WO2003041033A1 - A dynamically configurable collaboration system and method - Google Patents

A dynamically configurable collaboration system and method

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Publication number
WO2003041033A1
WO2003041033A1 PCT/US2002/032742 US0232742W WO2003041033A1 WO 2003041033 A1 WO2003041033 A1 WO 2003041033A1 US 0232742 W US0232742 W US 0232742W WO 2003041033 A1 WO2003041033 A1 WO 2003041033A1
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WO
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Application
Patent type
Prior art keywords
student
teacher
collaborative
content
session
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2002/032742
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Anna Parmer
Joe Tojek
Original Assignee
Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc.
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date

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Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q30/00Commerce, e.g. shopping or e-commerce
    • G06Q30/02Marketing, e.g. market research and analysis, surveying, promotions, advertising, buyer profiling, customer management or rewards; Price estimation or determination
    • GPHYSICS
    • G09EDUCATION; CRYPTOGRAPHY; DISPLAY; ADVERTISING; SEALS
    • G09BEDUCATIONAL OR DEMONSTRATION APPLIANCES; APPLIANCES FOR TEACHING, OR COMMUNICATING WITH, THE BLIND, DEAF OR MUTE; MODELS; PLANETARIA; GLOBES; MAPS; DIAGRAMS
    • G09B5/00Electrically-operated educational appliances
    • GPHYSICS
    • G09EDUCATION; CRYPTOGRAPHY; DISPLAY; ADVERTISING; SEALS
    • G09BEDUCATIONAL OR DEMONSTRATION APPLIANCES; APPLIANCES FOR TEACHING, OR COMMUNICATING WITH, THE BLIND, DEAF OR MUTE; MODELS; PLANETARIA; GLOBES; MAPS; DIAGRAMS
    • G09B7/00Electrically-operated teaching apparatus or devices working with questions and answers

Abstract

The present invention is directed to various aspects of a collaborative process. Configurable collaborative sessions are created amongst participants. An individualized collaboration agenda accommodates various types of participants. Dynamically created contents are presented to the participants. The contents include collaborative components which are adaptively inserted to meet various collaborative environments.

Description

A DYNAMICALLY CONFIGURABLE COLLABORATION SYSTEM AND METHOD

Related Applications

This application 1) is a continuation-in-part of U.S. Patent Application No. 09/678,030 filed October 3, 2000, which is a continuation of U.S. Patent Application No. 09/275,793, filed March 25, 1999, now U.S. Patent No. 6,146,148, which is a continuation of PCT/US97/16672, filed September 24, 1997, and claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/026,680, filed September 25, 1996, 2) is a continuation-in-part of PCT/US01/28645 filed September 14, 2001, which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/233,061, filed September 14, 2000, and 3) claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/328,445 filed October 12, 2001, all of which are hereby incorporated by reference.

Background of the Invention

Collaborative systems have been used for a variety of applications. One example of such application is distant learning that takes place over a computer network. These systems allow for collaborative work between teachers and students based on educational content, which comprise various instructional material.

In education, various advantages of using private teachers to give individual attention to accommodate each student's skill, educational goals and background are well known. Students can excel and improve immensely from the individual attention given. However, the costs involved including the cost of hiring private teachers and the cost of performing various tests/assessments of the student's skill, educational goals and background in designing individualized curriculum make the private teacher approach too expensive for most students. An alternative tutoring systems require the physical presence of a student, a teacher, and teaching materials all at the same location. The student must travel to a learning center to take advantage of tutoring. At the learning center, the student is given a standardized assessment test where skill gaps are identified. This gaps are correlated with "individual learning objectives" or ILOs which correspond the to gaps. These ILOs are organized into a tutoring program to help the student advance to a target grade level in a specific subject area (reading, math, etc.).

Students are scheduled for a specific amount of tutoring hours. For example, students attend one hour tutoring sessions twice per week. At the learning centers, students and teachers collaborate with each other in person around U-shaped tables. Each teacher works typically with three students simultaneously during the tutoring hour. Each of the three students may be working on different learning plans and could even be working on different subjects altogether. The teacher works with a student, gives that student independent practice to do, then direct his/her attention to the next student. Thus, even though it is a 3:1 model, the actual experience to the student is individualized and 1:1. The above described system has had significant success in helping students.

Unfortunately, students that are not able to travel to or are located physically distant from a learning center are not able to afford themselves of the advantages provided by attending the tutoring programs. In order to circumvent the need to travel to a learning center, computer-assisted distant learning systems have been devised. Using these systems, students from remote locations have been able to have essentially the same education and collaborative experience as those at class rooms.

Many conventional educational systems attempt to personalize learning sessions for students and avoid the cost of employing private tutors by using computer programs in place of actual teachers. For instance, U.S. Patent No. 5,727,950 issued to Cook et al. discloses a system for interactive, adaptive and individualized computer-assisted instruction. The system delivers interactive, adaptive, and individualized homework to students in their homes and other locations. An agent becomes a virtual tutor acting as a student's personal and individualized tutor. The agent is individualized to each student and formed by the functioning of agent software with student data object. The student data object stores characteristics of the student and assignments set by the teachers and administrators.

Teachers use the system to perform such functions as entering initial profiles in student data objects, assigning students to subgroups, previewing, annotating and scheduling assignments, reviewing and commenting on completed homework assignments, and reviewing summary reports. Important teacher activities are as follows: the teacher controls the access and level of tools available to the student and limits the extent to which the student can alter agent personae; the teacher controls the student's use of the system by assigning, scheduling, and prioritizing the student's access to the instructional material; the teacher can customize material available to the students by modifying sequencing of instructional lessons, choosing the homework the student must complete, and sending messages to students; and the teacher's class management is aided by a facility to send messages, reminders, hints, etc., to students using email facilities.

A teacher can also add comments, if student homework is viewed on line by teacher. Email and newsgroups are used by teachers, non-interactively, to send information to their classes, such as schedule and material changes. Students can communicate with their teachers, and share work or interests with other students.

U.S. Patent No. 5,904,485 issued to Siefert discloses a computer-assisted education where an INTELLIGENT ADMINISTRATOR (IA), which takes the form of a system of programs and computer objects. The IA organizes instructional activity, selects the proper lessons for each session, and administers examinations to the students. A given lesson is presented in successive, different ways, if the student does not master the lesson the first time. A help screen is available at any point during an instructional unit and allows a student to change skill levels, learning styles, request another explanation, and request a conference with a teacher. When the request for a conference is selected, the student is connected to a live videoconference with a teacher. A live conference option with subject matter experts makes it possible for a student who has mastered the unit but who is curious about tangential or deeper levels of the material to ask questions while his or her interest is still fresh.

U.S. Patent No. 6,064,856 issued to Lee et al. discloses a learning system where all student workstations are in constant communication with a teacher's workstation via a LAN interface and local area network. Real-time communication between a student workstation and a teacher workstation allows the teacher to be informed of the student's progress and activities as well as allowing the teacher to tailor instructional programs for each student. The teacher can select material, including text, illustrations, length of lesson and questions to be answered, to comprise the courseware for a subject. Assignment process is controlled by the CPU of the teacher's station which downloads the control programs corresponding to the lesson segments selected by the teacher and/or a system program from the hard drive or other storage device of the teacher's workstation to the selected student's station. After a predetermined number of tries, if the student still fails to grasp the material and answers some questions incorrectly, the system will send a message to the teacher's workstation indicating which material the student is having problems with. The teacher can then use his or her own methods to personally help the student to grasp the material.

