Queensland Open Learning Network
Certainly then all the raw elements of multimedia are present; what is unique to audiographics is the nature of the interactivity and the human interface that is provided by the instructor and contributed to by the remote participants. The various media forms become resources that can be manipulated and explored by the engaged parties, in a fashion that is determined by both the instructor and the participants. However, the success of the interactivity will be determined by the degree of competence that the instructor and users have with the software, as well as the sense of 'telepresence' generated by the instructor. Given sufficient training in the use of the software tools and a willingness to explore the possibilities, the instructor who enjoys person-to-person interaction will find the transition to audiographic delivery to be a painless one. However, the degree of telepresence and empathy with the remote user can be greatly enhanced by exploiting the tools in a fashion that is driven by being centred upon the interpersonal needs of the remote student or participant.
Thus, the instructor who is aware of the power of the software tool and what it can do (and can't do), can generate a lesson or conference that is very human-centred and rich in interactivity. This interactivity will be a product of both the instructional design as well as the personal qualities of the instructor. No amount of fancy multimedia experiences will override the boredom generated by uninspired and cold instruction. Audiographics is interactive only to the extent determined by the lecturer or conference convener; the interactivity is not intrinsic in the software, instructional design and hardware but is greatly dependent upon the human qualities of the instructor. The degree of potential interactivity in conventional interactive multimedia is fixed by the design of the software; this in turn is determined by both the limitations of the software tool as well as the sense of vision of the developer. However, once completed, the conventional package in interactive multimedia has its potential degree of interactivity fixed and pre-determined. In audiographic delivery, the interactivity achieved is not pre-determined and can lead to immensely satisfying human interactions with the remote learner. Part of the joy of audiographic delivery is its potential for spontaneous interaction when in the hands of an experienced and skilful presenter, who can assist the remote user in acquiring similar mastery of the audiographic tool. The tool then is no longer a barrier between isolated parties but a means whereby stimulating and very human interaction can take place.
For example, the sense of an extended classroom, despite separation by great distance, can be achieved by having each site post digitised pictures of the conference participants, both as a means of introducing the participants and also having a picture to match to a voice, when an individual is speaking; in the case of the Macintosh software, these pictures can be pasted to the scrapbook and called up whenever an individual is talking or engaged in an exercise on screen (figure 1). Such a technique was used to great success in the recent Australian Language and Literacy Policy (ALLP) trials of the use of audiographics in literacy provision to isolated adults (Lowe & Pietsch, 1993a).
At a very simple level, in dealing with text, it is possible to develop strategies that are very interactive and incorporate the various tools available but are based upon sound instructional strategy, using techniques that have been tried and tested in the more conventional pen-and-paper classroom environment. All individuals can participate in and observe the interactions, while making additional audio input into the instructional process (figure 2).
In addition, it is possible to develop a strong sense of ownership of the instructional process as well as foster the sense of corporate identity, by including material that is identifiable and known to the conference participants; this has the benefit of contributing further to the sense of belonging to a group with common goals while fostering an environment which calls upon the familiar. Such a process was employed when existing educational materials were utilised in presenting a demonstration audiographics lesson to members of the education committee of the Western Australian Police Force (figure 3).
The use of such familiar material will also assist in overcoming potential resistance to the use of such new technologies in fairly traditional and somewhat conservative training environments. It is then possible to develop the audiographic teleconference as a part of a training package that might well use similar media in variety of instructional situations. For example, clips of existing video training material might be used to stimulate discussion amongst the remote participants and sites, on various situations where emergency medical treatment is called for. Similarly, remote participants can contribute to the personalised process by perhaps contributing digitised images of themselves, their home environment or the town from which they hail (figure 4). In this illustration from an audiographic teleconference to Narrogin in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia, the remote participants from Narrogin provided an image of the building where the participants were located.
Again, this provided a very personalised and human element to the interactive process. Of course, all these processes require organisation and, ideally, a degree of access to the necessary tools such as scanners, video boards and other capture equipment, by the remote participants. Various hardware configurations are discussed and compared in the latter part of this paper; however, even with minimal hardware tools, it is possible with a little forethought and forward planning to provide sites with the necessary multimedia resources such as digitised personal images, in order to make the interactive experience as rich and as varied as possible.
Access to an extensive range of education and training opportunities is generally confined to those organisations and individuals in large population areas, usually the capital cities or larger regional centres within Australia. People living away from capital cities and regional towns are usually forced to either travel to centres where courses are being offered or opt out. Both of these alternatives have significant ramifications, particularly for small business, as travel is expensive in terms of money and time and non attendance potentially denigrates skill levels and can affect productivity.
