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Redesigning for learning

Margaret Allan
James Cook University of North Queensland

A demonstration of materials that are being developed to explore ways that learners can interact with video images. Footage shot originally for documentary programs forms the basis of packages for use in schools science classes and with learners of English as a Second Language (ESL). The redesign uses video as a resource for group tasks. An additional experiment with ESL learners will look at design options for a future interactive video package.


This project is about exploring ways that learners can interact with video images. It may be some time before tomorrow's interactive video technology is in all our schools and colleges but there is a lot to be learned in the meantime from working with today's video technology. The video cassette recorder is now one of today's technologies in a high proportion of our schools. Surveys of 60 schools in the Townsville area this year showed that 90% of them have a TV set and at least one VCR.

In theory the introduction of a VCR could radically change the way teachers use video material in the classroom, because of the control and the choices it offers. In practice VCRs in schools are used much as they are in the home - as convenient TV substitutes. Research into the use of TV in primary schools in Britain (Choat et al, 1987) shows that although teachers acknowledge the 'creative' potential of the VCR as well as its convenience, the reality is that they are most likely to show a program through from start to finish just as though it were a broadcast. This is not surprising since that is probably what it originally was - a program designed for television broadcast and therefore designed to be watched from start to finish without interruption.

When you introduce to the classroom a technology that puts control of broadcast television material into the hands of the teacher or the learner they you have to design that material differently if you want them to use it differently.

My own first experience with video materials was with teachers of English as a Foreign Language. We had lots of ideas about how video playback could be used in a language classroom, but without suitably designed software it was difficult to put these ideas into practice. Conversely, once you have software which cannot be viewed like a TV program then you help teachers see the VCR as a different tool. Good materials designed specifically for classroom use are likely to point up ways in which video viewing can become active rather than passive. This can be done quite well on video cassette and the experience may make us better users and producers of disc-based software when it comes.

Video is a good medium for giving learners access to places, people and events they wouldn't otherwise be able to experience. The challenge is to make that an active not a passive experience. In this project I am attempting to meet that challenge by designing software that cannot be used as a conventional program. In fact, in this case I am redesigning, by taking material which was originally shot for a standard documentary program and repackaging it as a set of resource material.

The project's source material

James Cook University, along with the University of Queensland and Griffith University participated in World Expo '88 in the UNIVATIONS pavilion. The display featured University research and, for James Cook University, this included a series of very short video programs about individual research projects, mainly in tropical ecology and the marine sciences. As a result we now have a good range of location footage on some of the University's most interesting and innovative research.

I am now working on pilot materials drawn from this footage and redesigned for use with two different learner groups:

Redesigning for schools science

For the pilot of this set of materials I am working with the head science teacher in a local school. One use she identified for some of our footage was an input to the study of animal life cycles by Grade 8 children. We have footage of James Cook University's Giant Clam Mariculture project which shows different stages of the clam's life cycle. This includes spawning, shots of larvae under the microscope, juvenile growth in laboratory tanks and larger clams in special underwater sites and in the wild.

The essence of the design is that students are encouraged to formulate their own questions about the topic and to use the video as a source of answers to those questions. A worksheet guides teacher and students through the video, which is sectioned into very short segments. The worksheet indicates tasks for small groups to carry out after viewing each segment. Some of these segments feature the scientist in charge of this project, Professor John Lucas. An interview with him was shot especially for this package and is used for two purposes:

  1. to supply necessary explanation and information from an authoritative source

  2. to provide experience of how a scientist approaches a study of this kind.
Questions we will research at the pilot stage include:

Redesign for ESL applications

A different version of the same 'Life Cycle' set of materials will be tried out with students of English as Second Language. These are overseas students at James Cook University's ELICOS Centre, who are, or will be, undertaking courses of study at the University. An ability to follow and take notes from lectures is therefore an essential set of skills for them and this version of the package targets listening and note-taking skills.

Initial activities are similar to those suggested for school science classes as group activity and group discussion are particularly useful in a language learning situation. This is a preparation for an additional section in which the scientist gives a summary of the topic, speaking as he would to a group of first year undergraduates.

A second aim with this set is to look at self-access use of video material by second language learners. Some alternatives will be offered to students working in this mode in order to discover what they find most useful. The options are those that could be supplied very simply with a level 3 interactive video work station. They include the provision of:


The 'redesign' here stems essentially from the assignment of a different role to the video material. It was originally conceived as a conventional program designed to convey information to a general audience. The new design sees the video as source material in a task based package. The tasks are determined by the educational context and the intended audience. The question is whether the same source material can be used effectively with different audiences, provided the identification of appropriate tasks is on target.

If the feedback on these pilot packages indicates that the format is effective, it is one which can be applied to a range of productions by a small educational production unit such as ours. For this package, virtually the only additional footage needed was the interview with the scientist. So we can make considerably more use of good original footage at very little additional cost. At the same time we have the attractive possibility of providing the schools in our region with access to some of the most interesting research their University is carrying out.

A strong motivation for me is a desire to encourage teachers to use video more actively by providing them with materials which cannot be used as TV substitutes. I also see the ESL experiments as an important stage in the development of interactive video materials.


Choat, E., Griffin, H., Hobart, D. (1987). Teachers and Television. Croom Helm, Beckenham.

Laurillard, D. (ed) (1987). Interactive Media. Ellis Horwood Ltd, Chichester.

Author: Margaret Allan teaches educational media in the School of Education at James Cook University of North Queensland. She is also responsible for the University's Audio Visual Unit. Her main professional interests are in the production and use of video in ESL teaching and teacher training.

Please cite as: Allan, M. (1988). Redesigning for learning. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 40-42. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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