U.S. Patent No. 5,176,520 issued to Hamilton discloses a computer-assisted instruction system for a classroom which allows a teacher to share an electronic sheet of paper with one or more students in the classroom, enabling both the teacher and a student to write on the same sheet virtually simultaneously from different parts of the room. As a student physically writes on the surface of his monitor with the stylus, the image that is written not only appears on that student's display, but is also transmitted simultaneously to the teacher's station. When the teacher touches the screen where an icon for a student appears, the teacher and the student can begin hand- written screen-sharing communication.

U.S. Patent No. 5,002,491 issued to Abrahamson et al. discloses a learning system for enabling teachers to teach students concepts and to receive immediate feedback regarding how well the student have learned the concepts. Students have a keyboard system to enable them to respond in a narrative fashion to questions posed to an entire class and the teacher is able to receive the responses individually as they are stored by the system at a central computer. If a relatively low percentage of students, as determined by the teacher, seem to be understanding the concept being taught, the teacher may choose to assign additional work to students, or may take remedial actions.

U.S. Patent No. 5,302,132 issued to Corder discloses a system for reducing illiteracy of individuals by using computer technology to integrate multi-sensory stimuli for synthesis of individualized instruction, evaluation, and prescription for advancement of communications skills. The system will accept input from the teacher to control lesson scope and sequence and alternatively, the system itself contains decision rules to determine student needs based on graded stimuli and matching student responses. If directed by the teacher, the system, tlirough its speech synthesizer, encourages the student to use the available system resource, such as a touch screen, to trace the phonogram on the screen. If the teacher believes that a student needs special encouragement during the lesson, a message can be recorded using the "New Messages" button. Other conventional systems offer rigid collaborative interfaces. Examples of such collaborative environments include public, private and moderated chat rooms. Some collaborative systems use variations of a static Power-Point-like 'agenda building' process. Another conventional system offered allows for selective channel allocation via an interface. However, the allocation is only allowed on per session basis, without flexibility. In other words, once selected the communication profile can not be changed while a session is in progress. In some systems, the colors and logo are the only configurable options, hi other implementations, the content available for a session is fixed. Also, there are conventional web-based interfaces for use in Learning Mgmt Systems (LMs). However, the conventional web-based interfaces can only support HTML format, but do not support other formats, such as XML.

Hence, there has been a long sought desire to develop a collaborative system and method that allows for a balanced use of all components of the system, both in terms of hardware and software. More specifically, there is a need for a collaboration system that can be configured based on collaborative capabilities and requirements of the participants

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is directed to various aspects of a collaborative process. Configurable collaborative sessions are created amongst participants. An individualized collaboration agenda accommodates various types of participants. Dynamically created contents are presented to the participants. The contents include collaborative components which are adaptively inserted to meet various collaborative environments.

Briefly, according to one aspect of the present invention, a collaborative system dynamically constructs collaborative and interface components. The present invention allows multiple participants to engage and collaborate using dynamically created content and interfaces. An exemplary embodiment of the present invention relates to collaboration between teachers and students in a learning environment. Among other things, the present invention provides video conferencing, audio and text messaging. According to one feature, the present invention dynamically constructs a collaborative environment using a collaborative Application Programming Interface (API). The API dynamically instantiates various collaborative components. The API also abstracts messaging between the collaborative components of one client and another client. The API allows for dynamic inclusion of the collaborative components based on parameters that are related to content and user interface. The parameters are stored in various configuration files that may include user, application and communication profiles. The present invention reads the configuration information to dynamically construct the user and content environment for collaboration amongst participants.

In one embodiment, the user profile includes parameters relating to user's actions, including actions a participant can take while interfacing with the system during a collaborative session. The user profile can also define privileges associated with various participants. For example, the user profile can define which participants can collaborate with each other. The application profile includes parameter relating to presenting contents. The communication profile includes parameters relating to communication capabilities and needs, including communication channels capabilities, data rates, etc. An application program reads and interprets the user, application and communication profile parameters, which can be pre- stored in a local or central storage medium. Alternatively, such parameters can be downloaded from a server to provide dynamically created collaborative sessions, h one exemplary embodiment, various look and feel parameters, including graphics, colors, language, etc. are configurable. In another exemplary embodiment, the collaborative system dynamically constructs collaborative components based on client station capabilities, which are stored in corresponding configuration profiles. Collaborative components could be various tools, for example, drawing tools or tools used for encouraging progress in a learning session. Also, communication, audio, video, whiteboard, view, chat and participant selection tools of various type can be included in the collaborative components. Furthermore, in client stations that support broadband communications, e.g., cable, DSL, etc., the collaborative system dynamically constructs or otherwise includes a video interface component. On the other hand, in client stations with narrowband communication capabilities, e.g. dial-up, an audio collaborative component is included instead of the video component.

A moderator participant, such as, a teacher collaborating with multiple students, which is given the privilege to start a session, end a session, control interactivity and present content to non-moderator participants. In one aspect of the present invention, the moderator has an open communication channel with all participants. However, the non-moderator participants only have open communication channels with the moderator and selected non-moderator participants, as defined by corresponding profile parameters.

In addition, collaborative system of the invention dynamically allocates and configures the communication channels used for direct and shared collaboration. At run-time, a client can request to have a channel opened with any of the other participants in the session, and in any group. In other words, a single client can have separate direct and shared channel capabilities simultaneously. As a result, a participant can open a direct or otherwise one-on- one channel with another participant and, at the same time, open a shared channel with others. Thus, using a direct channel, one participant can collaborate directly with a single participant. At the same time, the same participant can use a shared channel to collaborate separately with multiple participants. The present invention is suitable for various applications requiring user collaboration and interface, for example, in computer generated learning environments that require teacher- student collaboration, h one such system, the teacher and student participants collaborate using client stations that are connected to one or more servers that provide content material. The servers can also access various databases to retrieve and transmit configuration information to client stations.

In the present invention, the student is assessed and a set of learning objectives is established. By applying a set of rules, the objectives and appropriate content components for a learning session is generated dynamically. Moreover, based on the student's previous progress or lack thereof during a session, the presented content can be changed accordingly. If additional content is needed, the present invention executes a "dynamic agenda" process where the agenda is refreshed during a learning session.

Thus, one aspect of the present invention relates to creating an agenda based on curriculum parameters that reflect student's ability. Based on such parameters, the present invention creates a markup language page that can be used for downloading and presenting content to the student based on a built agenda. The build agenda can comprise a number of distinct contents. For example, a curriculum agenda may include a number of prescribed lessons.

According to another aspect, a content authoring systme is provided. The system provides an interface for dynamic generation of web-based content, for example, an instructional lesson, h one exemplary embodiment, the present invention structures reading and math content into common "problem-type" and learning structures. Smart-templates support these educational structures, providing much more than just formatting like bold, underline, etc. which are common. Rather the smart templates also implement common lesson structures, e.g. examples, exercises, question types, such as multiple choice, and answers. This structure enables, for example, answers to be shown only to teachers, or additional examples given to students needing more help.

Another aspect of the present invention supports user synchronization and re- synchronization under various situations. For example, if one participant is logged-on before another participant arrives, the intervening collaborative activity is stored, e.g., 'cached'. Upon log-on, the other participant is synchronized by receiving the collaborative activity prior to log on. Additionally, if one participant is disconnected during a session, the generated collaborative activity is recorded locally for later transmission when the connection is re- established.

The collaborative system of the invention can also replay an already occurred session. During the replay, archived copies of a replayed session activity are retrieved and played back for auditing and other purposes. The replay process is asynchronous, performed at any time after the session is over.

