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Some developments in computer mediated communications

Roger Atkinson
Acting Director of External Studies
Murdoch University


The telephone system and automatic tellers are ubiquitous and familiar examples of how we use communications between computers in an everyday, routine manner, often without realising or caring that computers are conducting or mediating our activities. Your telephone calls are controlled by a computer at your exchange communicating with computers at other exchanges along the path of your call. When you use an automatic teller, you are using a computer which communicates with the bank's computers elsewhere to control your transactions. Now these are examples in which the user can achieve proficiency quite easily, without requiring any knowledge at all about the details of communications between computers, which is the reason why they are relevant examples for the purposes of this paper.

This paper examines a set of applications of data communications, which are often described by the generic term "computer mediated communications" (Mason and Kaye, 1989). The first perspective to be described is the user's view of the interface to the desired services, keeping in mind the functional simplicity of the interfaces or environments we encounter as users of automatic tellers and telephones. However, we do have to go further and look at some of the underlying details of technologies, organisation and management for computer mediated communications, for two reasons. Firstly, the attainment of a user friendly interface for the complex set of services available in computer mediated communications for education and training is somewhat more difficult than learning how to use the very simple keypads and commands for operating telephones and automatic tellers. Secondly, decisions about organising and managing computer mediated communications for education and training are often made in the context of insufficient knowledge of network services and networks, and how these areas interact with the users and their purposes.

Before beginning, a note the approach in the first section, which describes my own "environment" for everyday, routine use of computer mediated communications. The platform in front of me is usually the Macintosh LC at my personal desk, but sometimes it is another type of Apple computer, or a DOS or Windows personal computer. Although for convenience the examples I cite are all derived from my Mac LC, software which delivers comparable easy to use interfaces is available now, or is becoming available, for DOS and Windows platforms. The main point is that the interface, regardless of whether it is delivered on an Apple, DOS or Windows desktop can be, and should be, a very much easier to use interface than has been the case in the past.

Subsequent sections build upon this main point. What are the characteristics of network services and networks which enable a user friendly interface? How are these characteristics related to education and training purposes? How do we derive the best advantages from computer mediated communications? These are important questions at the present time, in view of the impetus created by the rapid expansion of AARNet (the Australian and Academic Research Network) (AARNet, 1992; AVCC, 1992; Campus, 1991), and some Federal Government initiatives to obtain greater use of this medium for education and training purposes (DEET, 1992a; DEET, 1992b; DPIE, 1992).

Examples of interfaces for computer mediated communications

The first set of examples illustrates use of Eudora, an email handling utility. Figure 1 shows a portion of the screen display obtained when I use Eudora's pull down menu to "Check Mail". The partially obscured "In" window is my email "in box", listing the sender, date, time and subject for each item of previously arrived email, arranged in chronological order. Figure 2 shows how Eudora announces the arrival of new mail. The rooster crows in a realistic way (as if email is something to crow about, but that feature is optional). Underneath the Eudora windows, there are various others open, reflecting some recent task, or expected use. This Mac LC is running under System 7, which permits very easy switching between different applications which may be in memory. For example, I often copy and paste between Word 4 word processing documents, Eudora documents, and others.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Eudora's pull down menu to "Check Mail".

Reading an email message from my in box is initiated by a double click on the mouse after selecting the item I want. Mouse and keyboard actions are very similar to those required for operating other common applications, such as Microsoft Word which is our in house word processor. This is one of the most important aspects of user friendliness. In the case of Eudora, I think that nobody in the External Studies Unit has bothered about studying the manual, because using it is so similar to using Word, with which all have had much experience. Some even feel that if you have to the use a manual, the software in question is insufficiently intuitive and therefore it should be discarded, and a better package obtained for that function.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Eudora announces the arrival of new mail.

