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Broadcasting interactive learning applications through the digital TV promises to open new pedagogical perspectives, also in a life-long learning perspective, given the wide penetration of the medium. This article proposes an open flexible and composable framework for the development, the delivery and the presentation of t-learning courses in interactive digital TV (iDTV). The framework is divided into two main parts: the production side, where the course is prepared and the client side, where it is presented on iDTV, and where the user can perform the educational interaction. The course production is supported by an ad-hoc designed authoring tool, while the runtime user interaction on iDTV is managed by a multimedia course player providing personalization services and a library of educational and entertainment elements and services. Seven experimental t-learning courses were created by pedagogical experts in several knowledge domains and served as an important test and evaluation bench for the framework, in view of the upcoming extensive end-user testing.
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A TECHNOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE AUTHORING AND PRESENTATION OF T-LEARNING COURSES
A Technological Framework for the Authoring
and Presentation of T-learning Courses
F. Bellotti1, S. Vrochidis2, S. Ramel3, I. Tsampoulatidis2, P. Lhoas3, M. Pellegrino1, G. Bo4, I. Kompatsiaris2
1 University of Genoa, Genoa, Italy, 2 Centre for Research and Technology Hellas, Thessaloniki, Greece
3 Public Research Center Henri Tudor, Luxembourg4, Giunti Labs S.r.I, Sesti Levante, Italy
Abstract—Broadcasting interactive learning applications
through the digital TV promises to open new pedagogical
perspectives, also in a life-long learning perspective, given
the wide penetration of the medium. This article proposes
an open flexible and composable framework for the
development, the delivery and the presentation of t-learning
courses in interactive digital TV (iDTV). The framework is
divided into two main parts: the production side, where the
course is prepared and the client side, where it is presented
on iDTV, and where the user can perform the educational
interaction. The course production is supported by an ad-
hoc designed authoring tool, while the runtime user
interaction on iDTV is managed by a multimedia course
player providing personalization services and a library of
educational and entertainment elements and services.
Seven experimental t-learning courses were created by
pedagogical experts in several knowledge domains and
served as an important test and evaluation bench for the
framework, in view of the upcoming extensive end-user
testing.
Index Terms—authoring tool, iDTV, MHP, t-learning
I. INTRODUCTION
Television has had a long history of performing an
educational function for the mass audience, typically by
broadcasting culturally relevant movies, documentaries
and news as well as educational programs. The idea of
Distance Learning through TV blossomed extensively in
particular as a complementary educational option besides
PC-based e-learning and traditional analogue TV
educational programs. In particular, TV-based interactive
education promises a huge potential due to its ability to
support interactivity, while compensating for the low
penetration of Internet-enabled computers in comparison
with the penetration of a TV in a household.
“T-learning” was the new term, which prevailed for the
definition of TV-based interactive learning [1]. The first
forms of learning with interactive digital TV (iDTV) have
been little more than modified or enhanced
videoconferencing. Today, iDTV platforms for learning
provide a large amount of audiovisual and educational
content to the viewer through interactive and content
personalization. iDTV is considered as the convergence of
television and computer technologies by encompassing
three important features typical of computer-based
technologies [2], such as interactivity, personalization and
digitization.
Digital television mostly relies on the Digital Video
Broadcasting (DVB) standard, characterized as DVB-T
for terrestrial, DVB-S for Satellite and DVB-C for Cable
transmissions. DVB has been defined by a consortium of
public and private organizations in the iDTV sector [3]. In
the DVB schema, the digital TV signal is transmitted as a
stream of MPEG-2 data known as a Transport Stream
(TS). This stream consists of a set of sub-streams
(elementary streams), where each sub-stream can contain
MPEG-2 encoded audio, MPEG-2 encoded video or data
encapsulated in MPEG-2 stream. Subsequently, the TS is
passed to the multiplexer and then to a Radio Frequency
(RF) transmitter in order to be broadcasted. The overall
broadcasting system for digital TV is illustrated in Figure
1.
The received signal is demodulated and afterwards it
has to be decoded appropriately. The common TV sets are
manufactured to deal with analogue signals. Hence, a
device called Set Top Box (STB) is used to transform the
digital signal. Moreover, it also provides a middleware,
based on an embedded Operating System (OS), which is
an execution environment for running the interactive
applications that are broadcast in a channel together with
the main audiovisual stream. Execution environments are
standard and the most common are: the European
Multimedia Home Platform (MHP), the American Open
Cable Application Platform (OCAP) and DTV
Application Software Environment (DASE), the Japanese
STD-B23/STD-B24. Since MHP is the standard in Europe
and a subset of it, the Globally Executable MHP (GEM),
is becoming the common reference world-wide, in this
article we focus on MHP.
MHP is the middleware system for interactive TV
development designed by the DVB Project [4]. The first
draft of MHP was released in August 1999 and the first
version of MHP 1.0 was approved by DVB in February
2000. MHP offers a standard platform for application
developers. Applications are written in Java and HTML,
so they don't depend on any single hardware platform or
operating system. Due to the iDTV’s special context,
MHP-Java applications are slightly different from normal
Java applications. However due to the similarities with
Java applets, MHP-Java applications are called Xlets.