Moreover, the collaborative system of the invention allows for overt or covert monitoring of a session in progress. The covert monitoring, i.e., "spying on a session, can be initiated by a monitoring participant at a client station and can occur in real-time. The monitoring participant is not noticed by other participants, during the monitored session, but is able to see all collaborative activity.

The participants can utilize wired and wireless devices that act as client workstations for one or more servers , which serve content, for example, instructional material via a learning center website. In yet another aspect, the present invention is based on a peer-to- peer model. Under this arrangement, one station acting as a master serves as a mini-server as well as a client station, thereby eliminating the need for large amounts of infrastructure to host a large number of sessions.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a web based system that incorporates various aspects of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a functional block diagram for implementation of the various aspects of the present invention.

FIG. 3 illustrates a block diagram for dynamic configuration of the collaborative system of the present invention. FIG. 4 is a flow chart for presenting a graphical interface.

FIG. 5 is an exemplary interface for one participant in the collaborative system of the invention.

FIG. 6 is an exemplary interface for another participant in the collaborative system of the present invention. FIG. 7 is another flow chart for creating a whiteboard in the collaborative system of the present invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The invention is directed to a computer-based collaborative system. As herein defined, collaboration means jointly working with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor. In an exemplary embodiment described in this specification, the intellectual endeavor involves assessment, management and instruction of students and creating learning environments comprising instructional materials. The present invention is directed to various aspects of a collaborative process, including setting up collaborative sessions amongst participants, presenting and a collaboration agenda, which according to one feature of the present invention is individualized to accommodate various types of participants, presenting dynamically created content and including collaborative components within the content to allow for creating an extremely flexible collaborative embodiments, which can be adaptively modified to meet various collaborative environments.

The invention also includes a multi-party collaboration system with dynamically assignable communication channels and a component architecture that enables the assembly and configuration of functional elements to produce a customized client application. The invention also includes a whiteboard component that allows users to create graphical annotations on top of variably sized pages of content. The invention also allows for the invocation of nearly any web-based content and curriculum application.

The exemplary system described herein is designed for use with a teacher participant and a number of student participants. However, the present invention is not limited to distant leaπήng applications. The teacher has a teacher workstation, and the students have student workstations. In an exemplary embodiment, the teacher workstation and the student workstations are networked computers, with a pen-based tablet input and display, through such methods as LAN, WAN, Dial-up, the Internet, virtual private networks, or other methods. The participants collaborate with each other from remote locations where the teacher can send selected instructional materials to the students. The teacher can see what each student is doing on that student's interface upon receipt of the image on the display of the teacher workstation. The Exemplary Collaboration Network

Referring to FIG. 1, one embodiment of a system that advantageously implements the various aspects of the present invention is shown. The system implemented over a communication network that provides wired or wireless links to client devices 12. The client devices 12 can be any workstation, such as a teacher workstation, a student workstation, etc. The present invention can utilize the standard Internet protocols for the various devices 12 that connect to one or more servers 10. The Internet 16 is a collection of interconnected (public and/or private) networks that are linked together by a set of standard protocols to fonn a global, distributed network.

Preferably, the system of FIG. 1 uses a client/server model that allows a user to use applications downloaded from remote servers 10 on a client device 12. This client/server model can be extended to any device capable of accessing a computer network. Under the present invention, client devices 12 can be any device that is used by anyone involved in a collaborative learning activity, including a teacher, a student, a guardian, a director, workers, or any other type of participant. Examples of wired devices include personal computers, mobile computers, notebooks, workstations, etc., which operate under any workstation operating system, e.g., Windows or Mac OS operating systems. Examples of the wireless devices include personal digital assistant (PDAs) that operate under an appropriately configured operating system, such as Palm OS or Windows CE. The devices 12 include a visual display for providing a visual interface with a user. However, the devices 12 are also capable of communicating information in any form, including audio and video form, or in any other form conceivable by one skilled in the art.

The server 10 communicates with the devices 12 through the Internet 16 and through network layer interfaces 19, 21, and 23. It is to be noted that the network used in connection with the present invention can use any one of open- or proprietary- network standards, hi a preferred embodiment, the system interconnections are based on an open system interconnection (OSI) model as proposed by the International Standards Organization (ISO). For wired devices, the communication standards can include the well-known Ethernet and TCP/IP protocols.

For wireless devices,^ one embodiment of the invention can use a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) or any other wireless standards that may be developed in the future. The WAP environment generally consists of the following elements: a wireless network 18, a WAP Proxy/Gateway 20, and a WAP server 22. Many different devices can operate as a WAP Client, including but not limited to mobile phones, Palm Pilots, and Personal Digital Assistants 18 (PDA's). The WAP Client typically connects to the WAP Proxy Gateway 20 via the wireless network 18. Various wireless networks that support defined protocols can be used in the present invention. Examples of such protocols include GSM, IS-136, IS-95, Bluetooth, iDEN, Flex, ReFlex, etc. The WAP Proxy/Gateway 20 operates as an interface between the wireless network 18 and the Internet 16. The Proxy's 20 primary functions are to provide domain name resolution, and serve to translate between the protocols and formats of WAP and their Internet counterparts. The WAP server 22 performs similar functions as Internet servers, in fact the same machine can serve as both servers. The WAP server 22 provides user accessible information through a WAP client. The WAP server 22 can also retrieve content and information located on other application servers and databases.

As shown in FIG. 1, the system of the invention includes one or more databases 24 that can be managed centrally or in a distributed manner. The databases, which are accessible by the servers 10, store various information related to collaborative activities in accordance with the present invention. As stated above, the user-devices 12 may include a personal computer, handheld communication devices, or any other devices capable of communicating with the database through the shown system.

As is known, the Internet 16 is a distributed network that supports the World Wide Web ("Web"). The Web refers generally to both (i) a distributed collection of inter-linked, user-viewable hypertext documents (commonly referred to as Web documents or Web pages) that are accessible via the Internet, and (ii) the user and server software components which provide user access to such documents using standardized Internet protocols. Currently, the primary standard protocol for allowing applications to locate and acquire Web documents is HTTP, and the Web pages are encoded using HTML. WML is the markup language used for by wireless application protocols, such as that specified by WAP. WAP is an XML-defined markup language similar to the HTML standard used on the Internet today. The WAP standard also includes a scripting language similar to JavaScript, but is optimized for WAP clients.

The terms "Web" and "World Wide Web" encompass future markup languages and transport protocols which may be used in place of (or in addition to) HTML, WML, XML, WAP and HTTP. The present invention can also operate on internal networks (Intranets) and networks utilizing different communication protocols. The Intranet model is typically used internally by companies to allow access to company information.

A Web Site is a computer system that serves informational content over the network using the standard protocols of the World Wide Web. Typically, a Web site corresponds to a particular Internet domain name and includes the content associated with a particular organization. As used herein, the term is generally intended to encompass both (i) the hardware/software server components that serve the informational content over the network, and (ii) the "backend" hardware/software components, including any non-standard or specialized components, that interact with the server components to perform services for Web site users.

The present invention supports numerous collaborative web sites, including a teacher site, a student site, and a guardian or parent member site. The teacher site is the launch pad to the learning environment that initiates timer countdowns for the learning sessions. The teacher site includes electronic student binder applications to which a teacher-only permission is applied for displaying information about the students in upcoming sessions. The teacher site also serves teacher schedule data with links to a scheduling database that stores scheduling data entered via a CRM screen.

