Earlier this year I was involved in supporting a study which investigated how technology could support collaboration between primary-school aged students in separate classrooms. As part of this study the SynergyNet software framework was used. This is the first time SynergyNet had been used in a study spanning multiple sites and required a few tweaks to get working.
To allow SynergyNet to work as needed for this study changes were required to make sure its networking functions could be used over the internet. Many of the networking features of the framework rely on use over a local network due to its origins as a piece of research software or use in a classroom laboratory environment.
Thankfully the use of VPN was able to resolve most of the shortcomings by emulating a local area network over the internet. Several of the networking features require a shared folder to transfer materials with as a form of cache. The use of a VPN allowed a directory to be used like a local shared folder between devices on other ends of the country.
However, one networking feature of SynergyNet which was left unable to function over the internet, despite the use of a VPN, was its service discovery. SynergyNet typically uses multicasting to find other instances of itself on a network – some VPNs, such as the one used in the study, cannot correctly manage multicast packets as expected.
To amend this, several changes were made to the SynergyNet app used in the study to allow it to use the TCP/IP protocol which is more widely supported. This allowed SynergyNet to find instances of itself across of VPN and allow for further networking functionality to take place over the internet.
This support of TCP/IP device discovery has now been worked into SynergyNet at a framework level, allowing any SynergyNet app to utilise it. The use of TCP/IP can be enabled through the web tab of the Config app. Here, one or more IPs (in a comma-separated list if there are multiple) of devices expected to be running SynergyNet can be entered.
This tweak, along with other work needed to make SynergyNet work across the internet, is detailed in the following publication:
J. McNaughton, T. Crick, A. Joyce-Gibbons, G. Beauchamp, N. Young, and E. Tan. Facilitating Collaborative Learning Between Two Primary Schools Using Large Multi-Touch Devices. Journal of Computers in Education, pp. 1–14, 2017