Figure 1. Overall broadcasting system for digital TV
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A TECHNOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE AUTHORING AND PRESENTATION OF T-LEARNING COURSES
On the one hand, MHP Java limitations are mainly
related to the constraints given by the STB’s hardware and
OS in terms of computational power, memory size,
storage, communication facilities, screen resolution, font
and colour availability and their size is severely
constrained by the limited bandwidth available. On the
other hand, MHP provides support for those special
features that are essential in the digital TV world such as
low-level access to the TS, service information access,
and support for the specialized graphics model of the
digital TV. MHP can be extensively exploited by t-
learning as it offers the proper middleware for learning
interactive applications.
The purpose of this paper is to propose an open flexible
platform for the development of t-learning courses by
exploiting the available iDTV technologies in a
pedagogical way.
The paper is organized as follows: section II presents
the the t-learning course structure and the main
components involved, while the technological framework
is introduced at section III. Subsequently, section IV
describes the development of t-learning courses, by
analyzing the authoring tool, while section V deals with
the client side, where the Course Multimedia Player is
presented. Results and evaluation are discussed in section
VI and related work is presented in section VII.
Eventually, section VIII concludes the paper.
II. T-LEARNING COURSE
A t-learning course is considered to consist of two main
parts: the broadcast video (i.e the audiovisual stream) and
the interactive application. These parts can be fully or
semi synchronized in order to form a t-learning course. In
this section the structure of the interactive part of the
course will be discusssed and the synchronization with the
video will be defined. The proposed t-learning course
structure is illustrated in Figure 2 and will be described in
detail in the next subsection.
Figure 2. T-learning Course structure
A. Course Structure
The definition of the interactive course is based on the
structure of a Learning Object (LO) [5]. A Learning
Object can be defined as both the basic unit of a learning
experience and as a small, atomic chunk of learning that
can be reused in different context. In other words, the LO
structure is actually an aggregation of items, which grants
a customizable and flexible reuse.
Following this definition and by adopting the LO model
specifically developed for t-learning interactive courses, it
is possible to integrate several multimedia components
and thus create educational material and content suitable
for distribution through an iDTV infrastructure. Thanks to
this model, the interactive course can be divided into a
static and a dynamic part so the content author can
manage separately the various components, as well as the
parameters that define their behavior, and then generate in
a simple way the final LO (course) in the form of an XML
script.
The dynamic part of the interactive course is described
in this XML script, which can be interpreted at runtime. It
is Object Oriented, which is close to human reasoning,
easy to agree and specify. Moreover, Object Orientation is
well supported through powerful development tools (e.g.
UML). The script is event-oriented as well, which is
particularly suited for the TV environment, where an
application may be synchronized with the underlying A/V
stream.
The main objects nested in the script are called cards.
Cards are units of contents displayed on the screen and
can contain a multimedia item. As multimedia item can be
considered either a multimedia page (MPage), which may
consist of texts, images, audios and buttons accompanied
by the TV stream in various formats (e.g. inside a quarter
frame), or an interactive edutainment unit, such as a game.
The cards form the static part of the interactive course. As
multimedia page is considered a normal page that could
appear in the TV screen while games include quizzes,
puzzles and so on.
The XML script specifies the cards that constitute a
course, their content (in terms of the above mentioned
templates), and their time scheduling, since several of
them may be synchronized with the A/V stream.
Synchronization is expressed in terms of time triggers that
are inserted in the A/V stream and are able to trigger
relevant cards, as it is specified in the script. The order in
which cards are displayed when a corresponding time
trigger event is received is defined in tree-like structured
sequences that can contain personalization tests. The time
triggers are also divided in categories that correspond to
alternative paths of the course.
The script also contains information about global
variables, that can be defined by the author and serve to
store, for the whole length of a course, course-specific
information that are typically used to schedule the
triggering of the cards according to the preferences, needs
and/or other parameters of the current user.
Finally, through the script the course author can also
specify the aspect and the functionalities of the navigation
bar, which is displayed as a stripe at the bottom (or top) of
the screen and is controlled through the four iDTV colour
buttons (red, green, yellow, blue). Sample functionalities
that can be offered by the navigation bar include:
personalization settings, choice of course categories,
exit/hiding/restoring of cards, helps, further info, other
advanced services. Functionalities are grouped in four
clusters, each one of which is mapped to (and accessed
through, by end-users) one the four coloured buttons. A
course may have several different navigation bar
configurations that change dynamically during the course
itself (e.g. in different cards, different categories, when no
card is on display) in order to provide the most suited,
context-aware support. These different configurations are
to be specified by the author in the course script.
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B. Multimeidia Items
In order to support reusability, the multimedia items
(Mpage and games) that can be included in the cards, are
implemented as specific templates, which are fully
configurable in terms of contents and appearance. These
templates can thus be instantiated one or more time in a
course. Each template includes a large number of
configurable properties (e.g. backgrounds, fonts, area sizes
and positions, etc.) which are stored in configuration files.
These files also support personalization. That is, the
properties of a single template instance can further be
parameterized according to the dynamic (i.e. evolving
even during the course) profile of the end-user. This is
achieved through the introduction of parametrical tags that
can be parameterized by the course content author on the
parameters defined by the Personalizer’s module, which is
described in the next section.