The student site includes an age appropriate graphical screen that is displayed based on student attribute information, after a student logs into the site from a student workstation. Similar to the teacher site, the student site is a launch pad to a learning environment with a timer count down. The student site also has links for educational games that students can play, while waiting for the start of learning sessions. The parent site includes information on a student's grades, progress reports, appointments, schedules, attendance, etc.

The Exemplary Collaborative System

Referring to FIG. 2, a functional block diagram of a collaborative system in accordance with present invention is shown. The system of the invention includes student workstations 32 as well as teacher workstations 34. The servers 10 execute various application programs, including a user interface layer 30, a collaborative layer 36, a backend application layer 38, a database layer 40, an operations layer 42, an operation staff layer 44. The user interface layer 30 is responsible for presentation of content to the participants. The user interface layer 30 also communicates with a system delivery and prescription generation software within the backend layer 38, which performs assessment delivery and prescription generation functions within an exemplary learning environment, which is collaborative. The backend application layer also manages collaborative content delivery, scheduling and customer relationship management, incentive credit card processing and billing functions.

The database layer 40 manages information storage functions related to content management, including curriculum, website context, profiles and other knowledge base information. The database layer 40 is also a repository for operational data including the participants schedules, assessment results, and student curriculum. Data warehousing functions and statistical analysis of the assessment and learning data is also performed by the database layer 40. The database layer 40 also manages the knowledge base comprising, educational contact, technical support, and customer service information. The operations layer 42 provides for contact management workflow, including the curriculum development, editing and reviewing the information and press release development information. The operation layer 42 also manages marketing and CRM workflow. This layer also provides for lead/prospect follow-up functions technical support problems and product inquiries. The operation layer 42 interfaces with operational staff 44 that comprise of personnel, tech support, customer service and analyst information.

The collaboration 36 layer creates the collaborative sessions, including shared whiteboard and messaging functions that are required for engaging in sessions in accordance with the present invention. As described later in detail, the whiteboard is used to present content to the participants. Teachers and students work on the whiteboard, while communicating with each other, for example, using a Voice Over IP protocol. The collaboration layer 36 also has an API to enable custom collaborative components to be developed and integrated. One or more of the servers 10 execute the user interface layer 30 to interface with the workstations 32 and 34. As shown, the user interface layer 30 is capable of receiving input from multiple student workstations and multiple teacher workstations. Each workstation, which can be any one of the wired or wireless user devices described in connection with FIG. 1, acts as a client that can browse one or more web sites that offer collaborative environments. Each workstation also has certain functionality attributes that for example relate to workstations processing or content display capabilities. For example, while a personal computer can support various display resolutions, a small wireless device has a much smaller display capability. Each teacher workstation 34 and each student workstation 32 comprises a fully functional microcomputer or computer controlled display device.

h one embodiment, for example, each workstation 32, 34 is a personal computer capable of running any one of a plurality of programs, either supplied by the network provider or the server 10, or run from a hard disk, RAM or other storage device on the workstation 32, 34 itself. The system software and applications software are preferably fully compatible with commercially available computer systems, such as, for example Pentium based personal computer systems, to allow integrating third party software. Of course, the invention is not limited to any one kind of processor type, and other computer systems and processors may be employed. In another embodiment, the teacher and student workstations 32, 34 are merely displays and inputs, and all calculation takes place in the server 10.

As client stations, the workstations 32 and 34 also execute local or remote application programs that create a collaborative environment for engaging in instructional activities, for example, an application program running on a student workstation 32 creates a learning environment for the student through which he or she interacts with a teacher workstation 34. On the other hand, an application program running on the teacher workstation 34 allows a teacher to create a suitable learning environment for multiple students for holding multiple independent learning sessions concurrently.

Under the present invention, a workstation can be equipped with a keyboard, mouse, a pen tablet, a visual input device (e.g., a camera) and audio input device (e.g., a microphone) for carrying out audio/visual and text communication between a teacher workstation and a student workstation. As such, the workstations 32 and 34 support interface channels comprising input, output audio, video and other type of interactive channel, at separate locations. For example, the workstations may be located at a home, office, or any other designated location, where they are connected to each other via interactive channels over the Internet.

As stated above, the collaboration layer 36 is responsible for routing and collaboration services offered by the present invention. The system of the present invention utilizes well- known voice or video over Internet Protocols (IP) standards for maintaining audio and video interactive channels. Each interactive channel is used for holding an interactive session between two participants. The interactive session created under a collaborative environment supports a shared whiteboard, where the system reserves a shared display space. The shared display is used for conducting collaborative activities using various tools, such as interactive highlighters, drawing and graphical tools, etc. Also, the collaboration layer 36 can support chat, e-mail, and any other messaging features. FIG. 3 is a block diagram of an exemplary client-server environment that includes clients, e.g., student or teacher 301 and 303, and various servers, which implement the collaborative system of the present invention. A public server 305 is provided for the student, or any other type of participant, to access the system. The public server 305 commumcates with a database server 307 to obtain attributes about the participants and other program information. A content server 309 provides content to the client stations 301 and 303. For example, a teacher client can request content, e.g., answer keys, and other information from the content server 309. A collaboration server 311 facilitates multi-party collaboration. The collaboration server 311 contains the programs used for the participants to communicate and interact with each other in accordance with the present invention. A voice server 313 controls voice communication session. Voice switching amongst the participants is controlled by a voice channel control application running over the server 313. A curriculum server 315 provides instructional curriculum for a student to the teacher client 303. The content for that curriculum are obtained from the content server 309. A back office system 316 implements various operational features, including technical support, customer support, etc.

To access the system, a participant typically connects to a web site on a public web server as described later in detail. The participant is queried for login information to determine if the participant is authorized to use the system. If authorized, a software application or applet is download to the corresponding client. The application or applet may already be present on the participant's machine if the participant has previously accessed the system. If so, this downloading step maybe skipped. Depending on the type of participant, for example, teacher or student, the software application provides different functions. According to one feature, the application or applet can be customized to provide different functions for different participants, depending on participant attributes. These different functions are stored in a configuration file on the collaboration server 311, which is downloaded when a client station accesses the server 311. The application or applet reads the configuration file and sets up the application accordingly in a corresponding client. Accordingly, a user interface can be dynamically constructed and rendered based on the information in the configuration file. Thus, the application can be tailored to provide participant-specific functions.

Graphical User Interface

FIG. 4 shows a flowchart of the steps executed by the application program in preparing the user interface. The application loads a 'skin' file included in the configuration file, block 401. The skin file contains items relating to the graphical look-and-feel of the application, for example, colors, graphics, language, etc. The application then looks in the configuration file for GUI components that provide collaborative services, such as messaging, chat, whiteboard, etc, block 403. The application then dynamically creates the component, block 405. Other features, such as video can be included for broadband users. However, for dial-up users, audio may be used. The application initializes the component as defined in the skin file, block 407. This process is repeated for all the GUI components. After all GUI components are processed, the application displays the GUI to the user and control of the GUI is then transferred to the user, blocks 409, 411 and 413.

Collaboration Launch Web Sites

The invention can interface with nearly any web-based content or curriculum application. The web address of the curriculum management system is specified in the configuration files. The client application is constructed to allow for a moderator participant, e.g., a teacher, to view an 'agenda' for a session, which can be dynamic based on any combination of attributes relating to session participants (e.g. age, language, program of study, grades, etc.). When one participant, for example, the teacher, selects a content to view, the content is loaded into a whiteboard and all relevant participant clients on that communication channel, allowing the participants to scroll through the content and annotate as necessary. Preferably, a content and curriculum application in accordance with the present invention is web-based, either HTML or dynamic web page format such as ASP or JSP. h one embodiment, the content and curriculum application provides an HTML or dynamic web page format as an answer key for each lesson in the program. There is no restriction on the physical location of the content and curriculum files, as long as they are on a web server accessible to participants in the session.

