Electronic Classroorn® is an Australian developed audiographics package for Apple Macintosh computers. Since its release in 1990 it has undergone continuous refinement and extension. These changes have been made in response to advances in communications hardware and compression software and the expressed needs of the user community. At present over 1,000 copies are in use at all levels of Australian education. This paper illustrates the usage of the package in a variety of educational settings, discusses the educational strategies used by teachers and draws some conclusions on the role of audiographics in education.
The focus of this paper is on the development and usage of an Australian audiographic software package Electronic Classroom which runs on the Apple Macintosh platform. The technology has been employed in a variety of educational settings throughout the K12 curriculum in both rural and urban areas and in the technical and university sectors with more than 1,000 sites around Australia now servicing a diverse range of programs and subject matter. The remainder of this paper analyses the manner in which the rapid improvements in hardware and operating system performance over the five year life of this product period have allowed this educational technology to meet the needs of both the early adopters of the technology as well as providing new tools for users from new areas of the curriculum; analyses the usage of the product in a variety of educational settings by pointing to a number of case studies; discusses the educational strategies used by teachers in their use of audiographics and makes some conclusions on the role of audiographics in education.
Version 1.0 was released in February 1990 and would connect to a maximum of 2 remote sites. It offered freehand, text, rectangle, oval and straight line tools and supported one brand of modem at 1200/2400 bps. It ran on either Mac Plus or Macintosh 512K and consequently only supported a 9 inch monochrome screen. A typical Version 1 setup is illustrated in Figure 1 with one base and two "remote" Macintoshes communicating by low speed modem and with voice communication by telephone. The first classroom users of Electronic Classroom were in a number of secondary schools in Victoria and in three central (K10) schools in New South Wales.
Version 1.02 came in October 1990 and added dialling features for congested exchanges as well as the ability to open multi-screen files. Screens are held in random access memory (RAM) on each computer and so it is very quick to switch from screen to screen. Subscripts and superscripts in text were also added to accommodate the needs of mathematics teachers. A 'buzz' feature was added that students at the remote site could gain the attention of the teacher.
Figure 1: A basic link between three sites (Version 1 setup)
Versions 1.04 and 1.05 in early January 1991 supported greater than two remote sites via a special multiport serial card in a Macintosh II which stills forms the foundation of most multiple sites. Asian language support was added for LOTE . The first Macintosh LCs were making their way into schools so coloured drawing was added. A new graphic selection capability was added as was automatic restarting on multipointing computers to accommodate dropped telephone lines.
Key features in the next several maintenance releases added support for more modem types, including for the first 9600 baud modems in schools. Support for teachers and students to work on screens after the lesson was over was added which allowed students to review the lesson after its completion.
Three major releases then took place in the period from August 1992 to July 1994. Version 1. 13 added colour picture support including reading PICT files and extracting the text where appropriate. Colour pictures are much larger than the relatively simple monochrome and colour paint files and presented a challenge to transmit in reasonable times over unreliable phone lines. Apple's QuickTime technology was used to compress them on the fly by the sending computer and uncompress them on the fly by the receiving computer.
Version 2.0 added remote CD-ROM including PhotoCD access and QuickTime movie support. The QuickTime digital movie format allowed the teacher to play movies on the remote computers. In theory, the movies could be downloaded over the PSTN but realistically given the size of the movies this was infeasible. Hence an alternative solution had to be found and a methodology for recognising mounted storage volumes, be they hard disk or CD-ROM, on each Macintosh was devised. The teacher could, then, distribute CD-ROMs to each school and as long as the students or support teachers at each location had loaded them into the CD-ROM drive, the teacher could play the same movie simultaneously on all remote computers. The only information transferred over the PSTN was the instruction to get and play the desired digital movie. The full details of version 2 features are described in Ellis and Debreceny (1994).