1) Multimedia Page
A multimedia page is the most common multimedia item
used in courses: it presents information to the user, with
basic interactivity. As presentation potential capabilities
for content creators should not be limited, multimedia
pages do not restrict the position of graphical elements,
but allow free configuration of these components on the
page. Multimedia pages are template-based in order to
allow reusability. They can be shown at runtime by using
the specific MHP-java classes, which read the respective
configuration file. This file supports the definition of
components as well as personalized expressions.
Figure 3. Instance of a Multimedia Page
The components’ types define what kind of graphical
element they correspond to. More specifically, they can be
text components, color rectangles, images, small
animations, buttons, image buttons or timers. Buttons
allow some minimal interactivity by providing pre-defined
possible actions, like closing the card, sending an event,
opening another card, changing the current category or
setting a personalization value. Each component type
contains specific properties that must be defined to
configure it, in addition to the common properties
corresponding to size and position. In addition, the page
can also contain a background, and defines the position of
the video stream (either full screen, full screen leaving a
stripe at the bottom, or in a rectangle whose bounds can be
defined). A sample multimedia page as it presented to the
viewer through the iDTV screen is illustrated in Figure 3.
A related and extended concept is the notion of
Multimedia Presentation. A multimedia presentation is a
special kind of multimedia page that is spread over more
than one screen, from which the user can navigate by
using “previous” and “next” buttons. Each screen is called
a multimedia presentation shot, and can be defined using
the same components as for multimedia pages. The
additional button types “previous” and “next” allow
content creators to define where and how they want to
appear on each shot. Multimedia Presentation can be
considered as a set of interconnected Multimedia Pages.
2) Interactive Edutainment units
Games in iDTV could play an important role in t-
learning although today are used mostly for entertainment.
Nowadays, a considerable number of games exist for
iDTV, covering various categories, such as arcade,
adventure, puzzle and educational games. Quizzes, Puzzle
and Memory games could increase the interest of the
viewer-learner supporting the concept of relaxed-learning
that seems suited to TV. T-learning has the ambition of
creating educational games for a wide range of users, in
particular those with limited attitude to computers. Games
are considered as an integral part of a t-learning course as
they could support the learning procedure involving a
wide audience through challenging and engaging activities
that are able to meet the typical user need for relax and
sympathy.
Figure 4. Instances of Games
The games that can be included in a course are based on
specific configurable templates that constitute a Java class
package, which is structured as follows. GameTemplate is
a Java class that abstracts general game functionalities.
The concrete subclasses of GameTemplate are the actual
game typologies offered by the library. Sample game
typologies include: Memory, Puzzles, VisualQuiz and
Couples. The games played by the end-users will be
instances of such subclasses. The actual games running on
the STB are instances of such game typologies. Every
game instance comes bundled with its own resources
specified by the pedagogical content author (i.e. images,
animations, fonts, graphics, text, etc.).
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On the production side (i.e. off-line), an author – even
not skilled in computer science – will be able to create
instances of the various game typologies (i.e. actual games
that will be broadcast and played) by editing parameters
(e.g. number of available lives, score and timing rules) and
inserting contents (e.g. images, graphics, questions,
animations, etc.). This can be done manually, or, much
more efficiently, through an ad-hoc developed authoring
tool that we will describe in the next section.
The runtime system running on the STB manages the
life-cycle of every card and its contained elements, games
included (i.e. loading, starting, managing its exit and
possibly forcing a pause and/or stop), according to what
specified in the script. A game will be able itself to
recursively manage other games (i.e. building trees of
games, according to the author’s script and the user
preferences).
In Figure 4, sample instances of Quiz, Couples,
Memory and Puzzle games are taken from the TV screen.
C. Personalization in t-learning course
In general, the final goal of personalized learning is to
provide a learning path that is matched to the learner's
needs and abilities, resulting in a more efficient and high
quality learning process. In order to obtain this matching
of learner’s profile and objectives, current learning context
and available pedagogical resources, a well-defined
description of each component involved in the process is
needed, with specific focus on the user model. An
additional interesting aspect of the personalization process
is that, once the user model has been identified, the
accuracy of the personalization can be iteratively
improved with time, as more dynamic data are collected
and stored regarding the ongoing interactions of the user
with the system and the continuous monitoring and re-
assessment of the user’s satisfaction. This also allows for a
classification and “clustering” of learners [6].
Personalization in terms of t-learning implies that a
potential iDTV learner can easily be offered on his/her TV
equipment a selection of available pedagogical contents
and services according to his/her interests, skills and
preferences. The module, which is responsible for
allowing personalization in the proposed t-learning
framework, is called Personalizer. This module is capable
of user tracking, taking into account long term features as
age, sex, etc., and session features, like score in a game,
difficulty course level and other course related
preferences.
The Personalizer keeps track of the dynamic user
profile (e.g. current values of the user interaction, such as
score, what pages have already been visited, what quizzes,
etc.) and of the persistent user profile (e.g. preferences,
etc.). Before finishing, every card is responsible for
updating the Personalizer. For instance, the results of a
questionnaire may change so the global score of the
course has to be updated. The values stored can then
impact the navigation of the course (by running alternative
paths depending on personalization values), or the content
of cards (by taking into account personalization variables
in cards configuration files).
III. TECHNOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK
The proposed architecture, which is illustrated in Figure
5, is split in two parts: the production side where the
content is prepared and the receiver side where the course
is presented to the viewer through the appropriate
terminal.
The production side is the area where the course content
is created. As the course development is based on the
requirement of reusability, the content is structured in the
appropriate format so it is playable by a Course
Multimedia Player that is also transmitted with the course
package.
The educational A/V stream for the t-learning course is
built by a TV producer, while the contents are developed
in the authoring tool by the educators. The content
including games, images and text is used for the
development of personalized courses and can be retrieved
from a server where learning resources are stored.
Eventual A/V-application synchronization is achieved
with the aid of the authoring tool as well, where the
content created is matched on specific time stamps
inserted in the A/V stream. Subsequently, the A/V stream
is fed into the MPEG2 encoder while the content produced
by the authoring tool and the Course Player Xlet are
inserted into the object carousel. In this way the sub-
streams are constructed and then multiplexed to form the
final TS, which is broadcast.
Figure 5. General Framework for the development and delivery of
a t-learning course
The signal is received at the receiver side and processed
by the STB where the A/V stream and the applications are
restored from the TS. The Xlet that contains the t-learning
course runs on the STB MHP middleware presenting the
content of the course. The existence of an Internet IP
return channel on the STB allows the use of on-demand
features. Through this return channel it is possible to send
requests regarding the retrieval of additional learning
resources as well as information about the viewer in order
to support more advanced personalization features.
This schema is realizable through existing TVs,
equipped with STBs, thus reaching a wide share of
population. An Internet connection (even not broadband)
is not required, however additional services could be
supported in order to enhance the user interaction and
experience. On the other hand, non-linear A/V stream
contents would require (at least with present technologies)
broadband connectivity, which is not supported by the
majority of current TVs.
From a pedagogical point of view, this schema involves
an important role of the author, who defines the learning
space and provides strong guidance (the A/V stream, the
cards (scheduling and contents)), and of the user, who has
a certain freedom in exploring this knowledge space (e.g.
deciding whether to perform an interactive test/quiz/game
or not, follow a branch or another of a set of interactive
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cards). For any course’s implementation, the author can
choose the desired level of freedom/customization (e.g. by
preparing contents for various categories, setting user-
performance-based triggers for more information cards,
quizzes, letting a number of parameters variable for
personalization, etc.).
IV. PRODUCTION SIDE
The main component involved in the production side is
the authoring tool. This tool is composed of two logical
parts: the content insertion and configuration tool and the
script builder. The former is responsible for the template
configuration while the latter deals with the definition of
the sequence of the course based on time and logical
events. The output of this tool is composed of the
sequence script in XML format (i.e. the XML script that
defines the dynamic part of the interactive course), the
configuration files of the templates and the resources
(images, audio files, etc) involved, in a structure package.
Figure 6. Production Chain
The whole production chain is illustrated in Figure 6.
A. Authoring Tool
The AT is a visual development environment where the
author is supported in the creation educational courses for
iDTV. It consists mainly of two logical parts which are
integrated in a common user interface: a) The script
builder, which is the part for writing the course script and
actually defines the dynamic part of the interactive course
(scheduling of the cards, definition of alternative course
paths) and b) The card configurator part for the creation
and the configuration of the instances of the service
templates (e.g. Edutainment Templates) which are
included in the static part of the course. The architecture
of the AT is illustrated in Figure 7.
Figure 7. Authoring Tool architecture
The concept of the AT is based on the creation of
Learning Objects in a form of XML script and on the
configuration of existing templates. The tool provides a
clear graphical interface (Figures 8, 9, 10) which supports
visual composition features as drag and drop, content
previews and object designing. The tool provides a
“WYSIWYG” environment where authors can focus on
the contents and the logic of their course without being
concerned about the internal structure and the constraints
imposed by the XML script.
Figure 8. AT Script Builder
The AT script builder (Figure 8), which is dedicated to
the definition of the user categories and the scheduling of
the cards, provides authors with an intuitive way for
defining events lists (temporal or logical) and consequent
actions, with the support of personalization as well. The
timeline bar proved an easy medium for content authors to
use since it is more comprehensible comparing to event
triggered-based flow charts. The tool handles the
definition of all the supported operations/instructions by
using an XSD schema in a “secure” mode, thus avoiding
the risk for the author to generate invalid XML files.
The AT card configurator (Figure 9), which is
responsible for the configuration of the cards provides a
friendly environment where existing templates can be
customized. These templates include Multimedia pages
with images, buttons and text, multimedia presentations,
delivery broker and edutainment templates, which can be
configured appropriately in terms of appearance, fonts,
score computation modalities, content etc., as described in
a previous sub-section.
Figure 9. AT Card configurator
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Navigation bar configuration is possible at card level
where the user can select from the existing menu items
and also create new ones as it is shown in Figure 10. The
new menu items and navigation bars, designed by the
user, are stored automatically in the XML script.
The tool supports two modalities of configuring a
newly instantiated service: full configuration, which gives
the author full access to all the configurable parameters of
the service, and the Style configuration, where the
graphics are pre-defined and the author has to insert the
contents (e.g. questions and answers, images to be
manipulated, graphs, etc.). The first approach is suitable
for high customizable solutions, but may be time-
consuming and addresses mostly to experienced authors,
while the second approach is more efficient since the
author can focus more on content than appearance while
authoring process becomes more rapid and homogeneity
insured.
