Over the last 10 years, I've been scouring the Internet in search of a realistic training environment that would be appropriate for my CNC courses. While I've found a number of informative sites (that are listed on my company's Web page under "links"), most are simply a series of hypertext links that let you read about the subject of interest. None I found even came close to allowing full interactivity between an instructor and students in real-time—let alone a realistic way of displaying course materials. Let's face it, modems, which most individuals use to access the Internet, just don't allow the bandwidth required to hold live courses in real-time—or so I thought.
I recently received an e-mail from a person at www.U4all.com. He said the site has a platform that allows the presentation of live Internet courses. While visiting the site, I was amazed with what I found. While there may be other sites that provide this kind of service (I'd love to hear about them), I've never seen one that offers the level of live training allowed by the U4all system.
The parent company, InterWise Ltd., provides software for instructors and students that can be downloaded from the U4all site. This software is free to users of the U4all system. You need a multimedia computer with speakers and microphone. Once you download the student software, you can select from a sizable catalog of live and recorded courses (a microphone is not required for recorded courses). Some of the courses are even free, giving you a great way to check out the system. Don't get too excited yet; none of the current offerings are related to manufacturing. You'll find courses related to more general topics such as computer software, finance, investment, sports and professional development.
During class, the student's main viewing window is like the white-board in any classroom. The instructor will display a series of visuals on this white-board and will simultaneously communicate subject matter (verbally) just as if you are in a classroom. They can, at any time, poll the class with yes/no questions. Students click on an appropriate icon to answer. Instructors can also quiz students by asking questions that require a typed response. They can even test students with a series of questions that can be weighted and graded. Students with questions can "raise their hands" by clicking a special icon. The instructor will then give a student permission to speak, and the entire class can hear the question. While it's not a perfect classroom environment (in my opinion, the audio is not of professional quality), it is a very good one. Check it out. I think you'll be very impressed.
By the way, InterWise solves the bandwidth problem by "pushing" course materials to students before and during the course. As soon as you step into the classroom, course materials (especially visuals) begin downloading to your computer in the approximate order they are needed in the course. When the instructor needs to reference course material, it will already exist on the student's hard drive.
You may be wondering why I've taken so much of this column discussing a Web site that doesn't offer any manufacturing related courses.
First, I urge instructors working for machine tool companies (manufacturers, importers and distributors) to check out the U4all site and consider conducting training courses on the Internet. You may find that customers who are too busy (or can't afford) to send people to classes will attend course on the Internet. Note that if you want students coming directly to your company's Web site for training, InterWise, Ltd. (again, the parent company of U4all.com) can provide the platform.
Second, manufacturing-related software developers will find the U4all site to be helpful when it comes to teaching the use of their software. The instructor software has a special function called "application sharing" that lets you demonstrate any software that runs in Microsoft Windows. Students can practice with software during class, even if the software is not installed on the student's computer.
And third, my company will begin conducting live Internet CNC courses using the U4all system beginning August 2001. Though our schedule is not completely fixed, we will hold courses related to maximizing CNC use (advanced techniques, parametric programming, setup time reduction and cycle time reduction) as well as basic CNC programming. Our first Maximizing CNC Utilization series is slated to start the week of August 20, 2001.