyze the
results of the questions and answers in follow-up work.
GPSS enables a spontaneous two-way communication be-
tween students and the instructor, specifically allowing one-to-
many and many-to-many communication. Such interaction is
called as “personal device supported simultaneously group
interaction.” When the instructor poses a question, each student
can respond to this question spontaneously. As such, the in-
structor can gather and perceive all different opinions in a short
time and then give respective feedbacks. Under this circum-
stance, the role of the instructor has transformed from tradi-
tional “sage on the stage” to a classroom coordinator who coor-
dinates the classroom ongoing discussion and interaction. Stu-
dents’ role as passive learner is also shifted to autonomous or
active learner. GPSS was reported to offer an easy means to
gather attention, to promote students’ participations, and to
generate a lot of rapid feedback from both students and the
instructor. In using a GPSS, students will no longer have to
raise their hands to speak, interrupt each other in order to talk,
or forgo making a comment because someone else is talking.
Since the instructor can see immediately how well students
comprehend a specific topic or issue he/she has presented and
in turn provide immediate feedback, the communication be-
tween the instructor and students becomes more effective. In
addition, students may not have to take notes when a GPSS is
presented because all comments ware recorded by the system.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 529
Despite of these advantages, several limitations of the GPSS
application have been noted. The changing conditions within
each class (i.e. the composition of class members and the char-
acteristic of the instructor and students) may have migrated
effects of using a GPSS. Moreover, it is difficult to de termine if
in fact all students were participating during the electronic dis-
cussion. While the instructor was observing the students during
their electronic discussion and participation appeared to be high
among all students, it is possible that a few students may not
have engaged in the discussion, but merely observed others or
did something else.
Learning Environment Design with Wireless
Digital Learning Assistant
Since the educational reform was demonstrated and under-
gone in 1998, the Ministry of Education in Taiwan has drawn
up and implemented several educational technology-related
projects in order to promote student-teacher and peer interac-
tion in the classroom. The highly interactive classroom (HIC), a
learning environment system designed and developed by
Learning Technology Lab of National Central University in
Taiwan, is one of these ongoing projects.
The original version of highly interactive classroom (HIC) is
a 3-layered structure for one computer allocated classroom
within EduClick. Each student in the HIC has an infrared re-
mote controller to participate learning activities, such as forma-
tive evaluation and prompt Q & A. The infrared remote con-
troller lets student interacting with teacher and other students
through the classroom computer coordination. In essence, HIC
is a wireless communication environment with handheld de-
vices. With the device, the instructor can present instruction
materials, conduct evaluations, and control activities pace in the
classroom. However, the limited function of infrared remote
controller restrains activity types the instructor could apply.
In this study, a more flexible and powerful HIC environment
design would be proposed, shown in Figure 1. The HIC with
wireless digital learning assistant (WDLA) retains wireless
communication by replacing infrared with 802.11b through
wireless access points, and replacing remote controller with
WDLA as handheld device. Basically, the WDLA is a helpful
device that can support all types of the interaction we have
mentioned. Teachers perform instruction activities by operating
the master computer allocated in the classroom, and each stu-
dent uses a handheld WDLA to interact with others, respec-
tively. An electronic whiteboard is connected to the master
computer so that teacher may perform his/her instruction as
white board
Learning Pad
Figure 1.
Learning environment design with wireless digital learning assistant.
usual. Students read digitized textbook, practice assigned exer-
cises, and participate in instruction activities on WDLA. For
assisting instruction and learning activities, there are two serv-
ers in the HIC, including interactive classroom server (ICS) and
resource and class management server (RCMS). The ICS is a
coordinator, which coordinates instruction and learning activi-
ties. The RCMS is a resource center, which manages instruction
resources and keeps track of individual student’s learning port-
Highly Interactive Classroom Servers
The server side, including RCMS and ICS, of the HIC with
WDLA handles resources and interactivities. RCMS stores
instruction and learning resources as well as activities content.
Furthermore, students’ learning portfolios and teacher’s in-
struction records are also stored on it. ICS keeps track of indi-
vidual operations as well as coordinates the student-teacher and
peer interaction. The separation of content and interaction ser-
vices functions for load sharing and system extension consid-
eration. More than one classroom could share the same RCMS.