An exemplary embodiment of a method for interfacing with web-based content and applications is now is described. First, the web address of the content and curriculum application is specified in the client configuration file. When the moderator, a user who selects what content can be viewed, enters the session, the URL for the content and curriculum application is loaded into the interface by the client application. Different content and curriculum applications (URLs) can be specified for different channels (e.g., one application can serve a group and another when there is one-on-one instruction). The moderator selects which piece of content should be worked on by clicking on a URL in an agenda pane. The URL is transmitted to all clients who are registered on the channel. Each client, upon receiving the message containing the URL, independently requests the content for display into the whiteboard. Preferably, the requests from the clients are standard HTTP GET requests for HTML files as if the HTML file had been requested from a +browser.

The Exemplary Collaborative Environment hi a collaborative learning session in accordance with the present invention, teachers are presented with an individualized prescription for each student that includes a collection of educational materials. The teacher selects an individual lesson from a corresponding prescription of lessons, which are displayed in the whiteboard of both the teacher and the student. Each teacher workstation can hold multiple separate and independent learning sessions with the student stations either individually or as groups. In this way, the teacher can create independent learning environments for multiple students. According to an exemplary embodiment, one or more non-active participants, e.g., students or group of students, can engage in separate independent learning sessions, while the teacher is engaged in at least one guided session with an active student or a group of students. In this way, the teacher can switch between the active and non-active students.

Typically, a collaborative session starts at a main session or "room," which is shared with all participants. For example, the teacher can bring the students in a learning session together by selecting "All" on a tab, which is shown in the exemplary interface of FIG. 5. When the teacher selects a student tab 501, all students are switched into their individual sessions until the "all" tab is selected again. In the main session, an audio channel opens amongst all of the participants. Thus, each student in the main session is able to communicate with the teacher and with each other, for example, using Voice Over IP. Additionally, in the main session, the whiteboard is shared between all students and the teacher. This allows all the students and the teacher to view the same material at the same time.

In addition to interacting with all of the students at the same time, the teacher is able to interact with each student on a one-to-one basis. During one-to-one interaction, the other students can be working on independent programs. Accordingly, the teacher is able to switch to an individual session provided for each student, where the interaction between student and teacher is private. These independent collaborative environments are created by selecting a student tab on the interface.

When a teacher is working with a student in an individual session, the teacher and student view various collaborative content on the same whiteboard. When the teacher leaves a particular individual session, for example, to work with another student, the student whiteboard remains complete with any teacher annotations. Thus, the student is able to continue working on a subject, while the teacher is working with the other student. The teacher can also view the active student's whiteboards in full-screen mode. Switching between students via corresponding student tabs results in switching between the corresponding whiteboards and channels. The whiteboard content in the main and individual sessions is maintained throughout the session. This allows the teacher to bring all students together and then return to individual sessions at any time, with the whiteboard annotations preserved.

Furthermore, when in an individual session, a two-way communication channel, e.g., voice, video, text, etc., is opened between the teacher and an active student. Other non-active students cannot communicate over the opened channel. When a teacher moves from one student's session to another student's session, that student's channel becomes active and the previous student's channel is deactivated. This may be achieved by setting non-active student volumes to zero. Also, a chat window, which has a text channel, displays interchanged messages between an active individual student and the teacher.

Accordingly, the teacher is able to provide students with individualized attention. However, if a non-active student wishes to communicate with a teacher that is working with an active student a messaging is provided for such student to contact the teacher. The signals available for the student to communicate with the teacher remotely are described in more detail below in connection with the Student Module. When one of these signals is activated, the teacher sees the student's name and a flashing icon in a corresponding student tab, regardless of which other student being worked with. The teacher can then switch to the requesting student's session to provide assistance. Participants access the system through different modules, depending on their collaborative function. For example, a student accesses the system through a student module and the teacher accesses the system through a teacher module. According to one feature, different functions and privileges are provided to the participants depending upon which module is used to access the system. The module can be created based on a downloaded application or applet from a website.

Teacher Module and Collaboration Components The teacher module provides an interface for the teacher to communicate with the students. FIG. 5 shows a teacher interface generated by the teacher module. The whiteboard interface on the teacher workstation includes a session prescription window that includes the prescribed subjects for the students. The teacher uses the prescription window to select the content displayed on the whiteboard of the teacher and student.

Among other tilings, the teacher module provides the following functionalities: view and control instructional content, adjust headphone and microphone volume, engage a student in educational dialog, hear and respond to student dialog, inspect, select and operate appropriate whiteboard annotation tools and interface controls, respond to a student query or request verbally or by annotating content, query or request student performance on instructional content, respond to a request for teacher attention, highlight specific areas in the displayed content, create demonstrative text or graphic content on the fly, note student responses, answers and session comments, and reward student effort and progress with tokens.

As stated above, the "All" tab enables the teacher to bring all students together in the main session for transition time, or break students out into their respective tutoring areas. Upon entering the session, the teacher and students are in a shared session denoted by an "All" tab. Non-active students are isolated in individual session when the teacher selects a student tab that allows for an active student to collaborate with the teacher.

The teacher is able to manage a number of students, e.g., three students, simultaneously in a current session. Therefore, beneath the student tabs in FIG. 5 is a button marked "View" Selecting this button allows the teacher to view the whiteboard and session prescription of one student, while maintaining an audio connection with another student. Student tabs are live throughout, allowing the teacher to switch back to the connected student or to switch directly to other students channels.

Thus, selecting the "View" tab displays the whiteboard and curriculum panels of a selected student on the teacher's whiteboard. The chamiel connection of the current student is also maintained. The "All" and "View" tabs remain live so that the teacher can return to the original student and switch to or "View" any student at any time. The current student and current view in the teacher interface are indicated by maintaining the selected state of the tab and view buttons. A "Finish" button terminates both the teacher's session as well as all connected students. Upon activation of this button, both student and teacher are closed, with the students returning to the student pages and the teacher returning to the teacher page. The activation of the "Finish" button terminates all session threads and destroys the session on the collaboration server 311. Then, the session records are updated and saved on the database and the students and teacher are redirected to their personal pages.

According to other features, when a teacher selects a student tab and enters a student breakout session, a timer is initiated on the tabs for the other students in the session. On the tab of each non-active student, i.e., a student not collaborating with the teacher, a timer tracks the time that the teacher has been away from that student. This timer is set to provide an indication to the teacher after a certain period, to ensure students are not left alone for more than a specific period of time.

Academic counselors may include notes regarding the specific instructional or personal needs of the students. These notes are read from the database and passed to the teacher module, where they are displayed individually for each student and are designed to increase the ability of the teacher to respond personally to each student.

Upon completion or mastery of a specific learning objective, the teacher may choose to select a button on the teacher interface to trigger the capture and storage in the database of an image that consists of the current piece of instructional content plus all of the teacher and student amiotations that have been over-layed on the whiteboard. This image is then moved to a web server. A link to the content from the students' parent web site is created to allow the parent to track the student's work and progress through the program.

Student Module and Collaboration Components

The student module generates the student workbook and allows the student to receive educational material sent by the teacher. FIG. 6 shows a student interface created by the student module. The module also allows the student to enter answers via the student workstation. In an exemplary embodiment, the workstation is a pen-based computer. Thus, the student module incorporates software for supporting pen-based interfaces or any other suitable interface. The pen-based technology of the student workstation allows the student module software to be run without a keyboard or mouse.