The message menu illustrated by Figure 3 contains the kinds of capabilities you would expect to find on the basis of your experience with conventional mail. New message, reply, forward and redirect are self explanatory, intuitive terms which when selected bring up the appropriate window. In the case of reply and forward, the email message in question is quoted in full, with each line prefaced by the ">" symbol to signify quotation.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Eudora's pull down menu for sending a new message.

Your correspondent's text can be edited, by deleting or modifying the quoted lines, and adding your own text as you wish, either by typing it in or by copy and paste from some other source such as a your word processor files. The windows for each function provide simple word processing capabilities, including insert, delete, line wrap and so on. It is not necessary to put in carriage returns at the end of each line, because Eudora does that automatically when you click the send button in an outgoing message window.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Eudora's "Nickname" facility for email to a group.

The "New Message To" function being being selected in Figure 3 is to "ESU_Academic", which is the label or "Nickname" I use for all of the Unit's academic staff. Their email addresses appear in the right hand box of the nicknames window shown in Figure 4. This facility provides an easy way to send the same email message to all members of a defined group. Note that whilst the nicknames are plain English, the corresponding sets of addresses are AARNet addresses, a significant point discussed further in this paper.

The second set of examples illustrate NewsWatcher, a utility for reading Internet News. Figure 5 is the status window displayed whilst NewsWatcher is fetching the subject and author headings for a selected newsgroup, in this case "aus.mac". As I have an Ethernet connection to Murdoch University's network news host, transfers of headers and text is relatively rapid.

Figure 5

Figure 5. NewsWatcher fetching aus.mac from Murdoch University's news host.

The NewsWatcher group window behind the status window in Figure 5 shows most of the newsgroups in my personal group file. The groups aus.aarnet and aus.comms are essential reading several times per week in order to keep up to date in those fast developing topics. News is a highly interactive medium, but it is relatively difficult to use unless one has a user friendly utility such as NewsWatcher to handle the interactions with a news host, facilitate posting of items, and keep a record of one's reading.

Figure 6

Figure 6. Portion of NewsWatcher pull down menu for News functions.

The subjects and authors for 11 unread items in aus.mac fetched by the action shown in Figure 5 revealed none I wished to read. Figure 6 shows the pull down menu for News functions, in this case I marked all aus.mac items as "read". Murdoch's Netnews host, a Unix workstation donated by Digital Equipment Corporation, receives about 1600 newsgroups, amounting to a flow of some 30 to 40 megabytes per week, with automatic management of the discarding of items after a few weeks of storage. One has to be selective in reading and contributing.

Figure 7

Figure 7. Item on telecentres posted by the author to newsgroup aus.education.

NewsWatcher is very easy to use for posting an article to a newsgroup (Post New Article in the menu shown in Figure 6). It contains within it a simple word processor, similar in quality to Eudora's capability. However, the item in Figure 7 was created by copy and paste from an existing Microsoft Word file on the subject of telecentres, which is discussed again later in this paper. Comments upon a news item are also easily done, as illustrated in Figure 8, which contains some comments upon Telecom's Keylink service, and how email can be routed between Keylink and AARNet by means of the X400 gateway developed by George Michaelson and others at the University of Queensland.

The third set of examples illustrate Fetch, a utility for facilitating the use of the file transfer protocol or "ftp", which is part of the TCP/IP set of protocols (defined later in this paper). Figure 9 shows Fetch in action. I needed a copy of the file ISDN_numbers.txt, which Betty Walsh maintains as part of her External Studies Unit responsibilities in video conferencing operations. This file gives ISDN numbers, contact persons, phone and fax numbers, and email addresses for all or nearly all educational video conferencing sites in Australia. The Fetch window shows the file, which resides on the host csuvax1.murdoch.edu.au, selected for download to my Mac LC by the technique known as "anonymous ftp", which is accessible to any user of AARNet .

