The Mallee Cluster is attempting to broaden the curriculum offered to Year 11 and 12 students through the development of a computer based, interactive, remote teaching link. This 'Telematics' link allows small classes in several schools to be taught by one teacher, usually providing specialist subject teaching. In the past such small classes have either not been offered or have been taken by Correspondence. The provision of a quality remote teaching environment has taken the form of an audio link using DUCT terminals, a document link using a Fax machine and photocopier and most importantly, a visual link using Macintosh computers, LCD units, graphic tablets, modems and unique, interactive, multipointing software. A demonstration of this teaching environment, linked back to Victoria, will be a feature of the presentation. Participants will also be given the opportunity to get 'hands on' experience.
The Mallee Secondary College Cluster consists of five schools in the far north west of Victoria. The five schools have a combined enrolment of about 1100 students, with the smallest school having only 70 students and the largest having around 450. The schools are up to 200 km apart and are between 60 and 120 km from the most central school (Ouyen).
In May 1985 the Victorian Government released the Blackburn report. This report indicated the need for all schools to offer a broad, comprehensive curriculum at senior levels if retention rates were to be increased. The report was silent on credible models for the implementation of such a curriculum in small country schools. Rural communities were, in the main, not attracted to the formation of senior colleges and hostels, with students absent from home for extended periods of time.
The Government soon after announced plans for the Victorian Certificate of Education. The VCE will involve a substantial restructuring of Year 11 and 12 curriculum. The VCE consists of 13 fields of study with three of these (Australian Studies, Technology Studies and Information Technology) being studies that were not covered to any extent in the traditional high school curriculum. In March 1986 the five schools produced a formal re-organisation document and in March 1987 a memorandum of understanding was signed with the Government. This reorganisation was based on the premise that by 'clustering', a more efficient use of physical and human resources could be made.
In particular the Mallee Cluster had two objectives in mind. Firstly, to deliver courses in Information Technology and Technology Studies and secondly, to allow very small classes in traditional curriculum areas to be taught by combining such classes across the Cluster. The Cluster has developed two separate modes of course delivery in achieving these objectives - Tekpaks and Telematics. Both modes of course delivery have .spread throughout Victoria, with many small rural schools now gaining the benefits of 'clustering'.
Computer Assisted Graphics
Power technology (small engines)
Power technology (multi-cylinder engines)
Machines and Mechanisms
Telematics allows very small classes to be run efficiently by combining several small classes across the cluster into one larger class. The Telematics classroom concept therefore has a teacher at one school taking their own class, and in addition, teaching small numbers of students in several other schools. Students choosing specialist subjects can now be taught full time and also gain a far greater contact with students of similar interests.
The Telematics classroom concept recognises that teachers use a variety of media in their everyday lessons. A class run with Telematics must be able to access those media if it is to be a viable alternative to the normal classroom. The Telematics classroom as it now stands (and it is continually developing as technology improves!) consists of the following:
|i.e. a blackboard and/or OHP|
|i.e. chalk or pens|
|i.e. voice contact|
The Telematics system does not provide a replacement for 'eye contact' or body language nor does it allow the transmission of real time video. These limitations are due to the restricted data transmission rates available where telephone lines are used to convey information. The system does allow for hand written input via the graphics tablet, typed input via the keyboard or the use of input from a software application such as ANUGRAPH or EXCEL. The hand written input is of comparable quality to that obtained on a blackboard. Whatever appears on the teacher's screen is also seen on all the other remote screens and the same holds for any changes made to any of the screens. In addition teachers can pre-prepare materials using off the shelf Mac software and call up their material at will. This is similar to the use of pre-prepared overheads, slides or video stills. To help in this preparation of material each school has a Mac in the staffroom and also a Canon/MacScan image scanner. This last item allows diagrams, maps and other graphic work to be quickly copied from texts and other references onto the Mac screen.
A variety of software has been used in the pre-preparation of lesson material and as applications during trials and lessons. The bulk of lesson preparation has been done with Microsoft WORKS, the graphic desk accessories DESKPAINT or CHEAPAINT and specialist desk accessories such as Macsigmaqn. Applications such as ANUGRAPH and SUPERPAINT have also been used extensively. All functions resident in any Mac software package are available when used in this system, with the communications software being 'hidden' in most respects.
These limitations have been addressed in a newly developed communications desk accessory called Sideband. Sideband runs on an Appletalk network and with the use of remote servers allows multipointing of schools to occur. Sideband only requires one of the Macs to have the prepared file present with all other Macs having an exact copy of the host's screen. All users have control over all functions of the software so a truly interactive environment is available. There is a small delay initially in sending a screen to remote users but amendments to the screen are rapid. Although no dependent teaching has occurred as yet to fully evaluate its potential, it would appear from trials so far that Sideband is close to the 'remote teaching' ideal as seen by the Mallee Cluster.
The speed of any communications program depends on the modem used. At present Netcomm 24/24 (2400 baud) modems are used and these provide sufficient speed for Intermac. The Cluster intends to use Trailblazers for future Sideband multipointed trials to gain the extra speed required in this approach. The Telematics classroom therefore requires three Telecom lines - one used on occasion for Fax, one used all lesson for DUCT voice transmission and one used all lesson for data transmission. It appears likely that both voice and data transmission at a sufficiently high speed may soon be available over one line.
|Authors: Both Warwick Matthews and John Brookshaw are teachers in the Mallee Secondary College Cluster. Warwick is responsible for coordination of the Cluster Telematics program and is a member of the Victorian Working Party on Telematics. John has been extensively involved in the trialing and development of the Cluster Telematics program and is also responsible for the development of our Information Technology courses. Neil Elliott (the remote link person) is Regional Consultant and Convenor for Facilities, Resource Agreement on Retention and Technology.
Please cite as: Matthews, W. and Brookshaw, J. (1988). Distance education in the Mallee Secondary College Cluster. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (Eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 113-116. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech88/matthews.html