The student module is responsible for displaying the whiteboard on the student workstations. The student module allows handwriting to be captured from the student as the student writes. The student module sends the writing or other input to the teacher module for review. The student module also has the capability of running external software applications, when directed by the teacher module. Also, the student module can reserve a section of the user interface for conducting video conferencing with the teacher and other students.

Among other things, the student module allows the student to view and scroll through instructional content and material, adjust headphone and microphone volume, engage the teacher in educational dialog, and select appropriate whiteboard annotation tools and interface controls. The student module also allows the student to respond to the teacher's query or request verbally or by annotating content. Moreover, the student module allows the student to request teacher's comment on instructional content, request teacher attention, highlight specific areas in the displayed content, and create demonstrative text or graphic content dynamically.

As shown in FIG. 6, the student control panel area includes icons that enable a student to communicate with the teacher, even when the teacher is not currently working with the student. In the embodiment shown, the following icons and functionalities are provided:

1. "Raise Hand" - indicates that the student needs instructional or technical help to continue.

2. "I'm Finished" - indicates that a student is finished with their currently assigned work but doesn't have an urgent concern.

3. "Yes/No Buttons" - For questions that require a "yes" or "no" answer the student may choose to use the buttons in their control panel in addition to or instead of talking. These buttons are for use when the teacher is active with the student.

When the teacher is active with the student, the "Raise Hand" and "I'm Finished" icons are visibly disabled. When the teacher is not active with a student, the "Yes/No" buttons are visibly disabled. For non-active students, if they should raise their hand, or otherwise indicate a need for assistance through the student control panel, the corresponding icon is displayed prominently in that student's tab in the teacher interface. For active students, if a "yes" or "no" response is given, the student's tab is updated with the corresponding icon (for example, a green "Y" for yes, a red "N" for no). If the teacher then clicks on the tab again the marker is cleared.

When a student uses the "Raise Hand" or "I'm Finished" buttons to request the teacher's attention, an automated conversational chat function is initiated which displays a message for the student in the chat panel of the student's module. The content of the message is linked to the learning objectives that the student is currently working on, and the student is prompted to review some information on the current lesson, answer some additional related questions or be asked to complete a short exercise related to the learning objectives. Thus, a conversational style educational interaction is provided for the student in the time that is needed for the teacher to finish up with another student and to respond the student's request for help.

Asynchronous interactive educational content is included for individual student use and practice, who may also require some synchronous interaction with the teacher. In this case, one feature of the present invention is to allow interactive content with graphical drag and drop, sound or basic dynamic numerical input and animated graphic functionality to be delivered to a non-active student. This content is functional and can be manipulated by the student alone, until the teacher starts interaction with the student again. At that time, the current state of the interactive content is transmitted to the teacher module. The teacher module loads the content on the teacher workstation, where the whiteboard content is updated to reflect the state of the current work that the student has completed. This feature provides a bridge to allow independent interactive lessons to be updated or synchronized via the network, thus providing the ability for teachers to synchronously interact and instruct students using asynchronous locally executing interactive content.

FIG. 5 and FIG. 6 show the teacher and student interface component being implemented using a tab structure. However, any other suitable interface structure may be implemented by student and teacher modules. The tab structure enables the teacher to switch between students during the tutoring session, as described above. The tabs are also used to communicate to the teacher about the status of a student. For example, student names are "enabled" when the student has joined the session. This may be indicated by the text color of the student's name. A student name is disabled by another color, if the student is not there or has dropped off or is disconnected. Additionally, if a student drops off, an audio signal sounds and a pop up box display in the teacher workstation indicates the drop off. The current student tab remains selected to identify which student is currently being tutored.

Applet Based Whiteboard

The collaborative whiteboard is used to display content to the participants. The whiteboard provides each teacher or student, with tools and/or functionality in order to maximize the collaborative environment. The white board includes annotation components for annotation of the content displayed on the whiteboard. Thus, the teacher can add comments for the student to view, and the student can do the same. A freeform drawing tool is provided to allow a user to interact with the system. The freeform drawing tool allows users to draw in a free hand style using their pointing device, such as a mouse or the pen. The display refreshes without a noticeable delay on remote stations when the drawing is completed, as indicated for example by the release of a mouse. The freeform drawing tool may be used as a pencil and a transparent marker may be used for highlighting. The whiteboard also includes components that provide the ability to erase or clear annotations. An erasing tool allows erasing any lines, text, shapes, or other objects created as part of the collaboration on the whiteboard. However, non-annotated background or instructional material may not be erased from the whiteboard. In one embodiment, erasing may be accomplished by clicking on the eraser tool and then clicking on a shape to erase the entire shape.

Depending on the user, the erasing tool can have different functions enabled. For example, the teachers may be able to erase either their own marks or student marks. The students are only able to erase their own marks, but not those of the teacher. A "Clear" button can be provided that allows the user to clear the entire whiteboard of annotated material.

As part of the whiteboard tool bar on both the teacher and student workstations, a drop-down list of motivational stickers which can be picked up and placed onto the whiteboard is viewable by the teacher and student. The stickers are used as encouragement when a student has met or succeeded in his or her work. Stickers could be stars or any other motivational shapes.

The whiteboard also supports the ability to annotate with typed text. The user clicks on a text tool and then click anywhere on the whiteboard where text is to be inserted. When the text tool is selected, the cursor changes into a text insertion bar. The user then types in the desired text. When the user is finished typing, the resulting text is immediately displayed on local and remote stations.

A pointer tool is used to direct student's attention to an area on the screen. The pointer moves and does not leave a mark where it was previously placed. The student sees the pointer as soon as the teacher places it in the desired spot on the screen. The pointer is limited to the whiteboard area. This feature may be used for training, for example to indicate where a specific tool is located in the user interface.

To further help the teacher direct the student's attention to particular information, a "Sync" button is provided that repositions the student whiteboard to match the location in the content scrolled to by the teacher. This allows the teacher to orient the student content window to a position determined by the teacher. Also, the teacher can switch from a content background to a blank sheet background for use in instruction outside of the constraints of the current whiteboard background. The teacher is also able to switch back to the content being worked, including annotations, without any loss. This feature is implemented as additional white space at the end of each content page.

FIG. 7 shows a flow chart for creating the whiteboard on a client station. Initially, content is selected and pushed to the whiteboard, block 701. The content is usually stored on the database 24 shown in FIG 1, which is accessible by any server 10. In this example, HTML content provided from a web address is shown on the whiteboard, block 701. The whiteboard then loads the HTML content from the web address, block 703. The whiteboard translates the HTML content so that it appears at the position of the whiteboard dictated by the whiteboard's scrollbars, block 705. The whiteboard then renders the translated HTML content, block 707. In some instances, annotation to the content may have been made, for example, using the free form tool described above. The whiteboard determines if there are any amiotations to render, block 709. If so, the whiteboard translates the annotation so that it appears at the position dictated by the whiteboard's scrollbars, block 711. The whiteboard determines if the annotation is visible, block 713. If so, the annotation is drawn over the HTML content, block 715. When there are no more annotations to draw, the operation is finished, block 717. Dynamically Created Collaborative Agenda

Most prior art collaborative tools implement an "agenda-building" approach where content for a session is pre-loaded, h the present invention, the student is assessed and a set of learning objectives is established. By applying a set of rules, the objectives and appropriate content components for a learning session is generated dynamically. Moreover, based on the student's previous progress or lack thereof during a session, the presented content can be changed accordingly. If additional content is needed, the present invention executes a "dynamic agenda" process where the agenda is refreshed during a learning session.