A more equitable provision of education and training opportunities throughout Australia can be achieved through what has been termed flexible delivery systems (TAFE, 1992) or open and distance education approaches (Lundin, 1992).
It is within this context, the remainder of this paper presents and compares two such approaches - video conferencing and audiographic conferencing.
Early audiographic systems capable of handling photographs and colour slides were expensive and often required proprietary hardware bundled with the software. The use of audiographic conferencing for training and higher education has been used widely for various learning applications in the United States and Canada (Chute & Balthazar, 1988; Gilcher & Johnstone, 1987). Several Australian organisations such as the University of Southern Queensland and Queensland Health have also trialled such systems for tertiary and continuing professional education applications and while facilitators and participants reported satisfaction using the system (Taylor, 1992; Jones 1992), learning programs were discontinued once specialist funding was exhausted. Jones (1992) writes in the context of using audiographic conferencing for training health professionals, "that this system of distance education is very acceptable to the recipients but strong administrative, technical and education processes and procedures are necessary to maximise the potential of this mode of learning." Brommeyer (1993) reinforces this views and demonstrates its importance in the subsequent trial and implementation of audiographics conferencing for Queensland Health.
A software package known as The Electronic Classroom was developed for the Apple Macintosh offering audiographics to users of low cost computers. This software has been regularly enhanced and now offers an impressive range of features depending upon the sophistication of the selected Apple platform, including colour, accessing data from CD-ROM, and utilising Apple's QuickTime compression algorithms. The schools sector were the first major users in Australia to embrace audiographics and exploit its potential. Often known as "telematics" (D'Cruz, 1990; Elliot, 1991; States, 1992), schools used this technology for various learning applications, by aggregating geographically dispersed groups to enable the offering of subjects and lessons that would be otherwise unavailable.
However, there remained a large proportion of business and tertiary education organisations that prefer IBM compatible solutions and over the last few years, several options have emerged on the market with a range of features. Vis-A-Vis (formerly GTCS) is currently being used by a number of organisations including NSW TAFE, Telecom and Queensland Health, Comalco as well as the Queensland Open Learning Network, and has also been trialled to a limited extent in Western Australia.
On first impression, there might appear to be little comparison between the apparent features offered by video conferencing and audiographics conferencing - video conferencing offers "moving pictures" whereas audiographics displays a series of static colour "slides", with perhaps the ability to display digitised video. However, the authors of this paper argue that these technologies, in their current form, offer comparable features - particularly when viewed in terms of cost-effectiveness and educational outcomes.
Video conferencing offers much potential for rationalising resources and extending more comprehensive services to rural and remote locations. However, apart from cameo style pictures, contemporary video conferencing technology usually requires at least two micro link ISDN communications lines for adequate data transfer. At present, and probably for some time to come, ISDN connections are only accessible in major population centres whereas the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) network is available throughout the country. PSTN uses analog lines and speeds vary considerably depending upon line quality. The maximum line speed available for the PSTN network is 14400 b/s; however 9600 b/s is more common. Furthermore remote sites, such as isolated communities, use digital radio concentrators which have slower data transfer rates of around 2400-4800 b/s. Therefore, video conferencing in its present form will not be useful to most remote and rural locations until ISDN lines are more prolific or compression technology is greatly enhanced.
Audiographics is able to utilise the PSTN because graphic and data files can be pre-shipped or loaded into each site prior to an actual conference. Data traffic is confined to calling existing files and creating annotations using interactive tools similar to basic "paint" applications. New files can be introduced and distributed during a conference with transfer time depending upon their size and the slowest line speed. Even 2400 b/s is sufficient to enable an audiographic conference.
Bridges for audio, audiographics and video enable multiple sites to be linked together and enable interactive communication. Audio and audiographic bridges are relatively inexpensive compared to video conferencing bridges. Bridging for voice and audiographic data is relatively straight forward whereas video conferencing introduces a number of extra variables which need to be considered. For example video cameras can be controlled by the "chair" in each location, or voice activated. The former allows more control but reduces spontaneity, where as the latter option can be chaotic if participants frequently interrupt. Viewing all locations at each site can be achieved either by individual monitors, one for each site, or splitting images on one or more monitors. Individual monitors are an additional expense but provide clearer images over screen splitting.