Figure 10. Navigation Bar Configuration
V. CLIENT SIDE
The Course Multimedia Player (CMP) is the t-learning
client software that reads the data generated by the
authoring tools to present and manage the iDTV course. It
runs on the user’s MHP STB, that supports interactivity
between the learner and the application.
Two main steps in the presentation process can be
identified as shown in Figure 11:
Building the interactive application specified in
the XML script.
Executing the application with the video.
Figure 11. Running the application in the Client Side
A. Building the interactive application
When the t-Learning application is launched by a TV
user, the CMP parses the scripts to instantiate the T-
learning course. As explained in previous section, the
XML script contains all the data required to instantiate a
course. By reading this XML description file, the
multimedia player creates the static part of the course
(each page/card) and the dynamic part, involving inter-
card navigation, user personalized paths, and
synchronization with the TV-program.
B. Executing the Application with the video
After the instantiation, the CMP starts playing the
course, which involves the following components:
Graphical Rendering Manager
Navigation Manager
Synchronization Manager
Personalization Manager
Interactivity Manager
1) Graphical Rendering Manager
The Graphical Rendering Manager is responsible for
the graphical interface. It displays all the course
components, including the video stream, also managing
overlapping, transparencies and “picture in picture”
effects. As reference templates, the content author can
select among three main models: full Screen (FS), full
Screen with TV picture (FSTV) and Stripe (S) (Figure
12).
Figure 12. Card Display Modalities: Stripe, Full Screen with TV
Picture, and Full Screen Instance of a Multimedia Page
2) Navigation Manager (personalised)
The course path defines which card to show when,
mainly based on time events. However, some constructs
allow the content creators to define more complex paths
that can change dynamically:
- Sequences can be defined to specify the next
card to show once a card has been closed
- Timer information is used to specify maximum
duration of cards (after which a card is closed),
as well as latest start time (global time after
which the card is not started – this prevents
cards to be shown for a too short time)
- Expressions based on personalization conditions
are evaluated at run-time and allow to choose
between alternatives (in the form of “if-then-
else” or “do-while” statements). Such
expressions use either pre-defined variables (e.g.
age, sex, etc.) or variables that have been
defined by the user during the creation of the
course.
- Finally, categories allow the definition of
complete alternative paths for the course. They
can be defined freely, but usually the are used to
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specify user levels or areas of interest (e.g. hard,
easy level).
The Figure 13 illustrates these possibilities.
Figure 13. Different course paths– due to a user’s personal values -
for 3 different user categories. Circles correspond to cards.
3) Synchronization Manager
A t-learning application can be synchronized with the
TV program over which it is broadcast. Synchronization is
implemented through time triggers that are to be inserted
in the broadcast TS, and trigger listeners that are part of
the Synchronization Manager. Triggers may correspond to
events such as beginning of the first part of a course, end
of the second part, etc. They are listened to at runtime by
the synchronization manager that can thus take adequate
actions as specified by the author in the course’s script.
For instance, start application card could be displayed or a
new section in a course activated.
Time triggers can be inserted in the TV program’s
timeline at various levels of granularity, allowing the t-
learning course to be context-aware with regard to the
video stream.
4) Personalization Manager
The Personalizer manages the dynamic user profile
(e.g. global and partial scores, what cards have already
been visited, what quizzes, etc.) and the persistent user
profile (e.g. preferences, sex, age, etc.). Not only is this
module responsible for updating the Personalizer’s data,
but it also orients the user by taking decision at runtime as
explained in the subsection II-E.
5) Interactivity Manager
Interactivity involves two aspects:
Local interactivity: it is provided by
programmable components that enable the user to
change the behavior/settings/appearence of the
objects that are displayed. The user can access
local interactivity simply through her/his remote
control.
Server interactivity: same as local interactivity but
the actions of the user are sent to a server as
“requests” via a physical return channel. For
instance, the server interactivity can be used to
store general data in a centralized way or also to
request additional information on a given topic,
even if bandwidth constraints limit the
potentialities of this option. The use of the return
channel is quite rare at present. So, contents and
services provided through such a channel should
concern only optional features.
VI. RESULTS AND EVALUATION
In this section experimental t-learning courses which
were created and delivered with the proposed framework
will be presented in order to evaluate the performance and
the efficiency of the system.
A. T-learning Course Development
The above presented framework has been implemented
in parallel with the development of 6 t-learning
applications. This has allowed a continuous interaction
between technological implementation and pedagogical
inspiration and evaluation.
In order to further support course creation, integration
between the AT and the MHP analyzer from IRT software
[7] was realized. The analyzer is capable of supporting
textual debugging and profiling, as well as a PC preview
of an MHP application.
Using the AT, the author could iteratively design and
implement the cards, fix their scheduling in the timeline
and check the preview. The preview functionality
provides two levels: single card level and course level.
The first one allows immediate inspection of any card, just
after its development, while the second one allows
analyzing the whole course, checking also the overall
scheduling, navigation and learning paths alternatives.