The present invention builds an agenda via an automated external process. One feature of the present invention provides the dynamically created agenda into a learning environment. The created agendas are stored on the curriculum server 36 that is accessible during a given session.

Preferably, the agenda appears as an HTML document in a fixed area of the teacher's environment. Clicking on an agenda item automatically loads it into the whiteboard or any other suitable display interface. Clicking on an agenda item also automatically loads an answer key into a fixed window in the teacher station. Separate agendas can be built for each student in the session. However, only the agenda relevant to a given student is downloaded. Each agenda item has a "Score" box to indicate what grade the student received on the material, which is passed back to a progress-reporting back-end system as a curriculum parameter. The agenda is refreshed if the teacher runs out of content or to reflect progress updates.

In the teacher interface shown in FIG. 5, the session agenda is presented in the prescription window. This window displays an HTML page that is generated uniquely for each student and learning session, based on curriculum parameters that relate to student's performance in meeting learning objectives. For each content item in the prescription, there is a link to load the content into the whiteboard and another link to load the answer key and the grading forms. After verifying that the content loaded is appropriate for the current situation, the teacher then activates the link to load the answer key / grade page.

As stated above, the present invention supports the viewing, by the teacher, of the answer key. The answer key contains answers as well as an opportunity to enter scores. The curriculum application can then record scores when the lesson is complete. This information can be used as curriculum parameters to determine the next relevant content or agenda.

Thus, one aspect of the present invention relates to creating an agenda based on curriculum parameters that reflect student's ability. Based on such parameters, the present invention creates a markup language page that can be used for downloading and presenting content to the student.

The teacher has the corresponding answer key for the content loaded into the agenda panel, replacing the agenda. The moderator may score the content in the agenda panel, if provided for by the content and curriculum application. Upon returning to the agenda panel, the previous lesson score can be reflected and a new agenda can be displayed taking into account scores and other participant attributes that the content and curriculum application supports. Dynamic Generation of Web-based Content

According to another aspect, a content authoring systme is provided. The system provides an interface for dynamic generation of web-based content, for example, an instructional lesson, h one exemplary embodiment, the present invention structures reading and math content into common "problem-type" and learning structures. Smart-templates support these educational structures, providing much more than just formatting like bold, underline, etc. which are common. Rather the smart templates also implement common lesson structures, e.g. examples, exercises, question types, such as multiple choice, and answers. This structure enables, for example, answers to be shown only to teachers, or additional examples given to students needing more help.

A large library of content is available in the content server 309 (shown in FIG. 3), including XML formatted data content. The content may include both formatted text (italics, underline, etc. are part of the teaching material) as well as supporting graphics and images. In addition to dynamically generating content, the present invention can use flat HTML files. If XML is used, the XML content can be rendered into HTML and stored as flat files on the server.

Many types of content can be used in connection with the system. An academic reading piece of content, for example, could contain a multi-paragraph reading followed by a series of questions. The questions might be asking what the main idea of the reading was, and offer several multi-choice possibilities. The student can circle, with the freeform tool, which choice they think is correct. Another reading question might request the student to underline the cause and circle the effect in a given sentence. Again, the student can use the free-form tool to do the circling and underlining and the teacher may mark the answer either correct or incorrect again with the freeform drawing tool. A math question may contain a graphic of an x- y- axis and request the student to draw a line generated by a given equation. The student will use the drawing tool to draw in the line.

As noted before, content can either be in XML or HTML format. The format used is compatible with the whiteboard (or other application) to allow the teacher and student to each independently annotate on top of the content. Preferably, the format allows the ability to:

1. Leverage XML tagged content either as XML, HTML, or other format

2. Minimize download time

3. Provide independently annotate a freeform tool

4. Provide acceptable performance over slow modem speeds

The Whiteboard may act as a "mini-browser" and have mark up language parsing capabilities, hi one exemplary embodiment, a Java based HTML component is used to render basic HTML content.

Collaborative Application Program Interface According to one feature, the present invention dynamically constructs a collaborative environment using an Application Programming Interface (API). The API dynamically instantiates various collaborative components. The API also abstracts messaging between the collaborative components of one client and another client. The API allows for dynamic inclusion of the collaborative components based on parameters that are related to content and user interface. The parameters are stored in various configuration files, which may or may not include user, application and communication profiles. The present invention reads the configuration information to dynamically construct the user and content environment for collaboration amongst participants.

In the system of the present invention, certain other functions are also performed programmatically through APIs or other integration capability. These include, but are not limited to:

• Scheduling of sessions

• Entering participant reference data • Attaching participants to sessions

• Session log on ids, room #s,etc.

• Session log-in

• Session log-out

• Agenda-building

• Ability to specify which page should be loaded once session is over

Further, the system of the invention implements session management capability in the collaboration server. The session management process links teachers and students via a unique session id making the session id available thru an external interface. The ability to "resume" a session if one or more members of the session get disconnected is also executed with the session management process. The session management process also logs all activity by session and can attach agendas to the session dynamically.

Communication Channel Configuration

As discussed above, the teacher has the ability to assign students to individual rooms or sessions, where the teacher/student communication is not being seen by other students. When sessions start, ideally all students are present in a shared conference. Then, students are moved to individual areas while tutoring takes place. At the end of the session, students are reunited for transition time. The teacher selecting between the main room and the individual rooms automatically manages the conference to isolate the collaborations and to switch between student whiteboards and chat rooms. Therefore, one feature of the present invention relates to dynamically assignable collaboration communication channels. Because the tutoring sessions are highly interactive between teacher and student, 2-way Voice Over IP is preferred over streaming 1-way which is acceptable for presentation environments. According to another feature, the collaboration server 311 executes a software that dynamically controls which participants can participate in which sessions. The rules for participating in collaborative sessions can be configurable external to the collaboration servers' operation. If a permission checking software grants a participant permission to enter the session, the collaboration server proceeds with creating the necessary channels for the session. If the user is denied permission, the application exits. Typically, a IP/TCP socket is created between the user machine and the collaboration server for messaging.

Preferably, the present invention also includes a feature for allowing a participant to reconnect to a session if the participant is unintentionally or otherwise disconnected from the session. Thus, when the participant is granted permission, the collaboration server 311 proceeds with initializing the session, which may or may not already exist. During initialization of the session, the collaboration server checks to see if the session is present in memory. If the session is not present in memory, the collaboration server attempts to restore it from disk. If the server cannot restore the session from disk, the server creates a new session.

Once the session is created or restored, the collaboration server connects the user to the communication channel(s) for receiving messages. The configuration file contains which channels of communication are being requested. There are a number of different possible setups for the communication channels. For example assume three participants are in the session: userl, user2, and user3. Userl could request to be connected directly to user2 and user3 in separate channels which would be (userl, user2) and (userl, user3) or that they have a group channel (userl, user2, user3) or any other combination. The different set-ups allow for the creation of the individual sessions where communication is on a one-to-one basis, hi a group setting, all participants can communicate with each other. The participants are then connected to the communication channels they are requesting in the session that they are in and begin receiving messages on those channels. hi conjunction with connection to the communication channels, connection to a voice sever occurs to provide voice over IP. Teachers and students are initially grouped in a common room and switching between the different rooms is controlled by the application. A synchronization feature is also provided by the collaboration server 311. When a user is connected to a session, the user is synchronized with the session they are in. Synchronization ensure all participants in the session have all the information exchanged during the session. For example, activity may have occurred in the session before the participant logged in or while they were disconnected. If so, the participant is synchronized by being sent all the messages that have occurred on channels they are registered for. Accordingly, during synchronization, the collaboration server sends messages to the participants that have occurred before they arrived or while they were away. For example, if a chat message is sent from userl to user2 while user2 is disconnected, user2 will receive the message when they reconnect. A client station can also send to the collaboration server any messages that may have been created on the station while disconnected. Thus, synchronization preferably goes both ways.