Version 2.5 added a whole new word processor, with transparent and scrolling text so that the teacher could pre-prepare significant amounts of text and scroll them up into view as required. Invisible text was added at the request of teachers so that they could pre-prepare an answer to a question and make it invisible and then, as needed, make it visible. Similarly, speech bubble text borders were added following the expressed needs of LOTE teachers. Sound input and speech synthesis was supported.
To reduce the amount of time at the start of a lesson taken up with the connection and transfer of the lesson, this version allowed for complete lessons to be sent ahead of time and opened remotely without delay. In contrast to the early period of the software when there were only a handful of modems available and they had limited functionality, the mid 1990s saw a diversity of brands and of standards being followed. Each modem seemed to have different initialisation strings and varying success in gaining and holding a connection notwithstanding the manufacturers' claims. Version 2.5.8 implemented modem scripts for a wide range of modems and different types of modems were now allowed on each different port in the bridge computer. Most schools now purchase 14.4 kb modems but the line quality of the PSTN means that many still must run them at 9600 or even 2400 bps.
Version 2.5.9 in June 1995 added multimedia support via attachments to text objects. Now multiple on screen movies, stills and sounds can be played, shown or hidden at will using resources from commercially available CD-ROM titles. File opening was simplified, especially for stepping through folders of similar lesson material. Many other keyboard features were also added to reduce the time taken to perform frequent tasks whilst teaching. Version 3.0 (alpha) is currently being tested and is planned for release in February 1996. It will allow Electronic Classroom to operate over the Internet.
This will bring some obvious advantages to the main user group, including
Early tests show that response times using the Internet are extremely variable. Sometimes it is extremely fast and other times it is extremely slow and frustrating. This seems to mirror most users' current experiences with Web browsing and other Internet operations. If all users connect via the same ISP response times should be faster and more predictable.
New hardware and software requirements will apply to Version 3. Users will need at least a Macintosh LCIII or newer model with an 68030, 68040 or PowerPC processor. At least 10 MB of RAM is needed as well as Apple's new Open Transport networking software expected to be released early in 1996.
In the half decade, the product and the manner in which it has been used in Australia schools has changed from the basic setup shown in Figure 1 to the more complex and richer environment shown in Figure 2. A bridge computer with a multiport card provides linkage to a number of remote sites.
Figure 2: Typical multisite setup in mid-1990s
Figure 3: Two possible screen display setups
The key menus are shown in Figure 6 and display the wide range of text handling features including scrolling text windows, transparent text, a variety of borders and the ability to incorporate sound files within the text box. A teacher can pre-record sounds or use existing sounds, and then write a small amount of text to describe the sound. This has obvious applications for language teaching but has been used in disciplines as far from language teaching as physical education and science. The video menu gives control over the playing of digital movies in QuickTime format.
This preponderance of usage in the secondary sector can be attributed to the need for secondary schools to support a higher number of students in a wider range of subjects than in a primary school. A primary school in Australia might service an enrolment of as low as twenty students with a single teacher which would be inconceivable at the secondary level. Further, there is pressure from students and parents to offer a wider and wider selection of subjects to higher levels. A particular school may appear to have a viable number of students and staff to mount a full secondary program yet not have the appropriate mix of staff expertise or student demand to warrant offering a particular program. A number of schools can jointly offer subjects that each would not be able to mount, using audiographics as the technological "glue". Schools may also be short of teachers with skills in high demand such as teachers of Japanese.
Figure 5: Electronic Classroom screen showing menu bar and vertical tool bar.
The teacher or student can cycle around the screens with the arrows on the tool bar as well as to
insert new screens. The tool bar also provides the usual features of a simple graphics package.
Figure 6: Key menus in Electronic Classroom
As it is not appropriate to transfer large sound or movie files in real time even in compressed format, lesson resources are transmitted to remote sites using during non-teaching times using Appletalk Remote Access. With identical lesson materials stored on hard disks at each of the three sites the teacher is able to remotely call up an extensive range of resources during any given lesson. These resources are also available for the students to review after the lesson has been completed. In the near future it is hoped that the transfer of core lesson resources will be achieved at regular intervals by burning and distributing files on CD-ROMs. Email and fax technologies are used to support this distance teaching program. The trails have already been so successful that it is already planned to introduce another language option, Italian, in 1996.