The window behind the Fetch window in Figure 9 shows my csuvax1 status, whilst in the top right hand corner appears the "Send" button for a Eudora message reply window, which I had open in order to paste ISDN_numbers.txt into it. The Eudora reply was to help a correspondent at Charles Sturt University Riverina Campus who had encountered some difficulty in obtaining it by ftp. Figure 9 may seem like a jungle, with seven windows open, but it is not a problem for users with basic experience, such as that acquired through using any of the common word processors for Macintosh.

Figure 8

Figure 8. Item on AARNet - Keylink gateway posted by the author to aus.comms.

Figure 9

Figure 9. Fetch in use to obtain a file by anonymous ftp.

Figure 10 shows Fetch in use to upload a file to csuvax1, into the same directory as shown in Figure 9. However, in order to write a file to that directory, I had to be logged into the host under my own name and password. Anonymous users have read only status. In Figure 10, the usual Macintosh window for selection of a file for Fetch's "Put File..." command is shown. The same type of window is used by Word, Eudora and many other applications. Fetch does an automatic selection of file type, as indicated by "Automatic" on in Figure 9. With the appropriate tools at the desktop, electronic publication is very easy indeed. The file selected in Figure 10 is one of three Reserve Fund Project reports made available for anonymous ftp retrieval by any user of AARNet (Atkinson, 1992a; 1992b; 1992c).

Figure 10

Figure 10. Using Fetch to send a file to a public directory on a network host.

The account above is not intended to be a full description of the user's view of Eudora, NewsWatcher and Fetch. Its purpose is to indicate that user friendly, intuitive interfaces are available now for the basic services in computer mediated communications. Eudora, NewsWatcher and Fetch are useable with routines which differ very little from the commonplace routines a user develops for word processing and other everyday tasks on a personal computer. This brings us closer to the functional simplicity of the interfaces we encounter in the cases of the automatic tellers and the telephone cited in the introduction.

However, there is a catch to all of this. The user's access to very friendly and easy to use interfaces is very dependent upon a great deal of work in organisation and implementation of an infrastructure which makes it possible. Table 1 summarises the position of Eudora, NewsWatcher, Fetch and some other utilities by categorising them as clients to a server or host with specific protocols implemented. The remainder of this paper is devoted to examining these and some other aspects of network services and networks which are essential for creating ease of use at the desktop.

Before moving on to the wider topics, there is one further great point about Eudora, NewsWatcher, Fetch and others in Table 1. All are public domain items, which you can copy and use for no charge at all. Furthermore, certain Apple proprietary extensions to the Macintosh operating system which are essential for running Eudora, NewsWatcher and Fetch are also now in the public domain. All are obtainable by anonymous ftp from a number of sites including archie.au, AARNet's archive for public domain software (AARNet, 1992). Similar public domain and commercial products are becoming available for users of Microsoft's Windows platform (Windows PCs are often referred to by the misleading term "IBM compatibles" although this operating system is not an IBM system).

Table 1. Some examples of client server implementations for Macintosh

Client softwareServer or host
Eudora v1.3b34POP (Post Office Protocol) and other protocolsEmail utility - fetch, despatch, in, out and other mailboxes, edit, aliases, etc.
Network News Transfer
Protocol and others
News utility - select groups, read, edit, follow up, edit, post new article, etc.
Fetch v2.1b4File Transfer Protocol
and anonymous login
Utility to facilitate use of FTP - connect, receive, send, change directory, etc.
Telnet v2.5
Telnet and others
in the TCP/IP set
VT100 terminal emulation for remote login or telnet.
MacGopherGopher serverInformation retrieval service.

Client server implementations

Client software is designed for interaction with a specific protocol or set of protocols implemented by software running on a server or host. Take Eudora as an example. It interacts with software on a mail host according to the rules of POP (Post Office Protocol). At Murdoch University we use a public domain implementation of POP for our Unix BSD 4.3, whilst Curtin University has an implementation of POP under VMS, the DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) operating system. Eudora exchanges mail with both, not caring or knowing how the mail host does its part of the job (generally, users do not care either, as long as they get the desired services, so you can skip this section if you are not interested in the details).