After the client station is logged into the system and connected to a session, the client application begins sending messages to the collaboration server. These message include video, voice, wliiteboard and chat messages. The collaboration servers receive the messages and forwards them to registered users on the chamiel. If a channel for the message has not been created, the collaboration server proceeds to create the channel. The collaboration server then records the message and checks for users listening to the channel. When a listener to the channel is located, the message is delivered to that listener. If there are more listeners, they are identified and the message is pushed to those listeners. When there are no more listeners to the channel, the server enters a wait state, looking for more messages and the process repeats.

Preferably, for both quality control and security reasons all session activity is recorded on a server. Also, VOIP, chat and whiteboard activity can be fully or partially recorded. Individually recorded VOIP, chat and whiteboard are linked by a "session id" to facilitate linking them back together. Preferably, the recording should be as compressed as possible to minimize space requirements. Also, the recording of all pieces is viewable under standard tools (Media Player, notepad, etc). Of course, any properly formatted player may be used.

Using the recording feature, a session can be replayed. Also, a third-party can view a session already in progress. Replay can be accessed via archived copy of the session. A third-party view can take place as the session is in progress.

Accordingly, another aspect of the present invention supports user synchronization and re-synchronization under various situations. For example, if one participant is logged-on before another participant arrives, the intervening collaborative activity is stored, e.g., 'cached'. Upon log-on, the other participant is synchronized by receiving the collaborative activity prior to log on. Additionally, if one participant is disconnected during a session, the generated collaborative activity is recorded locally for later transmission when the connection is re-established.

The collaborative system of the invention can also replay an already occurred session. During the replay, archived copies of a replayed session activity are retrieved and played back for auditing and other purposes. The replay process is asynchronous, performed at any time after the session is over. Operations and support

Covert or covert monitoring of a session in progress are also implemented. The covert monitoring, i.e., "spying on a session, can be initiated by a monitoring participant at a client station and can occur in real-time. The monitoring participant is not noticed by other participants, during the monitored session, but is able to see all collaborative activity.

A second chat system outside of the student and teacher modules is accessed from the student and teacher web sites in the event of a technical or other system issue. This is a redundant chat chamiel that is monitored by customer and technical support representatives that are able to communicate directly with individual students and teachers to provide them with technical or operational support.

A support knowledgebase, accessible from the student, teacher and parent sites, provides automated support for technical issues and questions. Participants may type a question and be directed to web content that most closely addresses the question.

A classroom test program accessible from student, teacher and parent sites tests the installation and configuration of the software on the workstations. This automated system guides the user through a series of steps that are individually marked as either passed or failed. The test result is stored in the database and can be accessed to address user problems. When a user is able to successfully complete the test, a corresponding status is changed in the database and the user is automatically activated in the instruction schedule. Instruction schedules for teachers and students are stored in the database.

A workstation configuration information program detects software and hardware configuration information and uploads that information into the database and links it to a record of Classroom tests on users stations. After a user is asked to identify his or her workstation, the information is gathered and input into the database. The user is then asked to run the Classroom test on the identified workstation. As a result, configuration and installation information for each user identified in the system can be recorded and accessed.

A learning environment monitor program reads information from the collaboration system server component and from the database, to display necessary information for technical support or educational support personnel. The collaboration server is queried to determine the connected users and their IP address. Session ID, names and room assignments are retrieved from the databse and displayed by session and user. Links are then created dynamically to allow users to launch monitor programs, for example, to monitor audio or classroom, or to trigger a program to test their network connection. A server environment and version switch mechanism switches the users between multiple collaboration server environments for testing or operations purposes. This switch mechanism is transparent to the end user and may be executed by non-technical users through a simple web based interface. On the back end, website launch pages used to launching the sessions are dynamically re-configured to launch sessions from a different collaboration system server group. A version switch allows multiple software versions of the collaboration system to be deployed and switch in the same fashion as described above.

Claims

Claims:
1. A collaborative system having collaborative and interface components,
comprising:
a client station that reads a downloaded configuration file from a server;
an application program in the client station that reads one or more parameters in the configuration file to dynamically construct a collaborative environment, wherein the one or more parameters relate to at least one of a user's actions, collaborative content, and communication capabilities within the collaborative system.
2. A collaborative system, comprising:
one or more client stations that provide interaction amongst a plurality of participants within a collaborative environment; and
an application programming interface that specifies interactive components to be used in the collaborative environment.
3. A collaborative system having collaborative and interface components, comprising:
a plurality of client stations that execute application files downloaded from a server, the application files interpreting the configuration files that specify corresponding privileges of each of the plurality of client stations within the collaborative system.
4. A collaborative system having collaborative and interface components, comprising:
a plurality of client stations that execute application files downloaded from a server, the application files including corresponding configuration files that specify which one of the plurality of client stations can communicate directly with each other and which one of the client stations can engage in shared communication within the collaborative system.
PCT/US2002/032742 2001-10-12 2002-10-15 A dynamically configurable collaboration system and method WO2003041033A1 (en)

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US7908178B2 (en) 2004-05-04 2011-03-15 Paul Nykamp Methods for interactive and synchronous displaying session
US8069087B2 (en) 2004-05-04 2011-11-29 Paul Nykamp Methods for interactive and synchronous display session
US8311894B2 (en) 2004-05-04 2012-11-13 Reliable Tack Acquisitions Llc Method and apparatus for interactive and synchronous display session
WO2007079587A1 (en) * 2006-01-13 2007-07-19 Diginiche Inc. System and method for collaborative information display and markup
US8762856B2 (en) 2006-01-13 2014-06-24 Reliable Tack Acquisitions Llc System and method for collaborative information display and markup
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GB2452432B (en) * 2006-10-10 2009-09-02 Promethean Ltd Operating system and application pointing devices for interactive display
GB2456247B (en) * 2006-10-10 2009-12-09 Promethean Ltd Interactive display system with master/slave pointing devices
GB2443010B (en) * 2006-10-10 2009-09-02 Promethean Technologies Group Interactive display system
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GB2456247A (en) * 2006-10-10 2009-07-15 Promethean Ltd Interactive display system using multiple pointing devices
US8054301B2 (en) 2006-10-10 2011-11-08 Promethean Ltd. Dual pen system
GB2452432A (en) * 2006-10-10 2009-03-04 Promethean Ltd Interactive display system using multiple pointing devices
GB2443010A (en) * 2006-10-10 2008-04-23 Promethean Technologies Group An interactive display system
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US8751580B2 (en) 2008-01-15 2014-06-10 Thomas Owen Real-time communication and information collaboration system
WO2009089585A1 (en) * 2008-01-15 2009-07-23 Owen Thomas Real-time communication and information collaboration system
WO2011059700A1 (en) * 2009-10-29 2011-05-19 Alcatel-Lucent Usa Inc. Network-based collaborated telestration on video, images or other shared visual content
US20110107238A1 (en) * 2009-10-29 2011-05-05 Dong Liu Network-Based Collaborated Telestration on Video, Images or Other Shared Visual Content
US9900845B2 (en) 2014-09-23 2018-02-20 At&T Intellectual Property I, L.P. Battery saving with radio control based on cellular condition data

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EP1449183A4 (en) 2007-09-26 application
CA2463437A1 (en) 2003-05-15 application

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