About one third of the teachers at the School are regular users of audiographics and a systematic program of staff development and training is provided to encourage and support new users. The frequent poor quality of standard telephone line connections in some of the more remote parts of the Territory and the ability of Electronic Classroom to maintain a useful data stream under such conditions, albeit at low baud rates, was one of the reasons that it was selected for use by the School.
The school still relies primarily on paper based print materials but there is an evolving pool of Electronic Classroom resources and a growing number of teachers willing to integrate audiographics into their weekly teaching sessions. One teacher at the school receives a workload allocation to provide training and assist in the development of resources.
These sessions frequently allow for one on one contact between student and teacher although where possible and appropriate a teacher will conduct a multipoint session involving two or three students. Teaching is based on existing printed materials and Electronic Classroom sessions often take the form of tutorials. English and Science and Technology are the subject areas must commonly taught.
Because of the one on one nature of many of the sessions and the fact that students have unlimited access to the hardware and software outside the normal online times, students frequently prepare screens that are uploaded and "marked" on line by the teachers. This form of immediate online feedback is regarded by students as one of the best features of an audiographic session.
In a similar fashion to the Northern Territory Correspondence School, the ability of Electronic Classroom to perform over very poor quality PSTN lines was an important factors in its selection by the Centre.
Audiographics is also used in an undergraduate pre-service teacher education program at Deakin University in Victoria (Stacey, 1995). Students teach lessons in Indonesian into remote primary schools from an audiographics site on campus and in Italian to metropolitan schools. They work with primary aged children whom they do not meet face to face until a later semester when they go out for the traditional in-school practicum experience.
Figure 7: Partially filled whiteboard: Secondary school French, Queensland
The teacher has used the pen tool to create a simple line drawing upon which an interaction can be built that can revolve around wind, rain, the coat and umbrella worn by the female walker. No French or English language is displayed on the initial screen and the teacher will build on the initial graphic to work with the students in the "distributed" classroom to construct a dialogue about the scene. The screen has no colour or photographs or movies but is nonetheless an effective foundation for a shared classroom experience that might last most of a typical period.
An example of a partially filled whiteboard which provides clear visual signals and which is drawn from Primary English in New South Wales is shown in Figure 8.
Figure 8: Partially filled whiteboard: Primary School English, NSW
Here the teacher has prepared a simple set of alternatives using text below a photographic image which graphically represents the action being analysed. The slide may only take a few minutes in the teaching period. Conversely, an example of a partially filled whiteboard which was relatively simple to prepare and yet contains enough material for a complete teaching period is the slide from Secondary German from New South Wales shown in Figure 9. The slide presents a time schedule which is a facet of school life known to every secondary school student. The times of the day and the days of the week are completed but the activities in each of the cells are not completed. The teacher can then work with the students to discuss what might go on in each of the time periods, search for the appropriate words or phrases in German and type them into the relevant cell.
Figure 9: The Partially Filled Whiteboard: Secondary German, NSW
A relatively complex slide is the mathematics slide from Secondary Mathematics from Victoria shown in Figure 10. This uses simple but very effective graphics to illustrate the words on the left hand side of the screen. The teacher would then talk to the screen as well as possibly use the "chalk" tool to emphasise particular parts of the graphic or formulae.
Figure 10: Filled whiteboard: Secondary mathematics, Victoria
The scrolling text box allows a teacher to include a considerable amount of material which can progressively be brought into the discussion. Figure 11 shows a slide from an introductory undergraduate accounting class where the complete journal entry has been placed in a scrolling text box and the students and the teacher can collectively work through the example on the screen.
Figure 11: Filled whiteboard: University undergraduate Accounting, NSW
Figure 12 shows a Japanese lesson in phonics from Western Australia. It uses a very simple combination of coloured line drawings using the pen coupled with text explanations with appropriate underlining to provide the appropriate phonic emphasis.