The integration inside the AT allowed an instant preview
of the course making the testing procedure easier. This
intensive testing proved itself to be useful also to signal
bugs of the CMP and of the AT, and highlighted the need
for improvements and additional functionalities as it
emerged from the concrete experience of the course
developers. These iterations were important to complete a
fully functional t-learning framework comprising of a
runtime multimedia player and an offline authoring tool
that satisfies the requirements of the pedagogues and the
content creators.
Figure 14. Multimedia page configuration
In Figure 14 the authoring of a card composed of a
simple multimedia page is presented. At this stage the
author uses the card configurator in order to design the
multimedia page. In this case the author has selected an
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A TECHNOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE AUTHORING AND PRESENTATION OF T-LEARNING COURSES
image background, a text area on the top, an image area an
image area in the middle, and two buttons. At the right
window of the AT interface the author is capable of
configuring independently each object (i.e. button, text
area, image area) of the multimedia page. The navigation
bar has also been configured. All the color menus are
available: exit, customization and global and card-level
functionalities.
The preview of the card is always accessible by the
author with the aid of MHP analyzer. The preview of the
above discussed and designed multimedia page is
illustrated in Figure 15.
Figure 15. card 1 preview in simulation environment.
The developed tools have supported the production of
six courses, in the following topics: basic business,
statistics for the Master in Business Administration,
cultural heritage, mathematics for elementary schools,
computers in a life-long learning perspective and driving
school/road safety. The subjects of the courses were
selected in order to cover a variety of different areas and
address different target groups. These courses have been
designed by pedagogical experts from universities and
institutes from 6 European countries1.
Besides the six aforementioned t-learning courses, an
interactive enhancement of the “Snow White and the
Seven dwarfs” animated film from Disney has been
implemented, in order to support the study of English as a
foreign language. This experimental course was created in
order to further test and evaluate the framework also from
a more technical perspective, considering most of the
supported functionalities and realizing multiple course
paths with complex sequences and conditions.
Figures 16-19 show some snapshots from this last
application including Couples, Multiple Answers, Puzzle
and VisualQuiz games respectively.
1 Czech Technical University in Prague, http://www.cvut.cz/
University of Hradec Kralove, http:// www.uhk.cz/
Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences,
http:// www.sztaki.hu/
University of Ljubljana, http://www.uni-lj.si/
Riga Technical University, http://www.rtu.lv/
State Institute of Information Technology, http://www.viti.lt/
Figure 16. Couples Game Preview
Figure 17. Multiple answers game preview
Figure 18. Puzzle Game Preview
Figure 19. Visual Quiz Preview
iJET Volume 3, Issue 4, December 2008
17
A TECHNOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE AUTHORING AND PRESENTATION OF T-LEARNING COURSES
The implemented t-learning courses typically last 15 to
30 minutes. The size of the MHP applications and the
resources is 4 to 5 MBs, of which 2MB are reserved to the
CMP. The loading time, considering a data bandwidth of
200 Kb/s, is around 4 minutes, which has to be improved
for commercial airing.
Functional tests have been successfully run in real
context of use settings, where courses run on commercial
STBs and are displayed on TV sets and users can interact
through a remote control.
B. Evaluation
The proposed framework was evaluated with the
development and presentation of the aforementioned t-
learning courses.
The most important evaluation was performed by the
pedagogical experts. The challenge was to let them free to
implement their ideas using the proposed t-learning
framework. During the creation of the six t-learning
courses the pedagogues were able to have a clear view of
the production and presentation phase. During the course
creation it was possible to evaluate the performance, the
efficiency and the potential of the authoring tool which
appeared to be satisfactory mostly because of the
friendliness of the environment, the advanced
functionalities, and the capability for an instant card and
course preview. This preview feature has been important
also to have a preliminary evaluation of the Course
Multimedia Player. However, the tests with real STBs,
performed afterwards, were useful for authors to tune the
courses in particular from the point of view of the graphic
appearance (given the different rendering capabilities of a
TV screen with respect to a PC screen), performance
(given the slower processing power of the STB’s CPU),
and the exact synchronization with the underlying
audiovisual stream.
The next steps of the work will involve the extensive
testing of all the applications with samples of their
intended target audience. In particular, the objective of
such tests is to verify the effectiveness of the applications
to meet the knowledge-acquisition potential expected by
the pedagogical experts.
VII. RELATED WORK
Although the research and development in iDTV-
based t-learning is rather limited up to date, some
interesting approaches have been presented.
Some first ideas regarding t-learning in digital TV
were expressed in [8] while in [9] a t-learning model was
proposed based on MHP. This model defined different
features and functions in t-learning including
personalization and interactivity. Furthermore, examples
of different opportunities in learning via iDTV were
provided.
Moving to technical implementation, an interesting
approach was the technological framework for TV-
supported collaborative learning, which was proposed in
[10]. In this approach t-learning contents are created with
appropriate tools and delivered, however personalization
was not applied and the fully automatic creation of the
course was not supported. In a more recent work [11] a
more general framework is presented with content
creation based on XML structures and templates.
Although this work has been an interesting basis, it is still
inadequate to deal with learning oriented content as it
serves more general purposes. Furthermore the two
aforementioned approaches haven’t been tested
thoroughly in iDTV or simulation environment, as no
specific results are presented.
