Virtual Classroom Support Systems: A Systemic View

Nijaz Bajgoric

Bogazici University, Department of Industrial Engineering

80815 - Bebek, Istanbul, Turkey



The purpose of the paper is to present a systemic view of courseware applications in the form of Virtual Classroom Support Systems - VCSS. They are described using the main dimensions of systems as defined by Churchman (1968). Systemic view can be used as a framework for an effective design of VCSS.


Virtual classroom is a term that is broadly applied to the set of information technology facilities employed in an on-line teaching environment. Since the emergence of Internet and particularly WWW technologies, a new term "courseware" has been introduced with the emphasis on an on-line teaching and learning. The definitions of courseware applications vary widely but most of them include either "internet-based teaching", or "computer-based teaching". Courseware applications usually include the following categories of instructional materials in electronic form: lecture notes and other on-line course materials, course syllabus, course schedule, tutorials, manuals, etc.

The purpose of the paper is to present a systemic view of courseware applications in the form of Virtual Classroom Support Systems - VCSS. The approach is based on a common set of systems dimensions (Churchman, 1968) including: environment, objectives, components, resources, and systems management. Churchman presented the systems approach which discussed a set of necessary conditions for conceiving a system. An attempt is made to apply this theory of design integrity in designing of an effective Virtual Classroom Support System.

The Dimensions of a System

The fundamental concept of systems approach as defined by Churchman is that all systems can be defined by a common set of elements. These elements (dimensions or attributes) are the following:

a) System is teleological and has a measure of performance. The objective of the system represents its intended impact on its environment.

b) The environment of a system - is the set of entities that exist outside of the system boundary. The entities affect the system or are affected by it.

c) System resources are the elements that are used in building and operating the system. Resources may include people, row materials, capital, technologies, etc.

d) The system has teleological components which coproduce the measure of performance of the system. These are the elements of the system that exist within its boundary.

e) Management of the system as a set of activities intended for effective management.

Churchman continues his examination of this issue in a subsequent book "The Design of Inquiring Systems" (1971).

Systems Dimensions of a Virtual Classroom Support System

In order to understand Virtual Classroom Support Systems the systems dimensions must be considered simultaneously. From design perspective, that means that the design of VCSS has to integrate all these elements so that, for example, the characteristics of the system's environment and particularly system's objectives will determine the design of system's components. Virtual classroom support system can be considered as an information system that supports on-line teaching in virtual classroom. The following is the description of VCSS dimensions:


The objective of a VCSS can be defined as improving the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching/learning process by providing:

1. On-line information about course syllabus. The syllabus is designed to introduce incoming students to the course. It usually contains: a course outline, the objectives, information about assignments and projects, course schedule, references list with links to on-line course materials.

2. On-line access to lecture notes prepared by instructor along with hyperlinks to related remote courseware applications and other Web sites.

3. Dynamic interactive on-line teaching based on CGI scripts and Java technology. Through the Common Gateway Interface, users interact with Web pages that contains several data entry forms. When the form is submitted, a CGI script is triggered and executed on a server. CGI scripts made the Web pages dynamic and interactive.


VCSS-environment consists of a set of entities outside the system boundary that affects the system's activities or is affected by it:

  1. Users (local, dial-up and long distance)
  2. Communication and network protocol environment
  3. Remote courseware applications
  4. TV-based virtual classroom systems
  5. University system (a set of rules that determines a course syllabus)

As can be seen in Figure 1. Courseware can be accessed through TCP/IP protocol from three categories of users: LAN, Dial-Up and Internet users. The courseware documents are located on WWW server, the students use WWW browsers and other Internet services (e-mail, FTP, telnet) from client computers. They may download WWW pages from the server, upload assignments and projects, communicate with the teacher, participate in discussion groups, etc.


Resources that can be used in developing courseware applications include:

  1. Standard office applications (text processing, spreadsheets, DBMS, presentation software)
  2. HTML editors and HTML converters
  3. Graphics software and graphics converters
  4. Programming languages for CGI scripts (C, C++, Pearl, VBScript, JavaScript, Java, …)

Components of Web-based VCSS are as follows:

  1. Computers
  2. Server-based software
  3. Client software
  4. Courseware
  5. Network devices and protocols

All these components can improve the performance of the VCSS. They coproduce the measure of performance of the system. For example, fast and reliable server machine, GUI-based client software, fast Ethernet protocol (100 Mbps), etc. can improve the system's performance.. Courseware application represents a core subsystem of a VCSS and acts as a middleware between server and client. It includes the following components: course syllabus, lecture notes, standard and on-line references, discussion groups (forums).

Courseware application must be installed on a computer which runs a WWW server. In addition to WWW server, there need to be a FTP server for uploading and downloading the files, SMTP server for handling e-mail system, and Telnet daemon which enables users to use telnet based information services like retrieving library records


VCSS management involves three different groups of people. Teacher is the person who manages courseware application, Web administrator is responsible for Web server and client applications, system administrator assures the functioning of operating system and network components.


Virtual Classroom Support Systems are described using a systems approach. The main objective of this selection is that systems approach is considered to be an effective framework for the development of VCSS.

Although the starting point of this work is based on the University Education System case, almost all aspects in a typical teaching/learning environment are considered, thus the proposed framework can be applied to any educational system with minor changes.


  1. Churchman, C.W., The Systems Approach, Delacorte Press, NY, 1968
  2. Churchman, C.W., The Design of Inquiring Systems: Basic Concepts of Systems and Organisations, Basic Books, NY, 1971
  3. Swanson, E.B., Churchman's Theory of Design Integrity, Interfaces 24, July-August 1994, pp. 54-59
  4. Muller-Merbach, H, A System of Systems Approaches, Interfaces 24, July-August 1994, pp. 16-25
  5. Jackson, M.C., Systems Methodology for Management Science, Plenum Press, 1994

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