Figure 11. University of Minnesota announces a new version of POPMail for DOS.

Furthermore, the Murdoch and Curtin email hosts do not care or know what the client hardware and software is. In the case of DOS platforms, the likeliest one is illustrated by Figure 11, which is an announcement from the University of Minnesota that POPMail/PC Version 3.0 has been released. This news item was cross posted to bit.listserv.edtech, a newsgroup which is relayed from the Bitnet network into Internet and thence into AARNet. Note the last sentence in Figure 11, which indicates that the University of Minnesota also produces a version for Macintosh (I prefer Eudora, written by Steve Dorner at the University of Illinois, but it's nice to know that there is an alternative choice).

The reason for the development and the popularity of client server implementations is that these are much easier to use, compared with the typical command line and editing capabilities offered by network hosts. For example, a user could undertake email operations such as read a message, reply to a message, and so on, using the "Mail" program available on a typical Unix host, or mail handling aids such as "Elm" or "Pine" which are often available on such hosts. However, the great majority of users find that commands for email actions and the host's editing capabilities are very much more difficult to operate, compared with the kinds of commands and actions which they are familiar with as users of personal computer software such as word processors. This is especially the case with users who are accustomed to the speed and intuitive nature of a "wimp" environment (windows, icons, mouse, pull down menus) as provided by Macintosh, Windows and many DOS programs. I think that the great majority of personal computer users resent having unnecessary extra learning tasks thrust upon them.

Client server implementations are dependent upon the availability of agreed protocols for communications between computers. Broadly, these allow one to specify a process for network communications which is independent of the hardware and software used by others. Complex data communication systems use a set or family of cooperative protocols, each with a specified functional relationship to the others and generally describable by layered models (Comer, 1988; Black, 1987). The key set of protocols we are concerned with is TCP/IP, named after one of its components, Transmission Control Protocol, and its more general family name, Internet Protocol (Comer, 1988; AARNet, 1992). AARNet's traffic is almost wholly TCP/IP, although other protocols may be in simultaneous use also on a local basis. For example, External Studies uses Appletalk for local communications to in house printers and file servers, whilst simultaneously using the same Ethernet to carry TCP/IP for Eudora, NewsWatcher, Fetch and other functions. Users do not need to know anything about these details because software handles the selection of protocols automatically.

TCP/IP specifications are in the public domain. Though not an official international standard, TCP/IP is very widely supported by all the major vendors in computing and networking, by a varied range of gateways into other systems, and by a wide array of software in the public domain for Unix, Macintosh, DOS and Windows, as illustrated by the examples of Eudora, NewsWatcher and Fetch and the corresponding server software. The concepts of independence from proprietary protocols and network hardware, and availability from a number of competing vendors are very significant reasons for the popularity of TCP/IP as a basis for computer communications.

Client server implementations very often assume that the client and server are both connected to an Ethernet. This is much less expensive than it used to be. Under Murdoch University's networking policy, the cost to the Unit's budget for purchasing each Ethernet port including cabling and wall socket is $700, to which must be added the cost of Ethernet hardware for each Apple machine, currently about $325. The University's internal charge for Ethernet ports represents a full cost recovery for internal unshielded twisted pair cabling and Ethernet 10 base T repeaters within a building, whilst the inter-building fibre optic links are centrally funded. Hosts such as csuvax1 are centrally funded and are relatively economical, partly because the communications software implemented on them is also from the public domain.

However, there are some very important circumstances in which an Ethernet is not available to the user, for example users located at home or in small centres without a local area network (LAN). In the case of telephone line and modem dialup to a network host, which may be the only access available to such users, the implementation of user friendly tools like Eudora is generally more difficult, and may require a significant amount of expertise and further development work.