Another relevant work [12] was presented recently
regarding the presentation of web contents to iDTV for
entertainment. This approach is trying to convert the TV
into a web browser and the return channel is required in
order to allow browsing. Although such approach could
be more relevant for IPTV, it would be of use in order to
transform existing HTML e-learning courses to t-learning
ones. Despite these advantages, this approach has limited
potential for t-learning as it requires the presence of
return channel and it is doubtful if it can also satisfy other
learning requirements (e.g. personalization).
Considering the market approach, nowadays there are
considerable tools available, both open source and
commercial, like Composer [13] and Grins Pro Editor
[14]. More specifically, the former is capable of creating
content in NCL [15] language for Ginga middleware
while the latter is a SMIL [16] editor. Such tools could
have been used for the creation of pedagogical content due
to their flexibility, however, as they are not education-
oriented, they would fail to satisfy the needs of
pedagogues.
VIII. CONCLUSIONS
Broadcasting interactive learning applications through
the digital TV promises to open new pedagogical
perspectives, also in a life-long learning perspective, given
the wide penetration of the medium. However, this
requires the availability of proper tools for authoring and
deployment of applications. In this paper a flexible
framework for the creation and display of t-learning
content on iDTV was presented.
The course creation exploits a template logic that
guarantees a clear structure for the content.This logic also
allows reusability, which is a big advantage in the iDTV
world, where the available bandwidth and the storage
capabilities of the STBs are limited and the production
costs are high and the time-to-market short. Moreover,
the configurability option allows tailoring services and
contents, which is considered as an added pedagogical
value.
This template-based approach allows the creation of
flexible, modular courses that are interpreted by a
multimedia course player running on a STB. The
framework is extensible, and can be upgraded with new
contents/services (e.g. virtual avatars and more complex
games), also on demand by exploiting the return channel.
The aim is that the description of the framework
presented in this paper will contribute to informing experts
in the field of the technology-enhanced learning about the
design of new tools and applications based on iDTV.
Possible research directions for the iDTV scientific
community are various. We believe that interesting fields
of future developments include: enhanced support for
personalization (which is particularly important in a
medium, such as the TV, which reaches a variety of
users); optimization of the applications’ packaging and
loading; design of new templates for edutainment
18
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A TECHNOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE AUTHORING AND PRESENTATION OF T-LEARNING COURSES
services; exploitation of multi-channel synergies in order
to increase the interaction among users.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This work is supported by the project ELU (Enhanced
Learning Unlimited) [17], which is funded by the
European Commission.
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[2] M. Lytras., C. Lougos, P. Chozos & A. Pouloudi, “Interactive
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learning, Brunel University, UK, 2002.
[3] Digital Video Broadcasting, retrieved October 18, 2007, from
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[4] Interactive TV Web. Retrieved October 18, 2007, from
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[5] Marta Rey-López, Ana Fernández-Vilas, Rebeca P. Díaz-
Redondo, José J. Pazos-Arias, Jesús Bermejo-Muñoz, “Adaptive
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[6] Y. Blanco-Fernández, J. J. Pazos-Arias, A. Gil-Solla, M. Ramos-
Cabrer, B. Barragáns-Martínez & M. López-Nores, “A multi-agent
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[7] MHP analyzer, IRT. http://www.irt.de.
[8] P. Aarreniemi-Jokipelto, J. Tuominen, “Experiences with an
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[9] P. Aarreniemi-Jokipelto, “T-learning Model for Learning via
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[10] M. Lopez-Nores, A. Elexpuru-Eguia, Y. Blanco-Fernandez, J. J.
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[13] Composer, middleware Ginga – NCL,
http://www.ncl.org.br/index_.html.
[14] Grins Pro Editor, http://www.oratrix.com/Products/G2E.
[15] L. Soares and G. Filho, “Interactive Television in Brazil: System
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[16] The Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language,
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[17] Enhanced Learning Unlimited (ELU) project. Retrieved March,
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AUTHORS
Francesco Bellotti is with the ELIOS Lab, Department
of Biophysical and Electronic Engineering (DIBE),
University of Genoa (e-mail: franz@elios.unige.it).
Stefanos Vrochidis is working as a Research Engineer
within the Informatics and Telematics Institute,
Thessaloniki, Greece, (e-mail: stefanos@iti.gr).
Sophie Ramel is with the Center of IT innovation as
software Research & Development engineer within the
Public Research Center Henri Tudor, Luxembourg
(sophie.ramel@tudor.lu).
Ioannis Tsampouladitis is working as a Research
Associate within the Informatics and Telematics Institute,
Thessaloniki, Greece, (e-mail: itsam@iti.gr).
Pascal Lhoas, Master in IT, is working as a project
manager within the Center of IT Innovation of the Public
Research Center Henri Tudor, Luxembourg
(pascal.lhoas@tudor.lu).
Matteo Pellegrino is with the ELIOS Lab, Department
of Biophysical and Electronic Engineering (DIBE),
University of Genoa (e-mail: pellegrino@elios.unige.it).
Giancarlo Bo is with the Giunti Labs S.r.l., Sestri
Levante, Italy (e-mail: g.bo@giuntilabs.it).
