Lyceum Voice Groupware

Historical Perspective: Voice-on-the-Net

In the mid-1990s, a KMi team led by Prof. Marc Eisenstadt (then Director, now Chief Scientist) pioneered early voice-on-the-Net experiments for the OU, investigating the robustness and potential of synchronous communication for distance learning. From these trials the Lyceum voice groupware system was prototyped in the late 90s, trialled by foreign languages students, and deployed on its first mainstream course in 1999. Having proven its value from experimental trials, Lyceum is now part of the OU's suite of delivery technologies, being maintained and extended by a team within the OU's Learning & Teaching Services.

Lyceum in a Nutshell

Lyceum is a groupware system providing students and tutors with voice conferencing and synchronous, visual workspace tools, all operating over the standard internet via a single dial-up phone line. Lyceum uses a Java client/server architecture to tackle a formidable set of networking requirements: multi-way voice communication with synchronous shared displays, scalable to hundreds of simultaneous users, running over normal modem connections via unknown internet service providers, on readily available multimedia PCs.

Lyceum's audio-visual workspace is summarised in the accompanying figure. Participants can 'break out' into rooms, screen-grab material from any digital source, and share a variety of visual tools such as whiteboards, diagrammatic concept maps and textual documents. They can register votes on an issue to quickly make decisions, and indicate their wish to speak by raising their ëhandí. Materials are typically prepared offline in preparation, saved to disk, and then imported at the meeting. Courses distribute Lyceum digital resources for their tutors to use, such as useful backgrounds, or key figures from the course materials, which can then be annotated and discussed in a meeting.

Design and Research Issues

A host of interesting issues arise in designing voice groupware for learning, such as user interface design, staff training, and the design of learning conversations for different contexts (structured tutorial; student assignment; self-help session; 1-1 support). Research across the OU is now investigating these issues, embedding Lyceum into courses in different disciplines.

Research Reports

Description of Lyceum's rationale, architecture, and first mainstream deployment:

Buckingham Shum, S., Marshall, S., Brier, J. and Evans, T.   (2001). Lyceum: Internet Voice Groupware for Distance Learning. Euro-CSCL 2001: 1st European Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning[], Maastricht, The Netherlands, March 22-24, 2001.  Also available as: Technical Report KMI-TR-100, Knowledge Media Institute, Open University, UK []

Reports on Lyceum's deployment to assist the development of fluency in foreign languages at the OU:

Lesley Shield and colleagues have conducted extensive research evaluating Lyceum for teaching fluency in foreign languages: Faculty of Education and Language Studies, Open Univ., UK []

Background and preliminary report (18 April, 2000) on Lyceum's first mainstream deployment at the OU on B823: Managing Knowledge [slide presentation]



Within the OU, there is now an active Lyceum User Group of researchers and practitioners, sharing experiences and discussing future software and organisational infrastructure requirements.

Service Delivery Team -