Client server implementations for communications purposes usually are very closely linked with organisational membership of AARNet. This is because AARNet is the conduit for inter-organisational traffic in email and news, and gives access to a huge range of hosts and servers, on regional, national and international scales. It is highly convenient to use the same set of interfaces, as exemplified by Eudora, NewsWatcher and Fetch, for all computer mediated communications. For example, in External Studies we use Eudora mediated email to communicate along our corridor (nicknames ESU_Academic and ESU_all_staff in Figure 3), as well as for university wide, nation wide and world wide communications. By means of its Affiliate Membership program, AARNet is rapidly expanding its reach (AARNet, 1992). One of the most recent to join is WA TAFE, assisted by the Communications Link Project (Atkinson, 1992c; Atkinson, 1992d).

The basis from which TCP/IP originated is "internetworking", the linking of separate networks to one another to create networks of networks. The typical connection to AARNet is between an organisation's own network, for example a campus LAN, and a state or regional node, which is linked further to other regional or national nodes. Internetworking with TCP/IP means that the vast majority of the network resources reside with the individual networks and computer hosts owned and controlled by the members of AARNet, which is an important feature in relation to strategies for obtaining greater use of AARNet and computer mediated communications for education and training purposes.

AARNet delivers a range of applications of computer communications which are independent of the types of physical link and end user hardware and software, provided that all are in conformity with the TCP/IP protocol set. The transmission paths or network architecture carrying the TCP/IP traffic may include one or more of Ethernet, ISDN, Megalinks, Digital Data Services, X25 packet switched, serial links, microwave links, satellite hops or others, even ordinary telephone lines. The end user does not need to know these details, which are matters for specialists in network systems engineering.

There are many other models for client server implementations. For example, Pegasus, a private provider of email, Netnews, AARNet and Internet access and other services has produced client software to assist users of dialup connections to Pegasus. There are many proprietary implementations of client server models, including email services such as Mail Perfect which is part of the Word Perfect suite of office software. Telecom's Keylink email service makes available the Desklink software, which is easier to use than the command line environment of Keylink's host. However, very few of the proprietary implementations can compete with the low cost, huge user base, breadth of services and flexibility available from the combination of TCP/IP based implementations and AARNet connection.

Network services

Since AARNet is a network of networks, it does not by itself provide end user services, except for some provision of network information services. User services are provided by member organisations, through their own computers attached to their individual LANs. These are listed in Table 2 (adapted from AVCC, 1992). The basic and best known are the first four, email, news, file transfer and remote login. The basic services provide a platform for individual organisations to build more complex sets of services, for example information services, retrieval services, tutorial services, specialised news services, and so on. The publications by Kehoe (1992), Goldstein and Heard (1991) and Capon (1992) are some of many available in hard copy and electronic versions, giving overviews of network resources and services, and how these are organised and used.

AARNet provides an infrastructure which developers of open learning and distance education (Castro, 1990) can use without having to design and implement their own network for the basic services listed in Table 2. However, developers of these services are needed for the vitally important role of implementing applications which are directly relevant to the needs of end users, for example, tutorial services using email, information services using Netnews or listservers, distribution of print and computer assisted learning materials by anonymous ftp, retrieval services based on WAIS or gopher concepts, and so on.

Considerable work is required at the institutional level to organise student access to AARNet, for example through learning network centre or home or workplace facilities, using dialup or direct connections to an institution or a private provider of AARNet access (Atkinson, 1992b; Atkinson and Castro, 1991). Further work is required to make available user friendly interfaces at the standard of the Eudora, NewsWatcher and Fetch examples described above.

Table 2. A classification of network services

Electronic mailThe most widely used service, constituting about 11% of AARNet traffic. Over 12 million users world wide.
NetnewsDivided into about 1500 newsgroups. Contributions are distributed automatically world wide. Used to obtain information and seek contacts in a wide variety of technical and non-technical topics. About 6% of AARNet traffic.
File transferNetwork transfer for any files. Anonymous ftp (file transfer protocol) used for distributing documents and software. About 35% of AARNet traffic.
Remote loginAccess other computers on the network, eg. data bases, supercomputers. About 9% of AARNet traffic.
Information servicesFile server publishing, directories, electronic journals, online library catalogues and other structured services which assist the user to locate information.
Retrieval servicesRecent developments of information retrieval tools which enable users to specify plain language commands to search networks and retrieve the desired information, eg WAIS (Wide Area Information Service) and Gopher servers.

