Go with the flow

24th March 1995 at 00:00
Signe Hoffos clears a way through the bureaucratese at the European Commission to discover what the DELTA project was, and how Telematics will bring the benefits of an international education network to more learners.

Telematics is not the word on everyone's lips, and some few still need to be told that it represents "the combined use of communications and information technology"; nor is it a great surprise to learn that this word is big in Brussels, and that the European Commission (EC) uses it with considerable confidence and enthusiasm. But coming to grips with telematics could be worth 843 million ecus (roughly Pounds 674 million) over the next four years.

The Telematics Application Programme is one of the largest initiatives in the Fourth Framework, the programme which defines the major work of the European Commission for the remainder of this decade.

Telematics has 12 strands, and weary voices from the Benelux are keen to stress that even 843 million ecus, spread across 12 programme areas over four years and throughout the 17 member states of the Union does not promise particularly large sums to any one of the many projects which it will fund.

In fact, the EC typically offers part-funding of projects up to 50 per cent, and both budgets and spending are monitored by EC staff and independent evaluators.

The 12 programme areas range from health care, transport and the environment to administrations (sic) and language engineering; two areas of particular interest here are libraries, and education and training. In these areas, in fact, much of the current programme builds on work begun in 1988.

DELTA (Development of European Learning through Technological Advance) is the name broadly applied to a series of initiatives in the field of education and training undertaken successively over the past seven years.

Officially, DELTA was a two-year exploratory phase (or "action" in EC speak) which was succeeded by a four-year programme called Telematic Systems for Flexible and Distance Learning (1990-94), which is conveniently known as the second phase of DELTA.

The exploratory phase looked at the potential for using technology and telecommunications in education and training, through 30 projects involving over 200 organisations, and a budget of 20 million ecus (approximately Pounds 16 million). These demonstrated that potential certainly exists, but also revealed some uncertainty about the appropriate use of new media and technologies for education and training, and misapprehensions about the needs of learners and instructors on the part of manufacturers, publishers and other suppliers.

Many teachers and trainers could have supplied the same conclusions for the price of a few pints, but DELTA in its two parts also produced a small paper mountain of research, reports, guidance documents and technical specifications, as well as actual pilot projects, working models and products for real end-users.

These include, for example, a multilingual training package on insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus which can be used variously by diabetics themselves, their carers and professionals in related fields (including, for example, the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors). With the help of multimedia, everyone can see the same basic material, and the package can be customised for different environments, professional or cultural. This Medical Multimedia Framework (MMF) could also be adapted to address any number of other medical conditions.

The four-year Telematics Systems for Flexible and Distance Learning ultimately funded 30 projects, as well as 10 "concerted actions", with a budget of 62 million ecus (approximately Pounds 49.5 million). A number of these developed tools for teachers and trainers.

Some, like Mathesis (Standalone Workbench for Learners and Teachers) and Cosys (Design and Implementation of a Computer Based Course Production and Delivery System), developed specifications and complementary literature to assist teachers, trainers and learners themselves to develop, tailor and deliver their own courseware. Through Mathesis the French publisher, Quai Nord, developed a maths CD-Rom for teenagers, and Longman-Cartermill, in the UK, worked on materials for adults learning English as a foreign language.

Others, like Malibu (Multimedia and Distant Learning in Banking and Business Environments), and the more obvious Farmers (Multimedia Distance Learning for Farmers and Rural Development), tailored their work to specific training sectors.

Both phases of the DELTA scheme are well documented, and most of the individual reports are well written, but the cumulative effect can be daunting to any but a hardened education theorist.

The easiest way in lies through the 60-page DELTA Catalogue (1994), which is clearly laid out and neatly arranged by project. It includes all the "deliverables" produced by the 30 projects and 10 concerted actions, as well as broader "key publications" and contacts for project co-ordinators.

Most of these take the form of reasonably-priced short reports, which are distributed not only through conventional mail-order facilities, but also from a publishing-on-demand service (administered from Birmingham), on CD-Rom and through the CORDIS (Community Research and Development Information Service) database; contact details are listed below. CORDIS actually includes a database of useful acronyms.

The education and training area of the new Telematics Application Programme effectively continues the work of DELTA in its various phases, with a twist. The emphasis now is very much on practical applications for real users and, specifically, on the involvement of end-users at every stage in a project.

Telematics is the keyword here. The EC now does much to move students (and, on a smaller scale, teachers) around Europe; there is a lot of interest in the potential of telematics to bring the benefits of an international education network to many more learners (and instructors) more cost-effectively. This programme is looking for proposals which will facilitate the exchange of information, ideas and resources between individuals and institutions throughout Europe.

The Telematics Applications Programme has already issued its first call for proposals, but others will follow. The DELTA programme has already produced information and tools for collaborative learning; now is the time to exploit the strengths of the EU.

* Contact: DELTA Unit, European Commission, DG-XIII F, 200 rue de la Loi, B-1049 Brussels, Belgium, tel. 010 322 296 3416, fax 010 322 296 23 92. Jane EvansGraham Pennycook, Employment Department, Caxton House, Tothill Street, London SW1H 9NF, tel. 0171-273 5496, fax 0171-273 5124. Telematics Application Programme, Information Desk, European Commission, BU 29 435, 200 rue de la Loi, B-1049 Brussels, Belgium, fax 010 322 296 83 98, e-mail telematics@dg13.cec.be. CORDIS Customer Service, tel. 010 352 3498 1240, fax 010 352 3498 1248, e-mail X400: C=DE; ADMD=DBP; PRMD=GEONET; S=CORDIS-HELPDESK. Brian Jones, DTI, tel: 0171-215 1224, fax: 0171-215 1370.

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