Figure 12: Japanese Lesson in Phonics Western Australia
A slightly higher level of sophistication is displayed in Figure 13 drawn from secondary school German in South Australia. The screen uses a couple of visual clues, drawn from an existing body of scrapbook art, a sentence in German and a sound of the sentence. The teacher can then draw the class into a discussion of the sentence and what might go on in the context of a party with gifts. The inclusion of the sound allows students to come back after the class and listen again to the sentence as many times as they wish. This slide provides both synchronous and asynchronous student learning.
Figure 13: Slide from high school German South Australia
The slides in the "filled in" whiteboard series show similar strategies. They generally use simple graphics and provide a foundation either for immediate discussion, in the case of the German slide or worked examples or exercises in the case of the Mathematics and Accounting slides. In each case relatively minimal preparation time gave rise to an effective teaching tool that could be integrated into the "distributed" classroom.
Figure 14: Multimedia whiteboard: Secondary school Japanese, Queensland
This theme is continued in Figure 15, which has the added complexity of scanned photographs of images which are in the everyday experience of the students and which have been completely integrated into the lesson in the distributed classroom. The slide shows graphic images, text in a LOTE font and interaction with sound icons that can be used by the teacher and students in an interactive fashion or alternatively the students can return to the slide in their own study periods.
Figure 15: Multimedia whiteboard: Secondary school Japanese, Queensland
The multimedia whiteboard extends the educational context for the students to incorporate material which is important for the particular class, or to more strongly reinforce the subject with experiences to which the students can relate. Sound, scrapbook images, photographic images and digital movies all can be integrated on the same whiteboard space and subsequently manipulated by teacher or student. While such screens are more time consuming to prepare, they are much less difficult to create than fully interactive multimedia where there is no involvement of the teacher.
The technology is not age specific and is used in a variety of ways depending upon the characteristics of the teaching institutions and the resources available at remote sites. The patterns of usage which have been discerned have not been dominated by the technology but have been dictated by management factors such as the level of training of teachers and students and the curriculum. Some educational environments are completely built around Electronic Classroom whereas others use the product for tutorials or to reinforce and amplify existing printed materials or classroom teaching.
The rapid changes in computing technology have been incorporated into the product in innovative ways with QuickTime, for example, being used in a manner that its designers would not have imagined. It has also accommodated the constraints on the surrounding technology. Rural Australia is not endowed with high quality PSTN lines so the software is designed to tenaciously hold those lines open and to ensure that when sites are being reconnected that there is the least amount of disruption possible to the distributed classroom.
The use of Electronic Classroom is an example of a successful innovation in the use of educational technology. It has been successful because it was designed to extend in a productive manner and not to Change the familiar patterns of classroom interaction. It has been developed to meet the direct needs of the educational customers and the levels of technology that were available at a particular stage in the development of the software. In doing so, it has followed the known tenets of understanding of the diffusion of innovation (Burns and Stalker, 1961; Rogers, 1983; Mahajan and Peterson, 1985). Perhaps the measure of success with an educational technology is when it is so thoroughly embedded into the curriculum and teaching and learning practice that it becomes effectively transparent. In some educational environments, Electronic Classroom has become just that. As one student in the Northern Border Senior Access (Debreceny & Ellis, 1994) program said ".. audiographics is just, you know, school. School is school."
Note: A fuller version of this paper will appear in the inaugural edition of the Journal of Education and Information Technologies.
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|Authors: Allan Ellis, Faculty of Education, Work and Training,|
Southern Cross University
PO Box 157, Lismore NSW 2480, Australia.
World Wide Web: http://www.scu.edu.au/
Phone: +61 6 620 3611 Fax: +61 6 622 1724
Roger Debreceny, Faculty of Business and Computing,
Robert Crago, Revelation Computing Pty Ltd
Please cite as: Ellis, A., Debreceny, R. and Crago, R. (1996). Half a decade of audiographics development: A case history of Electronic Classroom and its users. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 123-136. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ek/ellis.html