In audiographic conferencing it is possible for voice and data to share the same line, but most systems use two telephone lines, one for voice and one for data. Separate lines enhance data speed and provide additional safeguards if a line drop occurs (on either the audio or data bridge). Audiographic multi pointing does not provide the same visual clutter as associated with video conferencing: all participants view the same shared workspace and can interact on it with a range of tools.
Table 1 is adapted from a publication developed by Australian Associated Press Communications Services (1993, p.19) to introduce video conferencing by contrasting the communication options of video conferencing compared to audio conferencing. For the purposes of this paper, an additional column has been included to compare audiographic conferencing with these two options.
|1.||Present information using graphic materials||X||X|
|3.||View 3-D material||X||X|
|4.||Provide instruction - physical or graphic demonstration||X||X|
|9.||Communicate with a group||X||X||X|
|11.||Develop a plan, process, project schedule model, etc||X||X|
|19.||View computer information||X||X|
|20.||Interpret body language||X|
Audiographic conferencing offers superior utility to audio conferencing and, with the exception of item 20 on body language, it is comparable to video conferencing. Even the ability of video conferencing to assist with the interpretation of body language is dependent upon the degree of compression of the signal and whether in fact the system 'caught' the interaction within its periodic scan.
Hardware and software requirements for both video conferencing and audiographic conferencing can vary enormously, depending upon the computer platform used and the range of accessories and features required.
While it is certainly possible to audiographic teleconference without a video camera, scanner and video card, they have been included in this discussion to provide a fair comparison of functionality between the two technologies. Thus, the basic system for a PC that is presented here could be further reduced. For the purposes of this paper, a standard, deluxe and super configuration for the costing of the audiographic system has been listed, given in Australian dollars.
Depending on the configuration and platform, video conferencing room systems are priced between $50,000 and $100,000, and include the main camera, codec, monitor, software and a document camera (Elmo). A projection device such as the LCD display and overhead projector as listed above under "super" audiographic system, might be desirable for a larger display, with a bigger audience.
|Electronic white board||18500|
The equipment listed under "super" audiographic system provides lecturers and trainers with the ability to transfer existing skills and practices such as using a whiteboard and an overhead projector across to the new medium. Audiographics can also utilise existing hardware (computers and modems, for example) and existing communication lines, which then enables organisations with these facilities to quickly and inexpensively take advantage of this audiographic medium. As not all audiographic sites need to be similarly equipped, and since systems can be mixed to suit both budgets and performance requirements, a network of audiographic systems could consist of the three systems as listed above or any combination of the technologies mentioned. Thus, a network of ten audiographic sites comprising one super system, four deluxe systems and five standard systems could be established for less than the cost of two cheap video conferencing sites. The existence of already available hardware would extend this number of sites. Chute and Balthazar (1988) reported an AT&T study comparing six instructional modes of delivery, including audio, audiographic and video conferencing, in which it was found that the two most cost-effective modes of delivery were audio and audiographic conferencing.
The QOLN will make available its audiographic system to higher and further education providers, as well as to business, industry and government, to assist with their training and information dissemination needs. Having learned from the experiences of others (Jones, 1992), the QOLN has developed an ongoing staff training program and will refine protocols and procedures as operators and managers become more experienced. To compliment these initiatives, the network has also begun an extensive awareness campaign to provide potential users with the opportunity to view and test the system. These groups have included higher education institutions, TAFE colleges, businesses, government departments, industry training councils and professional societies. Several organisations have conducted trails and have made commitments to use the technology for a wide range of applications, including product information, marketing strategies, optimising purchasing power, strategic planning, post graduate course provision and various training activities.
Business Sector, first case study
One franchise of electrical appliance retailers has trialled using the PC software Vis-A-Vis, to improve efficiency and profits through maximising purchasing power. The franchise receives from the wholesalers or producers, a complicated set of additional discounts or advertising incentives, if set sales targets are met. In today's competitive and economically prudent times, sales margins are very slim and it is often these discounts that maintain a store's viability.
Traditionally, individual store owners were kept informed about the overall group's progress towards these targets, through a series of regional meetings held throughout the State over a period of some ten days. Although these meetings were time consuming and expensive to conduct, they were essential, in what was a very complex and unpredictable process.
Audiographics enabled all store owners throughout the State to communicate with each other, whereas previously they had worked only in regional works. The audiographic system enabled the franchise to achieve the same outcomes in about three hours, by linking all regions together, so that the necessary purchasing decisions could be finalised with all parties present and actively involved.