Ioannis Kompatsiaris is working as a Senior
Researcher within the Informatics and Telematics
Institute, Thessaloniki, Greece, (e-mail: ikom@iti.gr).
This work was supported by ELU (Enhanced Learning Unlimited)
project, which is funded by the European Commission.
This article was modified from a presentation at the 31st International
Convention MIPRO 2008 in Opatija, Croatia, May 2008. Manuscript
received 30 July 2008. Published as submitted the authors.
iJET Volume 3, Issue 4, December 2008
19
... Creators of the above t-leaning content are facing new challenges if they are to gain general acceptance among users (ELU, 2007;Bellotti et al, 2008). ...
... Games are the proper elements to enhance the learner's activities; especially game-based assessment can contribute to the intrinsic reinforcement and to the enhancement of knowledge retention. In situations, where the Return Channel is available, games can be used to support extrinsic rewards to the learner's successes (Bellotti et al, 2008). ...
... Content personalisation is feasible through interactive applications only. Content creators shall therefore provide for the interactive content personalisation by the different learners using a particular course (Bellotti et al, 2008). ...
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... Creators of the above t-leaning content are facing new challenges if they are to gain general acceptance among users (ELU, 2007;Bellotti et al, 2008). ...
... Games are the proper elements to enhance the learner's activities; especially game-based assessment can contribute to the intrinsic reinforcement and to the enhancement of knowledge retention. In situations, where the Return Channel is available, games can be used to support extrinsic rewards to the learner's successes (Bellotti et al, 2008). ...
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... Nevertheless, the intensity of learning substantially depends on the learner's volitional mindfulness (Bellotti, Mikulecká, Napoletano, & Rohrová, 2006). The idea of distance learning through TV is intensively investigated especially as a form with potential to complement PC-based e-learning and traditional educational programs broadcasted by analog TV (Bellotti et al., 2008). Garito (2001) Aarreniemi-Jokipelto, Tuominen, Kalli, and Riikonen (2005) claim that participants in their course on Local Demands for Global Enterprising felt that digital TV is a quite appropriate platform for educational purposes and that they would like to be involved in further exploration of digital TV possibilities. ...
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... Games, multimedia page and Audio/Video (A/V) stream are instructional elements the course is based on. They are well described in (Alic, et al. 2009;Bellotti, et al., 2006;Bellotti, et al., 2008;Vrochidis, et al., 2008). ...
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T-learning is a shorthand meaning for TV-based interactive learning. So far, learning via interactive digital TV has been more edutainment than formal learning, but we have moved towards more engaged learning. According to Helsinki University of Technology research and experiences, the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) standard enables formal learning in digital TV and digital TV can be used to facilitate learning process. Learning opportunities in digital TV are possible to be described with the T-learning model. The model defines different features and functions in T-learning and describes what kind of learning is enabled through digital television (DTV). Furthermore, few examples of different opportunities in learning via DTV are provided. T-learning model is described for formal and informal learning.
Conference Paper
A crucial problem of recent applications requiring a DTV-based solution is that they are designed to solve one specific problem. The aim of this paper is to propose a universal framework for DTV applications that will use sophisticated methods of object sharing, data abstraction and template exploitation. This framework should realize all repeating programmer operations automatically - e.g. template based output, data transfer and validation, multilanguage support, security, authorization, etc. The system should realize maximum tasks (generating output) automatically without additional programming by content developer.
Conference Paper
TV still remains the preferred medium for entertainment. With the introduction of interactive digital television (IDTV), new digital services can be now conveyed through this communication technology. In particular, bringing the Web to IDTV may represent an attractive opportunity to inject new fuel into the TV world, thus creating a wider and accessible container of digital services for entertainment. Yet, this raises several technical issues that need to be addressed. While a lot of research has been done with the aim of adjusting the content of a Web page so that it fits to a target computing environment, scarce efforts have been devoted to the specific TV target. Further, effective interfaces for digital TV must be devised which guarantee the same level of usability available through common PCs. In particular, contents must be structured such that: i) their management is facilitated on low-end set top boxes, and ii) their visualization is made effective for standard TV displays. In this context, we propose a new technique for the automatic transcoding of Web contents which enables their delivery over IDTV broadcast channels and allows a proper visualization on IDTV screens. Our system is based on the digital video broadcasting-multimedia home platform (DVB-MHP) standard. We also developed a client application which permits to browse our transcoded contents on a TV set via the remote control. Results gathered from real world experiments demonstrate the viability of our approach
Conference Paper
In the Motive project, the Industrial IT Laboratory (INIT) of Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) is studying the use of digital TV as a learning environment for University courses. Funded by the European Social Fund, the project has used its' last years to focus on user-interaction in the digital TV and flexible content production. Practical experience of the learning environment in use has been with the course Local Demands for Global Enterprising where HUT students have had a chance to study a module in an experimental digital TV environment in autumn 2002, That experiment continued with a new version of the course, which started on January 12th, 2004 in digital TV cable networks.
Master in IT, is working as a project manager within the Center of IT Innovation of the Public Research
  • Pascal Lhoas
Pascal Lhoas, Master in IT, is working as a project manager within the Center of IT Innovation of the Public Research Center Henri Tudor, Luxembourg (pascal.lhoas@tudor.lu).