However, the more students participate in classroom activities,
the more interactions would be generated. Hence, each single
classroom should equip an ICS in order to guarantee real time
Resource and Class Management Server
RCMS is the content and activity center in the classroom. All
of the instruction materials should be arranged on it before class
and could be used in class. After class, students could review
in-class records the instructor made on the electronic white-
board or do the exercises assigned by the instructor. The server
provides essential tools, such as quiz authoring and instruction
materials sequencing, for teacher to prepare course content. The
well arranged instruction materials, including pictures, videos,
audios, homepages, and presentation files, would be accessed
by IICC. Furthermore, quiz would be consumed in or after class
via ILC. Besides content and activities management, RCMS is
the class member manager as well. The instructor sets up stu-
dents’ profiles, including names, class IDs, E-mail addresses,
etc., in the RCMS. Students’ records generated in classroom
activities are stored on it. Each student could login to the server
and review what he/she had done in class.
Interactive Classroom Ser v er
ICS coordinates activities and contents during instruction no
matter instructor’s lecturing or individual student’s practicing.
ILC will automatically log in the ICS once WDLA boots up or
carries into the classroom by a student. Successive operations
of ILC will be under ICS monitoring. All the operations, such
as drawing and clicking on WDLA, would be transformed to
messages and commands. ICS parses messages and commands
to perform corresponding functions. For instance, a student
requests for a specific quiz on ILC, the requesting command
will be sent to ICS. As ICS receiving the command, it tells
RCMS the ILC ID and quiz name. The requested quiz would be
transmitted to the ILC. After finishing the quiz, responses for
each item would be automatically recorded on the student’s
portfolio. Figure 2 shows the role of ICS in the HIC. Opera-
tions on the IICC are also under ICS governing. IICC requests
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Figure 2.
ICS is the coordinator of activities and content.
instruction content to ICS and the requesting command will be
sent to RCMS. After receiving the command, RCMS transmits
the requested content to IICC directly.
On the other hand, once the instructor activates the broadcast
function, ICS negotiates with HIC communication control de-
sign of all ILC in the classroom and has them display the IICC
instruction frame or record instruction operations on the
The needed content of instruction and learning could be
transmitted to IICC and ILCs directly or indirectly through ICS
depends on the types of activities. Most broadcasting and uni-
casting operations are centrally controlled by ICS. Therefore,
content transmission should be through the medium of ICS
indirectly. Otherwise, ICS processes comma nds, messages, and
records only. Content should be d irectly transmitted from RCMS
to IICC and ILCs. Overall, the present HIC design is a new
attempt to integrate the four types of classroom interactivity
described earlier, benefiting students from providing a number
of instructional tools to enhance student-teacher and peer inter-
action and thus to effect students’ learning.
Expanding Options
Wireless devices enhance Web-based professional develop-
ment by giving teachers immediate access to other colleagues.
For example, at small, rural schools, only one or two teachers
from the same discipline may be available for collaboration at
any given time. Participants from different schools could use
wireless devices to notify colleagues of their availability to chat
synchronously online; if the chat is text-based, the transcript
could become part of an archive asynchronously accessible by
all participants.
Surfing the Web while they conduct a chat would help teach-
ers jointly plan lessons that incorporate Web resources while
they also benefit from having access to the experiences and
insights of a large pool of practicing teachers. This would be
especially useful to teachers in training, who often only have
the opportunity to collaborate with their mentors. The education
community has long lamented that teachers generally do not
produce written or even oral records of their classroom strate-
gies. Handheld wireless devices could give teachers a highly
portable way of documenting implementation results, which
they could then share with colleagues face to face, in a chat
room, on a discussion board, or as a Web page. H/PC features
such as handwriting-recognition software and the ability to
record short voice messages will expand a teacher’s options for
record keeping both in and out of the classroom. As yet, little is
known about the potential impact of wireless technology on
teaching and learning.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that students enjoy the tech-
nology and become more active in their learning when H/PCs
are used in the classroom. There is every indication that in the
near future wireless data devices will be as widespread as wire-
less voice devices are now. Rather than just migrating a few PC
functions to a mobile platform, we envision these devices as
actually replacing the desktop PC’s full functionality. Popular
technologies such as palmtops and Internet-ready cell phones
lack a fullscale browser that can handle a wide variety of Web
content. In contrast, in addition to playing audio and video files,
H/PCs already have browsers that support HTML, Java, and
JavaScript. Given the increasing importance of the Web to both
educators and developers of educational materials, this differ-
ence has profound implications for teaching and learning.
We have presented a summary of design work in progress,
describing our vision of M-Education, an architecture for inte-
grating the use of wireless technologies into an existing col-
laborative environment. The consequence is that teachers, stu-
dents, and peers in a distributed field environment can interact
seamlessly with their counterparts in a desktop environment.
They are also able to examine and modify shared data main-
tained in the online community. The basic architecture is in
place and we are beginning to develop and evaluate scenarios
of the sort described here.
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