As a network of networks and a vehicle for regional, national and international communications, AARNet carries services which are available to every user anytime and anywhere on the networks, and can be originated anytime from anywhere on the networks. Computer mediated communication is a highly supportive tool for enhancing the delivery of open learning and distance education, because it can be used very readily for one to one, class group, peer group and "broadcast" forms of communications, for information retrieval and for courseware distribution, whilst retaining individual freedom of choice in the scheduling of learning activities. This medium offers interaction with a peer group, without the need to know beforehand any persons in that peer group, or their location.

Developers of open learning and distance education applications carried by AARNet do not have to worry about scheduling in the way that is the case with audio, audiographic and video conferencing or television broadcasting. It is not surprising that the Open Learning Initiative (DEET, 1992c) has perceived computer mediated communications to be a vitally important medium (DEET, 1992b). It is also a very effective medium for communications relating to professional development, courseware development and many other activities which are essential in the infrastructures for education and training, especially in the case of open learning and distance education modes.

Another important concept exemplified by AARNet is the scope for decentralised approaches in which a number of providers support a particular application. For example, the conduct of clearing house and database functions (DEET, 1992a) can be decentralised over AARNet by use of the gopher server concept, whereby the user interacts with gopher client software and sees a single database, responsive to plain language commands.

AARNet is not a relevant basis at present for building audiographic teleconferencing systems, such as those using Apple based Electronic Classroom or DOS based Telewriter and GTCS. Typically, audiographic applications use their own proprietary protocols over public switched telephone network connections made as required for each teleconference session, in contrast to the permanent private network connections between local networks and hosts which are the usual basis for operating TCP/IP communications protocols. However, if based upon ISDN semipermanents, there is scope for audiographic applications to coexist on the same channel with a connection to hosts which are further connected to AARNet, by means of digital telephone handsets and multiplexers to partition the 64 kb/s capacity into subchannels for voice, audiographic data, and TCP/IP traffic.

Network services and networks for Telecentres

The availability of user friendly interfaces is very important, even essential, for expanding the use of computer mediated communications, but it is not a sufficient condition. The further condition is the delivery of services which are attractive, meaningful and productive for the user's context and purposes. Whilst AARNet has achieved these conditions for very many of its academic and research users, there are some new challenges posed by moves to extend network services to student and community users. The development of telecentres or telecottages (Horner and Reeve, 1990) is likely to be a very interesting case in community use. The concept is attracting considerable interest following the allocation in the 1992 Federal Government budget of $2.8 million for a four year Telecentres Program (DPIE, 1992). It aims to
. . . foster and support the development of a number of community managed demonstration telecentres to explore the role of new information technologies in assisting the economic and community development of the districts in which they are located. The aim is to show the uses to which modern computers and related informational technology can be put to improve the economic, social, educational and training opportunities of that community, through better information access and communications. The expansion of employment and business opportunities through the use of these technologies is a key objective of the program (DPIE, 1992).
One method for analysing the requirements for successful operation of a telecentre in relation to computers and information technologies is a "layered model", represented in Table 3. This model is a brief sketch of a potential strategy. The three layers correspond broadly to different sorts of organisations, functions and scales of operation.

Table 3. Requirements for a telecentre

Local community TelecentreProvide coordinator, local business plan and program, accommodation and local equipment.
Network servicesProvide economic, social, educational and training opportunities and information.
NetworkProvide computer hosts or servers for network services, arrange data communications capabilities and training for local community telecentres to access these.