Business Sector, second case study
A food retail group uses the QOLN's audiographic infrastructure to provide product and marketing information to its independent store owners. The central office takes advantage of features of the system to discuss the groups marketing strategies and how individual stores can best take advantage of 'specials' and loss leaders. The group has also used the system to provide information of newly released products and related marketing strategies and incentives. It is envisaged that companies supplying these goods will sponsor future activities.
Telecommunications systems requires ongoing training and information dissemination in order to keep up with contemporary developments. Telecom Training Services (TTS) have been using audiographics for internal training for the past eighteen months and has developed a three day training program for trainer using the system the (Bool, 1992). TTS has found the system to allow them to meet their needs. TTS has found that training provided by audiographics, including the cost of purchasing and implementing the system is equivalent to one face to face three day workshop held at a training centre.
TTS cites one example where training a Telecom Officer in a remote location required the officer to travel one week in each direction as well as the time for training. In addition a replacement staff member was required to be sent to the site for the entire period the officer was absent - over all about five weeks of staff time to attend a training workshop. Audiographics enabled the training to occur on site which meant savings for Telecom and the officer received more frequent instruction.
The QOLN is midway through a project to deliver short continuing and professional education courses via CD-ROM technologies. Preliminary findings (Gooley, et al, 1993) reveal that participants find the medium user friendly and suitable to their learning styles, but that a significant proportion (25%) prefer some additional human interaction. In an attempt to address this need, the Network will embark on a parallel project to using CD-ROM as the prime delivery strategy with periodic audio and audiographic conferences. The project will involve teaching business communication skills at an industry site.
The course is structured to use the CD-ROM to provide most of the knowledge and skills. Audiographic conferencing will be used to provide additional information, clarify common difficulties and enable real time interaction with the instructor.
A Queensland university will deliver a post graduate subject in their Master of Education program, using a combination of print-based materials and audiographic conferences. The University believes this technology will enable them to rapidly develop and deliver a course without the usual lengthy lead times associated with the development of distance education materials and packages.
"Live to air" Interactive television, incorporating audiographics
There have been major attempts at the integration of various forms of interactive communication technologies into one cohesive presentation mechanism. Thus, audiographic telecommunication links to one or two suitably equipped remote sites such as a telecentre or a Learning Network Centre (LNC), from a central point of delivery, has been broadcast out over full band width public television, via the Golden West Network. Thus, real-time interaction to one or two sites, is then multi-pointed to many, many sites. This trialling took place during a regular weekly , live to air TV broadcast, Foundations of Mathematics (Rehn, 1993a, 1993b).
As well, it is possible to integrate directly the facsimile into an audiographic presentation, if the fax modem is used. Thus, the central delivery computer platform can receive a fax (hand written or computer generated), incorporate the input directly into the current audiographic interaction, which may or may not be broadcast over TV, and have other remote learners interact with the newly acquired input, of yet another media form. Audiographic communication technology is indeed multimedia, and is interactive in a real time sense that is not present in standalone multimedia.
Western Australian Police Training
A sample training lesson was developed for the education and training committee, of the Western Australian Police Force. This sample package drew from existing courseware that was currently utilised by the Physical Health Unit's Outreach Program. This existing courseware consisted of transparent overhead projector transparencies, printed hardcopy and video. All these existing media were suitably prepared into digital form, and were used in the audiographic lesson (figure 5), as well in a companion HyperCard training stack.
This was done to give an indication of the variety of media that can be used in audiographic interaction, as well as giving support to the premise that developing audiographic courseware can be done efficiently in a reasonable time frame, while drawing upon existing developed materials.
There are the following features:
Within Western Australia, continued use is being made of audiographic teleconferencing by the Western Australian Ministry of Education, the Adult Migrant Education Service (AMES) and in the future, the newly established WALINK aggregation, incorporating the older Learning Network Centres, and federally funded telecentres. The latter agency will be exploring the Smart 2000 Windows solution.
Audiographic is a means for a number of geographically separate individuals or parties to participate in an collective interactive process, using a wide variety of multimedia forms. It can provide a very human and personal interface, that may initially be driven by a skilled instructor or trainer, but becomes increasing user controlled as participants master the tools and processes. It is possible to generate a sense of "telepresence" that is immediate and satisfying to all parties, while engaging in rich, multimedia interactions.
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|Authors: Geoff Rehn, External Studies Unit, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150. Tel: 09 360 6308 Fax: 09 310 4929 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Towers, Assistant Director, Queensland Open Learning Network.
Please cite as: Rehn, G. and Towers, S. (1994). Audiographic teleconferencing: The Cinderella of interactive multimedia. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 468-477. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/rehn2.html