The model indicates that providers of information and other network services, and providers of a network infrastructure, are essential complements to the telecentre's local facilities and support. Some organisations may be able to provide services in two layers, for example a TAFE sponsored telecentre (layer 1) with TAFE courses (a component of layer 2), or university courses (a component of layer 2) and access to an AARNet connected host (layer 3), but in general no single organisation will be able to provide all three layers.

As a brief sketch, this model does not indicate how telecentres could relate to many other initiatives in progress. These include, for example, Queensland's Open Learning Network, WA's Learning Network Centres (McGregor and Latchem, 1991; McGregor, 1992), the Open Learning Technology Corporation (AEC, 1991; Spring, 1992; Atkinson, 1992e), the Open Learning Initiative (DEET, 1992b; DEET, 1992c), the ADEnet Project (Atkinson and Castro, 1991), plans by a number of universities and TAFEs to expand their use of "flexible learning centres" or "study centres", TAFE's adoption of AARNet (Atkinson, 1992d) and the continuing rapid expansion of AARNet as indicated in its Business Plan (AVCC, 1992).

The "network layer" is likely to be a key factor in the viability of the other layers. As a broad strategy, connection to AARNet is an obvious priority, because that offers open access networking to a wide range of existing and potential new services from the university sector, and from the TAFE sector also as it adopts AARNet. Unfortunately, state and federal government departments are typically in private network environments and therefore have not developed servers for anonymous ftp and other concepts inherent in open access information technology. Telecom cannot offer any equivalent to AARNet and Internet.

A number of different designs may be relevant for a network infrastructure which could link telecentres with AARNet. Some are outlined in AARNet's Affiliate Membership documentation (AARNet, 1992). Bearing in mind the need for the end user to be given a user friendly screen environment and a wide choice of network services, the most appropriate strategy for small telecentres may be operating Eudora, NewsWatcher and Fetch, or their counterparts for DOS or Windows, to access a host at the nearest AARNet connected campus. The physical connection may be an ordinary STD telephone call, dialled up only when transmissions are required, using a high speed V32bis modem with error correction and data compression (Fist, 1992). It is likely that high speed modems and automation of communications to the nearest host, by means of Eudora and similar utilities, would reduce the STD connect time charges to levels significantly lower than the overall costs of using Austpac, Telecom's public X25 data transmission service.

On a larger scale permitting multi-user operations, a local Ethernet and a small router (Hindin, 1992) to link between the Ethernet and a V.32bis modem may be appropriate. Another option is to utilise a small local Unix host, which undertakes regular and brief dialup calls to an AARNet connected gateway host, to exchange mail and news. This option is functionally similar to the Fidonet system, which is used extensively for low cost, single user bulletin board systems, and has been trialled in some secondary schools (Chandler, Gesthuizen and Clement, 1992). Private providers of hosts and access to AARNet, such as Dialix in Perth and Sydney, may be able to secure a role.

Thus there are a range of methods by which network services and network connectivity could be extended to the proposed telecentres. In establishing telecentres, the importance of adequate trialling of the different methods for providing network services through AARNet connectivity should be fully recognised. Although the basic framework and supporting technologies are available for layers 2. and 3. in the model above, a considerable and detailed design effort will be required to implement an efficient, easy to use and economical service to layer 1. In order to make information technology a reality for a telecentre, the information part needs assured sources, and the technology part needs to provide the network which communicates with those sources.


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Dr Roger Atkinson is Acting Director of External Studies at Murdoch University, with 14 years' experience in distance education. Recent activities in research and development include convening the DEET Communications Link Project, directing the Reserve Fund Video Conferencing Project at Murdoch, and coordinating the Reserve Fund ADEnet Project for improved computer communications in distance education.

Please cite this paper as:Atkinson, R. (1992). Some developments in computer mediated communications. In J. Herrington (ed), Distance education: Future visions, p51-74. Perth: WADEC. http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/devcmc92/devcmc92.html

Dr Roger Atkinson
Academic Services Unit
Murdoch University
Murdoch WA 6150, Australia

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